Recently I’ve been looking for 996 Turbos because while they’re rapidly appreciating in value, they’re still one of the best bang for the buck Porsches out there on the market. They’re half the cost of a 997 Turbo, and a third the cost of a 993 Turbo. Sure, that comes with the baggage of a cheap feeling interior and egg headlights (which I actually like) but when you get into a groove with the car, it’s an excellent sporting machine, a passable Grand Tourer, and always puts a smile on my face. This one has had a bunch of aftermarket performance parts added to the tally, which just made the deal all the sweeter for me. Big turbos, big intercoolers, big fuel pump and injectors, tuned to a little over 500 horsepower at the wheels. And it has been rear wheel drive converted for a bit of extra quasi-GT2 fun. The car had about 82,000 miles on the odometer at the time of asking. All of this for a whopping $35,000.
Okay, so it doesn’t look exactly like the photo above anymore. While it was at a service shop in San Francisco someone backed into it, cracking the paint, and all of it just started falling off over time. There’s a dent in the rocker below the passenger’s seat. Both of the plastic lower rocker covers are cracked and sagging. And the 19″ wheels had some curb damage on the passenger’s side as well. That’d be the curb side. It’s rough around the edges, but I am confident that I can polish this stone into a fine jewel. The car was part of a friend’s collection in the San Francisco Bay Area, so a deal was struck and I flew in for the weekend to pick it up. Velocity Invitational was happening that weekend, so I figured I’d fly in, drive down to Laguna Seca for a couple days, then drive the car across the country to my home in Cleveland, Ohio. It, um, didn’t go to plan.
My ride on the Bay Area Rapid Transit train from the airport to our meetup point went swimmingly. My friend and I went to a great lunch spot for fresh seafood, then I headed on my way. I stopped at an REI to pick up some camping gear, because I figured I’d camp out at the track and didn’t have enough room in my luggage for a tent and sleeping bag. I finally got down to Laguna Seca in the early afternoon and enjoyed several hours of vintage race cars and automotive shenanigans, seeing lots of friends and having a good time. Sleeping at the track, especially with a sports car, is a great way to spend a weekend. My back still hurts, but waking up to the sounds of race cars warming up and heading out on track is a glorious experience. If you have a chance to go camping with your Porsche, absolutely do it. If you can do it at Laguna Seca, all the better. After a full day of track action on Saturday, I decided I wasn’t going to stick around for Sunday and I was going to get moving on my way eastward. My plan for Saturday night was to make it to Reno, Nevada.
That plan did not happen. About 120 miles from Laguna Seca on my way toward the Donner Pass, I heard a bang and felt my steering go all wobbly at about 75 miles per hour on the 5. As it happened, I’d picked up a nail in the front left, and the rapid change in pressure and high speed caused that sidewall to shred apart. I pulled to the side of the road and started digging for my spare. I had a factory-fitted collapsible spare, but I did not have the requisite inflator or jack or lug wrench needed to complete the job. So, there on the side of the highway, I called AAA at 8PM on a Saturday night. Knowing there wouldn’t be any tire shops open on Sunday, I started to panic a bit. With some help from social media, I put out some feelers for a bit of local help, and my buddy Ben came through in a pinch.
I found a set of 997 Carrera S wheels on Facebook Marketplace and started sending messages to make deals, and Ben agreed to let me crash at his place nearby for the night and he’d go with me in the morning and use his tools to help install the new wheels. The wheels were, of course, the wrong offset and they were curb rashed and they had terrible tires on them, but I couldn’t complain much for the $400 asking price for a set of factory Porsche 19″ wheels. Besides, the seller showed up to greet me in his gorgeous white 928, so it was a good experience all around. I threw the wheels on and headed on my way a few hours behind schedule. I knew that I only needed to get to Reno on these wheels, as I had a set of GT3 wheels waiting there from my old Boxster project (which is still in progress, thank you very much).
The GT3 wheels were fitted with an old set of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s, and were the wrong offset, but would work a treat to get me home, for sure. I left the 19″ wheels on the back because they’d been working just fine thus far, why mess with a good thing? I popped the 18″ rear GT3 wheels in the back seat as spares, loaded up some tools and got back on the road. My initial plan was to make it to Laramie or Cheyenne, WY on day 2, but with my late start and delays Saturday night, I only made it as far as Park City, UT. In any case, the drive was almost 800 miles of flawless performance from the Turbo. We did well together, working as a team and keeping everything running like a well-oiled machine. I woke up on Monday, day three, ready for a nice long haul to Des Moines or something like that. If I could get 1000 miles on Monday, I’d make up for the lost time on Saturday and Sunday. That’s the plan.
Bright and early on Monday morning I woke up, had a terrible continental breakfast at my hotel, and got underway. I had about 100 miles of fuel left in the tank from the night before, so I just took off and got everything up to temp. Slow and steady, I crept my way across the border into Wyoming and enjoyed life pretty well. I stopped for a top up at the Flying J in Evanston and got a beverage for the road ahead. I smelled something hot, so I put my hand on the carcass of the tires and checked the wheels to make sure they weren’t overheating from a brake pad dragging or a stuck caliper. Everything felt cool to the touch, so I made a mental note to stop again in 100 miles to check on everything. I didn’t make it 100 miles.
I was cruising along listening to a podcast, rounding a bend on I-80 when I heard a bang and the back end stepped out wildly. Between the traction control and my reactions, I kept the car solid and avoided anything untoward. For the second time in 36 hours, I crawled toward the side of the highway and pulled up the number for AAA. The left rear tire had exploded. Since I got the car, every harsh bump had come with a reactionary ‘krrrsssht’ sound of something impacting the ground. I figured I was grinding away the plastic of the low-hanging rocker covers, but as it turns out the 12″ wide 19s were impacting the chassis ever so slightly on the inner sidewall. Over the last 6,000 miles and a handful of track days, that kiss of rubber on metal had ground its way through the sidewall and caused a massive failure of the left rear. The right rear looked like it would last just a few more miles.
It wasn’t the nicest place to try to jack up a car and replace two wheels, so we boarded the good ship flatbed truck and headed into Fort Bridger, WY where a NAPA service station awaited my arrival. With some help from a trained professional (unnecessary, but welcome) I swapped two worn-but-solid matching Cup 2s onto the back of the Turbo and threw two wrecked 19″ tires with wheels into the back seat. Buttoned up and on the way again, I was optimistic that I could cover a few hundred more miles that day. Ever the optimist.
I pulled out at the Little America a few dozen miles later to double-check tires pressures and make sure everything was up to snuff. I again smelled the hot smell, but couldn’t track down its source. I committed to another 50 miles and I’d check once more. It was at that 50 mile mark that I found this.
The right rear Cup 2 tire was completely annihilated in 110 miles of driving. Okay, something is seriously wrong here. Obviously that tire wasn’t long for the world anyway, as it didn’t have much depth, but it certainly should have gone more than 100 miles. A fellow journalist mentioned he was in Colorado and could load up a trailer to meet me somewhere in Wyoming if I needed it. I called him and formulated a plan. He would load up and start heading my way, and in the meantime I would try to get as far east as I could. In the middle of a Monday in rural Wyoming, you’re not coming up on much traffic, so I put on my flashers and headed out onto I-80 at a steady 60 miles per hour trying to keep the heat out of the rear tire as much as possible. Every time a gaggle of trucks came up in my rear view mirror, I’d ditch for the shoulder or take an off-ramp. It was disconcerting, but it was something. I limped my way to Wamsutter and did some tire shuffling. The left rear still looked okay, so I moved the right front to the right rear and put the collapsible spare on the front right.
In that fashion, I continued on for another 40 miles to the semi-populous Rawlins, WY where I would wait for Kyle from Out Of Spec Studios to pick me up with his diesel overlanding van and a car hauler. By the time he retrieved me and my car around 8PM, I’d managed to travel a whopping 271 miles that day. A far cry from the 1000 I’d aimed for. On the trailer we headed for Kyle’s hometown of Fort Collins, Colorado. A suburb of Denver and a college town in its own right, Fort Collins actually has an independent Porsche shop and a Porsche dealership, so I stood a chance of getting the service I needed.
On Tuesday morning Kyle helped me haul the car to Poudre Sports Car for help.
It was obvious by this point that the car would need a serious alignment in order to survive the rest of the trip without chewing up more tires. I booked the car in for an alignment correction and installation of a set of fresh Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires. Several hours and a four digits credit card charge later, and I was back on my way yet again.
Nothing else would fail on this trip, I promised myself. But a few hundred miles later, I got this warning. Ugh.
Prior to picking up the car, I’d booked it in for a coolant pipe fix. The coolant junction of the Mezger-engined Porsches featured a glued-in fixing, which after twenty years and countless heat cycles is prone to failure. The move these days is to have the pipes welded and pinned into place so they don’t fail again. It wasn’t cheap to get that service done, but it offered me a peace of mind that my road trip would go off without a hitch. Well, at least from a powertrain point of view.
The other major failure with 996 Turbos, after the coolant pipes, is the hydraulic ram wing lift system in the engine lid. The little rubber o-rings in that system start to dry out and crack with age, and getting 3,000 miles of use in just a couple of days made the brittle little guys give out. Somewhere in Iowa, I got this notification. It’s a little disconcerting, but it’s more an annoyance than anything. I’m not going to go spinning off the road from a lack of downforce at 75 miles per hour, so I kept my speeds on the legal side and crawled the miles home.
After another full day of driving, I managed to make it to Cleveland without any further issues. It was about 20 hours of driving to get there from Colorado, and I made it by taking a 90 minute cat nap in the driver’s seat a couple of times. I only recommend it if you’re behind schedule and are extremely tired. In any case, the car is home and has joined the rest of my garage. It’s a great car, in spite of all of this. Someone asked me if I regretted not having the car shipped. You don’t make memories on the back of a truck.
The car has a few issues, but at this point they’re mostly cosmetic. I’m going to deal with them over the winter and hopefully will have a great daily driver come next spring. Keep an eye on this space for updates.