Back in the 1960s people scoffed at the idea of a rear-engined sports car. They simply couldn’t figure out how a car with all its weight over the rear axle could possibly work around twisty roads or on the track. Four decades later and the 911 continues to defy logic and expectations by getting better with each generation. The GT3 was introduced in 1999 as the racy top-of-the-line model, and was succeeded in 2004 by a slightly updated version, referred to as the 996.2.
The revised 996 GT3 packs a 3.6-litre engine derived from the GT1, delivering 381 horsepower at 7,200 rpm. It offered 80 additional horsepower over the base 3.4-litre motor in the standard Carrera, and was fitted with adjustable suspension and a unique body kit, including a dual-plane rear wing. The GT3’s interior featured sports seats, whilst some of interior trim was deleted to keep weight down. However, the GT3 tipped the scales at 2,976 pounds, making it 66 pounds heavier than a standard 911 (due to the larger engine and strengthened bodywork).
Porsche also built a track-only version of the GT3, dubbed the GT3 Clubsport. Only a handful of differences can be noted in comparison to the GT3, including the fitment of a full roll cage and a Nomex-covered driver’s seat with side airbags omitted. Whilst not generally intended for daily driving, this edition is track-ready in every aspect and able to compete in a number of racing series worldwide.
This example of the ‘facelift’ 996 GT3 is currently being offered at The Classic Motor Hub is a ‘Comfort Model’ finished in black with a matching black interior. One of the previous owners upgraded it to Clubsport spec, including a factory roll cage and harnesses, genuine Cup steering wheel and genuine Cup short shifting cables. Perhaps one of the most overlooked of Porsche’s GT3 models, the 996 GT3 in Clubsport spec provides the ideal track-day weapon for someone looking for a back-to-basics 911.
We recently took this particular Porsche 911 GT3 on a road trip to the famous location of the Droitwich Spa Hill Climb at Chateau Impney in order to test a cross-country rally route we’ve devised for Drive-It Day on April 22nd. Fortunately, the weather was kind and the GT3 proved to be the perfect choice with which to test the twisty roads across the North Cotswolds.
As we set out on our way up the Fosse Way, the road was quickly swallowed up by the GT3 with particularly little effort. The six gears of the short-shifting manual gear box meant we weren’t left with a high-revving din like some other road-going track monsters, whilst the snappy box ensured I remained in touch with the feel of the car.
Based on the ‘Comfort Model’, this particular 911 GT3 manages to combine excellent response and road handling of the Clubsport model with the more comfortable properties of a Carrera. The GT3 shares suspension similarities with the GT2, so handling feels equally crisp, lively, and taut. Compared with a base Carrera, the GT3 is a lot better balanced, not so afflicted with incessant understeer, and easily changes direction with a flick of the rear.
Despite offering excellent handling, the suspension may feel too stiff for anyone who isn’t surrounded by miles of smoothly paved roads. Despite the huge number of potholes on roads around The Classic Motor Hub, we encountered surprisingly few bumps on our North Cotswolds adventure, but we certainly felt every one we did. The brakes, like those on all recent 911s, are simply phenomenal: 13.8-inch on the front and 13.0-inch rear steel rotors.
The GT3’s 380-bhp normally-aspirated bark translates into serious speed. Flying up through the gears quickly highlights the engine’s rev-happy attitude and excellent flexibility. Pull starts strongly in the mid-range at around 4000 rpm, with the full crescendo coming in from 6000 rpm right up to red line. Revs climb with an unbridled sense of urgency accompanied by one of the finest Porsche exhaust note this side of a Carrera GT.
As a raw driving experience, the second gen 996 GT3 manages to remain a particularly visceral undertaking without too many electronic driving aids detaching you from the experience, but if you wanted to use a 911 every day, the standard GT3 probably isn’t the 911 for you. In this combination of ‘Comfort’ spec with the Clubsport upgrades, it has just enough creature comforts to feel more useable on the road, whilst offering everything you’d need for serious attack of a race track. Whilst we haven’t had a chance to drive this car on a track, that is obviously where the car will feel most at home.