996 CSR. The 996 is today’s poor-relation of the #911
family, but this brilliant sports car has much to offer, even more so when it’s been in the hands of a leading specialist. Road to Redemption RPM 996 CSR. Despite many having an issue with the #Porsche-996 #Carrera
, RPM Technik thinks it’s still a 911 to savour, which is why it has developed its #CSR
concept for this much-maligned 911. Story: Jethro Bovingdon. Photography: Gus Gregory.
Its time is coming. It has to be. People are waking up to the #996
because, frankly, for many it’s now the only affordable 911. Cheap 964s are a distant memory, once unloved SCs are now hot property, the 3.2 Carrera is heating up in its afterglow and the 993 has been commanding strong money for some time. The air-cooled cars are, quite rightly, now solid gold classics with prices to match. So you want a genuinely cheap 911? Welcome to your only choice, people. The one with water pumping through its arteries, fried egg headlights and, as legend has it, an engine made from chocolate, old paper clips swept out from behind the cupboards at #Weissach
and chewing gum scraped from the underside of the engineer’s desks: The 996 Carrera.
Of course I’m being facetious. As you might know I own a 996 Carrera and all my formative #Porsche-911
experiences were at the wheel of various flavours of this much-maligned series. So I’m biased. But before we try RPM Technik’s lighter, harder, faster version of the 996 Carrera it’s worth taking a little trip back to the late 1990s to see what the 996 promised. Its task was simple but critical: ensure Porsche’s survival by turning a meaningful profit. In order to fulfil its mission the 996 was cheaper to build than the 993, shared many parts with the recently launched Boxster and was intended to broaden the appeal of the 911 by offering more practicality, accessible handling and greater refinement. Hardly a list of qualities to get the die-hard 911 fan’s heart pumping faster. In fact you might conclude that Porsche was, ahem, watering down the 911 experience.
Of course, that devastating conclusion has become the prevailing view, but it rather ignores the 996’s many strengths. Namely that the 996 was lighter, more powerful and faster than the car it replaced. It accelerated harder, stopped faster, had more grip and finer balance. I have a copy of German magazine Sport Auto’s ‘Supertest’ of an original 996 Carrera 3.4 and it serves to highlight that the 996 delivered more than just a sound business model for Porsche. From 0-200kph the 993 clocked 26.7-seconds to the 996’s 22.9 seconds. At Hockenheim the 996 lapped at 1:15.9, a full 2.3 seconds quicker than the 993. Its margin at the Nürburgring was 11 seconds (8:17 vs 8:28), it had better aero balance in the wind tunnel and so the list goes on. So while there’s no question that the 996 was a cheaper, more profitable car it’s equally true that it evolved the 911’s dynamic capabilities with considerable success. And not just in terms of cold, hard objective data. The 996 Carrera emerged victorious in various magazines’ Car of the Year gatherings and won nearly every group test it ever showed up to. In other words if this is your only choice for 911 thrills, maybe you shouldn’t be too depressed.
RPM-Technik understands the 996 Carrera’s appeal and with GT3 prices continuing to rise the company felt now was the right time to give the model its CSR treatment. Regular readers will remember the #997
CSR from last year, a sort of GT3-lite that realised much of the potential of the 997 Carrera. The new 996 CSR package follows a similar approach but perhaps makes more sense.
Early 3.4s are still hovering around the £12,000 mark but these are 15-year-old cars now and will usually require a sort of mini rolling restoration if you buy one. I’m going through this process myself and although you can find a sweet early Carrera that still drives very well, inevitably you’ll start thinking about new bushes, maybe refurbished dampers, new discs and pads… the list tends to get longer every time you log on to one of those addictive Porsche online parts shops. It’s a really rewarding process and can be done pretty economically, but RPM argues that although the CSR package isn’t cheap it’s less painful if you factor in the cost of refreshing everything back to OE standard. And, of course, you end up with a more focused, more special end result.
The silver demonstrator, riding at GT3-style height and wearing gorgeous HRE wheels, certainly looks special and the spec suggests the dynamics should match the aesthetic. The CSR uses three-way adjustable KW suspension complete with new top mounts, polybushes allround, hollow adjustable anti-roll bars from Eibach, a rear axle housing a Wavetrac torsen limited-slip differential, a new intake and exhaust system and carbon fibre side sills and engine cover complete with ducktail spoiler. The brake discs remain OE but Performance Friction pads beef-up the response and should prove more durable under demanding conditions. RPM claims a total weight saving of around 30kg but the expensive HRE wheels are an option that I suspect few will take up (they cost £5000 plus VAT), the alternative being GT3-style Sport Classic wheels. The M96 engine has been fitted with an LN Engineering IMS bearing upgrade, low temperature thermostat and features a lightweight clutch and flywheel. You can go further with a carbon fibre bonnet (as fitted to this car), RSS solid engine mounts, GT3-style adjustable suspension arms… The list is almost endless.
No question then, the CSR has some choice modifications. However, it does not come cheap. Deliver your slightly baggy Carrera to RPM’s workshop and it will transform it into a lean CSR for around, gulp, £20,000. RPM is also looking to source 3.4 Carreras and offer turnkey cars for around £27,000. Expect a 100,000-miler with the engine upgrades and a clean bill of health for that price, but there’s no actual rebuild cost included. I absolutely understand where all that money goes, but it’s still not going to be especially easy to persuade people to ignore a nice 996 Turbo or a 997 Carrera S and instead buy an early 996 with some tasty suspension and aesthetic mods. It needs to be bloody marvellous, in fact.
I love jumping into 996s just because they bring memories flooding back. I adore the amazing tactility of the steering, the slim dimensions that make the whole car feel so intimate and the tangible sense of lightness. Remember, the GT3 utilised the heavier C4 chassis and with all the other bigger items it required (think brakes etc), a Carrera carries a small weight advantage at just 1320kg. That relatively low mass infects the whole car, from the way it changes direction to the way it rides over a bumpy road. As you’d expect it is preserved and exaggerated in the CSR. First impressions? This trimmed-down 996 is still properly quick, sounds terrific with the new exhaust silencers and builds on the donor car’s agility and responsiveness. Good signs. Shame the original but optional hard backed seats are set a shade too high. I think the CSR needs some tasty replacements.
We’re on one of my favourite roads in the whole world, the surface is mostly dry and visibility can be measured in hundreds of metres – perfect to carry a bit of speed in safety. The surface is coarse and many of the corners drop away or hide wicked lumps to unsettle a car when it’s already well loaded-up. Despite the aggressive looking ride height the CSR rides pretty well. It doesn’t quite have the fluidity of a first generation GT3 (which is amazingly supple) but the KWs do a great job of parrying the worst bumps and the damping is decisive and controlled. In fact, the main thing that strikes you about the CSR is the tightness of all of its movements… it’s amazing what a fresh set of bushes and some expensive dampers can do. Any thought that a 996 must feel a bit baggy evaporates. In terms of response and control the CSR feels completely fresh.
From the outside you notice the rake of the setup – front splitter almost scraping the floor but the rear running a bit higher. The car looks ‘on the nose’ and that’s exactly how it feels. Turn-in is very quick indeed and the front Michelin Pilot Sport 2s seem to serve up almost Cup levels of grip. The signature 996 light, bobbly front end is gone completely. If you can get this thing to understeer on the road in the dry then you should probably be sectioned. That initial response is more than matched by the traction available. The Wavetrac LSD is a geared diff and it finds simply tremendous drive. Even if you actively try to provoke the tail it barely budges, just giving a little wiggle of exit oversteer and only then when you’re fully committed at turn-in.
Skimming over the moor, the engine hollering a distinctive, bassy growl in the strong mid range and yet revving with energy out to over 7000rpm, the CSR feels focused and genuinely exciting. The brakes feel excellent, too. The Performance Friction pads can be a bit noisy at low speeds but the solid brake pedal feel that they create is full of detail and is hugely reassuring. There’s just a real sense of quality to this enhanced 996 experience that’s at odds with its reputation. Even the long throw but deliciously fluid six-speed ‘box feels superb. I’d always thought that the gritty, heavy feel of the short-shift kits might be a good upgrade, but the lightness and accuracy of the ‘box on these roads matches the rest of the car’s controls beautifully.
My only concern is that I’m not fully confident in the CSR and the 996 is a car I know better than perhaps any other. I’m certain it’ll turn in instantly and grip really hard… but what comes next? To me, some of the steering feel has been lost and the Wavetrac differential, for all the traction it provides, alters the dynamic responses of the 996 to a significant degree. With no locking action on the overrun you get superb front-end response and grip, but without any gentle understeer to lean up against, some of the famed 911 adjustability is lost. Usually a #911
comes alive when you feel the nose go light at the onset of understeer, because what you do with the throttle from here on in determines the balance of the car. Without that understeer, you lose the phase where the car snaps back into line with a throttle lift and then reacts precisely to further inputs, either almost organically around the neutral point or with a twist of oversteer. The CSR would be more exciting, easier to read and, crucially, more accessible if that quality could be reinstated. Maybe a plated differential just suits the 911 better?
Sure enough when rain starts to fall the CSR proves that beyond the limit it’s trustworthy, well balanced and there are no nasty surprises. The front-end response still takes some getting used to as even in slippery conditions you need to be alert to the most subtle messages from the front tyres. Feel a micron or two of understeer and you can be sure there’s oversteer to follow pretty quickly behind. It’s easy to correct or even hold should you find that killer corner, but I still think most drivers (including myself!) would be able to exploit the CSR more fully with a little more understeer built in to the setup. I know there’s a whole aftermarket industry set up to eliminate understeer from the 911’s make-up but I’m not sure that’s necessarily the right thing to do unless you’re chasing lap times above all else. On the road it’s the gateway to a whole world of subtle thrills. Of course, I’d love to try the CSR on track, where perhaps the set up of the KWs and the Wavetrac diff would combine more naturally. For the most part RPM’s new baby is a huge success. For those who’ve only ever heard bad things about the 996, this car’s combination of speed, composure and excitement will be eyeopening.
For me, it’s just nice to drive a 996 with all-new components, a tight focus on driving thrills and meticulous execution, because it still stacks up so well even in the context of 997s or the earlier cars. It makes the 996 seem a bigger bargain than ever and I suspect many Carreras will get a new lease of life over the coming years. The 964 used to be the hot rodder’s 911 of choice but as prices rise that pattern is ending. The 996 – the next great unloved 911, I suppose – is its natural heir and I hope RPM do good business with the CSR. They really pour their love and expertise into these projects and the components are top notch.
Of course the burning question is whether anybody will dig deep to spend circa £20,000 on the full conversion? This is a tricky and personal question and, I suspect, each and every one of us might build a very different CSR. For example, much as I like the carbon fibre ducktail – it’s carbon fibre and a ducktail, after all – I’d save the money and put it into some better seats and an Alcantara rimmed steering wheel just because they’d enhance the driving experience on every single journey. I’d also love to try it with a plated diff and maybe wind up the ride height just a bit to give the front end a bit more travel. Of course RPM can and will do all of this for potential customers, in fact the choices and tuning of those choices is pretty open ended.
So how you judge the value of all this stuff is as personal as ‘your’ CSR could become. If a basic but clean 964 Carrera is worth £35,000, does a fully-fettled, track-optimised 996 CSR stack up at under £30,000? In terms of pure driving enjoyment, absolutely. Is it a good substitute for that GT3 you’ve always promised yourself but now might not ever be able to afford? Again, yes. Aside from not being fitted with that engine, it’s not a million miles away at all. And you might find its more humble beginnings will mean you’ll be happy to drive it as Porsche intended with more freedom. Does it look like value compared to that rare thing – a well loved and cared for 3.4 that’s mechanically fresh and advertised for, say, £12,995? Not so much. So, like anything that involves a substantial investment, the CSR can be dismissed or justified in a million different ways. But if you want a highly focused, relatively affordable and seriously enjoyable #Porsche
911 for road and track days then the 996 as a platform is looking more attractive by the day. The CSR, with a bit of fine-tuning to your own personal requirements, could just be the answer.
The KW Variant 3 suspension gives the CSR a quasi-GT3 stance. HRE alloys are £5000 plus VAT, lovely but pricey. 3.4-litre M96 gets a full overhaul including an LN Engineering IMS bearing upgrade.
To discuss the CSR range and options contact RPM Technik at 01296 663824
Revving with energy out to over 7000rpm, the CSR feels focused and genuinely exciting.
The 996 was lighter, more powerful and faster than the car it replaced.