Fantastic Four – 911 Carrera 4 Evolution. Owned by two friends, this quartet of Carrera 4 911s chart the evolution of the breed – we drive all four back-to-back to feel Porsche history in motion… Story: Rob Richardson, Simon Jackson. Photography: Malcolm Griffiths.
Porsche 911 Carrera 4 Evolution 964, 993, 996 and 997 Carrera 4 911s compared…
Like it or not a great number of Porsche 911 collectors have an ulterior motive these days – to make pots and pots of money from their vehicles. What’s even sadder is that as a result many never drive their cars. Refreshingly the collection you see here, jointly owned by Mark Luce and his friend Mark Sherrington, were not bought for financial gain but rather to chart the evolution of a particular variant of 911 – the humble Carrera 4. It all started when the two friends, who happen to be based in different parts of the world, made a conscious decision to revel in their shared love of Porsche 911s, as UK-based Mark Luce explained to us: “My friend, Mark Sherrington, has always loved Porsches – he lives in South Africa now where he has a 997 Turbo. I bought my first Porsche, a 924 Turbo, in 1985, I’ve owned the same 3.2 Carrera Cabriolet for 30-years and I also have a 991 GTS,” explained our guide to this intriguing collection.
The two former work colleagues certainly shared a passion for Porsche, but just how did they arrive here, with four 911s all sharing striking similarities from their system of propulsion to the colour of their paintwork?
“There’s actually a fifth car of our collection – a 1989 3.2 Carrera – it is silver too,” Mark Luce smiled. “Off the back of that first car we decided we’d build a little collection starting with the 3.2 and working our way up to the 997 – we call it the royal flush”.
With the 3.2 already secured, the first acquisition for the duo was an iconic air-cooled – the 993: “We looked for a long time, like all of our cars it had to be low a mileage example – 30k to 40k miles – with a full Porsche service history, manual, and silver – we wanted to match the cars as closely as possible,” we’re told.
Though Mark Sherrington lives in Capetown, he visits the UK as often as possible, so the collection was always intended to stay in Mark Luce’s regular care on UK soil. The search therefore concentrated on cars based in the UK. “We bought the 993 from a former minor in Durham,” Mark Luce recalled. “At the time of the minor’s strike the guy had started buying and selling Porsches – he had some amazing 911s from the 1970s up to the latest 991 R and RS cars. He’d known the 993 since it was six months old, he’d bought and sold it to different people, it’s done 33,000 miles now, has a full service history and is immaculate.”
The next purchases for the collection were somewhat easier to track down – the two more modern water-cooled 911s: “The 996 and 997 were easier cars to find,” Mark Luce admitted. “The 996 came from the Porsche specialists, Cridfords. The 997 came from the a guy in the midlands.”
At this stage there was an obvious hole in the collection – a 964. The team set about searching for the right car to complete their set and, in September 2016, they found it. “We looked long and hard for a reasonably priced 964 donor car. We wanted Silver – it’s a slightly different shade of Silver as Porsche changed the colour over the years. It was supplied in 1989, but it had been in Dublin since 1999 and it had been stored in recent years so it needed some work. It had been vetted by Singer as a potential donor…”
With the car acquired it was sent to Porsche GB HQ in Reading where an unusual plan was discussed, as Mark Luce elaborates:
“Porsche never made a 964 4S – the first 4S was the 993 – so we said to the guys at Reading that we wanted them to build us a 964 4S. It would be the car that Porsche never built, yet now built by Porsche. The team at Reading mentioned the jubilee edition – the 964 Jahre – but that was basically just a wide body car, we wanted the 4S that Porsche would’ve built, had they built it.”
The issue for the chaps at Reading was that they, like the rest of us, would be entirely guessing about the form such a car would’ve taken back in period. Having highlighted the vast engineering task that would need to be undertaken in order to fabricate a ‘964 4S’, Reading’s gurus suggested an alternative. This far cheaper option happily had the potential to one day return on the pair’s investment – restoring the 964 back to original. Both ‘Marks liked the idea: “The Reading team completely resprayed the 964 taking it back to bare metal,” Mark Luce recalled. “We said we didn’t want anything replaced that didn’t need replacing – we wanted it to be as original as possible, just brought back to how it was when it was new. It took them about a year but it was finished in November 2017.”
The 964 is now literally ‘like new’, right down to its number plates which mimic those fitted by its original supplying dealer in period, AFN Guildford.
“People ask if we’re speculators – we’re enthusiasts and collectors. We use all of the cars, we’re not in the business of sticking them away and not using them. If we make some money on them one day then so be it, if we don’t, then we don’t…” said Mark Luce.
Happily then what this collection is about it not making money, but rather owning a slice of Porsche history and enjoying the lineage of one 911 model. Four of the five cars in the collection are kept in storage and swapped out for another on a regular basis by Mark Luce, who often takes one away for the weekend and will always have at least one in his garage at home in Sussex at any one time. When the two Marks get together though, well, that’s when things feel really special:
“Mark was over in the UK about six weeks ago, he hadn’t driven the 964 since it had been completed,” Mark Luce said. “We took the 964 and 993 out for lunch at Goodwood – the roads around there are fantastic…” That ladies and gentlemen is what this collection all about…
To experience this set of 911s first hand, we had Mark give GTP contributor Rob Richardson the keys to each in chronological order. Though Rob is a 911 owner himself (his 911 SC regularly appears in these pages) he had never driven any of these generational 911s. So, we thought that would make his driving impressions of this evolutionary collection fascinating – we weren’t wrong. Over to Rob…
Porsche 911 Carrera 4 964
The 964 was a huge sea change for the 911. Born into a world recession the company couldn’t trade on badge and image alone and this was Porsche’s answer, bringing to market a tour de force of technology trickled down from the 959. The 964 moved the 911 game on: updates such as coil springs replacing torsion bars, power steering, the mechanical AWD system and an engine capacity up to 3.6-litres are the headlines and are what make the car what it is. Other technologies like a deployable rear spoiler, ABS and PDAS (Porsche Dynamische Allrad Steurung) also played a part, but driving the car on sunny Surrey roads I’m not planning on experiencing them. What you do experience in this car is the omnipresent AWD system. This system is purely mechanical; the power is distributed 31% to the front axle and 69% to the rear.
What this means in the real world is that when giving the 3.6 its head out of a junction there is a slight chirp of tyres before it launches itself towards the horizon. It’s a Carrera that copes with its power with huge drive and traction out of the corners. This system is famed for its wet and even snow and ice capability and I can fully believe it. Mark’s example is tight, it’s a new car having been restored by OPC Reading and it has not covered a lot of miles since.
It’s a step back in time and I’m experiencing the car as it would have left the dealer in 1989. That’s special. The gearshift is heavy and long with a stiff rubber element, but it feels deliberately so and is very much part of the whole experience. The brakes carry the same lovely strong feel, one of my favourite things about the earlier 930, with a beautifully modulated pedal. Inside the interior feels modern (for 1989) with classic 911 ergonomics but a distinct uplift in materials and comfort over the outgoing model. The car feels small, light and alive, but not as hard-edged as the 930 before it. Pushing on the car does roll and it’s naturally set to understeer.
It feels safe, confident and comfortable on the road, but that’s not a criticism. It’s not the apex hunting sports car you’d typically associate with the 911 lineage, but in the real world it’s a great drive with a solidity in feel and build that makes you want to use it all the time. You could cover vast distances in this car, it leans more to the GT character of the 911 than the sports car side. And that’s what you want when you specify a ‘4’ – capability all of the time in real world road conditions.
Porsche 911 Carrera 4 993
Next I jumped into the 993. This was to be my first 993 experience and it’s got a lot to live up to. Lorded as the pinnacle of air-cooled 911s, this was the last hurrah and the culmination of decades of Porsche perfecting the 911 recipe. It’s the styling that hits me first: I love it.
Penned by Englishman Tony Hatter it looks sleek and taught. It wears its big (for the time) 18-inch wheels well and the red-callipers and brakes that fill them clearly show it means business, as do the vents, cut-outs and scoops for cooling and manipulating the air around it. There’s a hint of 959 about it and I like that. Inside the 993 is beautifully appointed with sports seats and stitched navy leather everywhere. Again, it’s logical and everything is to hand but this is another step up in luxury over the 964. Of the four cars here this one has my favourite interior, blending function with a soft touch yet with none of the screens and switchgear clutter of the later cars.
The engine is still a 3.6 but it’s been honed, refined and sharpened: it’s fitted with the VarioRam system which gives the engine its character. Even driving normally around town the system is working to maximise torque and then, as it clicks in when the revs rise, the intake runners effectively change length giving you a hard-edged soundtrack and willingness to rev that encourages you to keep your foot buried. Press on further and this transition become seamless and addictive. The engine thrives on revs and the glorious (though muted by comparison to the other cars here) howl eggs you on. This is a very special motor.
If the 964 was all about its AWD system the 993 sort of hides it, providing a more ‘Carrera 2’ dynamic. Porsche replaced the central differential for a simpler and lighter viscous coupling in this car giving it a 95% rear bias. When the clutch plates inside start to slip, a silicon fluid solidifies and gives drive to the front. These were not the only running gear changes for the 993, it also introduced an all-new multi-link rear suspension to improve ride and at-the-limit handling under mid-corner inputs of brake or throttle. The result is a wonderfully balanced 911. While the 964 feels softer and rolls into understeer, the 993 doesn’t, it’s easily adjusted with throttle inputs making the drive down a country road nothing short of thrilling. Whilst firm the suspension is never unpleasant, it gives a reassuring and communicative feel to the car which is impressive given the relatively large wheels and slim sidewalls. The steering has a slowness to it at lower speeds but weights up as you get rolling, and you can really tune in to what the tyres are telling you. This all sounds very engaging, but isn’t that exhausting? No, not at all, this 911 has all the refinement, comfort and usability to ensure you could use it every single day. Believe me, I want to!
Porsche 911 Carrera 4 996
I wasn’t going to like this car. I thought after the 964 and 993 it would feel big, bloated, artificial and insulate me from the driving experience. You see in the name of good journalism I thought I’d approach it with an open mind and no preconceptions… Clearly I didn’t manage that, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The moment you pull away in the 996 there is a precision and well-oiled lightness to its controls. The steering bristles with feel and the just-off-centre weighting gives it the most rewarding feedback and scalpel-like agility. There is no escaping the numbers: this is a bigger, heavier car but the engine, its torque delivery and the razor sharp way it delivers its power belies all that. The rotating mass of the now water-cooled six feels like that of a race engine with no inertia and instant response. And it’s fast. Properly fast. The sports exhaust fitted to this car gives a hard-edged and familiar 911 crescendo to accompany the climbing RPM, it adds another rich layer to the experience. The gearbox is transformed from the air-cooled cars and with six well-chosen ratios so you always have the gear you need to exploit that engine. The shift is light, short, direct and well weighted. There is none of the 964’s rubbery long-throw here. The brakes too are sublime, with great pedal feel and modulation, the pedals perfectly placed for heel and toe. The 964 to the 993 was evolution, this is by comparison revolution.
Though not all revolution is good. The styling of the 996, though aging well, continues to be controversial. In 4S guise with pumped-up arches and 18-inch wheels it’s as good as they come. I’m a big fan of the reflector which runs between the rear lights; a nod to the impact bumper cars and a trend that’s coming back today. I’m still yet to be convinced on the overall styling but it is growing on me.
“The way it drives has completely changed my opinion on the 996”
The interior on the other hand is very ‘of the period’ and not in a good way. It’s functional and in mint condition in this example, but it’s not special enough for a top-end sports car. That said, I don’t care, for the way it drives and has completely changed my opinion on the 996. I’ll forgive it everything.
Porsche 911 Carrera 4 997
The 997 is the most modern of our quartet, but it’s still 10 years old. Its styling returns to the classic 911 look with round headlamps and something of the 993 about it, it looks fresh. Everything I can say about this car is a carbon copy of the 996, but dialled up 10 percent; it takes the 996 and sharpens it. The engine’s torque curve is fuller, it revs even more freely and on the road, in the real world, it is point-to-point ballistic. It’s full of feel and confidence, despite being the biggest car here it still shrinks around you like all 911s do. I can cover both the 996 and 997 AWD systems at this point: Invisible. Both cars seamlessly shift between 5 and 35 percent of power to the front through viscous couplings imperceptibly.
This may have been a different story on loose or wet roads but on these hot, dry Surrey roads the driving experience is undiluted and at no point was anything other than the car’s own mechanical grip required. This is good to know as you still have the reassurance of the system being there on the days you do need it, but a close to ‘Carrera 2’ purity when you don’t. The 997 moves the interior and tech game on with sat nav screens and many buttons for lots of things you likely want, but probably don’t need. Any other day I’d be ok with this; modern cars are like this now… but having gone from the pure simplicity of the 964 it felt cluttered. I can’t begrudge it of that though, it’s of its time just as all of these 911s are.
The only degradation from the 996: the off-centre steering feel. I don’t think you’d ever notice in reality, the steering is sensational, but have jumped from one to the other it was there and really stood out. It’s not enough to be a deciding factor though, I’m nit picking about cars more capable than I’ll ever be as a driver. With 997 prices hardening and 996s still being such incredible value, you’d have to really hate those ‘fried egg’ headlamps or have telepathic steering skills to be upset by that initial few degrees lock sufficiently to disregard a 996. From 996 to 997 we’re back to evolution – the 997 is a great 911.
Having driven forty years of 911 Carrera 4 development back-to-back I am stunned (and utterly privileged – thanks again, Mark). The lineage is clear from the click-clunk of the doors, the ergonomics, the noise, the sense of the car shrinking around you and the overall feel – there is a clear bloodline throughout. If 964 to 993 was a leap, 993 to 996 was a space mission to Mars. Every car in this collection has its place and at the end of the day I’ve been asked which I’d take home (hypothetically, unfortunately). Thus followed a long and agonising conversation where head played heart: if it was my only car I’d have the 996. It does it all and has just enough analogue about it to feel like an event, but then why not have all that goodness turned up another 10 percent with classic styling and go for the 997? If it was a weekend car I’d have the 993, but then if it’s only weekends the 964 with its mechanical AWD and physical feel would be the biggest contrast to modern life for a weekend blast. If I could have a daily and weekend car it would be the 997 for work and the 964 for play.
I wonder which is the favourite for Mark Luce: “In terms of pure 911 – what a Porsche should be about, my favourite is the 993,” he said. “The 996 and 997 are easier to drive – the 993 is the enthusiast’s choice.”
Ok, I know it’s my turn. I’ve come full circle and having been pressed for a decision the car that stands out most is the 993. It’s the Goldilocks 911: air-cooled, well developed and from a time when technology and materials were geared to performance, and safety and emissions regulation hadn’t started strangling cars leading to complexity and excess weight. It’s the perfect every day capable car that’s utterly special from the moment you see it, and then it delivers in spades the exhilarating driving experience you want from a 911.
“People ask if we’re speculators – we’re enthusiasts and collectors”
“We decided we’d build a little collection starting with the 3.2 and working our way up to the 997”