Caffeine&Machine cultofmachine Chasing the Cult of Machine Track spec: Al Clark’s 996 GT3

Track spec: Al Clark’s 996 GT3

If anyone still considers the 996 the ugly duckling of Porsche 911s , then Al Clark’s GT3 is surely a magnificent, fire-spitting swan.

So, the 996. The car that sent the Porsche 911 hardcore into fits of frothing rage when new. The car with the headlights that have been the butt of a million ‘fried egg’ jibes. The car that’s been the cheapest entry point into used 911 ownership for years now, even as rebounding values start to push even the leggiest base-model cars back above the five-figure threshold.

Is it all deserved? Probably not. Certainly, a tatty Tiptronic-equipped 996 Cabriolet probably isn’t going to be overly representative of that much-exalted 911 experience that Porsche has spent decades refining. Even so, they’ve never really been anything close to bad cars. They marked an abrupt change to the long-established 911 formula with water cooling and those headlights, there was the notorious IMS bearing fault that lunched lots of engines early on, and the ’90s-tastic interior looks pretty ropey nowadays. At its core, though, the 996 is still a Porsche 911, and therefore a damned good sports car.

Then there’s what happens when you pour time, resources and love into making the 996 as good as it can be. Welcome to the 996 GT3 owned by automotive filmmaker and friend of C&M, Al Clark.

The 996 GT3 had been on Al’s ownership bucket list since he was exposed to the unmistakeable howl of that flat-six during his first trips to the Nürburgring in the early 2000s. It was an ambition he was able to fulfil with this, a facelifted 996.2 GT3, bought unmodified in 2014.

Those extra two letters and a number are important. The 996 was the first 911 generation to get the now-essential GT3 treatment. Introduced in 1999, it was a proper homologation special, created to allow the 911 to be as competitive as possible in GT racing. It boasted a 3.6-litre, naturally-aspirated flat-six making a quoted 375bhp in the facelifted car, and came exclusively with a six-speed manual. Al’s car also has the Clubsport pack, making it even more hardcore with full bucket seats, six-point harnesses, a half-cage, and a single-mass flywheel.

Had Al kept the car standard, the technical rundown would have ended there. Al didn’t keep the car standard.

Suspension-wise, it features a set of KW coilovers and top mounts developed by the Nordschleife-dwelling Porsche wizards at Manthey Racing. A measure of its seriousness as a track car is that the suspension is now rose jointed all round, disposing of the shock-absorbing niceties of bushings. Lower suspension arms come from Road Sport Supply, while the upper and toe arms are the work of pro drifter and setup maestro Ben Broke-Smith at String Theory Garage.

The standard engine mounts are out, replaced by performance items from Road Sport Supply. The engine itself has been treated to a K&N cold-air intake and a full exhaust system, including cats and manifolds, from Supersprint. Keeping all this in check are a set of steel brake discs and Pagid RS29 high-performance pads.

Visually, the car wears the rear-wing from the (originally) even more racy 996 GT3 RS road car, and the front splitter from the GT3 Cup racer. The rims are BBS E88s, and the tyres are ultra-sticky Pilot Sport Cup 2s from Michelin.

Al’s aims with the car were making it as amenable as possible to serious track usage without taking things too far and stripping away the appeal the GT3 held in the first place. True to his word, he’s put 35,000 mostly on-track miles on it in the last nine years, including plenty of laps around the Nordschleife. Besides the failure of a clutch release fork last year, it’s not skipped a beat.

Anything else planned? Potentially, much further down the line, a 3.9-litre engine conversion, something offered by multiple Porsche specialists. For now, though, it stands as a shining beacon of what’s possible with what was once considered the ugly duckling of the 911’s lineage.

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