The 997 was the last Mezger-engined, manual-only GT3 – and it's just as good as that combination sounds
By Tony Middlehurst / Sunday, 2 October 2022 / Loading comments
• Available for £85,000
• 3.6-, 3.8- or 4.0-litre flat-six petrol, rear-wheel drive
• Driving purist’s dream
• Built to survive the performance
• RS 4.0s are four times the price of the (excellent) 3.6s
• If you’re on a budget, buy a 3.6 now before it’s too late
It’s generally accepted that the story of serious lightweight performance Porsche 911s began in 1973 with the Carrera 2.7 RS. The concept of limited-run ‘racers for the road’ was ramped up in earnest in 1999 with the launch of the FIA GT3 cup-homologating 996 GT3. Including Clubsport versions, fewer than 1,900 of these were built.
In the regular 911/996 range, watercooling had taken over from aircooling in 1998 with the debut of the M96 engine, but the GT3 road-racers that were associated with both the 996 and the succeeding 997 went with an older-school but tougher flat six which had direct roots to the bulletproof Hans Mezger-designed race engines of the 1970s.
Here we’ll be looking at the 997 GT3 range which kicked off in 2006 (a full two years after the standard 997s had arrived) in the shape of the 3.6 litre 415hp 997.1 GT3. Designed to deliver more power, more downforce, more grip and less weight than the 996 GT3s, the 997s featured ‘zero lift’ aerodynamics and, for the first time in a GT3, Porsche’s PASM electrically adjustable active suspension system. The basic 997.1 GT3 car covered the 0-60mph run in an official 4.1sec, though some testers managed better. In the capable hands of Walter Röhrl it lapped the Nordschleife in 7min 42 seconds.
Although the RS versions of the 997.1 GT3 were physically larger and had a wider rear track than the regular cars by virtue of their wider Carrera 4S bodyshells, the use of carbon fibre for the rear wings and plexiglass for the rear windows meant that they undercut the standard GT3’s weight by 20kg. Alongside the ‘Comfort’ model were Clubsport and race-spec GT3 Cup models. Roadgoing GT3s were said to share 95 per cent of the Cup cars’ componentry.
At the end of 2009 a facelift 997.2 GT3 came out with a 3.8-litre 435hp engine (signified by 3.8 logos on the rear wing), plus daytime running lights, new centre-lock wheels that shaved 3kg off unsprung mass, larger and lighter brakes, a front-end lift kit option, and four times the downforce of the 996 GT3. This aero advance allowed Porsche to stiffen up the suspension and thicken the anti-roll bars. The RS version of this 2009 phase two GT3 generated 450hp from its 3.8 engine and was about 25kg lighter than the non-RS thanks to its stripped-out interior, plexiglass rear window and the wider use of carbon fibre and aluminium in the bodywork and aero kit parts. Track widths on these gen-two RSs were greater at both ends (1.7in front, 1.0in rear) rather than just the rear.
Topping the 997.2 GT3 range was the 2011 GT3 RS 4.0, the last 911 to feature a Mezger unit and the biggest displacement production 911 engine ever. Priced at a reputedly loss-making £128,466 and limited to just 600 examples, the RS 4.0 was an expression of gratitude to longstanding Porsche customers who predictably snapped it up. The long-stroke engine produced 500hp and created a torque curve that more closely suited the manual six-speed gearbox which came with all 997 GT3s and which had been criticised in the lesser models for the 193mph length and the width of its ratios. The rear suspension featured articulating rose joints with helper springs. More lightweight parts like the carbon fibre bonnet and front bumper and the new aero kit with front winglets kept the overall RS 4.0 package below the weight of the 3.8 RS.
The result is often held up as the ultimate 997. Many would go further and nominate the 4.0 RS as the ultimate 911. Others reckon the 3.8 is the nuts, but that could be a fiscally-based opinion based on the stratospheric prices now being reached by 4.0 RSs. We’ll tell you just how high the 4.0s have gone at the end of this piece. Strap yourself in for that.
The good news is that any 997 GT3 will be a dreamy source of thrill and delight for just about any 2022 driving enthusiast so long as they’re not expecting instant, easy performance courtesy of automatic gearboxes and turbochargers. You’ll need to put some effort in but the driving rewards will be rich. Better yet, although the GT3 was close to a race car it was still perfectly useable on a daily basis. Fuel consumption figures in the high 20s or even low 30s were attainable on a cruise.
How much will it cost you to get into a 997 GT3? Well, as you might expect, the cheapest cars are the higher-mileage 3.6s. The lowest-priced one on PH Classifieds at the time of writing was a 2007 left-hooker with 54,000 miles at just under £85k which we’ll link to in the verdict at the end. We did find a £1 cheaper RHD one outside of PH, but that one had done 60,000 miles.
Although there are rarely more than twenty or so 997 GT3s on sale in the UK at any given moment, you’ll find a good percentage of them are 3.6s at this more affordable £85k-£90k end of the market. Gen-two 3.8s with the same sort of mileage tend to start at nearer £110k. Gen-one RSs are thinner on the ground, and those two letters add a hefty premium too. They’re hard to find below £130k. As for 4.0s, well, let’s just say for now that you’d be very pleased indeed to find one at twice the new price of £130k.
SPECIFICATION | PORSCHE 911 GT3/RS/RS 4.0 (2006-11)
Engine (cc): 3,600/3,797/3,996 flat-six
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp/rpm): [email protected],600/[email protected],900/[email protected],250
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],500/[email protected],750/[email protected],750
0-62mph (secs): 4.3/3.9/3.9
Top speed (mph): 193/193/193
Weight (kg): 1,395/1,370/1,435
MPG (official combined): 21.7/21.4
CO2 (g/km): 312/314/326
Wheels (in): 8.5/9 x 19 (f), 12 x 19 (r)
Tyres: 235/35 (f), 305/30 (r) (997.1 GT3)
On sale: 2006 – 2011
Price new: £79,540 (997.1 GT3)
Price now: from £85,000
(Figures given are for 997.1 GT3, 997.2 RS and 997.2 RS 4.0)
Note for reference: car weight and power data are hard to pin down with absolute certainty. For consistency, we use the same source for all our guides. We hope the data we use is right more often than it’s wrong. Our advice is to treat it as relative rather than definitive.
ENGINE & GEARBOX
Although the six-speed manual gearbox did have some detractors, its attachment to the Mezger GT1-related engine in the 997 GT3 resulted in one of the best sporting drivetrains ever. The base 3.6 engine with Variocam valve system produced 415hp at an excitingly whizzy 7,600rpm, and there were still another 800 or so revs to go after that. The 3.8 and 4.0 engines ran even higher to 8,500.
The 3.6’s torque figure of 299lb ft sounded more than ample for a sub-1.4 tonne car but you couldn’t access it simply by booting it at 1,500rpm as you would have been able to if there had been a turbocharger fitted. That was a big part of the GT3’s appeal. There was no rev-matching apart from whatever you could manage yourself with your right foot and left hand (on RHD models). Lever throw was shortened and beefy. It responded best to decisive inputs.
The ability to laugh gaily at an official urban fuel consumption figure of 14.1mpg was useful – and that was on the basic GT3. The 4.0 was even more tractable than the gutsy 3.8 and there was no price to be paid in the upper reaches of its rev range either. The ports in the Cup car’s cylinder head were considerably enlarged. The flywheel in the gen-two RS was lightened.
Timing was by chain and there could be some small oil leaks from the chain housing. Coil packs might go, but name any modern car (especially German ones) where that’s not the case. If the clutch on a GT3 you’re looking at seems to have quite a high biting point that means a new one will be due soon. Independent specialists will charge you at least £1,300 for that. Air-con radiators were a bit exposed ahead of the main cooling rads and could rot as a result. AC condensers that last more than eight years in the UK are doing well. Rebuilds will be over £1,200.
Overall, and especially considering the sort of thrashing it invited, the engine was remarkably steadfast as long as it was given the best oil and the service intervals were adhered to. Even so it’s highly advisable to get a specialist to dive into a car’s ECU history to check for any potentially damaging over-revving through missed gearchanges. A puff of blue smoke on start-up was not unusual or worrisome on any flat-six Porsche. Some GT3s could develop what looked like a damp patch around the front main seal, and that could be worsened by lack of use, but again there was no major need to worry unless oil was actually leaking out, which it rarely did.
Minor services for 997.1s are every 12,000 miles or two years, majors (which include spark plug replacement) every 24,000 or four years. Drive belts and fuel filters will want changing at 48,000, gearbox oil every 96,000. Costs vary from £340 for a minor service, £870 for a major, and £90 for new brake fluid (every two years) to independents offering minors at £276 and majors at £396.
With more than half an eye on serious track use the GT3’s chassis was as thoroughly thought out and specced as its noisy bits. Springs and dampers were firmed up. Adjustability was built into the spring platforms. Two camber settings were available. The anti-roll bars were uprated with five settings at the front and three at the rear. There was fully switchable traction control and a limited-slip diff but no PSM stability control until the gen-twos. The variable ratio hydraulic steering was off the hook in terms of its feel and response.
350mm brake discs front and rear with six- and four-piston calipers were standard and very effective. Some early cars on steels had a bit of bother with the discs coming loose. Porsche put this right on later cars. Carbon ceramics were a £5,800 option. These were unusual for their type in that they didn’t always last that long, but the big plus with them (apart from their lower weight) was that they didn’t dump a load of brake dust all over the back and sides of the car. Another advantage of the ceramics was that they weren’t vulnerable to cracking, whereas steel discs on heavily tracked cars were. Discs with cracks longer than 5mm should be scrapped. From specialists, a new set of genuine Porsche items should come in at about £2,200 including pads. Alcon replacements acquired a good reputation in the GT3 community.
If you’re prone to back trouble you will definitely want to try a GT3 before you buy because the ride quality on British roads could be punishing. Most concluded that the PASM active suspension was best left switched off unless you were on the track, when activating it plus the Sport button would trigger the sound of angels singing. As mentioned earlier the GT3 RS 4.0 featured uniball (rose) joints on the rear suspension arms, as per the 911 GT2 RS, adding to the brilliance of the drive.
GT3 front suspension linkages and top mounts could get noisy over time, with rattles eventually turning into a more alarming knocking, but Porsche showed itself to be a willing partner on warranty claims. On tyres like Michelin Pilot Sport Cups the grip level in the dry was practically magnetic, but you wouldn’t want to try those tyres around the same corners at the same speed in the wet unless you were into subjecting yourself to less welcome 911 emotions like abject fear. At least the Cups wore out quickly. Pilot Sport 2s or SuperSports were better favoured for all-round use.
Uneven tyre wear isn’t necessarily a warning sign on a GT3 because that can happen with certain more extreme track setups, but if the uneven wear is accompanied by a bad driving feel then you need to get the car looked at and ideally fully geometry-checked. Prices for that sort of thing at a recognised specialist start at around £240. Some say that the standard factory geometry is usually as good as if not better than any clever tweakery your geeky mate says you should have. Others (usually those who spend more time on the track than the public road) say that the standard arrangement feels slightly unresponsive and that only full track day settings will do, albeit at the cost of a tendency to follow every line or rut on an imperfect surface. Either way, these cars are sensitive to setup. Some owners tried to reduce understeer on their GT3s by fitting larger anti-roll bars from the GT2, but it was found that this could introduce an unwelcome extra friskiness on the limit.
This is one of those cars where colour really doesn’t matter. You could have one in baby-poo brown or lipstick pink and you’d still have no trouble selling it. Having said that, most UK buyers went safe by choosing from the usual range of white, black, silver or grey, with the odd foray into primary colours and some more interesting £3,000 paint options like Riviera Blue.
The nose lift was a worthwhile option if you wanted to keep the plastic front spoiler in decent nick. Naturally you’ll want to be taking a more comprehensive look under the car to check not only for obvious damage but also for sneakier things like trackside gravel that’s been rammed between the undertrays and the floorpan as a result of the car failing to stick to the marked track limits.
Gravel rash can take quite a toll on the body ahead of the rear wheels, more so on the regular GT3s as the RSs had protective plastic covers.
Comfort or Clubsport interiors were available, the latter a no-cost choice with lightweight bucket seats covered in flame-retardant Nomex, a half roll cage and provision for race gear like a battery master switch, fire extinguisher and harness. If you had small kids to carry occasionally you would obviously go for the Comfort.
Even on the gen-two 997, the bare racer look remained an integral part of the GT3 deal, which some saw as a good thing because it meant there were fewer gizmos to go wrong. Checking for functioning electronics in a GT3 is therefore a pretty quick job. Beyond that, GT3 interiors shouldn’t present you with many problems. The sparse equipment level of course meant juicy upsell pickings for Porsche from owners who couldn’t resist the urge to spec up. Ticking the box for the sat-nav, iPod socket and phone integration package cost over £3k. Same for the lightweight bucket seats if you wanted them on a non-Clubsport car. Those seats stood you up at attention somewhat, and as such could feel slightly extreme in urban driving, but on tracks or the right country roads they blended brilliantly with the thin-rimmed Alcantara wheel to deliver a driving position that was not far short of perfect.
Some found the throttle pedal to be too low in relation to the brake pedal for easy heel and toeing, and that Alcantara wheel could become rough. The greased runners on the lightweight seats could wear and/or dry out over time, producing an annoying squeak.
997.2 prices may have been softening a little of late but those for 997.1s haven’t. In 2009 the starting price for a used 997.1 GT3 was £65k. By early 2012 they were down to under £60k, but by early 2021 they had gone up to £70-£75k. By mid-2021, a year before we wrote this piece, you needed £80k. Today the entry fee is £85k.
All of this suggests that now rather than later would be a good time to take that GT3 leap you’ve always promised yourself. Although £85k is not what many of us would call a trifling amount, it’s really not that much for such a fantastic piece of kit. And the good news is that you don’t need to spend more than that £85k to get that sweet GT3 experience. The first and cheapest 997.1 GT3s make a pretty good case for themselves as the value-based sweet spot of the entire 997 GT3 range, including the gen-twos, especially if you believe (like many) that the increasing size of the later cars takes away from the overall attractiveness of the GT3 package.
Yes, the poster-boy RS and 4.0 feel more ‘special’ and are incredible, but so is the straight GT3 if you take it in isolation and you’re relaxed enough in your own skin not to feel the need to pay top dollar. In terms of real-world performance there’s very little if any difference between the three main models, or for that matter between the gen one and the gen two cars. They’re all amazing.
Now, there’s always a caveat when it comes to investing into used cars that previous owners are very likely to have taken to more than the odd track day. The 997 GT3 certainly fits squarely into that category, but because the car was designed and built to take account of that and because that brief was backed up by Porsche’s usual high build quality, there’s less of a concern here than there would be with most other less well-engineered cars. You can enjoy your GT3 to the hilt without having to worry much about wearing it out.
Availability comes into the buying equation too. The gen-two RS 4.0 was a masterpiece and a worthy valediction to the 997 GT3 but you’ll have the devil of a job finding one to buy. They only made 600 of them and just 40 of those came to the UK. There were just two 2011 4.0s on PH classifieds as we went to press. Care to guess their prices? £335k and £345k. As they used to say about Rolls-Royces many decades ago, if you have to ask you can’t afford it.
Suddenly £85k seems cheap. Here’s that car we mentioned at the beginning. The price reflects the fact that it’s a left-hand drive car and with 54,000 miles up it was the leggiest 997 GT3 on the UK market at the time of writing. For between £5k and £10k more you could take your pick from five 2007 cars on PH Classifieds, the lowest mileage of them being this 17,000-miler at £94,950. For about the same money (but with twice the mileage) there’s this recently serviced, RPM Technik-warranted Clubsport.
The most affordable gen-two 3.8 on PH as we went to press was this 31,000-miler in classic Guards Red at £115,995. With a full service history and a long Porsche warranty this 2010 example was a stunner that showed you just how well these cars carry mileage.
Showing you what sort of premium RS models can carry was this ’07 gen-one car. You might think that a big chunk of this car’s £130k asking price mist surely be down to the fierce amount of dosh that’s been spent on it, but the near £140k asking price for this lower mileage but also considerably less breathed-on ’07 997.1 RS and the £150k tag for this one says different and gives you an indication of how highly regarded RSs are. Gen-two RSs start at around £175k. Here’s the cheapest one from the PH classifieds.
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