The late 1980s and early 1990s were harsh times. The US stock crash, the Japanese stock market crash followed by its real estate bubble burst and the economic stagnation followed by the fall of the Soviet Union between 1989 and 1992 resulted in a massive impact on the countries around the world.
Porsche sales were dramatically falling in this time period and revenue to develop the next generation of Porsche 911 or new models weren’t there.
From the brief time when Wendelin Wiedeking working as the CEO, and then his successor Arno Bohn working as the CEO from 1990 to 1993, many believed that Porsche was done for good. There were many rumors that Porsche is going to announce bankruptcy or that some Japanese Automotive giant is going to purchase it. Some believed that General Motors or Daimler Benz was going to buy Porsche.
However, things were different in the Weissach development and research departments. Porsche’s engineers were now working on a new water-cooled flat-six engine to comply with ever-strict emission regulations. Water cooling also allowed the engineers to make it produce more power as well.
Water cooling provides better cooling of the cylinder head which in turn improves fuel economy and power output. It was also possible to use spark plugs that were impossible to use with air cooling.
The all-new water-cooled flat-six engine was internally known as the Type M96/1. The displacement of the engine was 3387cc, and it developed 300hp at 6800rpm. The maximum power output was 10% more when compared to the 3600cc air-cooled Type M64 engines of the Porsche 993.
The only negative side of the water cooling was the added weight of the water-cooling system, which contains pumps, radiators, plumbing, and 20 liters of water in it.
The water-cooling system was also bulkier and designers had to consider this as well when designing the new water-cooled engine-powered cars.
Porsche had introduced a new automatic elevating rear spoiler with the Porsche 964 in 1989 and the rear spoiler system was also included in the Porsche 993 variants. This rear spoiler improved overall stability, reduced aerodynamic drag, and improved fuel economy as well. But, the implementation itself was costly as well as complicated.
Porsche 996 project’s main stylist Pinky Lai was told to come up with a very aerodynamic body but wasn’t allowed to include active aerodynamic tricks such as a moving rear spoiler due to the tight budget.
Grant Larson was the lead stylist of the Type 986 project, which later became the Porsche Boxter. He is also the creator of the RSR roadster concept which was later unveiled as the Porsche Boxter in 1993 at the Detroit Motor Show. Due to the strong reception from the public, Harm Lagaay called to inform his teams led by Grant Larson and Pinky Lin to continue working on their projects.
Pinky Lai and his modeler Eberhard Brose, modeled the Porsche 996 with maximum aerodynamic efficiency in mind.
Wendelin Wiedeking, the genius who turned around the Porsche from its almost bankruptcy to become one of the most successful automotive companies in history, did so by effectively cutting costs by discontinuation of the not so profitable Porsche 928 and Porsche 968 by 1995, and by streamlining the production lines at the Zuffenhausen factory with the help of Shingijutsu, a company formed by two former Toyota executives.
Shingijutsu company was known for teaching new, efficient, and cost-effective methodologies that could be used to improve the heavy industry production lines and factories. Their teachings were based on Toyota’s exemplary efficiency and its philosophy of continuous improvement.
From 1993 to 1994, during the production of Porsche 993, the modernization process of the Zuffenhausen factory happened. Wendelin Wiedeking trimmed the assembly floor parts inventories from twenty-eight days to thirty minutes supplies, demanding just in time parts from Porsche’s mechanical components providers.
This resulted in improved productivity, reduced costs, and improved overall build quality, which in turn resulted in better profits. Under Wendelin Wiedeking’s administration, Porsche began to invest more and more in clever innovations and the public opinion on Porsche automobiles improved due to this.
Eighteen months before the Porsche 993 production ended, Zuffenhausen assembly lines started the production of pilot Porsche 996 models due to the veining demand for air-cooled cars.
Official series production of Porsche 996 started in the fall of 1997 with coupes and cabriolets for the EU-based customers. The US market launch happened in mid-1998 as 1999 models.
Porsche 996 was targeted at BMW, and Mercedes-Benz coupes, and cabriolets. Porsche 996 had 3.2 inches longer wheelbase, 2-inch wider front, and rear track. This wider track and slightly longer wheelbase resulted in better handling and road-holding properties.
Porsche 996 featured headlights that combined a low and main beam with fog light, signal indicators, and headlight washer into one fixture. This new headlight system was designed to improve efficiency. These new headlights were not well-received by the more traditional Porsche enthusiasts. They kept demanding the traditional round headlights with a single main beam.
Since Porsche focused on everyday practicality as well as uncompromised performance, soon the higher performance Carrera series was unveiled. The all-wheel-drive Porsche 996 Carrera 4 soon proved to be a success in terms of performance and sales. The track racing-oriented Porsche 996 GT3, a car built by Porsche to comply with FIA homologation requirements as well as to compete in the Porsche Carrera Cup tournament, soon became one of the most feared opponents in closed track racing events across North America and Europe.
Porsche 996 Turbo was unveiled in 2000. Porsche 996 GT2 was unveiled in 2001 now packing 462hp/
Porsche 996 Targa variant with a sliding glass roof was unveiled in 2002. All the Porsche 996 variants received a new facelift and minor stylist changes. All the cars got revised headlights for the 2002 model year.
In 2004, the updated Porsche 996 GT2 and GT3 along with Porsche 996 Turbo Cabriolets were unveiled.