The unloved design disruptor we ought to celebrate
The 996 has had an unusual journey since its 1998 debut. It was the first water cooled 911, the first truly new 911 since the original 901, much bigger than its predecessors, and clearly a very close sibling to the then new Boxster. This disruption after a slow 35 year evolution of the 911 design, along with not-round headlamps that up-set a significant minority and an interior design that polarised, meant that the 996 design was always on the back-foot. Retrospectively it also lacked the classic appeal of its last-of-the-line air cooled 993 predecessor, or the technical refinements and visual nips-and-tucks of its 997 successor.
Yet here is the cleanest 911 with less interruptions to its simple form than any other, and consequently the most modest and calm design identity — it is the least aggressive or pugnacious 911.
Here is the last Porsche 911 to be slim hipped, with rear fenders not bulging out to accommodate a broad rear track: just as the 356, 901, and 928 were the perfect pebbles of their day, so too was the 996.
Here is the most informed 911 design; stepping from the still-born 989 sedan of 1991 and the 1993 Boxster concept whilst nodding to the 1989 Panamerica concept, and being designed by designers who cut their teeth at Porsche during the future-facing seventies and eighties when a Porsche was many things more than a 911 — and when designers worked on the product design side of the business designing watches, pipes, and even tractors.
That the 996 was also a new-from-the-ground-up 911 design shows, just as it does in the revered original 901 and the more recent 991 (and unlike the 964, 993, 997 and 992 designs that cloak the bones of their predecessors).
Its disruptive birth, inherently in-between status, and modest identity mean the 996 design will likely always be the least loved 911 design; few have put the 996 on a design pedestal. But that is an omission, the 996 is one of the Porsche design greats and we think it's about time it was celebrated.