Porsche 911 GT3: The History of Porsche's Wild Child
Celebrate 20 years of the spectacular 911 GT3 with a look at every generation.
Usually we see anniversaries coming from a mile away, but the 20th anniversary of Porsche's venerable 911 GT3 blindsided us; let's chalk it up to "time flies when you're having fun." Yes, two decades have passed since the legendary "GT3" badge first graced the sloping rear hatch of the 1999 911. To celebrate what is arguably the purest ongoing translation of motorsports tech into a road car, we've compiled the GT3's history, generation over generation, for your perusal.
Before the GT3
Surprise, surprise—the 911 GT3 was far from Stuttgart's first stripped-out, hunkered-down, motorsports-inspired 911. In some respects you can trace the GT3's lineage back more than 50 years to the 1967 Porsche 911 R, an actual, real-deal competition-spec 911 that was more track-ready than street legal. Of course, a lot happened in the 32 years between the first 911 R and the 1999 GT3, so as sacrilegious as it may seem, let's fast forward over rennsport legends like the 1973 Carrera RS 2.7, Carrera Clubsport, and 964 Carrera RS for the sake of relative brevity.
In 1995, Porsche launched the 993-generation Carrera RS, the final RS-ified 911 before the first 996 GT3. Like RS models of yore, Porsche created the 993 Carrera RS primarily for homologation purposes; in this case the 3.8-liter Carrera RSR for the BPR GT3 and GT4 series. In contrast to the refined and street-ready 996 GT3, the 993 Carrera RS is punishing, more akin to a modern GT3 RS than the regular base-level GT3.
A solid 296 horsepower and 262 lb-ft of torque come from a competition-ready 3.8-liter naturally aspirated air-cooled flat-six. Aside from the extra 0.2 liter of displacement, the 3.8-liter features upgraded forged pistons, dual oil coolers, lightweight rocker arms, magnesium intake plenum, upgraded injectors, and a single mass flywheel compared to the regular Carrera's 3.6-liter.
Everything under the skin was reworked. A front brace was added, along with ball-joint damper mounts, adjustable front and rear antiroll bars, a lower and stiffer suspension setup, a limited-slip differential, and brakes from the 993 Turbo.
All tinsel, trim, and nonessential items were ripped out, including central locking, power-adjustable seats, power windows, the sound system, the sound insulation, airbags, rear-window defroster, and headliner. What couldn't be taken out was replaced with something better, including thinner window glass, sport seats, thinner door panels, an aluminum front hood, and aluminum doors. After this crash diet, the Carrera RS weighed just 2,821 pounds.
If you're U.S.-based and have never seen one in person, we're not surprised. Porsche made just over 1,000 993 Carrera RSs between 1995 and 1996, and none of those ever made it to our shores—at least not until hungry Porsche collectors imported a handful over the years.
Photos courtesy of RM Sothebys
2000-2003 Porsche 996.1 GT3: The Ur-GT3
Those are quite the lightweight, high-revving shoes to fill. In retrospect, while the all-new 996.1 GT3 was seen as the next-step in the evolution of the Carrera RS timeline, its ethos was markedly different. Instead of being a homologation special, the GT3 arrived as a fully baked driver's 911, incorporating lessons learned from motorsports but not allowing the track-only side to dominate the experience.
A continuing theme for the GT3 through to today's 991.2 model, the car's engine proved to be the standout feature. The 996 GT3's 3.6-liter Mezger flat-six is a watered-down variant of the six found in the incredible 911 GT1 Le Mans racer, though the changes did little to muffle the eager and punchy character. It delivers 360 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque, thanks to a nitride-hardened crankshaft, titanium connecting rods, and lightweight pistons. Keep your foot in it and you won't hit redline until 7,800 rpm.
A six-speed manual transmission originally developed for the 993 GT2 provides the power transfer to the rear wheels and limited-slip differential, which is handy considering the gearbox features quick-swap gear ratios to tailor your GT3 for a particular track. The suspension is noticeably stiffer and lower than a regular Carrera's, incorporating a reinforced structure, adjustable coil-overs, uprated front wheel bearings, beefier rod ends, and adjustable anti-roll bars. The brakes are bigger, and a distinctive "taco" rear wing works with a unique front fascia and side skirts for reduced drag and additional downforce.
Porsche kept a lot of the usual parts on the shelf, too. The rear seats, spare tire, sound deadening, air conditioning, and sound system were all left behind on the factory floor; a 2,976-pound curb weight was increased by 66 pounds of additional reinforcement on the brakes, suspension, transmission, and body shell.
The result of all of this hard work was a Nürburgring lap time of less than eight minutes, a zero-to-60-mph sprint in the low-four-second range, and a top speed of 187 mph. Not bad for the first swing, but the first GT3 unfortunately never made it to the States.
2004-2005 Porsche 996.2 GT3
It wasn't until 2004 that America got its first taste of GT3 magic. Updated and refreshed for the 2004 model year, it arrived with more of some stuff and less of others. Power increased to 381 horses and 285 lb-ft via longer titanium connecting rods, lighter pistons, and an upgraded VarioCam system, dropping the zero-to-60 time to 4.3 seconds and raising the top speed to 190 mph.
The front fascia was redesigned, as were the rear wing and the wheels. Speaking of wheels, despite wider tires front and rear, the new wheel set reduces weight by 2.2 pounds each. The brakes are further enlarged and perform better with six-piston calipers, while ceramic discs sourced from the 996 GT2 were an option for the first time.
2003-2005 Porsche 996 GT3 RS: The Purist's Dream
Late one night, over drinks and steaks in Monterey, California, a higher-up at the Porsche Museum told us the 996.1 GT3 is as close to a modern Carrera RS 2.7 as there ever has been. That's about as high of praise we've ever heard for any 996, and this gentleman should know, because he owns a Carrera RS 2.7. If the first GT3 was one of the all-time greats (and perhaps one of the all-time underappreciated, too), what does that make the subsequent 996 GT3 RS?
Mechanically, it's almost the same as the regular 996.2 GT3 aside from reshaped intake and exhaust ports. Output is the same 381 horsepower, but the figure is considered conservative; in reality, the 3.6-liter puts out closer to 400 horses. Everything else is stripped, upgraded, or futzed with in some way, starting with progressive and stiffer damping, wheel carriers, adjustable front and rear control arms, and a much larger fixed rear wing. In keeping with the RS moniker, some of the body panels are even lighter than those of the regular GT3, including polycarbonate rear windows, a carbon-fiber front hood, and carbon-fiber rear wing—changes that shed an impressive 110 pounds versus the workaday car.
Photos courtesy of RM Sothebys
2007-2009 Porsche 997.1 GT3
Next came the 997.1 GT3, and by now Porsche had established the GT3 family as an integral part of the 911 mythos. The first 997-generation GT3 is essentially a translation of what made both 996 iterations so great: more power, more downforce, less weight, more grip. Considering the 997 911 is an evolution of the 996, it's no surprise much of the 996 GT3's hardware carries over, including that excellent 3.6-liter Mezger flat-six.
The engine now puts out 409 horsepower and 298 lb-ft of torque, and the redline now tops out at a screamin' 8,400 rpm. Performance is predictably incremental, with zero to 60 mph taking 4.1 seconds, while Vmax is 193 mph. Shifter throws are 15 percent shorter on the same six-speed manual transmission. With a new front end and reworked rear wing, this is the first GT3 to have no noticeable aerodynamic lift.
Things became a little more technologically advanced at this point. This is the first GT3 fitted with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), along with a "Sport" button. Finally, there are the requisite bigger wheels and bigger brakes, plus an electronically controlled exhaust.
2008-2009 Porsche 997.1 GT3 RS
Here's the first GT3 RS to officially make it to U.S. shores. Again, take the same formula of the 996 GT3 RS and superimpose it onto the 997 model. Weight drops 44 pounds over the non-RS, thanks primarily to a carbon rear wing and a polycarbonate windscreen. The car is also a bit wider thanks to the shared Carrera 4S shell, and features colors and graphics exclusive to the RS.
Photos courtesy of RM Sotheby's
2010-2011 Porsche 997.2 GT3
We've heard some well-respected Porsche collectors mention offhandedly that the 997.2 GT3 is where it all becomes a bit, well, dreamy. For some, the refreshed 997 GT3 is "it," the best all-around GT3 in both performance and driving experience.
Now the engine is punched-up to 3.8 liters, boosting power to 435 horsepower and 317 lb-ft of torque. Changes go far beyond the displacement increase, of course. There are reworked oil pumps, forged pistons, titanium connecting rods, hollow camshafts, and lightweight valves, and a redline of 8,250 rpm. In the name of weight savings, even the A/C compressor and flywheel are shaved and starved.
Our favorite part? Each 997.2 GT3 comes with a set of near-perfect center-lock wheels that complement the overall aesthetic facelift. Just like previous GT3s, most of the changes occur under the skin. This is the first time stability control was integrated with traction control, and the first GT3 with an optional front-axle lift system. For major spec-sheet dorks, optional dynamic engine mounts made their first debut.
The sum of all these changes is also incremental, but impressive. Zero to 60 mph is achieved in 4.0 seconds flat, while the car can now hit 194 mph. The 'Ring time dropped to a then-blistering 7 minutes, 40 seconds.
2010-2012 Porsche 911 GT3 RS
This was the tipping point. It was around this time when new GT products and low-production 911s began to significantly appreciate in value right from the dealership floor. It wasn't nearly with the same voracity as it is today, but Stuttgart began to struggle with demand, capping some unit runs like the 997.2 GT2 RS, Sport Classic, and Speedster. The GT2 sold far faster than the latter two, but when the 997.2 GT3 RS was still in dealers, Porsche fever began to ramp up in full swing.
Looking over the changes of the 997.2 GT3 RS compared to the 997.1, it's not hard to see why. With a boost in compression, output from the 3.8-liter jumps an extra 15 horsepower to 450 to go along with 317 lb-ft of torque. Power is augmented by shorter ratios and shift throws in the six-speed manual gearbox, returning a tested zero-to-60 time of 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 193 mph. Fifty pounds are shed from the regular 997.2 GT3, thanks to a new lightweight lithium-ion battery and titanium for both the muffler and exhaust tips.
The front and rear tracks are wider by 1.7 and 1.0 inches. The suspension receives an RS-specific tune, and the tires are upgraded to mega-sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cups. Those optional, trick active engine mounts from the regular GT3 are now standard.
Photos courtesy of RM Sotheby's
2011-2012 Porsche 911 997.2 GT3 RS 4.0
Before the 991.1 911 R came along, this RS 4.0 was arguably the most desirable water-cooled 911 ever built. It holds the distinction as the first special edition from the GT family, followed soon after by the 997.2 GT2 RS.
Don't let the name fool you; this is a whole lot more than just an extra 0.2 liter of displacement. According to Porsche, the 4.0-liter holds some rather gnarly internals plucked from the contemporary 911 RSR race car, including forged pistons and titanium connecting rods and crankshaft. Power is up an impressive 50 horses to a total of 500. Torque sits at 339 lb-ft, too, allowing for a 3.8-second zero-to-60 sprint and a 193-mph top end. These numbers appear identical to the 3.8-liter GT3 RS, but if the contemporary reviews are to be believed, the experience between the two couldn't be more different.
Both the front fenders and trunklid are made from carbon fiber, as are the hard-core bucket seats. These changes, along with lightweight carpets (yes, really) add up to a 2,998-pound curb weight. Porsche made only 600 of these cars, and present values hover around the $500,000 mark.
2014-2016 Porsche 991.1 GT3
Interest for the outgoing 997.2 GT3 and GT3 RS was strong, but the debut of the 991.1 GT3 in 2013 sparked a 997.2 buying frenzy. It was quite the controversial car for Porsche. Aside from dropping the long-lived and much-beloved Mezger engine, the 991.1 GT3 ditched the manual in favor of Porsche's dual-clutch PDK automatic transmission.
Whether you chalk it up to casting a wider net for a larger demographic or simply chasing the lowest lap times, the PDK transformed the 991.1 GT3 into an undeniably faster dual-purpose road/track weapon than ever before. The 3.8-liter naturally aspirated flat-six is based on the 991.1 Carrera S powerplant, though it shares few parts. There are reworked camshafts, titanium connecting rods, and forged pistons bespoke to the GT3, changes that allow for a 9,000-rpm redline. Its 475 horsepower and 324 lb-ft of torque are sent to the rear wheels through an active rear differential, working parallel with active torque vectoring and rear-wheel steering.
It's bigger, wider, and heavier than the 997, but it's significantly quicker. It takes a claimed 3.5 seconds to get to 60, and tops out at 195 mph. With all this techno-wizardry working behind the scenes, the 'Ring time drops to 7 minutes, 25 seconds.
2016-2017 Porsche 991.1 GT3 RS
You should know what to expect by this point. The RS is lighter, faster, sharper, harsher, and wing-ier than the regular GT3, though there's a bit of a curveball with this 991.1 GT3 RS. For the first time, there's a displacement differential between the base and the RS, the latter now up by 0.2 liter to 4.0. Power climbs roughly 25 hp to an even 500 and torque output stands at 338 lb-ft, the same figures found on the beguiling 997.2 RS 4.0. Though they share displacement and power figures, these two engines are not related.
PDK remains the only transmission available, but performance is all the better for it. Acceleration to 60 drops to a stunning 3.1 seconds, although the top speed lowers by 2 mph to 193 mph. (Blame the big 'ol rear wing for the reduction in Vmax.) The Nürburgring is dispatched in 7 minutes, 20 seconds.
Going forward, the 991.1 RS and future cars all have rear-wheel steering, active limited slip (for PDK), torque vectoring, and adaptive suspension. Carbon-ceramic stoppers are still optional, as are the front-axle lift system, lithium-ion battery, and necessary Sport Chrono package.
2016 Porsche 911 R
Alright, alright, this isn't a "real" GT3. However, the body, chassis, powertrain, and large portions of the interior are straight from the GT3 family's playbook. In some regards, the R can be seen as a heritage-inspired, de-winged GT3 that sits between the GT3 and GT3 RS, utilizing the same 4.0-liter in the RS with carbon-fiber body panels and wider track.
The party piece is the return of the six-speed manual transmission. Up until this point, enthusiasts were unsure if the manual would ever make a comeback on a GT product, so secondhand values of the R were stratospheric. In the months following the 911 R's production start, reports pegged some overenthusiastic collectors dropping close to $1 million on well-optioned examples.
2018-2019 Porsche 991.2 911 GT3
Porsche underestimated demand for manual-transmission GT3s. So for the refreshed 991.2 GT3, the stick is here to stay next to the optional PDK. Aside from a few minor visual changes, the standard engine is now the 4.0-liter from the 991.1 GT3 RS. Its output remains at 500 hp and 339 lb-ft, with a redline pegged at a mighty 9,000 rpm.
Performance is stellar: Stick with the manual, and 3.8 seconds is all you'll need to hit 60 mph on your way to a 198-mph top speed. PDK cars hit 60 in 3.2 seconds, and achieve 197 mph. Manuals get the mechanical limited-slip, while PDK manages power through an active diff with torque vectoring.
Porsche wasn't too happy about the 991 R speculators, so it launched a new Touring package with the 991.2 generation. Like the R, the Touring drops the rear wing and adds a nice leather interior, though the R's carbon-fiber body panels and heritage touches don't carry over.
2019 Porsche 991.2 911 GT3 RS
Finally, we end up at today's GT3 RS. Cue the music: It's lighter, faster, more powerful, etc. The same 4.0-liter is tuned up to 514 horsepower and 346 lb-ft, some 14 hp and 7 lb-ft more than the standard GT3. PDK is the only choice here, as track rats presumably favor fast lap times over the tactility of the manual. Performance clocks in at 3.0 seconds for the zero-to-60-mph run and 193 mph for the top speed.
For extra lightness, the front hood and fenders are carbon fiber, and the roof is magnesium. A good portion of the aero kit is pulled from the badder 991.2 GT2 RS, particularly the hood's NACA ducts and the large front splitter. Aside from the usual RS-specific suspension modifications, there are new helper springs front and rear, working with upgraded ball joints.
The hardest of the hard-core spring for the $18,000 Weissach package that adds carbon-fiber front and rear antiroll bars, a carbon-fiber roof, and carbon trim for the steering wheel and shift paddles, cutting a grand total of 13 pounds. Don't stop there, though; make sure you pick up the $13,000 magnesium-wheel package. How else are you going to save those 25 pounds?
2019 Porsche 911 Speedster
Since we included the 991.1 911 R, we need to mention the new Speedster. Like the R, this isn't really a GT3, but again, if it has a GT3 engine, GT3 transmission, GT3 suspension, GT3 front fascia . . . you get the idea.
Yes, the same 4.0-liter pushes out 502 horsepower and 346 lb-ft of torque, a slight bump up from the GT3 thanks primarily to individual throttle bodies from the GT3 R race car and a new titanium exhaust system. Like the R and the GT3 Touring, a manual transmission is the only option. Zero to 60 mph takes 3.8 seconds, and the Speedster speeds no more once it hits its limiter at 192 mph.
Underneath a Carrera 4 cabriolet-derived body shell lies the GT3 chassis, though the Speedster sports unique suspension tuning. Its 3,230-pound curb weight is heavier than the GT3 by around 114 pounds, but lighter than the Carrera 4 cab by roughly 200 pounds. It's certainly visually removed from the aforementioned cabriolet, especially with a distinctive, traditional rear double-bubble "hump" where the rear seats would be, along with GT3-style front and rear fascias and exhaust outlets.
Porsche says it will build only 1,948 Speedsters, and as is almost always the case with special Porsche variants, they're all sold.