Have Wing, Will Travel – The History of the Porsche 911 GT3
Tracing the evolution of one of Stuttgart’s finestby Jonathan Lopez, on
To many, the Porsche 911 is the quintessential sports car, offering the perfect balance of grip, feel, downforce, and power. This is not a model for the timid or the foolish – the rear-engine, RWD drivetrain layout will quickly turn on any driver unfamiliar with handling eager rotation, and the output produced by the right pedal is more than enough to get you into big trouble in no time at all. But while the standard 911 is certainly an impressive machine, it’s the high-spec variants the truly make the nameplate shine. Enter the 911 GT3, a modern interpretation of the formula originally laid out by the legendarily good 911 Carrera RS. The specs on the GT3 read like a how-to for enthusiast cars – it’s lightweight, stripped down, and no nonsense, with a high-revving naturally aspirated powerplant behind the driver and even the option for a manual gearbox. The terms “track ready” and “race proven” come readily to mind.
The end result for the pilot is an extremely pure driving experience, like the distilled essence of performance, a machine that still feels mechanical, eager, and challenging. Not only that, but the GT3 is still driveable on the street, presenting relatively few issues when doing normal, everyday “car stuff.” And it’s for these reasons you can call us fans. Read on for a little background and history, as well as the facts and figures behind the badge.
Continue reading to learn more about the history behind the Porsche 911 GT3.
Production History And The Story So Far
Note: first-generation Porsche 996 911 GT3 pictured here.
Porsche first started production of the iconic 911 sports car in the early ‘60s, but it wasn’t until 1973 that the brand offered its first tuned-up, high-spec variant with the 911 Carrera RS, a car often regarded as one of the best (if not the best) sports cars ever created.
Porsche reused the lighter, faster, race-bred formula several times afterwards, but it wasn’t until 1999 that Stuttgart debuted the GT3 model, which was based on the 996-era of the 911. Named after the FIA’s Group GT3 racing series, the 911 GT3 got all the right stuff to make it a contender on the track.
Note: original 996-era 911 GT3 RS pictured here.
Following the first GT3 was the 911 GT3 RS, which debuted in 2003. Like the original Carrera RS, the nameplate stood for Rennsport, which translates as “racing sport” in English. As you might expect, the RS was even more hardcore than the previous GT3, gaining new wheels finished in either red or blue, as well as new GT3 RS livery pasted along the flanks, both of which are nods to the old RS models from the ‘70s.
As you might expect, the RS was even more hardcore than the previous GT3, gaining styling cues as an homage to the old RS models from the ‘70s.
Although originally sold exclusively overseas, the GT3 hit stateside dealers in 2004. An update to the 997.1 model era followed shortly thereafter in February of 2006, which included a new engine, improved aero, and updated suspension. Inside, the 997 GT3 got available navigation and sport chrono gauges, with the base price pegged at $106,000. About 900 units sold in the USA, with 46 going to Canada.
The RS model that followed arrived in Europe in late 2006 and in North America in early 2007. The new car was wider, and offered limited edition RS Green and RS Orange exterior color options.
Note: 997.2 911 GT3 model pictured here.
Then came the updated 997.2 in 2009, which upped displacement and power, as well as new chassis enhancements and new aero. Sales included 65 units in the U.S. and 58 units in Canada. Production of the 997.1 GT3 RS halted in 2009, with 1,168 vehicles delivered, 410 of which went to the U.S., plus 42 to Canada.
The second-gen 997.2 GT3 RS debuted n 2010, with 541 sold in the U.S. and 71 sold in Canada, followed by the 997 GT3 RS 4.0 in 2011, which got a larger engine, more power, and further chassis refinement. 600 examples of the 4.0 were built, with 141 to the U.S. market and 16 to Canada.
And that brings us to the current GT3, also known as the 991 generation, which first appeared in 2013 at the Geneva International Motor Show. The RS iteration dropped two years later, while the 991.2 GT3 was released in 2017, once again in Geneva.
To date, more than 14,000 examples of the GT3 have been produced.
The GT3 In Racing
Porsche 911 GT3 Cup.
Unsurprisingly, the Porsche GT3 has a long and impressive resume when it comes to on-track competition. Models like the Cup, R, RS, RSR, and GT America have all seen the heat of battle, with successful bids encompassing grand touring stings in the American Le Mans Series, 24 Hours of Daytona, 24 Hours of Nurburgring, Spa 24 Hours, and Petit Le Mans. The GT3 has also been the weapon of choice in a variety of one-make series, such as the Porsche Carrera Cup and Porsche Super Cup.
Now that we know a little bit about the GT3’s racing prowess and the history behind it, it’s time to dive deep into the greasy bits to see what makes it tick.
Per tradition, the GT3 sports a rear-engine, RWD drivetrain with a flat-six powerplant. And, like any race-ready iteration worth its rear wing, the 911 GT3 is focused (among other things) on weight reduction, which means almost no sound deadening, no rear seats, no stereo, no sunroof, and no A/C. Of course, if you simply can’t live without air conditioning or a stereo, Porsche offers both as options at no cost (navigation as well).
That’s all to be expected. But what makes each generation special?
The first-gen 996-era GT3 came equipped with an engine designed by Hans Mezger
When the first-gen 996-era GT3 dropped, it came equipped with an engine designed by famed German engineer Hans Mezger. The “Mezger” was basically a naturally aspirated 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine with dry sump lubrication, plus specs similar to the engines used in the 962 and GT1 racers. Power in the GT3 came to 355 horses, far surpassing the standard 911’s 296 horsepower at the time. Standout features included a split crankcase, similar to the 962 racer, but with two water-cooled heads (one head per trio of cylinders), similar to the 959 supercar. Routing the power to the rear was a manual six-speed gearbox plucked from the previous air-cooled 911 era. To complement the increase in power, Porsche added a stiffer ground-hugging suspension, big brakes, new lightweight wheels, and new aero front and back.
Offered exclusively overseas, the first GT3 could be had with the so-called Clubsport pack, which swapped in all kinds of track-ready gear, such as new racing bucket seats covered in a fire-retardant fabric, a single-mass flywheel, a bolt-in rollcage, 6-point racing harnesses, airbag delete, a fire extinguisher in the passenger foot well, and a battery master switch.
The first GT3 RS “Rennsport” was introduced in 2003, offering a lower curb weight thanks to polycarbonate sheets for the rear windows plus oodles of carbon fiber.
The first GT3 RS “Rennsport” was introduced in 2003, offering an even lower curb weight thanks to polycarbonate sheets for the rear windows, plus carbon fiber replacements for the hood and rear wing. Carbon fiber-reinforced silicon carbide ceramic composite brakes were optional. Under the hood, the six-cylinder was revised with new intake and exhaust ports, bumping power to an impressive 400 ponies. New progressive springs and stiffer dampers were added as well, while Porsche retuned the suspension for better camber control, tweaking the top mounts to turn as much as 120 degrees, just like the race-ready Cup car variant. Further adjustability was offered with tunable control arms, while the ride height was lowered by a tenth of an inch. For the exterior, new aero helped to create 77 pounds of downforce when traveling at 125 mph. New intakes also helped to stuff more air into the engine, making as much as 15 extra horsepower when traveling at 187 mph (this extra output, however, wasn’t official, given the homologated power spec was created using a dyno, which meant a static car without heaps of air funneled into the intake).
Unfortunately, Porsche never offered the 996-era GT3 RS in North America. Only 140 were created, with production lasting between 2003 and 2005. Performance figures included a 0-to-60 mph time of 4.3 seconds, and a top speed of 190 mph, plus over 1 G of grip on the skidpad.
After the 996.1 GT3 came the revised 996.2, which got more output, but not quite as much as the RS.
After the 996.1 GT3 came the revised 996.2, which got more output than before, up to 376 horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque – impressive, but not quite at the same level as the RS. The 996.2 GT3 also got new brakes, with 6-pot units in front (the rear still got the old 4-pot units). Porsche also offered its now famous Porsche Ceramic Composite compound for extra outlay. Acceleration to 60 mph took 4.5 seconds, while the quarter mile was dispatched in the low-12-second to high-11-second range at a trap speed of about 118 mph. Once again, lateral grip was over 1 G on the skidpad. The 996.2 GT3 also managed to post a sub-8-minute time at the Nurburgring in the hands of the prestigious racing driver Walter Rohrl.
When Porsche introduced the 997, it followed it up with a new GT3 iteration, updating the 3.6-liter flat-six engine to produce a substantial 409 horsepower. The exterior spec got updates as well, creating enough downforce to yield “zero lift” when traveling at speed. In the corners, the suspension was updated with a Porsche Active Suspension Management system (PASM), making the 997 the first Porsche RS or GT3 to get electronically adjustable suspension. Performance figures clocked in with a 0-to-60 mph time of 4.1 seconds, plus a top speed of 193, although some publications managed a sub 4-second run to 60. And once again, Walter Rohrl posted a scorching time around the ‘Ring, completing the Nordschleife run in 7 minutes, 42 seconds.
The 997.2 generation that followed uprated the engine to a 3.8-liter unit making 429 horsepower.
The 997.2 generation that followed uprated the engine to a 3.8-liter unit making 429 horsepower. Enhancing the chassis were dynamic engine mounts, as well as a pneumatic front-end lift function to get around town without ripping off that carefully crafted nose. The rear spoiler was also upgraded, and although stylistically it looks similar, there are slight tweaks to the shapes used for the intakes, front end, and rear wing.
Per tradition, Porsche dropped an RS iteration, cutting 44 pounds and resulting in a power-to-weight ratio of 300 horsepower per metric ton.
Per tradition, Porsche dropped an RS iteration for homologation in racing, cutting 44 pounds (down to 3,505 pounds total) thanks to the inclusion of a carbon plastic rear wing, steel engine cover, and plastic windshield. The net result was a power-to-weight ratio of 300 horsepower per metric ton.
The body was also made wider by about 2.5 inches, similar to the Carrera 4, resulting in increased grip. The extra wide hips also generated greater drag and a lower the top speed. U.S. models saw the rear plastic window replaced with normal glass, while the fuel tank was swapped for the standard 911 unit, thus meeting homologation for participation in SCCA, Can-Am, and IMSA race series.
The following 997.2 GT3 RS dropped with an update to the 3.8-liter flat-six, gaining an extra 15 horsepower, good for 450 total.
The final 997 GT3 was the GT3 RS 4.0, which swapped the old 3.8-liter engine for a new 4.0-liter flat-six.
The final 997 GT3 was the GT3 RS 4.0, which swapped the old 3.8-liter engine for a new 4.0-liter flat-six, the most displacement ever offered in a street-legal 911 model. The extra muscle came courtesy of an increase in stroke, going from 76.4 mm to 80.4 mm, which increased peak output to 493 horsepower and 339 pound-feet of torque. The extra bang made the GT3 RS 4.0 one of the most powerful production naturally aspirated engines of its time. The GT3 RS also got appropriate chassis enhancements, while new aero created extra downforce. Meanwhile, weight decreased to just over 3,000 pounds.
The net result of all this good stuff was a 0-to-60 mph time of 3.5 seconds, plus a top speed of 193 mph and a ‘Ring time of 7 minutes, 27 seconds.
That leads us to the current-generation GT3 model, also known as the 991. The engine configuration is back to the 3.8-liter spec, rocking 475 horsepower through a PDK transmission. This lump is similar to the engine used in the 991 Carrera S, but with a few choice upgrades, including a revamped crankshaft and valvetrain, plus titanium connecting rods and forged pistons. These improvements help the GT3 redline at a head-twisting 9,000 rpm, which sounds simply amazing when it winds all the way out. Rear-wheel steering helps it turn. Flat out, the 991 GT3 will do the 0-to-60 mph sprint in 3 seconds flat, with the quarter mile done in 11.2 seconds at 126 mph. Top speed is 202 mph. The official ‘Ring time falls to 7 minutes, 25 seconds.
The RS iteration improves the breed even further, adding fresh exterior bodywork, a magnesium roof, 918-esque carbon fiber seats, lightened door handles, and a standard Club Sport Package.
The RS iteration improves the breed even further, adding fresh exterior bodywork with new wheel vents in front and large side-pod intakes in the rear. Up top is a magnesium roof, while the cabin gets 918-esque carbon fiber seats, lightened door handles, and a standard Club Sport Package, complete with a bolt-in rollcage, battery maser switch, six-point harness, and fire extinguisher.
Under the hood, the RS gets a new 4.0-liter six-cylinder, which produces 500 horsepower and 339 pound-feet of torque through a PDK transmission. The 0-to-60 mph is done in just over 3 seconds. Standout features include a Pit Speed limiter, rear axle steering, Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus, and a fully variable rear axle differential lock. The ‘Ring time is decreased to 7 minutes, 20 seconds.
Where Are We Now?
The latest iteration of the 991.2 GT3 gets the same 4.0-liter flat-six that’s used on the GT3 Cup racer. There’s also an option for a six-speed manual.
The latest iteration of the 991.2 GT3 just dropped earlier this year at the 2017 Geneva International Motor Show, sporting a bigger rear wing, a 918-style steering wheel, and all the usual race-bred gear.
The big news, however, is under the hood, where you’ll find the same 4.0-liter flat-six that’s used on the GT3 Cup racer. Output is an RS-matching 500 ponies and 339 pound-feet of torque, all of which is routed through a standard seven-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission. However, if you’re the kinda person who prefers to row your own, Porsche is also offering the option for a six-speed manual, which increases the 0-to-60 mph time from 3.2 seconds to 3.8 seconds, but decreases the overall curb weight by almost 40 pounds.
While the speed tradeoff is rather hefty, the option to go three pedals will surely be appreciated by the purists out there. Combined with a naturally aspirated powerplant and a no frills approach to going fast, and the GT3 looks to continue a tradition of bringing track-ready inspiration in a surprisingly streetable package.
But we wanna know – which GT3 would you prefer? Tell us in the comments as we collectively celebrate one of Stuttgart’s finest.