Dream Come True: Project 996 Turbo
When I Was Young

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was a sophomore in high school, and my friends and I had the bright idea to check out the Los Angeles Auto Show. We all piled into an old beat-up Ford Crown Victoria that was a police car in its previous life and still had spotlights and some reflective decals on the doors. The driver didn’t even have a license, but at least he had a learner’s permit, which was good enough for a 15-year-old.

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I took along my dad’s bulky Nikon N90 film camera to snap some photos. I had no idea what I was doing, but it was an absolute blast. I don’t even think I ever got those photos developed, but regardless, this was the first time checking out the show without our parents watching over us, so it was fun to say the least.

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Every time the show came around my favorite section was always the Porsche booth. Unlike every other manufacture, the German automaker had their own dedicated hall, so in my eyes they were special. But that wasn’t the only thing that set them apart. Instead of distributing brochures like everyone else, Porsche handed out huge posters.

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I always hung these posters on my wall above my bed, and eagerly anticipated the next one. The year I visited the show for the first time with my friends, Porsche’s new 996 Turbo took center-stage on their booth. I didn’t really know much about cars at the time, but for me it was love at first sight.

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Later on I can remember playing Need For Speed: Porsche Unleashed on PC and the hero car was the 996 Turbo. At the time I could not even dream of owning one for myself, mostly because I was still a few years away from taking my driver’s test.

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While many Porsche purists have little time for the 996 Turbo, ever since I first laid eyes on the model in the Porsche hall of the Los Angeles Auto Show, the attraction has remained.

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I’ve been looking for the right one for years, but given how much interest there is in Porsches right now, it’s probably the worst time to buy one.

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But a few months ago I came across an ad on Craigslist for a 2003 996 Turbo with the X50 package, which means bigger turbos, larger intercooler and an upgraded transmission. It was 7:00am and the ad had been posted just 15 minutes earlier. By 10:00am I was a Porsche owner.

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I was super-nervous driving to see the car. Of course, I wanted to do my best not to show interest, but that was always going to be hard.

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The seller met me at BBI Autosport in Huntington Beach, where I had arranged to have it inspected. The guys at BBI are my friends – I’ve followed them on many of their adventures, and I trust their judgement. After inspecting the car they told me to buy it, so a deal was made on the spot.

Having pictured my ultimate 996 in my mind for a long time, the first thing that had to go were the hideous wheels…

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As much as I like photographing flashy cars, it’s just not my personal style. That’s why Porsches appeal to me – they fly under the radar and are meant to be driven. If I wanted flashy I would have gone with fender flares on Ole Orange Bang a long time ago.

HRE Wheels
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I knew right away that I wanted to get a set of HRE wheels. In my eyes, they had a number of custom forged wheel designs that would give the 911 an OEM look – albeit with a little extra flair.

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I called them and they were very helpful. In fact, they even Photoshopped a bunch of their wheels with different colors onto a photo of my car to help me make my selection. Three piece? Mesh? Color? There were so many options to choose from…

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Once I decided, I had one more strange request: I wanted to meet the people making my wheels by hand, and actually photograph the whole process at HRE’s factory in San Diego. They agreed, and soon after I made the trip down from Los Angeles.

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My wheels started life like this – as a block of aerospace-grade 6061-T6 aluminum billet which is forged with approximately one million pounds of force and intense heat. This process refines the crystalline structure of the metal and makes it extremely strong.

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At this point the entire unit is loaded into a flow-forming machine to spin the barrel and create a smooth surface.

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I was a dummy to the forged wheel process going into this, so I was learning everything about it as my wheels went along. This was basically step one of five.

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From the flow-forming machine my wheels then moved onto the next station – the CNC lathes. Here, different bits and tools machine away aluminum – much like a sculptor working on a block of marble – until the final shape is revealed.

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I had them stop the CNC mill process in the middle of its program so I could photograph the first wheel half finished. To see my wheels coming together right before my eyes was very cool.

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During the machining process more than 80 per cent of the material is removed. Just look at all that unused aluminum in the bin – it all gets recycled of course. Operating the machine was Melissa, and she was very helpful in letting me get shots during different stages. She was also genuinely happy that I was interested in her work.

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And there it is – one of my wheels halfway done. It may look pretty much complete, but the stages to this point were actually the easiest of the production process.

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Melissa then painstakingly measured each section of the wheels and checked them for roundness. They were all perfectly in spec, so it was over to the next station.

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Here, the process starts with a bit of cleaning in this giant tumbling machine. This prepares the wheels for the finishing and texturing process.

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And this is where that magic happens. These workers finish off the wheels by hand, correcting all the imperfections from the CNC process as they go.

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Felix has been working at HRE for years and is very skilled at what he does. Every nook and cranny was polished then textured.

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It was really great to meet the men and women behind the process, right here in California.

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This last step is for the final texturing of the face of the wheels, and Felix moved them around this rotary tool with absolute precision. The speed, angle and pressure is being controlled by him, which ultimately determines the final look of each wheel. Talk about needing steady hands!

Industry Standard
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This was the first time I had a chance to hold one of my wheels in my own hands, but I could not touch the face of it just yet. At this point, even my fingernail could scratch the surface and ruin the grain of the texture that Felix skillfully created.

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The fourth step is basically prep for powder coating, which means a multi-step wash and baths in different chemicals. If so much as a hairline scratch was revealed on a wheel, it would have gone straight back to Felix to be re-textured again.

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Next up was the actual powder coating process. Here’s David, HRE’s production manager, showing me one of the wheels in its ready-to-coat raw form.

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I actually really like the raw aluminum look, so I opted for a clear powder coat. It’s at this point that colors are applied though. I stepped into Sammy’s office, where he first blew the wheel down one last time with an air gun, and then started the powder coating.

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Immediately afterwards, Sammy rolled the wheels into a giant oven where they baked for 45 minutes. They looked white going in, but the baking process returned the powder coat to clear. I could still feel the heat coming off the wheels as I put my face close to one of them.

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Do yourself a favor and check out these photos in full resolution. See the hand-formed textured grain of the aluminum? And look at the edges where the lug nuts go, as well as where the spokes meet. The hand-made nature of these wheels really shows. The back of the wheels are stamped with the specs as well as a serial number, just in case you need to get them refinished at some point.

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At the CNC stage there’s even a bit that machines out the HRE logo. It’s crazy how detailed they go with these wheels.

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As you can imagine, I wanted to mount the wheels right away, but HRE still had their final inspections to do, and the powder coating needed to cure completely.

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The following week I headed back down to HRE to get tires mounted on my brand new 305M Classic Forged Monoblok Series wheels.

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I could have just picked them up and taken them to any local tire shop, but after seeing what goes into making these wheels I could not risk getting them scratched up during the mounting process.

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For the tires, I couldn’t imagine running anything other than Yokohama Advan Neovas. If you guys follow my Ole Orange Bang build you know that I run AO48 semi slicks on the street, and track. I absolutely love them, so I figured it would only be appropriate to get Advans for my very first Porsche.

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While many of the workers at HRE are able to mount and balance wheel and tires, only one is brave enough to do so with brand new wheels. Meet Danny. He was so careful with the mounting process, it’s nuts. I’ve never seen anyone take so much care, and there wasn’t so much as a fingerprint on the face of the wheels.

First Drive
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I loaded the wheels on the back of my pickup truck and headed for BBI Autosport once again. My beloved 966 was patiently waiting for her new shoes.

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Joey and Betim at BBI had a surprise waiting for me. They saw that my original lug nuts were rusty and nasty looking, so they pulled out a set of BBI titanium equivalents for me. Not only do they look 10 times better than the originals, they’re almost half the weight too.

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Torco Oil hooked it up with motor oil and manual transmission fluid, because aside from the normal maintenance items, there were a few minor issues that needed to be addressed.

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After all, the car is 12 years old. The transmission needed a rebuild, and both the hydraulic clutch accumulator and the driver’s side front wheel speed sensor needed replacing.

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Once those issues were fixed you can bet I blasted out of Los Angeles and headed to Palm Springs for my first real drive in the car.

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10 years ago I would have said you’d be crazy to buy luxury wheels, but now I understand the appeal.

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Car culture is a way of life, and that’s exactly what Speedhunters is about. So while other people spend their pennies on luxury items like big screen TVs and fancy watches, I would much rather spend my hard-earned money on my passion for all things on four wheels.

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So what’s next for Project 996 Turbo? I’m going to hold off on any major power upgrades for now since it already has the X50 package, but I will be adding a few things, including a BBI exhaust and an IPD intake plenum.

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In terms of suspension, I have quite a few goodies lined up, including KW Clubsport coilovers which should give the car a nice ride and the look that I want while still remaining functional as a daily driver.

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For a moment there I couldn’t decide between a 997 and a 996 Turbo. While the 997 is great, it just wouldn’t have allowed me much room for modifications. With the 996 it’s like a blank canvas, and with the funds saved at purchase I can customise the car to my liking.

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This means I can put on GT2 bits and other appearance modifications without making the wife mad at my spending happens. A win-win situation for sure.

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Some of you guys might be wondering what I will be doing with my other project car, Ole Orange Bang. Well, my SR240Z has become more of a track-focused car. While it’s still very enjoyable to drive around town, it’s become harder to use as an everyday car. That’s why I wanted a more modern daily – at least that is the justification anyways. But do I really need to justify buying a 911 Turbo? I think not.

Larry Chen
Instagram: larry_chen_foto
larry@speedhunters.com

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87 comments

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1

That was really interesting. I envy how much interest you have in the process of making this machine yours. Looks friekin cool too.

2

Congrats!

3

So HRE brought you a Porsche? That's cool

4

Damn you Larry!  

Now I'm looking at 996 turbos again. I have a wonderful 2013 BRZ, that is very awesome, and doesn't require me to wrench on it. Unlike all my past german car experiences have. German car lust is a cruel bitch. I tasted the poisonous forbidden fruit and even was a dealer tech for German stuff. Yet I still lust for these amazing and unapologetic land missiles. Congrats, and good luck!

5

Thatexcursion to HRE completely made this article!
Thanks for that dude!

6

All the Speedhunters are ballin'! Won't be surprised if Dino rolls around in a Rolls Royce in a couple years

7

All the Speedhunters are ballin'! Won't be surprised if Dino rolls around in a Rolls Royce in a couple years, but I digress, congratulations Larry! :D

8

Loved the story of the wheels production process! I love your wheels Larry but I'm just not a major fan of anything Porsche. While I don't like Porsches, you have my respect, and most of all, enjoy all the time you've got with the car :)

9

Man 996 Turbo is my ultimate dream 911! You have my envy Larry!

10
roninlotus211

Enjoy the new ride Larry, now leave it alone...

11

I would never get the two-and-two-halves-exhaust-pipes thinggy
Lovely beast anyway :">

12

My favourite modern style porsche, the front lights look a million times better than the circle ones of the newer porsches imo. And the 959 is my all time favourite :p

13

Hey Larry, congratulations on the purchase. Wish you luck and lots of fun in your new Porsche. I'd throw some change on the floor mats but I'll pick up a new bumper sticker instead ,U0001f601

14

Damn Larry that description of your teenage car dreams could have been mine 1:1
Need for Speed Porsche Unleashed was a fantastic part of the Need for Speed series and I really don't want to know how much hours I played instead of going out and meet other people my age haha.
I worked 3 years at a Porsche Dealership when the 997 First gen was the newest 911 so naturally the 997 Turbo became my dream performance Porsche but I still share your point of view that the 996 makes a better platform for modifications.
Hope someday I will be fortunate enough to own a 996 Turbo let alone a 997 Turbo.

I'm really looking forward for updates on this great automobile.

By the way, I was laughing in pure joy when I saw your happy face on the pictures at HRE :D

15

Fantastic write up Larry! HRE's have always been a favorite of mine and they work so well on your new 996! Congrats and keep up the great work.

16

Those HRE wheels look spot on!!!!!!  thank god you had sense & taste to ditch those rims when you bought it.  

I love a Porsche too.

17

Great car ! didnt expect the mention of it needing a transmission rebuild it was kind of a oh Btw it needed a trans lol. I am sure that helped keep the initial purchasing cost down and having friends at BBi helps. Hope we see more of this 996!

18

Excellent choice of wheels!

19

Beautiful car, the wheels suit perfectly!

20
ErnestJohansmeier

love the car, not wheels. looks great with GT2 wheels.

21

adamindet haha, well I figured that part of the story is not interesting to you guys, but I am trying to be transparent with what I am doing with the car as well as the condition it was in.

22

Max @Ghettoporsche My face often gets quite a few laughs.

23

KennedyCao Ah, Those are already gone, I got the BBI exhaust now.

24

Congrats on the car Larry, looks very tasteful! The 996 may not be the most desirable in Porsche camps, but from a Speedhunters perspective, it's hard to deny the appeal of that Turbo power!

25

Nice wheels, they are very similar to RUF wheels. but I personally prefer RUF.

26

Congratulations on the purchase! The 996 has been an acquired taste for me; early on I was almost indifferent to the styling (odd, considering I've had a 996 C4S 1:18 scale model on my book shelf since they were the newest model), but more recently my interest in this generation has hit hard. Your photos make the car look even better, I had to save a few of those! And while the HREs wouldn't be my first choice, they do look great on your car.

Good luck with it!

27

CyborgGT Thanks for the kind words. I also had a 996 auto art model.

28

MOU89 I love the RUF wheels, and my friend has a set on his 996, but I definitely wanted something that was not done before.

29

Chris Nuggets Honestly that is what sold me, the fact that I can have A/C in a car that is fun to drive and that gets really good fuel mileage compared to my Z and my pickup truck is a plus.

30

roninlotus211 Speak for yourself Mr modify everything!

31

@ZenkiYT Dino and the rest of the team works really hard, I guess it's only appropriate for us to dump our money back into cars.

32
cutterjones13

who the hell cares about your freaking childhood?....and, oh look! a stock porsche.......

33

I really learned a lot about the wheel making process. Normally I don't like the sponsor ads but this was very enlightening. Thanks!

34

I am not a Porsche fan; I just cannot keep myself from seeing a glorified beetle. But those wheels bring one word to mind when I see them on your 996...sex. Looks very good Larry and congratulations on the buy. I hope it goes well for you.

35
Chris 'Haffy' Hafner

Your a lucky, lucky man Mr Larry! I was wondering when the 'Fried egg headlight' 911s would start becoming popular.
As for the look at how HRE makes their wheels, brilliant.
And those desert shots mate, absolutely gorgeous. It makes you want to smash through the box and haul ass!
Looking forward to seeing more.

36
speedhunters_dino

Larry Chen It's a disease. What's the saying, work hard, play harder? ;)

37

cutterjones13 You seem miserable. Look at all your previous comments. Sad

38

An awful lot of personal opinion here on what is basically a stock car..

39

Remove the rear wipers man

40

She's a beaut Larry, real classy.
Looking forward to the next project update!

41

I came here for the 996t, then it turned into an HRE add....
Great shots of the Porsche in the wind farm! Tasteful editing

42

A thing of immeasurable beauty, Larry Chen. I'm truly looking forward to seeing this project unfold!

43

Hey Larry Chen great article as a little boy I used to have a framed picture of a 911 turbo on my wall, Porsches really are brilliant. I love your wheel choice too, as being US-based those HRE wheels must be expensive but even moreso for us non-US based speedhunters. I've always wanted a set of HRE 505M wheels, as they really are a great style for my car which is a 91 Toyota MR2 and I really want that "poor-man's Ferrari" look. Unfortunately, each wheel would be the same as what I paid for my car! That really doesn't justify the cost. However I hope you enjoy your Porsche and your great wheels. Borbet make a 5 spoke very similar to the one I want but it's more German *and* you could always try the revolver looking oldschool German wheels, I think HRE have a take on that, the HRE 454. :) Byut I do agree, yours suit it better than the previous ones.

44

Excellent Larry, your article reminds me to not give up my dream of my own Porsche...one day :-)

45

Congratulations on the purchase Larry. I can't see any info about the size of your new wheels. I can see they are 19 inches in diameter but what about width and offsets?
Thanks
Michael

46

That's awesome Lary. I can't wait to see what you do with it. HRE wheels were a good choice to start with!
I am glad you're hanging onto ole orange bang though

Cheers

47

Damn that is a nice looking car, congratulations. I checked prices for this car in Australia after you said that they had hit a sweet spot... Unfortunately they are still over $100k here. When it comes to cars, the USA has a nice deal.

48

day_old_tofu Of course, I would never sell Ole Orange Bang!

49

@Michael88 Good point: 19 x8.5 ET 50, 19 x11 ET 35

50

KimHoong I've been thinking about that. I think you are right. It's time.

51

tdc7 It won't be stock for much longer. This is an introduction to a project car.

52

Oh Larry, so not only do you take the best pictures on Speedhunters, you now own one of my dreams cars.

I know that the 996 has it's foibles, but that GT1 derived engine totally unique in the 996 range is a peach. 

Looking forward to updates, enjoy driving it and I will live vicariously :D

53

Great read. Fascinating to see how these are made.

55

Great photography!

56

Congratulations Mr. Larry! Very interesting to see the whole wheel production process, although I'm a sucker for deep dish I must say. I assume they are lighter than the previous wheels, it looks very elegant, looking froward to see it's evolution. :)

57

Congrats on your first Porsche, it looks absolutely sensational in that last shot with the new wheels.  :)

 I'm neck deep into my second one, hope to have it driveable late this year or next...Swedish winters are long and dark. It will get done...

58
PolyMEDrummer

Love the 996 Turbo and love big fat 5-spoke wheels. Can't wait to see where you go with this!

59
UWerqxTeam_MJ

Well, chalk up one new 996 believer. Though I really do think the headlights themselves would mesh better if it was cleaner-set, I think you can best go for the 991 GT1-98 look if you're staying 996.

60

Larry ChenI meant that a lot of people were offering a lot of unjustified personal opinion

61
turbo BEAMS ae86

cutterjones13 pipe down, young Toad

63
FunctionFirst

Not saying I called it, but I called it: http://www.speedhunters.com/2015/03/an-air-cooled-afternoon-in-la/

"Introducing Project 996."

64

congrats!! be interesting how this will look a few months down the line!

65

Looks great Larry! Congrats on finally finding the car you've wanted for years! I still have a bunch of those auto show posters kicking around from Porsche, they were a huge part of car obsession as a kid!

66
bluestreaksti

This is now the standard from which I will judge all other wheels on a 996.

67

Fugly choice of wheel.

68

FRIGGING COOL. AWESOME STORY!
Buu, you're entitled to your own taste, but you cannot fault the care and love put into the manufacture of these rims.

69

sean klingelhoefer  Get your air cooled fool!

70

matthewyaa So good right? Why didn't anyone else do that?

71

FunctionFirst I actually had the car already when I saw that comment. I thought it was funny that you guessed it already.

72

John Key NZ Larry Chen Glad you like it. How cool would it be to have a set of HREs on an SW20?

73

I really really really want a GT3 now..... all these Porsche stories and having some come into work, I need a 997 GT3. Eventually, one day.

74
FunctionFirst

Larry Chen FunctionFirst I'm excited for you, can't wait to see your escapades with it.

75

Larry Chen MOU89 Sure you do best for your car.

76

First and foremost congrats Larry, a very nice rig that is hard-earned and well-deserved. Great article, it took me back to my first Porsche obsession moment as well: going to the local dealer as a young punk and one of the salesmen giving me a 996 Turbo mouse pad.
I still have that mouse pad, now yellowed and cracking, but, it lives on as a memento of that instant I fell in love with Porsche. Thank you for letting me live vicariously through your acquisition; I hope to have that same experience some time sooner than later!

77

Fantastic wheel choice. It's traditional.. but it just looks special. This is going in my car porn folder.

78
JoeyAbdellatif

This may have been the best article i've read in a while, that and the Get Nuts Lab in look cause I'm a huge Forrest Fan

79
JoeyAbdellatif

Buu I really hope you're talking about the ones the were on there before, I wouldn't have chose any other wheel for that car but a 5 spoke

80
GripHooligan86

those wheel look really good, congrats. i love to see hand built work from the usa thats why i run fortune auto but this makes me want some HREs lol

81

Turbology It will be that much sweeter when you get your ride.

82

Turbology It will be that much sweeter when you get your ride.

83

Turbology It will be that much sweeter when you get your ride.

84

The 996 is ageing well. The car looks good. How come it has a C4S front splitter instead of the deeper turbo one??

85

Hi Larry,
I've been waiting for an update on your Project 996 Turbo... Any chance you'll be posting something soon? Keep up the fantastic work.

86

Maybe it's already been answered, but I haven't seen it in the comments. What was the purchase price, and is Speedhunters really paying enough for this guy to buy a 911 Turbo?

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