Porsche design is fantastic, there’s no two ways about it. You’re never going to be surprised when I say I’m a fan.
With that said, the arrow of time only points one way, and factory components do not last forever. That’s why it’s great that aftermarket companies like CSF step up and create solutions for problems that can arise with older cars.
It might seem odd to call a 996 an older car, but my 2002 car is 18 years old now. It’s certainly lived a life too.
When I bought it, I knew that I would have to pull the front bumper off and check the condition of the radiators. It is par for the course of 996 ownership, as the first generation of water-cooled cars have the radiators wedged in the nose, open to rocks, dirt and leaves. The car’s previous owner had installed mesh screens into the front bumper, which only really serve to make the bumper fit poorly and trap even finer organic debris in the cowlings.
It’s a pretty gross sight, and mine was what you would call a ‘good’ car that was well looked after.
The stock aluminium radiator cores corrode and grow, pushing them apart from the plastic end tanks and eventually creating a leak. This weakness will usually let go when you least want it – at a track or during high speed runs. If you’ve ever driven over freshly-spilled coolant you’ll know why that’s not an exciting prospect.
Luckily, CSF Radiators has a fit-and-forget, drop-in solution. Sure, you could fit replacement OEM radiators, but you’ll only have to change them again in a few years’ time and the price is prohibitive.
For around the same money you can have a triple stack of CSF high performance items that not only cool the car better, but last almost indefinitely. CSF’s end tanks are aluminium and welded to the cores, meaning there is no chance of them splitting.
You’ll notice that the air conditioning condensers also suffered from leaks, the radiator cowlings were in poor condition, and everything in general behind there had deteriorated. It made no sense to me to drop in hand-polished radiators to such a mucky landscape; I had to bring the underpinnings up to spec.
In hindsight, I probably created about four weeks extra work for myself in doing so. But as I want a 996 Turbo in the garage for as long as I can afford to keep one, I thought ‘do it once and do it right’. First step: check out how many of the plastics needed to be replaced and what could be refurbished.
Then, with the radiators removed from the car, I could deep-clean the remaining areas and begin the long task of cataloging all of the OEM parts that needed replacing.
It was also a great opportunity to clean and repair the Xenon headlight units. These can suffer from cracks to the mounting brackets and vibration of the projectors.
Porsche went mental on the design of the headlights and integrated a cam lock system that disconnects the wiring and washer fluid pipe in one motion. It’s very over-engineered but an absolute joy to use. It does however mean that these headlights come in at an eye-watering £1,700+ VAT from the dealer; I’ll tell you how I know later.
In much the same way I wanted to upgrade the radiators to higher-performance, longer-lasting units, the hardware had to match. Rather than ordering plated fixings from the dealer that would not last a UK winter without discolouring, I decided to source stainless replacements.
This was another ‘why am I doing this’ fork in the road, but luckily a fellow 996 Turbo enthusiast, Elgan, had travelled this path before. He got in touch via Instagram and pointed me in the right direction for some of the trickier fixings, and even had some spares from his own renovation.
With the fixings sorted I turned my attention to the brackets. Many of these are still available from the dealer new, and are not terribly expensive. In the interests of being resourceful and trying to improve the longevity of the coating, I opted to get them powder-coated locally. The eggshell black finish matches the OEM finish perfectly and will, importantly, stand up to road salt.
The original cowlings came back to life after cleaning and Carbon Collective ceramic coating.
With the rad packs built up, I felt like I was well on the way to achieving a real OEM+ level of detail.
Fitting the radiators is actually quite simple. One of my favourite things about 996s is they come apart and go back together intuitively. Maybe it is years of playing with 80s/90s/2000s VWs, but I find these cars very simple to work on.
As each little clip went on I wax-sealed them in the final position and hoped they would stay looking this fresh forever.
This shot is reminiscent of my 987 Cayman project back in 2017. That was my first touch with CSF products and I’ve used them in my projects ever since. CSF now cools my BMW E30, E39 and now this 996.
CSF’s products are wonderfully made with uniform end tank welding and pinpoint bracket placement. Dimensionally they are identical to the stock radiators, but thanks to CSF’s ‘B-tube’ technology, cool around 20% more efficiently. It’s perfect for the planned power hike.
Checking back to the pictures of the original radiators, it’s like a different car. It was no mean feat to get to this point, but it was really worth it and I would recommend anyone planning a similar upgrade to take the time to powder-coat the brackets and source the fixings. I’d be happy to help anyone with sizings in the comments.
Here you can see the tired factory radiators versus the shiny new CSF items.
It’s this corner corrosion that eventually kills the standard radiator. Either the corrosion makes the tubes so thin that they burst or the expansion of the metal forces the end tank to separate from the core. Removing the bumper from a 996 is not a huge job and I would recommend removing it to clean out the radiators once every few years. The trouble is, most will have done at least 10 years without this sort of treatment by this point.
With the radiators mounted and hoses connected, it was time to add new AC condensers.
If you regard these cars as ‘onions’ and peel away/build up the layers, they make a lot of sense during assembly. With the condensers on it’s time for the refinished plastic cowlings.
Note that even the horn and horn wiring is cleaned and refinished. I properly got carried away in the garage with this one.
I’m not sure if I should really be admitting to spending so much time cleaning and refurbishing out in public; I feel like it’s something I should have kept under wraps. But there you go, the secret is out!
Filling the 996 Turbo with water can be a little bit of a challenge. The right way to do it is with a ‘venturi filler’. This is a device that creates a vacuum in the sealed water system via the header tank, and allows fresh coolant to be sucked in without any air pockets.
Because we’d removed the radiators from the car and replaced them, they’re full of air. The water runs from the engine along the pipes under the car then up into the radiators. When viewed from the side it’s a ‘u’ shape, not dissimilar to a toilet u-bend. This means it’s a nightmare for trapping air.
The trouble with the venturi filler is it requires an air compressor, which isn’t something I have in my basic home garage. I did however have a desire to finish the job under my own steam and a vacuum hand pump.
I filled the system slowly without starting the car, and used the vacuum pump to suck coolant in and expel air. It’s by no means a perfect method and I’m sure I’ll have Porsche techs in the comments shouting abuse, but it worked very well for me.
With the car outside for the first time in a month I could run it up to temperature and check for any leaks in the system. This is the most nerve-racking part of a radiator install. Luckily I had renewed all the o-rings on the pipes and the CSF radiators come with fresh springs clips and everything was sealed perfectly.
Before installing the bumper I removed the mesh the previous owner had added. I admire his initiative, but this blocks airflow to the radiators and makes the bumper sit proud of the ducting.
I was pleased that the bumper fitted correctly and the changes to the front end of the car made it feel like a million dollars.
It’s crazy how much difference some love and care can make to a car. All the cleaning is free, the nuts and clips were very cheap from fastener suppliers, and the powder-coating cost around £100. Sure, it took a longer time to do versus only installing the CSF radiators, but you only have to do it once…
Or so I thought, as that’s not strictly true. No sooner had I finished my front end restoration and the car looked like this:
It quickly looked like this:
To say that the accident was upsetting is like saying Mount Everest is a ‘bit of a hill’. I was absolutely gutted and all I could think about was the crumpled aluminium scattered across my front end. It’s also how I know how much the Xenon units are to replace.
Unfortunately, the five-car pile up was unavoidable, as was saying goodbye to my black Turbo. I’ve played the scenario over hundreds of times in my head, and all there was to do is take some pictures for posterity, suck it up and move on. I battled to try and persuade my insurer to repair the car, but in the end it was too far gone, so had to go for salvage.
It might sound like a sad end to a promising start to a project, but I’m not defeated that easily. Every cloud has a silver lining and I’m already well on the way to building a new 996 Turbo. This time it’s an X50 and I cannot wait to show it to you.
This story is brought to you in association with CSF, an official Speedhunters Supplier.