Few models are more coveted in the rarefied world of Porsche collecting than the track-destined RS models. Part of the allure is because arguably the most important of the batch, the 996, the first GT3 to have a designated RS model, didn’t come to America. Here’s how a group of collectors brought one over anyway.
The 996 GT3 RS, sold from 2003 to 2005, is one of those forbidden fruit cars, the ones that don’t make it to our shores, that make collectors stay up late at night formulating plans over tumblers filled with hundred-year-old scotch. The folks at Original Rare, which deals in “iconic” cars from around the world, did just that when they set their sights on that most un-gettable RS.
Owner Eric Pan recently sat down at Original Rare’s main office in Orange County, California, to chat about how he ended up with his prized 996 and, most importantly, how he’s able to legally drive it on U.S. soil.
Why The 996 GT3 RS Is Still So Iconic
“I’ve liked this generation, the 996, since it was first introduced in early 2000,”’ Pan told me. “I really admired the 996 GT2, so when Porsche introduced the more extreme track-focused 996 GT3 RS with the blue or red wheels and the ‘GT3 RS’ side stickers, it really caught my attention.”
Pan appreciates the aesthetic characteristics on this 2004 model, linking back to the historically significant 1973 Carrera 2.7 RS.
The RS car stood above the already-track-focused GT3 with a polycarbonate rear window, a carbon fiber hood, a carbon fiber rear wing, stiffer shocks and springs as well as adjustable suspension arms. That and, famously on Top Gear at least, the car got its hood badge replaced with a sticker to save weight. It is a Serious Car for Serious Driving, as Serious a car as Porsche had made for a generation.
These rear-engined lightweight special edition 911s have proven their worth on the race tracks around the world, often surprising higher-power cars with their ability to hold speed through corners. The driving dynamics are one thing, but the 996 also garners demand purely because of its scarcity in the U.S.
Pan and his team at Original Rare aim to cater to those discerning stateside car collectors who may already own the 997 and 991 generation GT3 RS, both of which were originally sold in America.
Pan sweetened the deal: “We do the tedious work for the avid U.S. Porsche collector in sourcing a pristine-condition example and getting it compliant to U.S. standards so that they can enjoy this car on the roads of America.”
Legal to Import, But Not How You Might Think
Knowing that there are only a partial handful of legal ways to import cars into the U.S., I ask Pan how he did it.
“It is not on show and display tags,” he replied. “This is a road-legal car with plates. The rule is that no car 25 years or newer can be legally imported into the United States unless it is determined eligible by the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. NHTSA has a list of cars that can be legally imported to the United States by or through a registered importer. And the Porsche 911 GT3 is on that list.”
A very small group of companies in the US are registered importers; they must pick the car up from the port and retain possession of the vehicle until all the federalization procedures have been carried out.
But getting the work done isn’t even the tough part, according to Pan. “The most difficult part is the waiting period. So being unable to drive the car for more than half a year is pretty tough.” And as you may imagine, not cheap. Certain exhaust bits had to be swapped out to make the car EPA and DOT compliant.
All of that is to say, this would be the “substantially similar” method. This allows in cars that were sold overseas when they are “substantially similar” to a U.S. market model. These cars are added to a list where they’re exempted from the usual 25-year-rule, though they’d still need proper federalization, as Pan, noted. That can be tricky, even at the best of times.
The Logistics of Getting One Over from Japan
Even then, this particular Porsche’s import process sounds more like delicate choreography than a motor vehicle transaction. Pan starts at the beginning: “Our friend in Japan handles the communication and logistics for us. We asked him to keep an eye out for a GT3 RS. Unique cars like this get sold pretty fast so it’s good to have someone on the ground.”
Information is power, and Pan was keen to capitalize on his network to find the best possible RS example to import, “We have relationships with dealers in Japan that will send us info on their cars before they list it for sale,” he said.
But word-of-mouth only goes so far when hundreds of thousands of dollars are on the table. Pan continued, “A dealer contacted us directly about this particular car and my friend went to go look at it in person first. He put down a deposit, but since this car is so rare, it was vital that we go to Japan to see it in person before we pay the full amount.”
While in Japan Pan also looked at two other GT3 RSes, less because he was actually interested in buying them than to make some market comparisons. He wanted to be sure he was getting the best possible example. Getting information from dealers in Japan can be a challenge. “Most often when you call Japanese sellers, they will not negotiate the price over the phone or tell you many details about the car. It’s always best to see the car person with your own eyes, especially given the language barrier,” he said.
Having finally decided the buy the car, then began the process of actually physically moving the car across the Pacific Ocean. Pan had the car inspected by a certified Porsche dealer before forfeiting the Japanese license plates. In return for the plates Pan received an export certificate officially allowing the car to leave Japan.
Pan layed out the timeline: “It usually takes about six weeks from the time the car is found and until it actually arrives in the U.S. into our possession. Once you buy the car you have to transport it to the port for loading as you can’t just drop off the car at the port whenever you want. The wait time is one to two weeks just to get an appointment to drop the car a the port.”
Two weeks’ transit time across the Pacific, and then another two weeks to clear customs once the car is unloaded in the U.S. But all of that is the easy part, “The tough part is the waiting,” Pan said with a laugh.
What It’s Like to Drive Makes It Worth The Cost
Given the chance, Pan waxed poetic about what made the 996 better than its bookending siblings.
“The 996 GT3 RS has a more raw driving experience,” he said. “The 997’s engine is not as responsive as the 996 and even though the 997 and 991 have more horsepower. The 996 just feels better to drive. It feels more connected. I love rowing through the gears of the 996 versus the PDK transmission of the 991.”
Pan likes the individuality. “You will see plenty of 997 or 991 GT3 RS driving around but you’ll never see a 996 GT3 RS because the production numbers are so low,” he noted. “And the fact that they were never available for sale in the US. I would say there are less than a single handful of 996 GT3 RS in the US and they are all in private collections. I doubt any others are actually registered to drive on the street. Only 682 examples were produced, making this car the second-rarest GT3 RS Porsche and one of the top six rarest RS Porsche.”
My final question for Pan causes him to wince and smile at the same moment. Is the car is for sale? His reply was succinct.
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