How a Porsche 996 Turbo survived 678,000 miles of adventure and adversity

Written by Aaron McKenzie, Photography by Trevor Dalton

Back in 2003, Tom Thalmann’s daily commute was only thirty minutes each way, but that was about to change. Soon, he’d be driving upwards of 200 miles per day, through the teeth of Boston traffic, in the summer sun and the winter snow. He figured that if his commute was going to be miserable, he might as well spend the time in a car he enjoyed.  At the time, Thalmann had an Acura Integra Type-R. It was, says Thalmann, a terrific driver’s car, raw and tactile and linear. Thalmann’s eye, however, had recently started to wander.

“What do you know about the Porsche 996 Turbos?” he asked a friend.

“They’re basically bulletproof,” came the answer. 

Toms 996Toms 996

After stewing over the matter for a few months, Thalmann made his way over to the local Porsche dealership and wrote the check, driving away in his first Porsche, a brand new Silver Metallic Porsche 996 Turbo. With all its options, the car cost Thalmann $160,000 (approximately $256,000 in 2022 dollars). Most new Porsche owners tend to start at the lower end of the model range and then, if they remain with the brand, work their way up the hierarchy every few years. Thalmann, however, went straight to the top. He hasn’t been back to buy another car in twenty years. In that time, he has accumulated approximately 678,000 miles on his Porsche.

Yes, you read that correctly: 678,000 miles. That’s the equivalent of twenty-six trips around the earth at the equator; enough miles to get one from earth to the moon, back to earth, and then almost back to the moon again. It’s as many miles as the average American driver accumulates in forty-eight years of driving. 

Toms 996Toms 996

Thalmann, meanwhile, has added miles to his odometer at a pace that his mechanics can scarcely believe – often to the tune of 1,000 miles a week for extended periods before Covid came along. A finicky owner, Thalmann insists on changing his car’s oil every 5,000 miles. For the average American driver, this would mean a trip to the mechanic every four or five months. Imagine the surprise on the face of Thalmann’s mechanic, then, when Thalmann first rolled in a mere five weeks after his first oil change, ready for another. 

“You were just here,” said the mechanic, as he looked in astonishment at the odometer in Thalmann’s Porsche. “Where the hell did you drive?”

The answer: anywhere he could. On workdays, if the traffic on Interstate 95 was gridlocked, Thalmann would duck onto the backroads in search of new curves in rural Massachusetts, Rhode Island, or Connecticut. On weekends, he’d load his young children’s car seats into the back seat and headed out for an adventure, usually with a stop for Italian food in nearby Providence along the way. A dozen or so times a year, he’d head off to Lime Rock or Watkins Glen for a track day. He never trailered the car. 

Toms 996
Toms 996

“Everyone would say, 'Why don't you get a trailer and get slicks for the track?' But that just becomes a chore,” says Thalmann. “You have to unload the trailer, swap the tires, all of which adds complexity. I just want to show up and drive. Besides, if it rains on a track day, I can still have fun and be more ready for when I experience those conditions on the highway."

Living in New England, Thalmann frequently encountered conditions that went far beyond wet pavement. To his delight, he quickly discovered that his all-wheel-drive 996 Turbo makes for a wonderful winter car. 

Photo courtesy of Tom Thalmann

"If you haven't driven one of these on snow tires in 8-10 inches of snow, you have no idea what a 996 Turbo is capable of doing,” says Thalmann. "Obviously, you have to increase stopping distances and plan your turns a little differently due to momentum, but this car just grips and bites and is unbelievably nimble in the snow. Remember, it snows a lot in Germany and that's where they tested it."

Throughout it all – all the miles, all the track days, all the snow – the car has endured, rewarding Thalmann’s trust. 

Toms 996

“Here we are, at 678,000 miles, and I can count on one hand the number of times I've gotten stuck in that car,” says Thalmann.

This reliability and longevity are a testament both to Thalmann’s devout adherence to a maintenance schedule and to Porsche’s engineering. Despite all the miles in stop-and-go Boston traffic, the 996 is only on its second clutch, and the original transmission only decided to retire at 423,000 miles. At 383,000 miles, in the course of fixing a broken actuator on one of the turbos, Thalmann elected to drop the entire engine for a comprehensive inspection. 

Toms 996Toms 996

"The car was running fine, but it had slightly less boost than normal and it had a couple minor oil leaks," says Thalmann. "But the factory said these engines were good for a quarter of a million miles and I’m an engineer so I wanted to take a look inside."

Thalmann asked the mechanics to call him when they had the engine disassembled and laid out for inspection. When he arrived at the shop a few days later the mechanics went over each component with Thalmann – everything from the cams inside the cylinders to the bearing surfaces from the connecting rods – and said with astonishment, "We’ve been doing this every day for decades. We do this all the time. But we have never, ever seen anything like this before." There was virtually no sign of wear inside Thalmann’s engine. 

Toms 996Toms 996

“So I tell everybody, just drive the car and change the oil every 5,000 miles with Mobil1, because that stuff is like liquid gold,” says Thalmann. “It's done a remarkable job of keeping this car running for as long as it has.”

All of this fun, all of these experiences, and all of that mileage help to put that initial, hefty purchase price into perspective.

"Take the average length of car ownership today: it's about eight years or 100,000 miles," says Thalmann, "and the average new car price is about $40,000. Extrapolate that over 700,000 miles and you're getting pretty close to the price that I paid for my car." 

Toms 996

While Thalmann did not initially set out to send a mileage message with his 996, he eventually reached a point – somewhere around 200,000 miles – at which he realized that he and this car were on a mission together. 

“It occurred to me that I'm going to drive this car until it hits a million miles,” he says. “In about ten years, I’ll be in my mid-sixties and, god willing, I’ll be driving the million-mile 996 Turbo, enjoying it just like I do today.” 

Toms 996

But first, Thalmann has his eye on reaching the 700,000-mile threshold in style. If all goes according to plan, his odometer will hit that number as Thalmann rolls through the gates at Weathertech Laguna Seca Raceway, near Monterey, Calif., in September 2023 after Thalmann completes a planned cross-country drive in honor of Brock Yates and the original Cannonball Run. 

"I've always wanted to drive cross country in this car," says Thalmann. "So I'm going to try to hit 700,000 miles in my car while commemorating the most epic cross-country drive of the 1970s on my way to the seventh Rennsport Reunion." 

Toms 996Toms 996

Between now and then, however, Thalmann has many more daily commutes through Boston’s notorious traffic – and he’s thrilled about it. 

“Every day that I get to drive this car, I get to create another memory,” says Thalman, ”and I get to put another smile on my face.”

More about Tom

You can follow Toms high-mileage journey on IG (@t2996420).

Meet our contributors

Photographer Trevor Dalton's clean, minimalist style and use of low light pairs well with his passion for analog film photography. You can see more of his work on his Instagram (@iamtrevordalton).

Aaron McKenzie is a Los Angeles based writer, photographer, and producer with an eye for all things automotive. You can see more from him by checking out his Instagram (@aaronwmckenzie).

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