Buyer’s guide to Porsche’s affordable gem, the Boxster 986. The Boxer-roadster is now highly affordable but complex, so choose carefully advises Malcolm McKay. Photography Tony Baker.
Buyer’s Guide Porsche Boxster 986
he car that saved Porsche from takeover in the late 1990s, the Boxster shared its headlights, front wings, bonnet, interior and engine with the first watercooled 911, and used a 2.5-litre engine. Production started in Stuttgart, supplemented from ’1997 in Finland (the VIN has ‘U’ instead of ‘S’ as the 11th character).
The engine grew to 2.7 litres, with a 3.2 ‘S’ alternative, in ’1999. While the 2.5 is currently the bargain basement, the 2.7 is seen as the ultimate everyday Porsche, easy to drive, with lively throttle response and great road manners. The 3.2 S is a more focused package, with a firmer ride and enough power to get into trouble.
When new, it was easy to add more than £10k to the £33,950 price. Standard 2.5s were bland inside: a good spec as on the car photographed makes a much nicer environment. Extras ranged from small to large trim upgrades (centre console and full leather being among the more desirable) plus air-conditioning, traction control and sport pack suspension. The optional hardtop is nice but hardly necessary with the rapid, well-engineered and effective soft-top.
With currently a small differential between the models, it makes sense to buy the latest, bestspec 3.2 that you can find. Long term, a loaded early 2.5 with low mileage will appreciate on rarity value; for the moment, prices have levelled but are not yet rising. Final-year 3.2s are often sold as the ‘Anniversary Edition’: don’t confuse those with the 1953 silver Spyder commemoratives, which have a numbered plaque on the centre console as well as a unique spec.
A full service history with Official Porsche Centres or recognised specialists is far more valuable than low mileage, which can cause more problems than the opposite. Full recent maintenance with nothing before is better than bills for just the first 12-15 years. While rust is not an issue, it can occur where repairs have been left untreated, so inspect thoroughly. The interior is durable, with bolster wear first to show up: a good trimmer can tidy up or re-upholster a worn seat. Feel for wet carpets behind the seats, usually caused by blocked hood drains.
Road tax for all Boxsters registered in the UK before 1 March 2001 will cost £245 per year; for those from 1/3/2001, it’s £305. Second-generation cars from 23 March 2006 hit £520 tax, a significant factor as values drop.
All Boxsters are fun to drive, but the 3.2 S is the sharpest. Cutaway shows mid-engined layout and all-round struts.
1 Accident damage even rust if poorly repaired
2 Coolers in front bumper corners
3 Front suspension and brakes
4 Worn seat bolsters; damp floor behind seats
5 Soft-top – for function, window and damage.
6 Rear suspension and brakes
7 Oil/water fillers; damp in the boot
8 Exhaust system
Just getting to the engine is a task in itself: most service access is from below. Apart from the bore and Intermediate Shaft issues, a worn cam chain (there’s one at each end of the engine) can cause a rattle at idle – and also needs urgent replacement. A rebuilt engine costs £5-10,000, compared to £900-1200 to swap the clutch.
Check clutch isn’t slipping: replacement can easily run to four figures. Gearboxes last well, though six-speeds can jump out of second, requiring a costly rebuild.
Inspect wheels for damage; tyres for uneven wear, age and quality. Brake discs rust and calipers seize if used rarely or left damp; look for wear and grooves, too.
A caring owner will keep coolant/air-con rads in bumper ducts clean and clear of leaves. See that rads are not corroded: they can have a life as short as six years.
Most factory exhausts are worn out. Replacements vary in price and quality, some suffering unpleasant resonance at certain speeds, so try a motorway run.
Bushes, especially rose joints, have a tough time and limited life, so expect to change them every 40,000 miles or so. Knocking/odd tyre wear are give aways.
Dipstick, oil and water fillers are in boot. check all for signs of oil/water mixing (walk away). Look for signs of a cracked expansion tank leaking water into boot.
On the road
Expect a fun drive with sublime handling: anything less means that work is needed. Suspension arm bushes have a limited life – especially the rose joints on the trailing arms. Arms cost c£150 front, £250 rear, plus fitting. Rubber bushes in the lower arms rarely last more than 40,000 miles: new ones are c£250 each. Groaning from the front when manoeuvring is worn suspension top mounts. Check for broken coil springs, too.
A few early engines, up to 2001, suffered casting weaknesses, leading to oil/water mixing. Faulty ones have been replaced or rebuilt by now and an engine overhaul or replacement in the service history need not cause concern.
Intermediate Shaft (IMS) bearing failure can afflict all 986s: driven from the crank, this shaft goes on to drive the cams. Walk away if you can hear knocking or grinding from the back of the engine: a full rebuild is essential. If oil is dripping from the rear but there’s no noise, a gearbox-out bearing replacement should be just in time to avoid a major rebuild. A stronger bearing can be fitted at clutch change time, to prevent trouble later: £900 bearing replacement; £950 for the clutch; and £1100 for a flywheel if required.
Head-gasket failure can be caused by water pump or drive belt failure – if the pump hasn’t been replaced, budget about £700 to do it soon. Hesitation when accelerating indicates a mass air flow sensor problem (c£150), while misfiring is most likely to be a failed coil pack. Frequent oil changes are beneficial for long engine life; a Porsche minor service (c£350) does not include an oil change, but a major one does (c£750).
Even the standard 2.5 Boxster should feel quick, with stupendous road manners. It’s quite happy as a daily driver, and the boot is deceptively roomy.
Cabin niceties, including sports wheel, were mostly extras.
“I had a Boxster years ago,” recalls Dacosta. “It sparked my interest in Porsches, we joined PCGB and ended up buying a 996. When I sold that, we needed a Porsche to stay in the club, so last year I bought the cheapest roadworthy one I could find!
I’ve spent about £2500 tidying it up and servicing: I’ve had the wheels refurbed, new nuts and centre caps, touched in the stone-chips, replaced the dash air-con unit, the front top suspension mounts and rear arms, water pump, belts, tensioner and coils.
“I was lucky to get a car built to a high spec, with full leather, climate control and big alloys: even the steering wheel is an upgrade. It’s done 108,000 miles and is getting a new exhaust soon, the cheap rear tyres need changing and the window regulator creaks, but otherwise it’s just about there.”
WHAT TO PAY 2.5/2.7/S/Spyder
Show/late low miles £8000/9k/11k/14k
Scruffy high miles £2500/3k/4k/7500
Dual-mass flywheel 2.7/3.2 £420/£444
Clutch kit 2.7/3.2 £203/£327
Water pump/radiators (pair) £199/£290
Air-con rebuild including condensers c£1500
Replace discs & pads (axle set) c£700
Soft-top pre/post facelift £540/£612
CLUBS & FORUMS
Porsche Club GB www.porscheclubgb.com
The Independent Porsche Enthusiasts’ Club
www.tipec.net BoXa.net www.boxa.net
Porsche Boxster Long, Veloce Porsche Boxster and Cayman Complete Story Tipler, Crowood
Porsche Boxster Ultimate Portfolio Brooklands
JMG 01202 488800 Revolution 01484 717342
Parr 01293 537911Hartech 01204 302809
FrazerPart 0151 665 0911 JGC 01280 701911
Autofarm 01865 331234 PorscheShop 0121
585 6088 911 Box 020 8402 7911 Philip
Raby 01243 780389 PCT 024 7640 7770
Cotswold 01242 620180 GCR 0116 278 0900
RPM 01296 663824 Mortimers 01403 785911
1993 Jan Concept shown, styled by Grant Larson
1996 Aug Manual 2.5 launched: 0-60mph 6.5 secs, 139mph top speed (Tiptronic 7.3 secs, 136mph)
1997 UK deliveries begin
1999 Aug Engine enlarged to 2.7 litres: 217bhp, 6.2/7 secs, 145/142mph; S added with 250bhp, 3.2-litre engine, six-speed manual, double-skinned soft-top, 5.6/6.2 secs, 152/148mph
2000 Aug 2.7 also gets double-skinned soft-top
2002 Aug (late 2003 UK) Facelift: glass rear window in electro-mechanical soft-top, glovebox in dash, power boost from exhaust/inlet mods, clear front indicators, tweaked bumpers/wheels (slightly shorter): 2.7 225bhp, 6.1/7 secs, 147/144mph; 3.2 258bhp, 5.2/6.1 secs, 154/150mph
2003 Aug 3.2 up to 266bhp; 550 Spyder 50th Anniversary numbered Special Edition, 1953 cars built, all Silver, with brown or grey leather, 18in Carrera wheels, Sport exhaust/suspension
2004 Aug 987 replaces 986
Sold/number built 1996-’04/160,578 (109,213 in Finland)
Construction steel monocoque
Engine all-alloy, dual-overhead VarioCam per bank 24-valve 2480/2687/3179cc flat-six, with Bosch Motronic sequential electronic fuel injection;
Power 201bhp @ 6000rpm-266bhp @ 6250rpm DIN
Torque 181lb ft @ 4500rpm-225lb ft @ 4500rpm DIN
Transmission five/six-speed manual or five-speed Tiptronic automatic, driving rear wheels
Suspension MacPherson struts, longitudinal and transverse control arms, anti-roll bars
Steering power-assisted rack and pinion, 3.0 turns lock-lock
Brakes vented discs, servo and ABS 11.7/11.5in (297/292mm); S 12.5/11.8in (316/300mm)
Length 14ft 2in (4315mm)
Width 6ft 4in (1930mm)
Height 4ft 3in (1290mm)
Wheelbase 7ft 11.2/7 ft 11.1in (2418/2416mm)
Weight 2739-3056lb (1242-1386kg)
0-60mph 7.3-5.4 secs
Top speed 136-154mph
Price new £31,630/38,330 (2.7/S, 2000)
£200, for a 30-year-old Londoner, full no-claims bonus and clean licence, on a 1999 2.5 as a second car, agreed value £6000, garaged overnight, 5000 limited mileage. Adrian Flux: 03301 231232.
Much faster in M-spec, the ‘trad sports car’ Z3 lacked the Boxster’s poise. Ms are costly (£13-20,000); base models dirt cheap, but you’ll need at least a 2.8 to beat a Boxster at the lights.
Sold/no built 1995-’2002/298,735
0-60mph 10.2-5.1 secs
Top speed 122-157mph
Price new £28,350 (2.8, 2000)
High-revving S2000 was an engineering tour de force and a great driver’s car that’s holding its value well. Rear arch rot can be severe and a full service history is vital when buying.
Sold/no built 1999-’2009/113,006
0-60mph 5.6 secs
Top speed 150mph
Price new £28,545 (2000)
One to buy £4990
Year of manufacture 2000
Recorded mileage 97,850
Vendor Martyn’s Car Sales, Chertsey, Surrey; tel: 07768 017781
For Great value; drives nicely
Against Needs a T-Cut and minor plastics
Martyn Neville likes to have a couple of Boxsters in stock because they’re such good value. This 2.7 has had paint in places, there are light scratches on most panels, the lower front quarter trims are missing and the centre console has wear. Underneath, it appears to be fundamentally sound.
There are five service book stamps, the first three from Porsche Centre Tonbridge, plus bills to show that it’s had remedial work to the roof and windows, which now function perfectly. It had a ‘full service’ earlier this year at 97,387 miles; there’s no invoice, but the oil is still golden, and just over max. Coolant likewise is full and blue.
The doors fit well, the sills are straight and the floors unscuffed. The discs and pads have plenty of life. The newest tyre is a 2014 Continental; they all have lots of tread, bar a 2008 Potenza. The wheels are a bit marked but the rims are unkerbed.
The rear bumper has been painted, the front is lightly grit-blasted and the worst finish is on the rear spoiler, which has a couple of scrapes.
Inside, the dash is good, the leather is creased but not heavily worn, and the centre console is scruffy, with repaired hinges to the storage box lid. It starts easily, the thrum slightly subdued, and drives sweetly, tracking straight hands-off. It has a nice gearchange, decent smooth brakes and the temperature is steady at c80ºC. This must be the cheapest viable 2.7 without serious needs, easily improved after a weekend with T-Cut.
2.7 is tidy bar various blemishes and has MoT to July 2018. Cabin quite smart, with good dash and lightly creased hide. Spacesaver spare is unused and the battery looks recent.
A 986 Boxster is a great and inexpensive way into Porsche ownership: most are dependable, fun and cheap to run, but maintenance costs can hit you if the rare engine issues strike. To minimise the risk, buy one with full (especially recent) service history. The 2.5/2.7 is the most usable; the 3.2 is the most rewarding to drive; look for a high-spec interior.
Boxster was deliberately styled to look like its 996 sibling, sharing its lamps, front wings and bonnet.
- Outstanding handling
- Good to great performance
- Very effective soft-top
- Excellent storage space
- Bland looks inside and out
- Risk of expensive engine failure
- Low values mean that many have been neglected and/or run on a budget