Known as the 986, the first generation Porsche Boxster had a production run from 1996 to 2004. Since the car’s introduction, it has had a unique place within the Porsche hierarchy. On one hand, the car is responsible for Porsche’s financial fortunes in the late 1990s. Before its introduction Porsche had been in serious financial straights, having seen limited success with the 924 and 928. On the other hand, the car’s softer styling and lower performance (in regards to the rest of the 911 lineup) caused purists to dismiss it.
As subsequent generations of the car have been released, the performance gap that originally existed has been narrowed. Additionally, the introduction of a fixed roof alternative, the 987 Porche Cayman, helped to further make the Boxster platform a true performance car. Today the Boxster/Cayman stands as an integral part of Porsche’s lineup, providing an affordable entry point to the marquee while retaining the prestigious performance heritage it is known for.
For this buying guide, we’re going to focus on the 1996-2004 models. These are relatively plentiful and in “S” trim feature decent performance. Of particular interest are the 1999-2002 “S” models, which feature 250 hp, and the 2003-2004 “S” models, which feature 258 hp. If you’re looking at a base model, engine changes occurred in 1999 when displacement was increased from 2.5L to 2.7L, an increase of 16hp. These little cars are plenty sturdy, and with a price entry point beneath $10k, are an easy entry into the Porsche world.
Advantages & Disadvantages:
Being a Porsche, the Boxster already has a rich racing pedigree. To go along with that, it was marvelously designed. Some of the innate advantages are:
• Mid-Engine Layout provides Perfect Balance
• Excellent Handling and Responsive Brakes
• Crisp & Neutral Steering
• Traditionally Gorgeous Curves & Body Proportions
• Boxer Engine Allows for a Streamlined Design
• Affordable Entry Point for a Porsche
There are however some inherent design shortcomings:
• It’s a 2-Seater, so Space is Clearly Limited
• Non “S” Model is Underpowered
• Body Rigidity is Lacking do to the Convertible Configuration
• Somewhat Bland Styling
• Low Slung Front End is a Magnet for Hits
• Performance and Replacement Parts will be more Expensive Simply because it is a Porsche
The Porsche Boxster essentially saved the Porsche brand from bankruptcy in the late 1990s. Additionally, it remained its highest volume selling model until the introduction of the Cayenne SUV. There is no discounting the importance that the car has played on a historical level. Now, with prices of virtually every Porsche model skyrocketing, the chance to purchase such an iconic vehicle at a low price cannot be dismissed.
Special or Desirable Options:
There’s only one special version of the 986 Boxster, the “550 Spyder Boxster S Special Edition.” This was made to commemorate the 1954 Porsche 550 Spyder. There are not a ton of improvements made to the car. There’s a slight bump in hp, a short-throw shifter, lowered suspension and a plethora of small visual cues. Only 1,954 were produced under this moniker and they do fetch a bit of a premium over the “S” model. Unless you’re a true die-hard Porsche fan though, the car doesn’t really offer much over the “S.”
Beyond the Special Edition, Boxsters (and Porsches) are known to have an almost endless list of available options. Porsche enthusiasts will rattle off the availability and combinations of these options. Without getting too deep though, here are the basic things that were available for the 986:
• Limited Exterior Colors (Zenith Blue, Turquoise Blue, Jade Green, Zanzibar, Orient Red, etc…)
• Limited Interior Colors (Lipstick Red & Others…)
• AeroKit Option
• HardTop Option
• M030 Suspension Package
• Speedster Humps
• 18″ Rims
• Full Leather Interior
• Porsche Sports Exhaust
It’s important to remember that Porsche will let you customize your car when ordering (you can even ask for your own color mix), so there’s an almost endless amount of combinations. Because of this, option packages really don’t draw higher prices and you can be rather selective when purchasing their own.
What to look out for:
While the Boxster was Porche’s highest selling model during this period, it is still a relatively low volume car. Given that, there are certain eccentricities to look out for. The car really only had one major manufacturing fault. Beyond that most items simply accumulate over time, or are expected wear related issues. Below is a list of things you should look out for when inspecting a potential Boxster purchase.
• Cracked Cylinder Bores: Boxsters prior to 1999 can suffer major damage from cracked cylinder bores. Most of these vehicles were repaired by Porsche by having the bores drilled out and re-sleeved, but the chance exists that some are still out there. If the car is overheating and you begin to see some coolant in your oil, then it’s already too late. The easiest way to avoid this is to purchase a 2001 and newer model as the issue was completely eradicated by then.
• Crank Shaft Guide Rails: The guide rails are basically a wear item. As the timing chain rubs over it it will wear the rails out. If the wear is excessive and the oil is not changed during the proper intervals it can cause oil starvation in the engine. As long as everything is running smoothly it’s a good idea to go ahead and change these items after your purchase.
• Chin Spoiler & Cooling Damage: Given the low stance of the car you should check the chin for damage. This can also lead to damage of the radiator and a/c condenser. The ductwork in the front bumper can also become clogged with leaves and debris and cause damage to the system. It is best to occasionally take off the bumper and give everything a once over.
• Intermediate Shaft Failure: While the earlier cars had a double row bearing and are more durable than the 2000-2004 single row bearings, both are prone to failure. Telltale signs of the bearing breaking down is metal shavings in the oil. As such, a bearing replacement should be done whenever a rear main seal replacement is required or a clutch replacement is performed. Bearing failures can be catastrophic to the engine.
• Oil Leaks: Oil leaks are usually attributed to the rear main seal. This is a simple job and can be accomplished during a clutch change. Other seals around the cylinder head can leak if the car has been sitting for a long time. These are usually simple repairs though and are relatively affordable.
• Coolant Overflow Tank: The tank is rather flimsy and can easily crack. This will cause a leak in the boot/storage area of the car. Very simple to replace.
• Ignition Coils: The engine compartment can get very hot and cause premature failure of the coil packs. This is normal and you should expect to change them regularly.
• Interior System Leak: If the drip line from the climate control system gets clogged, it will leak into the passenger footwell. Additionally, faulty seals can cause water to run through the door and door jambs. This can lead to electrical damage and shorted out systems.
• Heavy Engine Abuse or Modifications: Given how easy the Boxster models are to upgrade, you should perform a quick check to see how much has been done. Look for performance part upgrades and ask about engine computer mapping modifications. Not all upgrades are bad, but they can be signs of heavy abuse.
The main items to look out for from the above list (assuming there is no cylinder bore damage) is the IMS failure, Guide Rails, and Rear Main Seal. Luckily, all these items can be preventively addressed during a clutch change. It is not unreasonable then to perform these upgrades all at once after acquiring the car to make sure you have a trouble free experience going forward.
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