Buyers’ guide Porsche 986-model Boxster/Boxster S
It’s almost a quarter of a century since the original, 986-model Boxster was launched, but Porsche enthusiasts around at the time will still recall the huge impact it had on the sports car market and on Porsche itself: mid-engined, cleverly retro styled – and not much more than half the price of a 911. It became a dream product for Porsche, a big seller yet with cast-iron resale value. Now of course it is the cheap, throwaway Porsche, prices from £3000 or even less, so how does an early Boxster in its original 2.5-litre form rate as a budget sports car?
BUYERS’ GUIDE: BOXSTER 986
Everything you need to know
On sale towards the end of 1996, the Boxster came with one engine option, an all-alloy 2.5-litre unit, with four valves and double overhead camshafts. It retained the 993’s six-cylinder ‘boxer’ configuration – but was the first of the new generation of water-cooled Porsche engines.
Managed by Bosch Motronic fuel-injection, output was a respectable if hardly fearsome 204bhp produced at 6000rpm and 181lb ft torque at 4500rpm. Mated to a five-speed manual gearbox, the longitudinal powertrain sat directly behind the seats – and was totally out of sight for most owners, the only evidence of its presence the oil and water fillers in the corner of the rear boot.
This configuration allowed a near neutral weight distribution, 48 per cent over the front wheels according to Porsche, compared to the 37 per cent for the 993-series 911 of the time. Suspension was, in principal, a simple set up, of MacPherson struts front and rear, while steering was power-assisted rack and pinion.
The hood was another winning aspect of the Boxster, folding back electrically in 12 seconds and storing under a metal cover; a factory hard top was optional. Gone were the 911’s floor-hinged pedals.
The original specification Boxster ran unchanged for three years, with just one addition, the five-speed Tiptronic S gearbox, in early 1997. In 2000 the 2.5 engine capacity rose to 2.7 litres, and the 3.4-litre Boxster S was added.
When introduced, the original Boxster was lauded for its driving manners, most notably the wonderful, neutral handling that set new standards. It had all the directness of the 911 – crisp steering, powerful brakes and flat cornering – but with the added poise, and also the more forgiving nature, that only a mid-engined car can offer. The engine, while lacking the emotional wail of the air-cooled 911 unit, revs shrilly past its power peak, to 6600rpm.
However, these early Boxsters do have a slightly underdeveloped nature to them compared to later 986s. Most noticeably, they feel underpowered, plus the engine is so peaky it’s all too easy to stall it when engaging the clutch to move off front standstill (later 986s still suffered from this, to a lesser extent). The transmission also seems to be more whiney, and with the hood lacking the double lining of later models the car is quite noisy.
The Boxster engine suffers two well-known problems: scored cylinder liners, and IMS (intermediate shaft) bearing failure, which can let go without warning. But not all Boxsters are affected, and as Robin McKenzie of Porsche specialist Auto Umbau in Bedfordshire points out, ‘as a Porsche ages you have to pay more to maintain it, but you haven’t paid the premium of a new car, so spending the money on it can make sense.’
986-MODEL BOXSTER 2.5 (MANUAL/AUTO):
- Engine: 2480cc water-cooled flat-six
- Max power: 204bhp at 6000rpm
- Max torque: 181lb ft at 4500rpm
- Transmission: Five-speed manual or five-speed automatic
- 0-62mph: 6.9/7.6sec
- Max speed: 150/147mph
- Fuel consumption: 29.1/25.9mpg
- Weight: 1242/1292kg
- Brakes: Vented discs front and rear
- Wheels (front, rear): 6Jx16-inch, 7Jx16-inch
- Tyres (front, rear): 205/55 ZR16, 225/50 ZR16
- All figures from Porsche
WHAT YOU’LL PAY
- £1500–£2500: Early Boxster, likely to have engine and chassis issues, but no history
- £2500–£5000: 1997–1999 models, 100,000 plus miles, used car dealer and private sales
- £5000–£7500: Under 100,000 miles and with full service history
- £7500–£10,000: Sub 75,000 miles and in tidy condition
- £10,000–£15,000: An occasional “time warp” car is seen at this price
The Boxster’s “M96” motor, shared with the 996-model 911, is notorious for suffering scored cylinder bore liners, which at best causes excessive smoking and oil consumption, and at worst a terminal lack of compression. The only cure is an engine rebuild.
The IMS is positioned below, and takes its drive from the engine crankshaft and provides drive for the oil pump and the camshaft chains. ‘The warning sign is rattling cam chains, which means turn the engine off immediately and hope that the outer race has not damaged the casings,’ Robin tells us.
There are other engine issues to be aware of, Robin warns. ‘Perished “O” rings cause oil leaks, and coil packs fail, as do VarioCam solenoids, resulting in engine misfires.’ However, some of the M96’s problems are down to ‘user abuse’, including an additional smoking issue, Robin stresses. ‘White smoke from the engine is very bad, normally meaning a crack in the block. This is not a Porsche problem, but due to poor maintenance – a lack of coolant changes.’
He adds: ‘Do not confuse it with the normal condensation – the giveaway is the coolant reservoir, if it constantly goes down then it is either leaking or the coolant is being burnt.’ Water pumps can fail, too, again mainly down to lack of coolant changes.
Rusty exhaust fasteners are the biggest problem, whether they are holding on rusted exhaust manifolds or the flange connection. ‘Many will not be recognisable as nuts and studs, and brute force will be needed to remove them,’ Robin warns. ‘Lambda sensors commonly fail but are not expensive – the problem is getting them out.’
Check for corrosion behind the rear wheel arch liners, and where gravel will have removed the protection from the bottom of the wheel arches. ‘There should not be any rust coming through the bodywork unless the panel is accident damaged and/or poorly repaired.’
Seat side bolsters wear through, and the centre console lid breaks off, while rear trim panels can be dirty from unclean hands removing them to gain access to engine, Robin has noticed. Water can collect in the foot wells and cause corrosion in the modules and brackets under the seats. Ignition switches and door locks fail, as do regulators, while modified sound systems can be a nuisance. ‘Aftermarket stereos are normally earthed incorrectly, and make the alarm system think the radio is being stolen, so will beep when you lock the doors,’ Robin reveals.
If the air conditioning does not work, the two condensers, in the car’s nose, are probably leaking. ‘They’re prone to rotting from debris collecting in the outer lower corners of the bodywork,’ says Robin. ‘The front “PU” should be taken off regularly and the condensers and radiators cleaned out.’
Many early Boxsters will have had a replacement hood. ‘The rear PVC windows go yellow and brittle, and break up under normal operation of the hood,’ says Robin. ‘The hood stitching erodes away, and the crease lines cause the canvas to break up.’ If fitting a new hood, it makes senses to upgrade to one with a glass screen.