Porsche Boxster (986)
If you have not owned a Porsche and are thinking that it is time to get into one, what should your first Porsche be? Sure it would be easy to just saw the latest 911, 718 Boxster or 718 Cayman and call it done. However, if you have the cash for a new Porsche then the cars in this series are not for you (with a few exceptions). These are cars for someone that is wanting to get their first Porsche, but they don’t want it to break the bank. All of them can be had for under $30,000 with some being as low as about $5,000 for a running car in decent condition.
With a lower budget a buyer is likely to want a car that they can do the routine maintenance themselves. It also needs to be fairly dependable as it may double as a commuter car as well as a weekend driver. Below is the list of Porsche’s that we think best fit this criteria. Over the next few articles we will cover each model, so make sure to subscribe to our updates now (scroll down to get our daily updates in your email box for free).
Today we cover the third car on our list which is the Porsche Boxster 986.
The early Porsche Boxster (internally known as the 986) was the first entry level car from the German performance car maker since the 912 E to look like a Porsche. From the A pillars forward the entire front end looked almost identical to the 996 variation of the 911. When the Boxster first went to market it was an immediate sales success with waiting lists for folks looking to buy the roadster.
While the front looked like the 996, the back looked, well a lot like the front. This did cause for some people not to be fond of the styling, but even to the most harsh critics the car itself made up for it. The idea behind the Boxster was a modern incarnation of the legendary 550 Spyder and when you put the two side by side you can see why the rear is styled the way it is. From the side you can see air intakes (well one is an intake and the other helps remove hot air) that helped give it a more performance oriented look.
The first generation Boxster (as well as the 987) have had many call it a feminine car. This opinion is largely do to its softer lines and convertible top, but that isn’t a fair verdict. Within modern constraints it was an attempt to make a more affordable mid-engined roadster with 550 roots. We think it looks fabulous and any preconceived notions go away the second you drive one on a curvy road (some would argue that many who make the claim that it is a “girl’s car” have never driven one).
Similar to the 914 the engine sits in the middle just behind the driver. This only leaves room for two passengers, but you do get the use of two trunks for more storage. Access to the engine is not as easy as a front or rear engined vehicle as the power plant is under the convertible top.
Having said that, Porsche has engineered an ingenious way of getting to the top of the flat-six engine. For maintenance you simple open the convertible top part way and then a series of covers are removed and the back of the top lifts to gain top access. There is also access to the front of the engine through an opening behind the seats, making belt changes relatively easy.
The early cars were only available with a 2.5-liter water cooled flat-six engine. The motor produced 201 horsepower which was enough to give it a claimed 0-60 mph time of 6.7 seconds and a top speed of 149 mph. Now we all know that Porsche tends to be very conservative with their 0-60 mph times and many magazines in the late 90’s (including Motor Trend) managed times in the 6 seconds flat range. While that doesn’t sound that fast today, in the late 90’s that was not bad at all.
The early Boxster put its mid-engine layout to good use allowing for amazing handling. While power in the early 986 is good, in 2000 the Boxster S was introduced with a 3.2-liter flat-six engine. The larger power plant outputted 250 horsepower and was mated to a six-speed transmission instead of the five-speed in the base Boxster. According to Porsche it could go from 0-60 mph in 5.8 seconds. However, again the German marquee is conservative and many magazines were able to achieve 0-60 mph times around 5.5 seconds.
Boxster S styling was very similar to the non-S model with the exception of a front bumper that added a center air intake for additional cooling of the front radiators. The center exhaust pipes were also changed from a single center pipe design to dual pipes and the rear bumper received a slight redesign.
For the 2000 model year the base Boxster moved up to 2.7-liters raising horsepower to 217 horsepower. Claimed 0-60 mph time was lowered to 6.5 seconds and the top speed was raised to 155 mph.
All pre-2002 cars were fitted with a rear plastic window. Overtime these tend to become cloudy and crack. 2002 and later Boxsters used a small glass rear window that doesn’t have to same issues as the plastic window, although it does somewhat reduce the available space to work on the engine. While the early cars have plastic windows you can purchase a new top with a glass window from $500 to $1,000 depending on the supplier. We’ve done the top change ourselves and it can be done at home, but schedule a full two days to do it (and take your time). You can also have a shop do the installation and most will change between $250 and $500 for the labor.
Pre-1999 cars had a small number of issues with cracked or slipped cylinder liners. But the elephant in the room is the intermediate shaft (IMS) bearing. The bearing can fail due to the lack of lubrication and can destroy the engine. The failure also affects the 996, 997 and 987 models. The issue usually shows its face before 50,000 miles, so somewhat higher mileage cars can be a safer bet. However, the best thing to do is put in one of the redesigned bearings that is much less prone to failure. This is a perfect job to do when changing the clutch. When looking at buying a 986 it is a good question to ask if the IMS bearing has been replaced with a redesigned bearing. If not, plan on having it changed after making the purchase and you can use it as a bargaining chip to try and get a better price.
The interior of the 986 is very similar to that of a 996, but with two seats and a few less gauges. It is sturdy and holds up pretty well, but there is a decent amount of plastic used making it not as upscale as the newer Boxsters. Still it is a unique design and it doesn’t look like it was lifted from a Honda Civic.
Early Boxsters are perhaps the best bargain on the used Porsche market today. When you consider that you can find early drivers for about $5,000 for a car with traditional Porsche styling and a good amount of usable power. It is 9/10 the car when compared to the 996 of the same time period. However, when you consider that for a Boxster in similar condition to a 996 generation 911 you pay about $10,000 less, you can see just how much of a bargain it is.
Pre-2000 cars are the least expensive with cars in good condition going for about $9,500. Lesser cars that are still drivable go for as low as $5,000, but be careful of potential costly repairs.
For post-2000 base Boxsters expect to pay slightly more for the 2.7-liter car. Good examples cost about $10,600 with later cars with glass windows commanding a small premium over plastics window cars.
For those wanting the best performance from a 986, the Boxster S is the one to look for. A good S model will cost about $12,500 with models with the glass rear window going for slightly more. When you consider the available performance for the slightly higher price it makes it the best bargain in a 986.
As with any used Porsche we highly recommend a pre-purchase inspection from a mechanic familiar with Boxsters. Doing so can help you find hidden issues that could quickly cost you a good amount to correct. It also gives you additional leverage when negotiating a price.