Porsche Boxster 986 Buying Guide
Mixing traditional Porsche driving fun and usability, this model is a temptingly affordable way into marque ownership. Read this before taking the plunge
How much to pay
• Project £2500-3500 • Good £4500-7500 • Concours £9500-12,500 •
Most Expensive at Auction: £18,000 (Limited-edition 550 Spyder)
Running costs ★★★
DIY friendly ★
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The first-generation Porsche Boxster received a mixed reception at its launch back in 1996. The controversial headlights, relatively low-powered 2.5-litre motor and the fact that it wasn’t a 911 were the most common criticisms levelled at it.
While those ‘fried-egg’ headlights didn’t do the car looks any favours, the 201bhp flat-six was a match for anything else in its class – and it would soon be replaced by a torquier 2.7-litre unit anyway. A properly quick 3.2-litre S variant was launched in 2000 to silence any remaining critics.
As to that last complaint, as irrational as it may have been, the 986 actually shared a number of key components with the upcoming 996. The two were largely the same up to the A-pillar. The engine architecture was much the same, too, and thanks to the Boxster’s mid-engined layout the model was actually more composed around fast bends than a contemporary 911.
Sales picked up as the years wore on, and a number of incremental improvements ensured that the 986 stayed at the top of its class until it was replaced by the 987 in 2004. It remains one of the best-selling models in the Porsche range and it, as well as the water-cooled 996, were instrumental in pulling back the brand from financial ruin.
Prices are attractively low for most 986 models these days, and despite some scaremongering on the internet that we will get into shortly, the majority of Boxsters have proven to be reliable and largely trouble free. It’s still worth bearing in mind that some of these cars are now over 20 years old, and going in without some knowledge of what to look for can become an expensive adventure.
Your AutoClassics inspection checklist
Most internet searches will highlight an apparent glut of IMS (Intermediate Shaft) bearing and RMS (Rear Main Seal) failures. The truth is that while affected cars can suffer expensive engine problems, the issue is not quite so prevalent as you might think. There are also several preventative measures that can be carried out to give you extra piece of mind.
The RMS seals tend to leak a bit of oil on most cars. However, unless lubricant is pouring out, the seal’s replaced can wait to be done with the next clutch change, as the gearbox needs to be removed for the job.
The IMS bearing was a weak point on early cars, and could result in engine failure. The design was upgraded several times, so the issue is far less prevalent on later models. Specialists also offer upgraded bearings, so check whether this has been done on your potential purchase.
Cylinder bores were also known to crack on the early cars. However, this tended to happen below 50,000 miles, and if the car has lasted 20-odd years it is unlikely to happen now. Still, check the service history, and if you suspect any issues have a bore-scope inspection carried out by a specialist. High engine temps are a warning sign, as is a creamy oil/water mixture under the oil cap.
The flat-six engine itself is a strong unit. Available in 2.5, 2.7 and 3.2-litre capacities they require a service every 12,000 miles or annually, so watch out for low-mileage cars that have not had regular oil changes. Missed oil services can lead to worn chain guides on the VarioCam timing chain tensioner, an issue that is more prevalent on pre-2002 models.
Lumpy idling or hesitation while accelerating could indicate a cracked HT lead or a mass airflow sensor that needs replacing. Neither is overly expensive.
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The base models came fitted with five-speed manuals, while S variants had six-speed units. A five-speed Tiptronic automatic was also made available, but opting for one of these is somewhat missing the point. All are reliable, although specialists recommend that the fluids be changed more frequently than the rather long intervals suggested by Porsche.
A stiff clutch, tough gearchanges between first and second, or untoward noises from the rear when engaging gear may indicate that the transmission needs inspecting.
Suspension and brakes
The lower-arm bushes and rose joints on the trailing arms in the rear tend to need replacing every 40,000 miles. Creaking noises when turning or going over bumps may indicate worn or cracked springs; uneven tyre wear is also something that needs to be explored further.
It may be a simple case of the tracking needing adjustment, but it can also indicate worn shocks or damaged suspension components. Aftermarket wheels can exacerbate any of the above issues, so it is best to stick to standard-fitment alloys.
The standard pads and discs (larger up front on S variants) are more than up to the task of bringing the Boxster to a stop. The correct replacement parts are not cheap, so look out for warped discs or pads with not much life left in them. Discs also tend to corrode in these cars if left standing for long periods.
Rust is not a particularly common issue, although it’s still advisable to check around the wheelarches and under the car for signs of corrosion. Blocked drainage channels can cause water to pool behind the seats, which will rot the rear arches over time or damage the ECU.
The engine and air-con radiators are mounted low behind the front bumpers, and as such these tend to accumulate road debris and dirt over time. If they are in good condition, it’s a potential sign that the current owner carries out preventative maintenance. If not, they may have corroded and could require replacing.
Early cars came with a plastic rear window that would glaze and crack over time. Glass replacements can be installed, and facelifted cars had them as standard. The roof mechanism requires periodic lubrication, and you should raise the top to see whether the fabric is free from tears and has not shrunk over the years.
The interior layout and design are very similar to those of the contemporary 996, and suffer from most of the same issues. The build quality did improve as production went on, but certain buttons and switches as well as the door bins can feel a bit flimsy.
Check that the fabric roof closes snugly around the frameless windows, and that the seat bolsters, pedals and steering wheel exhibit the kind of wear you would expect of the mileage shown.
Make sure that the navigation system (if fitted) still operates properly. Some owners have installed their own aftermarket systems, which may look out of place but will most likely be an improvement on the two-decade old set-up.
- 1996: 986 Porsche Boxster launched with 201bhp 2.5-litre six-cylinder mid-mounted engine. Five-speed manual or Tiptronic gearboxes offered
- 2000: 217bhp 2.7-litre engine becomes base unit. 250bhp 3.2-litre Boxster S introduced with uprated brakes and a six-speed gearbox
- 2001: PSM anti-skid system introduced
- 2002: Facelift carried out, interior gets new steering wheel and glovebox as well as glass rear window. Front indicators are now clear units, and fresh wheel and body-colour options are made available
- 2003: Power increased to 225bhp for 2.7-litre cars, while the S gets bumped up to 258bhp
- 2004: Special-edition 550 Spyder released. All 1953 are painted GT Silver Metallic and fitted with MO30 sports suspension and sport exhaust. Power up to 266bhp. Last 986 Boxster rolls off the production line, with over 160,000 cars produced
The 986 Boxster is a particularly attractive modern classic that offers an engaging driving experience without feeling like the more than two-decade-old design that it is. While early cars can be had for temptingly low sums, we suggest spending a little extra and focusing on the improved post-facelift models. Don’t get too caught up on the mileage, as rarely used cars tend to have more issues than ones that see regular use – as long as regular servicing intervals have been adhered to.
If low cost is a priority, then a 2.7-litre Boxster is a fine option – especially the post-2002/’03 models, which had a tad more power and benefited from many incremental improvements. Decent S variants do offer a significant boost in performance for a comparatively small outlay, so keep an eye out for these, too. The ultra-rare 550 Spyder is the surest bet if you are looking for a collectible 986. However, any well cared-for 986 is a pleasure to drive, and prices for good cars are quite likely to head upwards.
|1996 M96 2.5-litre flat-six|
|1999 M96 2.7-litre flat-six|
|Power||217bhp (225bhp post-2002)|
|Economy||32 mpg est.|
|1999 M96 3.2-litre flat-six|
|Power||250bhp (258-bhp post-2002)|
|Economy||30 mpg est.|
Picture courtesy of Porsche Media