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Porsche Boxster (986): Buying guide and review (1996-2004)

Porsche Boxster (986): Buying guide and review (1996-2004) Classic and Performance Car
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In the early ‘90s, Porsche was in a very difficult position. Profits were falling, and its best-selling car, the 911, could trace its roots back to a 1960s. It needed to act fast, and introduce a new range of products to revitalise the brand and bring it back to profitability.
Enter the Porsche Boxster, a mid-engined two seater sports car based in part on the upcoming water cooled 996 platform. Initial reception was lukewarm, with critics bemoaning the ‘fried egg’ headlight treatment and relative lack of power from its 2.5-litre engine. As with any major shift, it also took a while for the public to warm to the Boxster. A number of running changes and more powerful engines helped to turn the 986 model a huge seller, which along with the water-cooled 996 helped to secure Porsche’s future.
Today the Boxster is an integral part of Porsches range and the original version is still a cracking drive and exceptional bargain.

Which Boxster to buy?

Porsche has always had a policy of incrementally improving its cars throughout the production lifecycle. In the case of the first Boxster, some changes were made to address mechanical issues while others were improvements to keep the cars current with rivals’ offerings. 
The original 986 Boxster was launched in 1996, sharing architecture with the first water-cooled 911 and helping save Porsche in the process. Some felt it lacked the visual punch of the concept version that wowed crowds at Detroit in 1992. When it finally went into production, it lacked dynamic punch too, although that original 201bhp 2.5-litre engine was supplanted by a 217bhp 2.7 in 2000, and joined by a 250bhp 3.2-litre Boxster S. The enthusiast’s model had arrived. 
In 2003, outputs went up to 225 and 258bhp, and a facelift saw some minor changes to the styling – the most notable of which was the addition of clear front light units and glass rear screens. 
The first generation water cooled boxer engines in the Boxster and 911 have developed a reputation for leaking Rear Main Seals and IMS bearing failures. While the issue is not uncommon, it’s nowhere near as prevalent as you might think. Many specialists offer strengthened replacement parts, and generally a thorough check of the car in these vulnerable areas should be carried out for peace of mind. 
Earliest 2.5-litre cars can be temptingly cheap, but unless they are in perfect condition there are far more desirable models to be had. The 2.7-litre cars have enough power to put a smile on your face, but the 3.2-litre is the real performance choice. 
Tiptronic automatic gearboxes were offered on all models, and while they are generally less desirable, shouldn’t be dismissed if you plan on using the car regularly around town. A 50th Anniversary 550 Spyder was released in 2004 and with only 1953 produced is the rarest (and now-sought-after) of the Boxster models.
If you are prepared to pay good money, it’s worth searching for well looked after car from the last few years of production, preferably owned by an enthusiast. Thanks to the numerous running changes and updated exterior looks, these are by far the best cars to live with. Standard specifications were generally very basic while optional extras were not cheap, so finding a well-specced car is not always easy.

Performance and specs

2004 Porsche Boxster S
Engine 3179cc 24valve DOHC H6 
Power 256bhp @ 6200 rpm 
Torque 229lb ft @ 4600rpm
Top speed 164mph 
0-60mph 5.7 seconds 
Fuel consumption 26.9 mpg 
Insurance group 46
Gearbox six-speed manual

Dimensions and weight

Wheelbase 2415mm
Length 4320mm
Width 1780mm
Height 1780mm
Weight 1320kg

Common problems

• Parts are available from Porsche as well as numerous specialists who stock a whole host of replacement items for the entire range of Boxsters.
• RMS rear seal leaks and IMS bearing failures are very well documented, and any Porsche specialist should be able to diagnose these issues for you. While early cars have a higher rate of failure than face-lifted models, by now most have had upgraded replacement parts fitted, and if not there are a number of specialists who will carry out this work. The final price can be negotiated down on whether this work has been done or not.
• A leaking RMS seal can be replaced when the clutch needs doing next, as the gearbox has to be removed to get to the seal. 
• The IMS Bearing was upgraded a number of times during production however they are a weak point in the design and some specialists have developed replacements that last a lot longer than the original items.
• Cracked cylinder liners affected some of the earlier cars but a running modification in 2000 resolved this issue. 
• Coolant expansion tanks can crack leaking water into the boot. Coolant radiators and the air-con condenser are situated in the front of the car and can get blocked by leaves and road debris.
• Gearboxes are robust and should change gears smoothly; six-speed ‘boxes can jump out of second gear, which points to it needing an expensive rebuild.
• The suspension does not have any major issues, other than lower arm bushes and rose joints on the trailing arms wearing out. Check that the car tracks straight and no creaking noises emanate when turning.
• Rust is not a common issue however blocked drainage channels may allow water to pool behind the seats and some cars can develop rust bubbles around the arches over time. The nose and flanks are prone to road rash, so poor paintwork can be a good bargaining point.
• Interior trim got stronger with successive facelifts. Of early cars, only the best-kept avoid scruffiness inside. Make sure the roof mechanism and electrical fixtures work.

Model history

1996: Porsche Boxster launched with 201bhp 2.5-litre six-cylinder engine
2000: Base engine size increased to 2.7-litres, with power up to 217bhp. Boxster S introduced with 3.2-litre 250bhp engine and standard six-speed gearbox
2001: Optional PSM anti-skid system introduced
2003: Facelift carried out including glass window replacing rear plastic item, front indicator units were made translucent and new wheel and colour options were introduced. Vario-Ram intake system increases engine outputs incrementally with 2.7-litre up 11bhp and 3.2-litre up by 8bhp
2004: Special edition 550 Spyder released with 1953 cars built. Last Boxster rolls off the production line with over 160,000 cars built 

Owners clubs, forums and websites

• www.porscheclubgb.com
• 986forum.com/forums
• www.boxsterregister.org

Summary and prices

For a while it’s been possible to get into a Boxster for £6000 and even less. The money will buy you an enjoyable drive, but you’ll be talking a ratty high-miles 986. Autos are less desirable than manuals. Better to weigh in around £9000 for a smart, serviced, low-mileage late-model manual 3.2S. And we can’t imagine those getting much cheaper.
At the top end are the £15k minters, but at this money it’s really worth considering a later 987 Boxster, especially with the option of PDK for those seeking two pedal models. For a really special Boxster, the 550 Spyder special edition is difficult to beat, but with low mileage cars commanding upwards of £30k, you really have to want one to justify paying the premium. 
The first generation Boxster is a great sports car that can double as a weekend toy and daily transport if required. With prices not likely to get much lower, now might just be the time to invest in one of these great sports cars.
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Last updated: 28th Feb 2017
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    Type: Used Year: 2013 Make: PORSCHE Model: BOXSTER Trim: 3.4 981 S Convertible PDK 2dr Auto Body: Convertible Trans: Automatic Mileage: 42000 Engine Size: 3436 Ext Color: Silver

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    St Michaels Garage
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