1996 was a big year for Porsche flat six fans who didn't have Porsche flat six money. The arrival of the first 195hp, 2.5-litre Type 986 Boxster wasn't just a mega slice of the genuine 911 experience at a much more accessible price, it brought in a whole new driving dimension of its own.
That first Boxster did have its issues. It was a little breathless when pressing on, and it suffered from a few mechanical problems. Plus it looked a bit funny. But it was just about fast enough, well built, and fun. Although it was strictly a two-seater, it was surprisingly practical. You could shove a party's worth of wine into its twin boots and lidded door cubbies.
The 986 was a massive success. Given that fact, the follow-up Type 987 Boxster which debuted in late 2004 was never going to be a radical revamp. However, it pretty much was, even though you might not have thought so from a distance. The 987 was actually 80 per cent new, and a huge step forward.
For a start, the subtle Carrera GT-influenced restyle flagged up by the 987's bigger wheel arches and revised front end brought real cohesion to the Boxster design. The 987 went quite a bit harder than the 986, too. Not just in a straight line, either: the appreciable extra speed of the 240hp, 199lb ft 2.7-litre Boxster (0-62mph in 6.2sec) and of the 280hp, 236lb ft 3.2 Boxster S (0-62mph in 5.5sec) was well bolted down in the corners by smart chassis upgrades. There was a wider track, larger wheels and tyres, and new variable ratio steering. Boxes could be ticked for a Tiptronic gearbox, PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) and PCCB (Porsche Carbon Ceramic Brakes).
Porsche continued to deliver regular and useful upgrades throughout the 987's life. A year and a bit after its launch, in summer 2006, the 2.7 got a VarioCam Plus (variable valve timing) and a power hike to around 245hp (meaning 0-62mph in 6.1sec), while the S engine moved up to the new 3.4 that was also used in the then-new Cayman S. That gave nearly 295hp, 251lb ft and a 0-62mph time of 5.4sec. An improved Tiptronic S transmission was also made available at this time.
The January 2009 'Gen 2' 987 revamp was the big one though. All-new and more efficient 997.2 911-based Direct Fuel Injection (DFI) engines resolved most of the biggest mechanical issues afflicting previous Boxsters, in particular by doing away with the troublesome intermediate shaft (IMS). We'll talk about that later. Gen 2 987 outputs were 255hp in the upsized 2.9 base motor and 310bhp in the 3.4 S, giving 0-62 times of 5.9 and 5.3sec respectively.
Even better news was the arrival on the Boxster options list of Porsche's superb PDK dual-clutch seven-speed gearbox, replacing the old Tiptronic transmission with a best-of-both-worlds combination of snappy manual or buttery-smooth automatic. Steering and suspension were improved on these Gen 2 987s, as was the standard kit and the quality in general. Wheel widths grew, and a limited-slip diff was offered too. Small visual changes included LED rear lights and the option of bi-xenons for the restyled headlamps.
In February 2010 the stripped-out and lowered Boxster Spyder 3.4 came along. With a basic manual roof, aluminium doors and engine cover and carbon bucket seats, it weighed just 1,275kg, a useful 80kg reduction. The track was wider, the chassis lower (by 20mm), LSD was standard and the power was up to nearly 320hp. Quite the thing.
Two years later the 987 was replaced by the electric-steering 981, the last of the six-cylinder Boxsters. You'll struggle to find a 981 for under £30k, so we're going to give it a miss here, but one of the many good things about this model was that it took the edge off used 987 values. You can now pick up a privately-owned 987 for as little as £6,000 - and there's a seven-year window of 987s to choose from.
So, what are the ups and downs of 987 Boxster ownership? First thing to know is that they're mainly ups. Here's some more gen to help turn you into an expert 987 shopper, and a thorn in the side of a dodgy 987 seller.
Bodywork & Interior
It's unusual to find major corrosion on 987s. Pre-'09 facelift cars did suffer from chipping paint, which can obviously be an invite for rust, and Boxsters are popular track day tools, so if there are any obvious paint imperfections you need to reassure yourself that there have been no bodged repairs to damage caused either on the road or on the circuit.
Relative to the 986's interior, the 987's was much closer in style, quality and durability to that of the then-new 997-model 911. If you've got a choice of two 987s, one of them with heated sports seats, take that one, as the comfort and support are a notch above, but if you're on the tall side make sure that you're not too cramped for space. Make sure, too, that the air-con is working. The condensers for this are located behind the front bumper and often don't last beyond the eight-year mark. Reviving the system will likely be a four-figure outlay.
Buyers of new 987s could opt for the Sport Chrono Pack, which altered the throttle response and power delivery and featured a stopwatch in the dashboard. It's not certain how many owners actually used that. A rather more useful thing to have on a used Boxster would be the wind deflector.
Which brings us to the roof, obviously a key part of the Boxster proposition. Like any working part, it won't last forever. Creaky operation suggests dry joints. Broken pushrods are far from rare, but replacement is not frighteningly hard or expensive. Blocked drain holes under the roof will let water into a space behind the seats that is annoyingly also home to an electronic control unit, and that will be expensive to replace.
Pre-April 2010 Spyders had a new visor catch sent out under recall after some of the 80-odd owners had experienced unlatching at speed. Of their visors, that is.
Engine & Transmission
Every potential Boxster buyer will have heard about the mechanical issues that will, legend has it, ruin their lives. The acronyms to fear are RMS (rear main oil seal failure) and IMS (failure of the bearing on the rear of the intermediate shaft that's responsible for transferring drive from the crankshaft to the camshafts).
The good news is that, for the majority of owners, the reality of RMS/IMS is far less scary than the legend. Yes, the rear main oil seal failure that could afflict both 986s and a much smaller number of 987 Boxsters is a pricey one to sort out, because fitting a replacement requires gearbox removal. But the reality is that the RMS symptom - a small oil leak - isn't usually serious enough for it to need doing until such point as the car needs to be broken down for another major job, like the insertion of a new clutch. And the RMS thing was pretty much sorted on 987s anyway, so you can calm yourself on that one.
As regards the IMS, yes, that did destroy more than one Boxster engine before it became common knowledge, but 987 buyers today in 2019 are highly unlikely to find a car that doesn't have the stronger bearing that was relocated inside the crankcase on 56-plate-onwards cars. If you do chance upon a car with a noisy bearing, again a new one can be fitted without having to remove the engine if you're putting the car in for a new clutch (say). So if the price of the car is super low, IMS shouldn't necessarily be a deal-breaker.
Google 'common 987 problems' and you will certainly find the phrase 'cylinder bore scoring'. Again, the reality is less worrisome than you might think. Marque experts believe that this was an issue for maybe one in 20 pre-DFI engine cars, and mainly on the 3.4 S 'Cayman' motors at that. It's almost unheard of in the Gen 1 2.7 987s. If the engine of a car you're interested in has a low oil level or seems to be making tapping noises, you'd be well advised to get a borescope inspection done. Good dealers will happily carry that out for you.
Other engine stuff? Malfunctioning Mass Air Flow (MAF) sensors will cause engine stuttering, as will cracked coil packs. Water pumps might only last 40,000 miles, while blue exhaust smoke in normal running - not on start-up - points to a broken oil separator. Higher levels of engine noise with more sluggish performance may be down to cracked exhaust manifolds.
Cracked coolant expansion tanks used to cause damp boots on 986s. You won't get that on 987s, but the vents at the front of the car do get bunged up with dead vegetation, with the result that coolant radiators and air conditioning condensers rot out.
Generally though the Boxster 987 is very reliable. The flat-six is chain-driven, so there's no cambelt, and servicing is only required every other year, or at 20,000 miles. Minor services cost £350-£400, major ones £450-£500. A replacement drive belt is needed every six years or 60,000 miles (less than £100) and new spark plugs should be put in every four years (around £150).
You'll want to check all the cabin electrics work because the Boxster was one of the CANBUS technology pioneers - individual electrical systems controlled by coded signals that share common wiring. It sounds weird and sometimes it behaved weirdly. Batteries might suddenly stop holding their charge too, and fritzing headlights and indicators are common MOT failures.
On the 987 transmission side, again it's mainly good news on reliability whether it's the manual, Tiptronic or PDK, but specialists do advise lubricant changes on a more frequent basis than Porsche recommends. Listen out for clicking or other mystery noises from the back of the car. Stiff gearchanges and/or a heavy clutch pedal mean it may be time to consider a new clutch, the fitment of which will cost you between £750 and £1,000.
The six-speed manuals do have a reputation for not staying in second gear. A modified detent can be fitted, but only through a strip-down and rebuild.
Suspension & Steering
Look at any 987's MOT history and it would be unusual not to see suspension mentioned on there. Broken coil springs are very common. If a car's not sitting 'right' or it's making a din on bad roads that's probably what you've got. That or wear to the rose joints on the trailing arms where they meet the body.
Bottom-arm suspension bushes can delaminate with just 30,000 miles on the car, leading to creaking. New ones are about £200 a pop.
Wheels, Tyres & Brakes
If you want a comfy ride, stick with the 17-inch wheels. Mind that you don't kerb any Boxster wheels as that will quickly lead to rusting.
Tyre-edge wear caused by incorrect wheel alignment is a common Boxster issue. Accelerated edge wear can also be a result of the worn suspension bushes we were just talking about. Squeaks over bumps are the giveaway.
Boxster brakes are an acquired taste as the servo assistance is relatively low, but that doesn't mean they're not powerful when you tromp on the pedal. The car's excellent handling means you may not need to use the brakes that much: discs and pads can easily last for 20,000 miles. Replacing the consumables along with the pad wear sensors will cost you £500-£600 an end, so factor the state of your prospective car's hardware into any price negotiations.
New brake fluid is needed every couple of years. Budget around £100 for that. For cars built between November and December 2005 check that the January 2006 parking brake recall work has been carried out.
So, which 987 Boxster should you get? Well, quality standards improved from 2007, so one from then on wouldn't be a bad shout. Something like a stripped-out 987 Gen 1 runout year Sport Edition from 2008, say. These cars included a rear spoiler and diffuser and twin exhaust pipes, with satellite navigation batched into the PCM (Porsche Communication Management) system. They tend to be around £1500 dearer than 'straight' Boxsters.
In March 2008 you could get an RS60 Spyder, an homage to the 1960 718 RS 60 Spyder. Basically it was a 300hp-ish S in GT Silver with extra detailing, standard PASM, 19-inch Porsche Sport Design alloys, a red leather interior and red hood (usually), and a sports exhaust. 1,960 of these were built, so they have rarity on their side. The RS60-engined Boxster S Porsche Design Edition 2 of September 2008 is even rarer, with just 500 made in Carrara White. The last 987 model was the limited-to-987 Boxster S Black Edition of 2011.
Many consider the 2010 Boxster Spyder to be the best-driving 987 ever, but Spyder prices reflect that: you'll pay at least £35k for the privilege of owning one, and a lot more than that for low-milers. A Boxster 3.4S from the same year will offer 310hp at 6,400rpm, a 6-speed manual gearbox, and a 0-62 time of 5.2 seconds for considerably less money - under £22k for a 40,000-miler, or under £16k for a 90,000-miler.
At more modest price levels, a manual 3.2 S is a great choice or, if you have the cash, a later PDK 3.4. As noted earlier, post-January 2009 models are really worth finding the extra for because of their efficient '911' style engines. Gen 2 987s also came with a much better touchscreen Porsche Communications Management 3 system.
As with any premium car, the first things to look at when scoping out a 987 should be the service history and the condition. High mileages shouldn't put you off though: indeed, a regularly used 987 will very likely run better than a low-miler with rusty or jamming brakes, failing batteries or hardened seals. As long as it comes with a good maintenance history, a 100k-plus Boxster could easily bring to reality that Porsche dream the poorer ones among us have all had at some point. Happy hunting.