RE: Porsche Boxster (986) | The Brave Pill

RE: Porsche Boxster (986) | The Brave Pill

Saturday 6th August

Porsche Boxster (986) | The Brave Pill

A bargain Boxster needs some help with a headache


Remember the start of Ford versus Ferrari when Christian Bale’s ultra-cool Ken Miles is explaining his quest for the perfect lap to his son: “it’s out there, can you see it?”

This week’s Brave Pill is like that, only with inexpensive Porsches.

Because while this probably isn’t the cheapest first-generation Boxster of all time, it must be getting very close to that milestone, even with the cost of fixing an acknowledged mechanical problem factored in. Let’s start with the good: it’s a 1999 car with what is still a five-figure mileage, a good colour, obviously tidy condition, a manual gearbox, working roof and some well chosen options. It’s being offered for just under £3000, which is probably close to its value if reduced to its component parts.

Bringing us to the elephant lurking in the corner of the room, sitting in a cloud of steam. The selling dealer reports the car has a what seems to be a head gasket problem manifested by oil in its coolant water and frequent overheating. This is something that will immediately limit the car’s appeal to those with both the ability to spin a spanner and a taste for automotive adventure; a hands-on requirement that no previous Pill has demanded. Anybody without the enthusiasm and know-how to fix the car themselves would almost certainly be better off finding a fully operational example.

Many would argue that, even for a keen DIYer, a non-borked example would make much more sense given the hassle of dropping engines and splitting heads. Undoubtedly true: but the fact that, motor aside, this one seems to be in fine order means it could be given a mechanical makeover that would probably last it until the end of the petrol era. The point that often gets made when considering purchase of the Porsches prone to expensive engine issues is the safest examples are the ones that have already suffered from it and been properly repaired. Here’s a chance to get in at the basement of that one.

Unlikely as it seems, this Boxster is the first to be featured in Brave Pill, despite the column having put multiple ticks against almost every other modern Porsche. The 986 is both one of the most successful Porsches of all time and a compelling sports car which still feels remarkably fresh to drive more than a quarter of a century after it first went on sale. So we probably should have got here sooner.

Porsche was in all kinds of trouble in the early 1990s. Hindsight had proved that pretty much every product call the brand had made for the previous ten years had been wrong, from trying to phase out the air-cooled 911 to spending huge amounts of cash developing the front-engined models that potential buyers were stubbornly refusing to fall in love with. A global recession had knocked demand for high-end sports cars, and Porsche had urgent need for something that was both cheaper and much more modern than anything in its existing line-up.

The fear was that linking the Boxster too closely to the forthcoming water-cooled 911, the one we now know as the 996, would cannibalise sales of the more expensive car - especially given that both models were going to share components including closely related engines and even the same headlights. Which is why the maximum amount of marketing space was introduced between the pair: the 911 remaining a rear-engined four-seater, the Boxster getting a smaller flat-six mounted ahead of its back axle and being available exclusively as a lightweight two-seat ragtop. The hope was to make an accessible successor to the 550 Spyder rather than a new-age 914.

Although the Boxster concept had been warmly received in 1993, and the production version stuck closely to the same design, some company executives later admitted to having misgivings given the limited performance of the launch-spec car, and also the fact that production would be split between Germany and the very un-Porsche location of Uusikapunki, Finland, where contract-builders Valmet had their plant. (In the end nearly seven out of 10 986s would be Scandinavian.)

The original 2.5-litre engine was keen and revvy, but definitely didn’t give rocketship performance. With the standard five-speed manual gearbox it had a respectable 6.7-second 0-60mph time, but the automatic transmission option offered for those who wanted a sports car without a clutch pedal added nearly a second to that. The Boxster was also set to launch against two upmarket German rivals which Porsche feared might have more appeal to fashion conscious buyers, as unlikely as that might sound now. The BMW Z3 was already a smash hit when the Porsche was launched, having even got James Bond’s expensively acquired seal of approval. The Mercedes SLK was exclusively available with four-cylinder power at launch, but came with a folding hardtop many regarded as being barely distinguishable from magic, and was in such high demand that early buyers were flipping cars for substantial premiums.

Although more expensive and less well equipped than its rivals, the Boxster had Porsche’s brand kudos on its side, also plenty of dynamic magic. The mid-engined chassis was a peach, and the 986 was launched before the 996, the inevitable comparisons made by early reviewers with the late 993-generation 911 pretty much all found that the new water-cooled car was friendlier and much more progressive when limits were breached. Praise was high and sales were strong - to the extent there were waiting lists for in the UK for a couple of years after the car went on sale. More important, from Porsche’s point of view, was that the Boxster was profitable - revenues which helped to underpin the development costs of what would become the Cayenne. So, um, thanks for that.

Beyond the obvious, our Pill really does seem to be a very tidy example, its dark blue metallic paint looking impressively crisp in the pictures and with its grey interior showing no more than the sort of patina you’d reasonably expect after 23 years and 89,000 miles. Okay, so the front of the anti-theft stereo seems to have gone missing, or is too shy to appear in the pictures and the gear lever is also showing the wear of many thousands of changes. But the last MOT, which was only done in June, was a clean pass - the advert description suggesting the head gasket issue has appeared since then. The earlier online history shows the car was off the road between 2015 and 2021, which may have had something to do with the failure, but also that there’s nothing scary in the public record.

Okay, so this is unlikely to be an easy fix. The Boxster’s tightly-packaged donk makes routine maintenance a pain, and - presuming it is a gasket - removing one of the heads is going to require the engine to be dropped. By which point it may well be easier to directly replace the whole motor, presuming you can find a decent and trustworthy one for a reasonable price.

But considering the dross at the bottom of the Porsche market, where many Boxsters are carrying numerous hidden issues, there is something refreshingly honest about a car with an openly declared fault. It certainly looks too nice to be consigned to the scrapheap yet, especially given the number of scabbier donors out there. Now it just needs to find somebody with their head screwed on, who knows how to screw a head on.

See the original advert here 

Author
Discussion

yme402

Original Poster:

144 posts

82 months

Saturday
quotequote all
Just cannot get past those ‘push me-pull me’ looks of the early Boxter, and they have not improved with the passage of time. For close to this money you can get a fully operational E85 BMW Z4 and in the long term these will be a far better bet and the styling although subjective, does seem to be getting better with age.

Sandpit Steve

6,581 posts

54 months

Saturday
quotequote all
Three grand, for a tidy-looking car with an MoT - hell yeah!

See how bad the engine actually is, and make it a winter project to either fix it or find one in a scrappy. They’re not too bad to work on, if you have space to drop the oily bits out.

Pommy

12,817 posts

196 months

Saturday
quotequote all
Boxsters are the next 'i remember when they were £3k and now I can't get one for less than £15k' car

fozzymandeus

883 posts

126 months

Saturday
quotequote all
yme402 said:
Just cannot get past those ‘push me-pull me’ looks of the early Boxter, and they have not improved with the passage of time. For close to this money you can get a fully operational E85 BMW Z4 and in the long term these will be a far better bet and the styling although subjective, does seem to be getting better with age.
Having owned both (albeit a 987.2 Boxster) the way the Porsche drives is leagues ahead of the Z4, as well as space and comfort. I liked our Z4 (and both cars are surprisingly practical) but the Porsche is far better.

GreatScott2016

312 posts

68 months

Saturday
quotequote all
fozzymandeus said:
Having owned both (albeit a 987.2 Boxster) the way the Porsche drives is leagues ahead of the Z4, as well as space and comfort. I liked our Z4 (and both cars are surprisingly practical) but the Porsche is far better.
May be, but in looks, no way. Just my opinion btw smile

Kipsrs

208 posts

29 months

Saturday
quotequote all
I had a 3.2 S and brother in law had a Z4 of the same era, I have to agree with the previous poster that the Boxster is a far better drivers car and way more roomier. However I do understand that looks are subjective but if you can get past that, the Porsche is by far more fun to drive.

Unreal

207 posts

5 months

Saturday
quotequote all
Ask yourself what it will be worth when it's fixed and how much work and money will be needed to get there. You'll see this one just isn't worth it. You can be absolutely sure that if this was a cheap and easy fix, the dealer would have done it. Nothing to do with how good the cars are. You might believe it will be a £15K car one day and you might be right but it won't be this year or next and the 3.2S or 2.7 will get there first (some already have).

CarlosSainz100

139 posts

100 months

Saturday
quotequote all
There's undoubtedly going to be other things knackered on this, even after you spend loads fixing the engine.

cantstopbuyingcars

20 posts

1 month

Saturday
quotequote all
GreatScott2016 said:
May be, but in looks, no way. Just my opinion btw smile
Looks are subjective anyway so really the general public will decide if it’s a good looking car.

cantstopbuyingcars

20 posts

1 month

Saturday
quotequote all
CarlosSainz100 said:
There's undoubtedly going to be other things knackered on this, even after you spend loads fixing the engine.
Correct. These Boxsters are never about what you buy them for. It’s about what needs doing. Little jobs add up in cost slowly and some jobs such as suspension overhauls will set you back half the car’s value. Not that they’re not worth getting but no one should expect to hop in a £3k Boxster and live happily ever after smile

cantstopbuyingcars

20 posts

1 month

Saturday
quotequote all
Kipsrs said:
I had a 3.2 S and brother in law had a Z4 of the same era, I have to agree with the previous poster that the Boxster is a far better drivers car and way more roomier. However I do understand that looks are subjective but if you can get past that, the Porsche is by far more fun to drive.
Yeah not only are they so much fun to drive but they are by far the most affordable way to get a real Porsche driving experience. It’s probably the cheapest it will ever be to own a ‘real’ Porsche.

Hingy

7 posts

190 months

Saturday
quotequote all
Unless you really wanted to have the experience of rebuilding an engine, there are much better examples for sale for similar money.

Dombilano

453 posts

35 months

Saturday
quotequote all
I'd be amazed if the engine is salvageable, but nonetheless a nice project for a home mechanic.

How much is a new engine for these, or could a 2.7 be dropped in.

Niffleman

19 posts

110 months

Saturday
quotequote all
Whether you like these first gen Boxsters or not I think that it is worth remembering that they are the car that saved Porsche financially. My suggestion is that if they had been a financial failure the company's future would have been very doubtful.

MrHooky

138 posts

122 months

Saturday
quotequote all
I purchased a 986.2 manual 2.7 that is a two owner car for £4,350. Always garaged and owned by the last middle aged owner for last 10 years. Has had a major service and is kept in a garage hopefully creeping up in value.

It's not the fastest thing (I have an F11 535d and an E46 M3 which are both much quicker) but the driving experience in the Boxster when roof is down is just lovely. I even prefer the delivery of the Boxster's c.230bhp vs the spikey Vanos nature of the E46's.

The auction listing from when I purchased mine - https://collectingcars.com/for-sale/2003-porsche-9...

I'd say there's better examples out there. Plus this spec with the grey leather dates it for me. The facelift has aged much better.

Shnozz

25,728 posts

251 months

Saturday
quotequote all
MrHooky said:
I purchased a 986.2 manual 2.7 that is a two owner car for £4,350. Always garaged and owned by the last middle aged owner for last 10 years. Has had a major service and is kept in a garage hopefully creeping up in value.

It's not the fastest thing (I have an F11 535d and an E46 M3 which are both much quicker) but the driving experience in the Boxster when roof is down is just lovely. I even prefer the delivery of the Boxster's c.230bhp vs the spikey Vanos nature of the E46's.

The auction listing from when I purchased mine - https://collectingcars.com/for-sale/2003-porsche-9...

I'd say there's better examples out there. Plus this spec with the grey leather dates it for me. The facelift has aged much better.
Cracking car for the money that is.

I had a 986 3.2S back in the day when they were pretty new. My then girlfriend had an E46 M3 cabrio. They were very evenly matched performance wise. In a straight line the M3 had a bit more but the Boxster S made that up in corners and they’d be within a rizla paper when pressing on. However, the M3 was by far more fun to drive IMO. Shame the E92 I tried a few years later seemed to dull by contrast.

flatsix.ant

498 posts

116 months

Saturday
quotequote all
Proud owner of a 986.2 S here. For me, they are the Boxster to have, along with the 987.1 3.2.

986.1 2.5 - too slow
986.1/2 2.7 - too slow
986.1 3.2 S - smile
986.2 3.2 S - biggrin
987.1 2.7 - too slow
987.1 3.2 S - good, but only if you get lucky with one with serviceable IMS. First year was 2005, 2006 is very expensive road tax.
987.1 3.4 S - bore score - avoid. Very expensive road tax.
987.2 - all a different league of cost but great

My own car has an upgraded IMS (LN), recent clutch, low temp thermostat etc. Its a good example. You are always worried though about the scare stories of really expensive suspension rebuilds, but to be honest I've no idea why. The part pricing is available to view on Spyder Performance, its not that bad.


rallycross

11,711 posts

217 months

Saturday
quotequote all
These cheap Boxsters are far better to drive than people realise .
I had a 3.2 S ten years ago which I never enjoyed due to the crap old fashioned auto gearbox .

Move on ten years I recently bought a cheap (£5k) 2003 2.7 manual full history example it’s lovely thing to drive. Anyone saying these are slow has not driven one properly ( ok it’s not fast either ) but it gives all the nice qualities of driving a Porsche - steering and handling in particular plus it’s so well built even at 19 years old everything works perfectly even the ac and it’s lovely for longer trips even with just 5 gears - there is something about old porches that makes them great for long distance high speed cruises . At £5k feels like a bargain to me.

Not sure about this example engine work is going to be expensive.

soxboy

4,657 posts

199 months

Saturday
quotequote all
Exactly, if you can get a good one for £5k why on earth would you want a borked one for £3k?

Clearly going to be quite a job to sort if a trader is trying to shift it on, when theoretically he could have fixed it and been left with a tidy example he could be advertising for £6k.

philw696

6 posts

99 months

Saturday
quotequote all
Have had a 987.1 3.2 S for nearly 4 now only had to drop the transmission to do leaking IMS seals the bearing was perfect.
Just need to get your head around the flat 6 being totally different to other engines and I've been working on cars professionally for over 40 years and have worked from Ford to Maserati.
From a built quality and driving point of view they are exceptional in my opinion.