Having endured its time in the doldrums - remember the power jibes, fried egg jokes, poor person's 911 put downs and so on - the original, 986 Porsche Boxster is enjoying some deserved time in people's affections. Beyond recognising how crucial the car was to Porsche's astonishing renaissance over the past quarter of a century, it's also making the grade as a bona fide classic sports car.
The 1990s are cool again now, in case you hadn't noticed. Six-cylinder Boxsters are back, the latest Spyder now a Porsche Motorsport car for the very first time. There's a Porsche-based series for the original 'S', which looks likely to feature a bigger grid next year. It's also still a relatively cheap first Porsche, yet not one which can be poked fun at for an inappropriate engine: the Boxster is a mid-engined, rear-drive, flat-six sports car made by Porsche. And nobody else. That's not going to happen again, certainly not in the mainstream, and even the loveliest cars aren't more than £10,000, which isn't a great deal. There's one 968 Club Sport on PH for less than £30,000, by way of comparison.
Perhaps what appeals most about a Boxster nowadays, as with so many classics, is its representation of a concept no longer offered by the manufacturer. It has delightful hydraulic power steering, a six-speed manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive and half a dozen horizontally opposed cylinders running off nothing more than air and super unleaded. Once upon a time it was an advanced concept, Porsche having not offered anything mid-engined for decades, though now it harks back to an idea that's refreshingly modest and simple. The steering wheel is free from buttons - indeed the interior is pretty bare - there aren't a plethora of drive modes to choose from, relatively speaking, it won't be tremendously difficult to work on. Assuming the reliability issues are contained...
You've probably noticed, however, that this isn't quite a standard 986 Boxster S. It's one of the 10 restored at the end of last year by Porsche Centres at Recommended Repairers, overhauled from top to bottom and painted Liquid Metal - previously only for the 918 Spyder - before being sold at the Classic Motor Show. With this one still available, however, an offer to see what a new, old Boxster is like to drive was too intriguing to pass up.
Full disclosure: a heck of a lot has gone into this car. X582 NKM has 106,961 miles on it, so has clearly been enjoyed in its 19 years. But when the list of 13 new and replacement parts (which doesn't even feature all of them) includes new pistons, crank, roof, clutch, brake discs and suspension, you can tell it's a thorough job. That's before all the reconditioned parts as well: the rest of the engine was rebuilt, along with the gearbox, cooling system and every ancillary part. Aside from the new paint the underbody was re-waxed, the interior was refitted and fresh glass was put in as well. This is not your average 100,000-mile Boxster - not by a long chalk.
As a result, it doesn't drive like one but, crucially, hasn't been made to drive like a modern car either, rather an exquisitely done original. Given how fawned over the Boxster once was, and how well regarded so many cars from this time period were - E39 M5, Integra Type R, Ferrari 550 and so on - it should come as little surprise that in 2019 it's just lovely company.
What the Boxster isn't, however, is some loose and lively old sports car. We whinge about tyre sizes now, but this S was running a 265-section rear back at the turn of the millennium. So traction is enormous, as is the grip from the new Pirelli P Zeroes, perhaps a little more than is ideal actually. And the gearing is arguably too long - this isn't a modern affliction by any means.
What's on offer overall, though, is a beautifully balanced, honed and rewarding sports car, which is probably what could be said of a contemporary 718. The difference here is having such lovely steering feel, a more emotive noise (if one that's quite subdued), more compact dimensions and the impression of having an enjoyable time, of testing the car, without travelling at warp speed. No doubt this car also once faced criticism for being too capable and too aloof way back when, too polished with the 993 911 very much in recent memory, but times change. As mentioned, there seems a real sweet spot around the turn of the millennium where performance, modernity, usability, size and desirability all reached an ideal point for UK-based enthusiasts. The Boxster S is definitely part of that clique, and this car a fine exemplar of it.
Roof down, windows lowered, exhaust purring behind and iconic Porsche dials in front, it's hard not to enjoy a B-road blast. We've come a fair way in terms of structural rigidity since the late 1990s, sure, but that simply means the Boxster's pace is a little more relaxed, and the driver can appreciate what's going on at more sedate speeds. Obviously this isn't some Elan-like waif, the 986, although it does represent a welcome step back to a time of regular sports cars being merely swift and enjoyable, rather than stupendously rapid. Which, again, is probably what was said about 914s when this car was launched - everything is relative.
Difference being, crucially, that key elements feel modern enough in the 986 to make it more viable than the old classics. It still feels solid, like a crash wouldn't be the end of it, not as vulnerable as some of the old classics might. It has air conditioning, the electric roof is well insulated, and a Porsche Classic radio is coming soon that offers DAB. That's what makes this car - and contemporary rivals, like the S2000 and original Z4 - so appealing: there's the classic charm in a screaming engine, or design encumbered by fewer safety regs, with modern build quality standards that mean it feels resilient enough to be driven regularly. And who doesn't like the sound of that?
Unsurprisingly, then, a Boxster S rejuvenated by Porsche is a little gem, the perfect antidote to an increasingly complex and confusing automotive landscape. As well it might be for the money being asked, the proviso being that it's quite a bit rarer than most - and this much work completed at Porsche was never going to be cheap. So although a £30k Boxster is not exactly a viable (or sensible) proposition for all, this one does at least prove the enduring joy that always was (and always will be) in the idea.
Us? We'd spend the money on making a good Boxster a little angrier instead, taking that ideal template and turning it into something a bit more exciting for a bit less cash - you might have heard 986s make quite good little racers...
SPECIFICATION - PORSCHE BOXSTER S (986)
Engine: 3,179cc, flat-six
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 260@6,200rpm
Torque (lb ft): 229@4,700rpm
0-62mph: 5.7 seconds
Top speed: 163mph
Price: This one is £30k...
[Photos: Dafydd Wood]