BOXSTER ONE-STOP SHOP
Why the 986 Boxster is the perfect starter Porsche
In the midst of the market madness, with air-cooled 911s spiralling ever further out of reach and punters falling into pitched battles over allocations for the latest unobtanium Porsche GT car, there remains an oasis of accessible, affordable calm. We give you the humble 986 Boxster. Rejoice, all ye Porsche lovers, for the original Boxster is still relatively unloved and thus conspicuously cheap. It is the ideal first Porsche.
Not that you’d know it from current market values, which can dip under £3000 for usable runners, but the 986 is one of the most important models in Porsche’s history. It’s the car that turned things around after the nadir of the early ’90s. It set the architectural template for every Porsche sports car since.
It’s also a fantastic sports car in isolation, not just historical context. It’s seriously sweet to drive thanks to its honey-smooth flat-six motor and friendly mid-engine chassis. It’s modern enough to be brilliantly packaged and thus entirely practical and usable. It’s even reliable, whatever the horror stories might have you believe. And yet it’s old enough to deliver the sort of genuinely analogue experience that Porsche’s current stable, stellar as it is, no longer offers.
In short, the 986 isn’t just the ideal starter Porsche. It’s a Porsche you could own and enjoy for many years to come. And now is the perfect time to buy. But if we’ve hooked you with the hot and heavy sales pitch, where exactly should you start when buying? You could do a lot worse than getting in touch with the likes of Flat Six Classics in Devon. The newly established brainchild of Sean Dewhurst, you can think of Flat Six Classics as something of a one-stop Box’ shop. Want a Boxster? Sean’s got a rural barn full of excellent examples.
His background includes 20 years in London working in advertising before moving down to Devon and running a number of carfocused businesses, from classic car hire to restoring 1970s three-door Range Rovers with his own two hands. The idea for his new venture with Boxsters began to form when he took a punt on a leggy 3.2 S. “I bought it on ebay, sight unseen. Probably the worst way of buying a car in the world. However, I was pleasantly surprised. It had stone chips and a dent on the back. But I spent the money where it matters to get it driving right and I just loved it,” explains Sean. And so the seeds were sown.
After some investment in the barn to improve its presentation and insulation, Sean set about studying the Type-986 Boxster and acquiring stock. The result, on the day we visit, is a grand total of 12 986s, a 987 Cayman and a fluent, easy command over the subject of Porsche’s first truly modern motor car. “When I started the business, I thought there would be a mix of 987 and 986 Boxsters, plus a few Caymans. But I’ve bought almost exclusively 986s. One reason is that 987s are still depreciating. They don’t necessarily have the build quality advantages over the 986 many assume, either. Most people say 987 interiors are nicer, but the quality of the plastics isn’t actually that great in a 987. The 987’s interior door handles are plastic, for example, whereas the 986’s handles are metal,” he says.
Sean also reckons the 987 is stuffed full of more electronics, while the 986 is that little bit simpler and purer. Porsche’s PSM stability management is a relatively rare option in the 986. Anyway, what does Sean reckon a prospective 986 buyer should look out for? “You need to be very wary of the condition of the aircon condensers and the coolant radiators,” he explains. “They sit in two pods up front and collect leaves and road debris which can not only cause direct damage but also trap moisture and eventually lead to rot. If you’re inspecting a Boxster, shine a torch through the front vents either side and look out for either staining on the condenser or its bottom edge beginning to peel away. That’s a sign you’re going to have to change the condensers and possibly the radiators.”
Next up is the chassis and body. “Listen out for creaking from the lower coffin arms,” Sean says, which indicates ball joints on their way out. “Check the brake discs for excessive corrosion on the inner faces and have a look at the bump stops beneath the top mounts. These tend to perish and fall apart.” Corrosion of the hard brake lines is another problem area, so look out for that in the MOT history as an advisory.
It’s a Porsche you could own and enjoy for many years to come
As for the body, Seanagrees that 986 Boxsters resist serious corrosionwell. “You shouldn’t find any rust on a Boxster. If you do, it’s oftena signof a poor repair. But look out for the usual dents and stone chips, particularly on the front bumper and bonnet. They also suffer from some stone chipping on the back edge of the front wheel arch where it curves around into the sill, so check that it hasn’t compromised the protective coating there.” Sean similarly says the protective coating on both the jacking points and the seams along the bottom of the sills is sometimes damaged if owners or workshops have been clumsy lifting the car, allowing rust to set in.
Sean thinks the exhaust system of the 986 is generally robust, “but the fixings – the bolts and clamps that attach the various elements of the exhaust together – corrode away to nothing and eventually fall apart. The parts themselves aren’t expensive, but the labour can add up.” Another issue to be aware of, he says, is water ingress. “Inside, check the carpeted section onthe bottoms of the doors. Feel along the carpet for any damp. Water can get past the membranes inside door cards and that can collect in the lowest part of the floorplan underneath the seats. That’s where some of the electronic control systems are, including for the alarm system and the immobiliser.”
Otherwise, he reckons, the interior is hard wearing. “There shouldn’t be lots of trim rattles and the seat leather is tough. So, if the driver’s bolster is very worn or torn, consider how that aligns up with the claimed mileage,” he explains. Slightly more fragile are the electronics. “Things to check are that the roof is operating correctly and that all the microswitches work. Starting from the outside, as soonas you lift the exterior handle, the window should drop fractionally and then the door unlatches. Likewise, if you unlatch the header rail on the roof, if the windows are up they should drop by a few inches before you put the roof down.”
While we’re talking about the roof, Sean says the condition of the rear plastic screen is a common problem ont he earlier cars. “It canbec ome cloudy due to exposure to the sun or crack when it’s cold and the roof is being lowered.” Sean also warns that the integrated cables along the edges of the roof fabric which hook into the plastic guides around the windows can cause problems. As the roof ages, they can begint o pull downov er the guides, which can stress the mechanism and lead to major failures.
Other sundry items for your checklist? Check under the rear boot carpet near the expansion tank for damp or moisture, which could indicate the tank is splitting. Then there’s the clutch pedal. If you’re not specifically familiar with 986s, this canbe tricky to judge. A healthy 986 clutch will be heavier thana modernhat chback. But if it’s very heavy, that’s an indication the clutch is nearing the end of its working life.
Of course, no 986 Boxster discussion wouldbe complete without tales of woe concerning its M96 engine. The reality, however, is that well caredf or 986 engines don’t often go pop. They very rarely, if ever, suffer from bore scoring. Failure of the IMS bearing is the great fear, of course. But it’s actually pretty uncommon and, unlike bore scoring, there’s preventative action that can be taken for around£1000 to £1500. Other than that, 3.2-litre engines can suffer cracked heads, and timing chains have been known to snap. But those are edgecase failures, not serious concerns. Certainly, Sean is confident enough in the basic soundness of Boxster engines to provide six months and 6000 miles of full mechanical cover, underwritten internally rather than by a thirdparty warranty firm.
All of which brings us to the minor matter of which 986 to go for. So far, Sean has been surprisedhow popular the 2.5 has been with customers. “I thought it wouldbe all about the S model,” he says, “but I’ve foundthere’ s been as much demandfor the smaller engined models as the S. I’ve sold two 2.5s out of six cars so far. The 2.5 is really delightful to drive. They feel lightweight, the steering is lighter because they’re generally on 17 inch wheels. The whole car feels delicate and well balanced.”
In fact, Sean says one recent customer arrivedthinking he wantedto buy a 3.2, spent the day experiencing all three engine capacities andend edup leaving with a 2.5. That’s the beauty of having all the options on hand. You can make an informed decision. The facelifted986 that arrivedfor model year 2003, likewise, only adds a little power. Buyers are more likely to find convenience upgrades, including the glass rear screen andglovebox, andcosmetic items, like restyledbumpers, steer them towards the later cars than a few percentage points in engine power. As for the limited edition 550 Spyder, it makes for a nice collection of options and a distinctive visual package. But it doesn’t really drive any differently to a similarly-specified 3.2 S.
But what, you will now be wondering, shouldone pay to get into 986 ownership? Unless you’re a tinkerer andhappy to get your hands dirty, avoid the very cheapest cars. Solid, private examples start around £4000 to £5000 andrepresent a huge amount of car for the cash. A workable higher mileage 3.2 S can be hadfor as little as £5000 but will probably needat least a little remedial attention. If you want lower mileage, say 60,000 or less, andsomething sorted, prices tend to be higher. But budget at least £7000 for a decent first generation S bought privately, £8000 andup for the facelift model.
Of course, if you want a little more protection plus some well-informedpre-sale prep, the best traders will charge you more. Sean’s cars span a range from around £8000 to £12,000, depending on age, specification andpreparation. But here’s the thing. Even at the top endof that scale, the 986 represents stellar value comparedto pretty much any other car on the mark, from any brand. For sure, 986s aren’t about to rival early 911s andcommandsix-figure sums. But they surely can’t stay this cheap for much longer. Don’t delay. Get Boxster buying today. PW
Sean has been surprised how popular the 2.5 has been
Sean Dewhurst, main man at Flat Six Classics. Boxsters are his thing and he won’t sell you a duff one
CONTACT Sean Dewhurst Flat Sixclassi cs Ash Mill South Molton Devon EX36 4QG Tel: 07595 455568 Email: [email protected]sixclassics.co.uk