Why the 986 Boxster is the per­fect starter Porsche

911 Porsche World - - Contents -

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]­six­clas­

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