Silly Money. Serious Car.

What’s it like to buy the cheapest running Boxster in an entire country?

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January 18, 2018

Buying the cheapest running Porsche in the United Kingdom is a good title, but it wasn’t originally my intention. I initially wanted a low-mileage 2001 986-generation Boxster that looked immaculate in Arctic Silver with red brake calipers. Unfortunately, it was snapped up before I got to the garage it was being sold from in London.

Then there was a 2002 Boxster S that, at £3,600 ($4,848 U.S.), was a bit expensive but was obviously well looked after. There was already someone else on the way to see that car, so they had first refusal. That Porsche was also bought from under my nose.

When I called the owner of my third choice, another spotless base 986 Boxster for £3,400 ($4,477 U.S.), it had also gone, sold literally an hour earlier! And so I was running out of options. The last affordable one (the next one on the list was a 2007 987-gen Boxster for £7,500, or $10,096 U.S.) was a base 986 that was a four-hour train ride away up in a town called—I kid you not—Kidderminster.

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The friendly-sounding seller agreed to pick me up from the station. He got there at the same time as the train, so I saw his Boxster running parallel to the platform as I arrived. I loved how the factory ‘swirl’ rims looked. Up close it did appear a bit worse than the photos suggested though.

There were glaze scratches on just about every panel, and one of the front indicator lenses was cracked. The photo on the car sales website was of the one good wheel, while the other three alloys all had varying degrees of aluminum corrosion. I also noticed what looked like a cigarette burn hole (albeit one that had been nicely repaired) in the middle of the roof. And 130,000 miles on the odometer was also a bit on the high side.

Once inside, though, looking at the immaculate beige leather with black trim interior, I instantly fell in love. Every electric button worked, there were no warning lights on the dashboard, and there was a brand-new Sony radio with Bluetooth.

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The UK’s every-12-month M.O.T. (for Ministry of Transport) road-worthiness test is a multi-point inspection so thorough that if a car has a new one, it is a great indicator that everything is right with that vehicle. There’s even a section called ‘advisories’ which is a list of things that might need looking at before the next test. This car had none.

The roof worked perfectly, and the long list of new parts in the engine fitted along with a timing chain change (at the cost of £2,000, or $2,693 U.S.) was all certified for six months. Note: If you are researching whether an older Boxster is for you, don’t be too worried about intermediate shaft (IMS) bearing issues. Only around five percent of these vehicles suffer the effects of that problem. But if the IMS goes, it will generally take the engine with it. Check your old oil after every service for signs of metal shards, as this will be your first indication that something is not right. The oil test for my car came back clean of any signs of trouble.

A deal for this Porsche roadster was struck for the sum of £2,500 ($3,369 U.S.). In the bank, as funds were being exchanged, the cashier asked what title the seller wanted for this transaction. He chose, ‘Porsche Sale.’ “Wow, she said, “that’s cheap for a Porsche!”

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A Le Mans Racer & a Near Carjacking

A five-minute look around an unfamiliar car is not really the best test of what it is really like, though. As I drove back to London, I had to open the window because the fumes in the cabin were a bit too much. At the first stop, onlookers must have been quite amused at the look of utter dismay on this Porsche owner’s face. I stared unbelievingly at a cloud of steam billowing from the oil filler cap like a boiling kettle. All the carpet in the trunk was damp, and when I took the cap off, the cloud of steam in the air was big enough to elicit some sympathetic words from the little crowd that had gathered. At least I’d found the source of the fumes.

A slightly panicked phone call back to the seller and in his cheery, optimistic voice suggested that it was just the moisture boiling off the oil as the car hadn’t been run properly for a long while. Since 2014, in fact. I found an internet connection and started Googling 986 advice forums. Some posts suggested blocked breathers, or a gas recycler pipe, or a faulty vacuum unit, all of which I could address. But the problem could also be a head gasket. Heart in stomach, I went back to check. Thankfully, there was no oil in the water and no water in the oil. That being the case, I continued my drive.

Also on this list of concerns was an annoyingly high-pitched whine right behind me, which I couldn’t believe was normal. But after watching some YouTube videos and reading up on this issue, it seemed my fears were unfounded. It’s what you get when all the pulleys are turning directly behind your seat.

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The next day I got on the Eurotunnel and drove to Paris. At the workshop of Raymond Boutinaud, who I was interviewing about a 928 he raced at Le Mans back in the 1980s, I asked if he would drive the Boxster around the block to see if he could figure out what the whining noise was. Five minutes later, he brought it back and said that everything sounded fine, but he could smell a timing problem.

We put the car up on a lift so we could have a look underneath. A plastic guard was missing, the large belly pan wasn’t connected at one corner, and there was a big dent under the driver’s seat. At eye level, I could also see that the front radiator grilles had bits of blue paint on them, which indicated that the front bumper had been resprayed. Was this accident damage? Boutinaud gave it a good going over, and it was a relief when he said that there was nothing wrong with my car.

With his diagnostic laptop connected to my car’s computer, Boutinaud laughed at the long list of faults that flagged up. But the tensioner solenoid and mass air sensor were all on the receipt of the previously-done engine work so, with a reset, they all went green. But the oxygen (O2) sensors, of which there are four, which tell the engine to run the fuel mixture richer or leaner, gave no response.

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The smell Boutinaud detected was the fuel system running rich, which results in less-than-ideal fuel mileage. But since O2 sensor replacement costs €1,200 ($1,422 U.S.) plus labor, I’m OK with getting five percent fewer miles per gallon for now. We also found horrifically done work on the exhaust joints just before the muffler. Whoever thought the caked-up gunk was good enough work needs to be taken outside and given good talking to.

From Paris to Germany to Zagreb

With much more confidence in the car, I went for a night drive around Paris with a friend. This turned out to be a terrible idea. I have never heard bad things about French drivers before, but they were absolutely insane! There were two fair-sized accidents right in front of us in just half an hour. The Champs-Élysées with a loop around the Arc de Triomphe back to the Grand Palace should have been a dream drive, but not on the horrible cobblestones with such hard suspension. It felt like the wheels were about to fall off!

Then on one of the backstreets, some seriously shady individual stepped out in front of us. Drunk or drugged up, I thought. But then I caught sight of a couple of his friends running from behind. I spent the winter in South Africa and know what a carjacking looks like. It could have just been a key in his hand, but I didn’t wait to find out. It only took a gentle nudge from my bumper for him to get the idea. But then one of his friends hit the back of the car so hard with something that it shocked me. I nailed the gas pedal and got out of there fast!

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This incident is why the other front light is also cracked and why there is a dent to take out of the rear fender. The lights are complete units though and, at €500 ($593 U.S.) for a new one, the busted one can stay for now.

The next day I set off for Germany to see Franco Lupi’s gorgeous Jurgen Barth 924T Monte Carlo replica. Germany is a perfect country for cars and—as the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s proclamation was a public holiday—there were no trucks on the road. With the automatic transmission in the M setting, clicking the Tiptronic buttons on the steering wheel just before 4,000 rpm the speed rose to 100 mph, then 110, 120, until the Mercedes and BMWs in the fast lane started getting in my way.

Then up to 130 mph, until the wobble of slightly incorrectly balanced tires started to become a bit annoying. Still, driving for 15 minutes at 125 mph with the flat-six engine wound up is a lovely experience. Another thing to note: The shiny leather steering wheel isn’t so great when your palms get sweaty!

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The whining noise from one of the pulleys was also noticeably quieter after the hard drive on the autobahn. I suppose it was the water pump bearing needing to be warmed up properly after the car hadn’t run for so long.

Next stop: Croatia, which will be my home base for a couple of months. With Ante Lešina, a Porsche restoration friend, just a phone call away it was time to take the Boxster out for a real drive. There’s a road just outside the capital Zagreb up to the top of Sljeme, a 3,396-foot-high mountain. With dozens of hairpins it’s a great drive, and as it’s a one-way system, so there’s no need to be too cautious about flying around blind corners.

I love how, on hard acceleration after 3,500 rpm, the engine seems to go quiet, as it realizes it’s time to put its head down and get to work. The way it holds the road is also incredible and nothing like anything I’ve experienced in the Mercedes and BMWs I’ve owned before. The mid-engined configuration gives a near perfect 50/50 weight distribution, but one word of advice; if you are thinking of getting a Boxster to ‘play’ with, go for the manual over the Tiptronic automatic. With the wheel turned, the buttons are upside down and clicking one the wrong way will spoil your fun very quickly.

The Verdict

At 20 years old this car, performance wise and cosmetically (apart from a slightly different paint tint on the bumper and the new dent in the rear fender) is darn near perfect. For what I paid for this Boxster, it is cheap at twice the price. Plus, it was actually £200 ($270 U.S.) less to insure than my Citroen Picasso mini MPV! Are you going to make a killing on its resale value? Probably not. For some reason, the 986 Boxster is one of the most neglected and least appreciated Porsche models there is today. But is every inch of it a true Porsche? Hell yes!

For the amount of sports car you get per pound, it is really an amazing car for silly money. Also, taking the top down transforms this car from a great one into something really special. There aren’t too many affordable cars you can feel this cool in! If you don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to spare for a 911, I urge you to find a Boxster to take for test drive. You will not be disappointed!

For the future—apart from a damn good polish to get all the terrible glaze scratches out—I own a car with a flat six, so I want to hear it! A cat-bypass exhaust is on the list. Maybe wheel spacers are in order too as I always thought that the front wheels look a little too tucked under the front arches. And I really do prefer the clear front indicators. But in the end, all these issues are little things. The car really is great just as it is!

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