Before we get started we would need to thank Michelin. As many of you know, Michelin is a long-time sponsor of FLATSIXES.com. Recently, they have generously offered to sponsor Project Boxster Clubsport as part of their involvement with our site. Please consider checking out what Michelin has to offer by clicking their banners on this page. Without Michelin's support, and others like them, this site really wouldn't be possible.
The project begins with the deliberation process.
We've been Porsche fanatics for what feels like forever. A recent cross-country move last summer forced the sale of our former Porsche, a 1983 944. With summer fast approaching, we determined that we needed something to fill the Porsche-shaped void in our garage. Being that we were now in a warmer climate, it made perfect sense to look for something with an open top, leaving us with only a handful of Porsche models, targas, cabriolets, and a few nicely prepared 914s. Traditionally, we've liked our Porsches to be short on power and high on handling prowess, something of a "momentum" car. As we all know, it is much more fun to drive a slow car fast than it is to drive a fast car slowly. With only a one-stall garage, we also needed the car to be in running and driving condition, and to stay that way. Not because we cannot affect repairs, but because there was simply no practical room for a project. This meant no rust-repair, no engine-out surgery, and no clogging the garage with piles of parts for months at a time.
As much as we love the older aircooled cars, we just couldn't see one filling the daily-driver position that we wanted for this project. Besides, with values of those cars completely skyrocketing lately, we would feel bad about driving one in the rain, modifying it from stock, and would be nervous about giving it a workout. No, what we needed was something that was at the bottom of its depreciation curve, something that Porsche made so many of that most wouldn't care that we'd modified it, and something that would provide thousands of care-free miles. With the price of a good early 986 Boxster plummeting through the floor these days, we knew that this was the only logical choice. Finding a Boxster wouldn't be difficult, as a trip to Craigslist always turns up a handful, The rare part of this equation would be finding one in good mechanical nick.
Part of the reason that Boxsters keep declining in value is that they have been shunned by the enthusiast community as "unreliable" and not "real Porsche" cars. People have heard the horror stories of intermediate shaft bearing failures for years, and frankly the interior quality wasn't up to Porsche standards from the factory. The interior is something you just have to get used to in order to experience the Boxster's excellent driving dynamics, though finding one in as nice of condition as possible is a good place to start. Unfortunately, many early Boxsters have had their interiors trashed through years of abuse, and the initial poor quality is largely to blame. Luckily, the intermediate shaft bearing "problem" has been mostly overblown. In the early cars, the 'IMS' issue has been estimated to affect somewhere around 1-2% of cars. The later "updated" single-row bearing cars (01-04) have a bit higher failure rate, somewhere around 6% or so. First, at the prices these cars are currently going for, that seems like a decent percentage to gamble on (especially the early cars, which we prefer). Secondly, it can be prevented. If you treat the bearing as a "wear item", and replace it whenever you replace the clutch, you'll probably be in good shape. Of course, it is always a good idea to invest in a more powerful magnetic drain plug to check for metal, and to inspect your oil filter when you change the car's oil.
Sometimes the right car is right under your nose.
After a few months of polite prodding, the internet finally gave us what we were looking for. Dropped into our lap, almost as if by divine intervention, we found our car. While cruising the local SCCA region's forum, we noticed a little red two-seater for sale that fit all of our requirements, and most importantly, the price was right. It was a 1997 model with a 5-speed (You didn't think we'd settle for a tiptronic, did you?) having traveled 107,000 miles. Everything looked on the up-and-up, so we contacted the owner and scheduled a test drive. The car had been for sale for a handful of months, and the asking price had steadily dropped from $10,500 last summer down to $8,500 in the full throes of winter. The car came highly regarded by a handful of other local car enthusiasts that had driven it. When we saw the car, it was obvious that the exterior had seen better days, but it was endowed with a stunningly immaculate interior, and a sparkling mechanical history.
On the test drive, we were instantly reminded of why we love driving Porsche's Boxster. The early 2.5 liter cars are amazingly eager to rev, the 5-speed Audi-sourced gearbox is almost perfectly matched to the engine and shifts surprisingly accurately and positively for a cable-actuated unit. The car, while not exactly quick in a straight line (a 7 second 0-62 mph time isn't spritely, but certainly better than the 914s and 912s we'd been looking at before!), performed amazingly in the twisty bits. This Porsche drove like it was a brand new car, retaining the excellent steering tip-in that Boxsters have always been praised for, and the interior was both comfortable and untouched. Over everything else, though, we were most impressed by the raucous wail the car made above 4,000 RPM, and the unfailing cornering prowess of the mid-engine layout. It was a car that endeavored to impress the driver, bending to our every whim, getting down to work. Unlike its rear-engine siblings, the Boxster has no qualms with mid-corner corrections in steering or throttle. It is equally comfortable bearing down into a corner at full tilt, and stabbing the brake as you crest the apex, as it would be with a last-second mid-corner correction to avoid a poorly placed pothole. These are fantastic traits to have in a sporty daily driver that has to cope with the woes of nasty traffic and pockmarked roadways.
When we returned from the test drive, we were sold on the concept of a Boxster, but were still unsure of this Boxster. What kind of maintenance would it need? What about the intermediate shaft bearing? What about the issues inherent with a high-mileage Porsche? All of that uneasiness was erased when the seller produced a prodigious stack of receipts for recent repair work. Within the previous 5000 miles, the car had received a new power steering rack and pump, water pump, flywheel, clutch, a set of new-ish Sumitomo tires, and soft convertible top. Most crucially, though, was the IMS bearing, which had been replaced with an upgraded ceramic unit from LN Engineering. We were almost instantly convinced that this was our car. It was clear that the car had been well cared for, at least by the owner previous to us. Many of the common failure points had already been addressed, and we would be starting with a near-perfect car.
At the rate 986s have been depreciating lately, there just isn't any more room for them to drop, and at this price, we'd be happy to keep it for quite a long time. It is a surprisingly good car for such little cash outlay. A quick pre-purchase inspection was completed by a third party european service shop, and that was all it took. The seller was honest, easy to work with, and frankly a joy to deal with. It is always a lot easier to purchase cars from real car enthusiasts. A handful of days later, we arranged a time to pick up the car and bring it home for the princely sum of $7,500. We couldn't be happier with the purchase, and the car will be an excellent platform to begin our project with!
With the car in our possession, it was given a good looking over to assess its upcoming needs. The paintwork was, needless to say, a bit knackered. Having been a desert car, the sun had done quite a lot of damage to the clear coat, and the front of the car had taken a beating with hundreds of rock chips dotting the bumper and the front trunk lid. The soft German windshield glass had, likewise, been pitted by sand and rocks over the years. It is still intact, but will eventually need to be replaced. The car looks pretty good from 10 feet away, but water stains, swirls in the clearcoat, and rock chips become evident upon closer inspection. Additionally, when purchasing the car, we were informed that there was something broken in the convertible top frame, but it still went up and down without issue. With some further investigation, it seems that one of the aluminum linkage arms had been reversed on re-installation at some point in the car's life, and the left linkage was installed on the right side (and vice-versa). The left side linkage broke under the stress, and a used one would need to be sourced to affect repairs. The plastic headlight housings were extremely foggy and yellowed from years of solar abuse. As the primary driver of the car is a relatively tallish guy, the center console, his right leg, and the steering wheel were all interested in occupying the same space at the same time, so a GT3 center console delete would be necessary, for comfort's sake.
So what did the car need when we took delivery?
Well, if we're honest, it needed nothing beyond a good paint correction, a hearty buffing of the headlamps, and a small piece replaced in the top mechanism. The car even came with receipts for a recent oil change. Being that we're headed into a pretty hot summer, we'll probably drain and fill all of the fluids to make sure everything will pass muster, and clean out the radiators, just to be safe. Brake fluid is especially important, because the previous owner ran occasional track days, and because brake fluid is usually the one nobody ever changes. Being that it is hygroscopic (water absorbing), brake fluid will gradually become less effective over time, so it should be changed at least once every 18 months to two years or so. Make sure to always use good Mobil 1 oils, and change them regularly.
If you do decide to get a Boxster of your own, be sure to pick up a copy of Wayne Dempsey's 101 Projects book, and a Bentley service manual. We've got both, and they've saved our bacon already, more times than we can count. Both books are well written, include great pictures, and make a complex German sports car into something that any layman can easily repair or modify on their own.
Wait a minute, Porsche never made a Boxster Clubsport.
So, what makes this Boxster a "clubsport"? Well, when we picked it up, exactly nothing. There wasn't anything about this car that was even remotely modified, and it was perfectly stock in almost every way. And don't worry, you aren't going senile, Porsche never made a 986 Clubsport model. We're going to fix that, though, by producing the car that Porsche should have built back in the late 90s. As great as the Boxster is to drive, it could use a little bit "more". The Clubsport ethos has always been about doing the best you can with what you're given. Clubsport models eschew extra power in favor of a lighter weight point. It's a track-ready car that is equally at home on the street. The recipe looks something like this. "Take one part Porsche, remove 200-250 pounds of excess weight, add chassis stiffness, wider wheels, stickier tires, and a more track oriented suspension". That's exactly the recipe we're looking to use to create our bespoke 986 CS. In the end, it will still look like something that conceivably could have left the Porsche factory, but will considerably outperform a stock 986 on b-roads and on the track.
With early Boxster prices leveling out at the bottom of their depreciation curves, now is the time to pick up a good one. If you find one that has all of its maintenance records, has some preventative maintenance completed recently, and is in pretty good shape, you should snap it up and start enjoying thousands of exciting miles! So far, not a day has gone by that we are not impressed with the Boxster's capabilities. With slight modification, this Boxster has been an excellent and comfortable commuter car, even for someone over six feet tall. Get one now, and follow our project to build a project Boxster Clubsport of your own! Anyone with reasonable DIY skills, a standard set of metric tools, and a passion for driving excellence can recreate this project in the comfort of their own home garage.
Stay tuned to figure out how we're going to make all of this possible! In our next installment, we'll document our GT3 like center console delete.
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