986 Porsche Boxster: The Car Bible (1997-2004)
The early Boxster is an inexpensive, brilliant enthusiast's choice, but demands some special attention in some areas.
Welcome to the 986 Porsche Boxster Car Bible. As you scroll down you’ll learn all about this vehicle’s qualities, features, finer points, and shortcomings. If you’re thinking about buying one of these, want some help maintaining or modifying one, or just want to deepen your knowledge for the next round of car trivia, you’ve come to the right place.
This is a living document that’s updated as we learn (and confirm) new valuable info. Got something to add? Drop a comment or send us an email! Don’t be shy; the more dialogue we have the better this Car Bible will get.
–Andrew P. Collins, Car Bibles Editor-In-Chief
(Disclaimers; Disclosures: Some Car Bibles will have links to specific forums, groups, brands, shops, or vendors for parts shopping and such. We have no sponsorship deals or official affiliation with any of them unless explicitly stated. We also have to explicitly state that you should work on your own car and follow our advice at your own risk.)
There’s a lot of info packed into this Bible. If you’re looking for something specific, hit command/control-F, type one of these terms, and your browser should bring you straight in.
- The Short Story
- Fast Facts
- Spotter’s Guide
- Check This Car Out If…
- Important Trim Levels and Options
- Year-To-Year Changes
- Obscure Details
- General Reliability and Ownership Costs
- Red Flags and Known Issues
- Where To Buy Parts
- Aftermarket Support
- Popular Modifications
- Key Technical Details
- Fluids, Filters, and Capacities
- Factory Service Manuals
- Other References and Resources
- Professional Reviews
- Owner Reviews
- What They’re Worth Now
- Where To Find One For Sale
- What To Ask A Seller
- Competitors To Consider
- Photo Galleries
- Pop Culture References
- Enthusiast Inquiries
- Downloadable Paperback Car Bible
- Comments Disclaimer
The Short Story
The 986 is the first Boxster. Widely known as the car that saved Porsche, the 986 was well-received across the board as a fun, engaging, mid-engine, convertible sports car. It was also the beginning of Porsche’s parts-sharing engineering, so there’s some interchangeable fun between it and its faster, more muscular cousin the 996 911.
The Boxster is beloved by enthusiasts of all walks of life, from those who want to just casually cruise around on a Sunday, to serious club racers looking for a sturdy spec race car with a sturdy amount of competition to match. They’ve also been a fixture at autocross events since they debuted on dealer lots.
Luckily, the Baden-Württemberg brand sold so many Boxsters in the U.S. that they’re widely available and still have a very healthy aftermarket. Though, this also means that examples of all conditions, including those with less-than-ideal mechanicals, are out there. But that’s what we’re here for: helping you find and maintain your very own little mid-engine Teutonic beast!
Toyota was brought in to advise Porsche on how to engineer and produce cars more efficiently. Next time you see a 911 GT3 ripping around town, thank Toyota.
The early 986 and 996 share a couple of body parts, including those beautiful runny eggs which were inspired by the glorious 911 GT1. However, contrary to popular belief they do not share front bumpers.
The 986 generation actually began as a 1996 model year, but North America got it a tad later as a 1997 model year.
The Boxster name is a combination of Boxer, a term for flat engines, and Roadster.
The 986 was built in a factory that previously produced the 928/968.
As a result of unexpected consumer demands, Porsche built a second Boxster factory in Finland.
One of Porsche’s early Boxster development cars was actually a 968 with a 986 drivetrain under its skin.
Parts interchangeability doesn’t end with body components and wheels; the Porsche M96 series of engines can swap around as well, albeit with varying difficulty. Who wouldn’t want a 996 911 engine in the back of their lowly, base Boxster?
There’s the old joke that the 986 Boxster’s rear-end look like its front-end, just flipped around. Besides that, they’re easily distinguishable due to their runny-egg headlights, pronounced front quarter panels, and wide hips. They’ve got center-exit exhausts, clean lines, and are pretty small in photos as well as in-person. S models will have appropriate badging and 17-inch-or-larger wheels, though its common to throw larger OEM wheels on modest base models.
The total amount of 986s sold in the USA is around 75,000 units – not bad for a niche sports car. The majority that Porsche sold are 1999-2002 models, which is nice as it means it ought to be a tad easier to find a 2.7-liter-engine’d base model (2000 and up) over a 2.5-liter-engine’d base model.
Check This Car Out If…
You’re in the market for a small, fun, open-top sports car. The 986 has brilliant suspension engineering that ensures great handling characteristics and tons of grip. Its mid-engine chassis ensures a fun and well-balanced driving experience, too. Base models aren’t the fastest sports cars out there, but they’re lively nonetheless. S models are significantly faster.
Also, Spec Boxster/BSR/Boxster Spec/Spec 986 racing (they’re all pretty much the same, it just depends on the who’s hosting the race) is one of the more popular club racing classes in North America. Boxsters make for sturdy, reliable, and fun race cars that ensure close door-to-door competition and good car-counts across the country. This means they also make for sturdy/fun track cars in general, not just for wheel-to-wheel racing.
Important Trim Levels and Options
The biggest difference in trims are the Base vs. the S. The Base came with a 2.5-liter engine through 1999, which was replaced with a slightly-more powerful 2.7-liter in 2000. The S was introduced in 2000 as well, and had a 3.2-liter for its entire run.
The Base’s price started at $39,000 in 1997, but according to the Porsche Club of America (PCA) it wasn’t hard to option one significantly higher.
1997: the Boxster hits the showroom floor
1998: Generally unchanged
1999: Generally unchanged
2000: The Boxster base’s engine bumps up to 2.7-liters making more power
2000: The S trim is introduced with its 3.2-liter engine, bigger brakes, added cooling, stiffer suspension, and more.
2001: Porsche switched from a dual-row to a single-row IMS bearing. Enthusiasts seem to agree that the earlier dual-row design fails less. We’ll discuss IMS bearing upgrades later in this Bible.
2002: Generally unchanged
2003: Power increases! 228 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque for the base, and 258 horsepower and 229 pound-feet of torque for the S. Porsche also introduced a better-insulated dual-layer convertible top, a glass rear window, and, wait for it… a glovebox!
2004: Generally unchanged and the final production year, though Porsche introduced a limited edition 550 Spyder 50 Year Anniversary Edition Boxster, which was essentially an S that was fully loaded and had some painted wheels. It also had a little extra oomph: 264 horsepower.
In addition to certain red flags detailed below, another thing to note about 986 maintenance, as well as maintenance on other Porsches, is the Air Oil Separator. This pulls oil from gases inside the crankcase, and re-circulates it to the sump while it injects the gases back through the combustion process. Failures cause catastrophic engine damage. The service interval is pretty long (detailed below), though a motorsports-grade one ought to be upgraded to if the car sees any regular performance driving, whether on an autocross course or on track.
General Reliability and Ownership Costs
Boxsters are among the least-expensive Porsches to own, but they’re still Porsches. The “Porsche Tax” on quality replacement and aftermarket parts is very much a thing. Consumables like brake pads and oil can be expensive, the latter due to them having such a high capacity -10 quarts! Regular ol’ suspension bushings are normal wear items and are more expensive than normal, too.
Service bills at specialty/German repair shops can get expensive, too. They’re packaged pretty well, but are still mid-engine and require a little more time than usual to do any type of work beyond oil and coolant changes, and brake jobs.
In general, the 986 Boxster will cost more to maintain than any of its American or Japanese competition. However, they are very sturdy, and when their known issues (especially those engine-related) are addressed they’re very reliable.
Also, no matter the trim, all Boxsters have staggered OEM wheels. If owners select aftermarket wheels that are staggered as well, then wheel and tire costs might be a little more than average. However, a lot of enthusiasts say a square-type setup, where both the front and rear wheels are the same size, is a good alternative and has some front-end grip benefits.
Red Flags and Known Issues
- Porous Blocks and Slipping Sleeves: Because Porsche moved swiftly to fulfill early 986 demand, some QC issues arose. Early engine blocks were very porous (by engine standards at least), which led to increased coolant loss. This issue was solved by boring out the blocks and adding steel cylinder sleeves, which then suffered slippage. Between consuming coolant and slipping sleeves, Porsche had to replace a lot of engines early on. Though, according to enthusiasts, luckily the vast majority of these have been replaced out and most engines you’ll encounter won’t have this issue.
- IMS Bearing Failure: This is a common issue on all pre-2006 M96 engines. Well, it’s not a common issue per se, but enough have failed to raise alarms across the world. It’s a recommended preventative maintenance/fix by pretty much all Porsche enthusiasts. Most Porsche/German shops have a set fee for doing this service and are well-versed, otherwise several companies make DIY kits for driveway wrenchers. 1997-2000 models had a single-row IMS bearing, whereas 2001+ models had a dual-row IMS bearing. Enthusiasts report that the former have a lower failure rate than the latter.
- Overheating: cooling systems in poor shape can lead to overheating which causes cylinder liners to crack, requiring an engine re-build or replacement. Aftermarket cooling upgrades are always recommended.
- Cylinder Scoring: Some M96 engines experience increased cylinder sleeve and piston ring scoring. A pronounced tick is associated with this affliction, but it can be easily confused with valvetrain tick.
- Coolant Expansion Tank Cracking: The coolant expansion tank can crack over time, spilling coolant in the rear trunk.
- Interior Discoloration: Interior panels can fade and crack pretty fast, but luckily used parts in good shape are plentiful.
- Driver Seat Wear: The driver’s seat materials wear out fast and start cracking/splitting, requiring a visit to an upholstery shop, aftermarket seat, or quality replacement. Leather treatment solutions help prolong their life.
- Worn Soft Tops and Rear Plastic Windows: This is common on what seems like all convertibles, but nonetheless something to look out for. The tops wear out over time requiring replacement, but luckily non-genuine replacements are fairly inexpensive, as are good condition, used OEM parts. Also, tops with plastic windows can be swapped out to tops with better-quality, longer-lasting glass windows.
The NHTSA details what sort of safety recalls the 986 has experienced. There aren’t many, and they all seem not too major. Prematurely worn headlights, automatic shifter cable adjustment, adding a passenger airbag deactivation kit for child occupants, etc.
Where To Buy Parts
The aftermarket is still quite healthy for the 986, despite the fact that it hasn’t been in production for over 15 years. Pretty much all aftermarket suspension companies offer all the handling and grip upgrades, there are many performance brake pad options, and more. Also, many companies offer products and services for preparing Boxsters for wheel-to-wheel racing, like BSR/Spec Boxster/Spec 986.
Like all sports cars, playing the 986’s strengths, like it’s suspension and grip, goes a long way for vehicular enjoyment. Bolting on aftermarket suspension, wider wheels and and stickier tires makes them handling monsters. Swapping engines is also very popular; M96 engines swap around pretty easily for the most part, it’s not uncommon for 986 owners to have 996 911 engines behind their seats.
Key Technical Details
Engine: flat-six boxer engine, naturally aspirated
2.5-liter: 201 horsepower, 181 pound-feet of torque
2.7-liter: 217 horsepower, 192 pound-feet of torque
3.2-liter: 250 horsepower, 225 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: Five-speed manual (all Base years), six-speed manual (all S years), five-speed Tiptronic automatic
Drivetrain: rear-wheel drive
Suspension: Independent wishbone/a-arm
Weight distribution: 49/51
1996–2002: 95.2 inches (2,418 mm)
2002–2004: 95.1 inches (2,416 mm)
1996–2002: 171.0 inches (4,343 mm)
2002–2004: 170.1 inches (4,321 mm)
Curb weight: 2,756–2,910 pounds
OEM tire sizes:
Base 16-inch wheels, 1997-2004: (front) 205/55R16, (rear) 225/50R16
Base, 17-inch wheels 1997-2004: (front) 205/50R17, (rear) 255/40R17
S, 17-inch wheels 2000-2004: (front) 205/50R17, (rear) 255/40R17
S, 18-inch wheels, 2000-2004: (front) 225/40R18, (rear) 265/35R18
Fluids, Filters, and Capacities:
The nice thing about these is a lot of them are the same across all 986 and 996 911 trims. The M-Series engines all share basically the same block, but also a lot of the same capacities and replacement part numbers.
Fuel: 91 Octane
Battery Size: BCI Group 48 (12.1X 6.9 X 7.6″), Ah/A 60/280 for manual transmission, Ah/A 70/320 for Tiptronic transmission. Enthusiasts report that a Bosch model is a good upgrade: 48-700B 700CCA
Engine Oil: 10 quarts of 0W-40 synthetic, enthusiasts recommend high-quality brands like Liqui Moly or Ravenol, and recommend replacing every 5,000-7,500 miles
Oil Filter: OEM Porsche 99610722553, 18 x 24 crush washer, replaced with oil
Air Filter: OEM Porsche 99611013104, replace every 15,000 miles
Air Oil Separator: Porsche OEM 99610702304, it appears that this is a Porsche revision that works on all engines, replace every 90,000 miles. For track work, there’s also a high-performance version that requires minor modification.
Cabin Air Filter: OEM Porsche 99657221902, replace every 15,000 miles
Manual Transmission Oil: 3 quarts (2.8 liters) of OEM Porsche 00004330549 75W90, fill until it runs out of filler hole, replace every 30,000 miles, other high-quality gear oils by Liqui Moly and Motul are also great options
Automatic Transmission (Tiptronic) Fluid: 3 quarts, enthusiasts recommend Red Line D4 ATF, replace every 30,000 miles
Transmission Filter: Porsche OEM 98630740300, replace with fluid
Differential Oil: 75W90, the manual transmission’s fill accounts for its built-in differential, however the automatic must be filled via a separate hole; fill until it runs out of the filler hole
Coolant: Porsche OEM 00004330575, replace every 60,000 miles
Power Steering Fluid: 1 liter of Pentosin CHF 202, replace every 40,000 miles, fill until reservoir indicates full
Brake Fluid: 3 x 500ml bottles of Motul RBF 600, replaced every 30,000 miles. If the car is tracked or autocrossed, every 15,000 miles
Clutch Fluid: Same as brake fluid
Spark Plugs: 6 X Bosch #99917020190KT1 + 6 X Porsche OEM 99610532552 spark plug tubes, 2000 and older = replace every 30,000 miles, 2001 and newer: replace every 60,000 miles
Factory Service Manuals
Factory service manuals, as well as those published by reputable companies like Bentley are victims of the Porsche tax, with the latter fetching as much as $150 used. Both of which are pretty rare. Though, luckily sites and enthusiasts have scanned and uploaded a lot, if not all, of the factory service manuals’ pages.
Other References and Resources
If you’re in SoCal and interested in doing any form of performance driving with your 986, check out Porsche Owners Club’s website.
Patrick Bedard at Car & Driver had very positive things to say about the Boxster S when it debuted back in 2000:
“Compared with last year’s 2.5-liter car, the S fairly rushes forward. It has glorious torque, which makes for pushy thrust as the tach swings past 4000, swelling exuberantly on toward 6000. This midrange is so lusty, the six-speed’s ratios are so perfectly spaced, and the pipe-organ music from behind is so sweet that you can happily play on the back roads without pushing to the 7200 redline.
In the foot-down mode, 0 to 60 rushes up in 5.2 seconds, followed shortly by a 13.8-second quarter-mile at 101 mph. Who-eee, those are Porsche numbers, and a solid improvement over last year’s by margins of 1.3 seconds to 60 and 1.2 seconds and 8 mph in the quarter. Top speed has leapt upward as well, to 160 mph from 147.
But don’t think the Boxster S is just an engine story. A quick glance through the airy five-spoke wheels picks up glossy crimson calipers clamped over larger drilled rotors transplanted from the 911 Carrera. This hardware pays off in even mildly energetic road driving. Quite apart from their short stopping distances–168 feet from 70 mph–these are inspiring brakes for the control they bring. Do you want decel g to fold your ears forward one millimeter or two? Two-and-a-half? No problem. These brakes give you that level of precision.”
As did Rik Paul at Motor Trend say of the non-S 1999 Boxster, despite its power deficit:
“The Boxster’s excellent dynamic characteristics begin with a strong yet lightweight body that offers better torsional rigidity than the 911-no minor feat for an open-top vehicle. Complementing this is a new aluminum suspension that employs MacPherson struts at all four corners. An optional sport suspension includes firmer shock damping, about 25 percent stiffer springs, thicker anti-roll bars, and a 10-millimeter (0.4-inch) body drop. This suspension is available with either the 16- or 17-inch wheels.
On the road, the drivetrain, suspension, brakes, and rack-and-pinion steering work in concert like a well-rehearsed philharmonic. Each element fuses with the next to create a rewarding, communicative link between driver and car, transforming subtle inputs into controlled responses.
You can dash any worries that the Boxster is anything less than a pur sang Porsche. In the twisties, the roadster benefits from an extremely neutral 49/51 front/rear weight distribution and some well-tuned geometry magic. It eats high-g corners for breakfast, yet even with abrupt throttle changes refuses to bite back with more than a subtle rear-end shake.
Under hard transitional maneuvers, the Boxster feels confidently stable and responsive. Nimble, agile, predictable, yet forgiving, it’s the kind of car that can make you feel like a rally champion without demanding race-honed driving skills.
With the standard suspension and 16-inch tires, the Boxster’s ride is sportingly taut, yet more compliant than that of a 911. The car charges over bumps with rock-solid composure, never sacrificing dynamic stability. The 17-inch tires give away a little ride comfort, and the sport suspension becomes quite firm, especially on rough pavement.
The rack-and-pinion steering is somewhat lighter, a little more isolated, and not as razor sharp as the 911’s, yet it controls the car with laser-like accuracy and fluid feedback.”
“Our team, specifically my 18-year-old son, runs a 1998 Boxster with Porsche Owners Club. He earned both his Performance Driving Series and Time Trial licenses through this club and will be enrolled in their racing school later this year. How he and his Boxster got to this point is an incredible story that began three generations prior, and is grounded in a love of motorsports and all-things Porsche. But that’s a story for another day.
What we’d like to share is why we chose the Boxster.
For a car to even be considered, it had to be a sports car and it had to be affordable (acquisition cost under $10K), have a manual transmission, and be well-suited for basic DIY work. Finally, the platform needed to be perfect for future track use.
The base 986 Boxster we ultimately picked up quickly surfaced as the ideal choice. In its factory form, it’s perfect. Porsche’s legendary handling and braking is on full display. The exhaust note is classic Porsche and everything you could want in a flat-six tone. And above all, its revs give us goosebumps (especially ripping in 2nd and 3rd gear).
But this fine sports car, with its underrated balance and unassuming profile, was destined for more. To unlock its full potential we’re currently transforming it into an ultra-light, stripped-down, high-performance race car. This process in itself has been a very fun and rewarding journey.
If you’d like to know more about our Boxster -what it’s like at track days, in club racing, or the SoCal race shops we’ve worked with, or just more about our team- check out our Facebook page and drop us a line!”
What They’re Worth Now
These figures seem to vary quite a bit depending on where they are in the country, and obviously if they’re sold private party on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace, or sold on used car lots.
The prime example: An early 2.5-liter base in prime or even collector-worthy condition with very low miles fetches around $14,000-$16,000. 2.7s will go for maybe $1,000-$2,000 more, and S models will be at least $5,000 more.
A very clean driver: An example that’s clean, mid-mileage (let’s say less than 90,000 miles) will go anywhere from $8,000 for a 2.5-liter base to $16,000 for an S.
An honest car: Let’s say this is a model-year 2000 or newer, with anywhere from 80,000-150,000 miles. It might have some paint chips, aftermarket wheels, a rough soft top, etc., but it’s in good shape otherwise. Especially mechanically. These seem to start at $6,000 for a 2.5-liter base and top out at $12,000 for an S.
The budget option: Any year car that’s in decent shape, 150,000-plus miles, a not-that-great-interior, and has some semblance of service history seems to go for $5,000 for a base 2.5, and up to $9,000 for an S.
A roach: Salvage title, rough body, very high mileage, a ratty interior, base wheels, etc. These often seem to be automatic, unfortunately. But they can be great projects, track-only sleds, Spec Boxster builds, etc., and go for as little as $4,000.
Where To Find One For Sale
The 986 is a car that’s best bought from a responsible enthusiast who can produce service history documentation. Luckily, they change hands between enthusiasts quite a lot, and can be found on Craigslist or any Porsche-centric classifieds like the PCA’s.
Otherwise, clean examples show up on higher-end used car dealership lots all the time. Facebook Marketplace and Offer Up are sources too, but stay especially vigilant in regards to giving them a good look over, doing a pre-purchase inspection, etc.
What To Ask A Seller
Focusing on the 986’s red flags is crucial when you’re looking at a used one to potentially buy. Ask:
Has the IMS bearing been replaced?
Has the engine ever been replaced?
When was the air-oil separator last replaced?
Have you ever autocrossed or tracked it? (This isn’t necessarily bad; again, enthusiasts often take really good care of their cars and replace fluids more frequently)
Have any suspension bushings been replaced?
Have you ever replaced the radiator or any oil coolers?
Have you done any aftermarket cooling upgrades?
Competitors To Consider
Pretty much any other modern RWD sports car. Honda S2000, Toyobaru, E36/E46 BMW M3, BMW 128i, Mazda RX-8, Toyota MR-S, and more. It should also be said that the newer-gen 987 Boxster and its hardtop sibling the Cayman ought to also be considered, though they fetch a bit more money. The 996 911 is another solid option, though matching a clean Boxster’s pricing would mean a higher-mileage, less clean 996 for sure.
FavCars.com has us thoroughly covered here, more than Porsche USA’s media site!
Pop Culture References
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld is known to have an appreciation for Boxsters, and allegedly still has a 986 in his collection. Other famous 986 owners include Ashley Tisdale, Caitlin Jenner, and Billy Crystal, to name a few.
The 986 has made an appearance in many tv shows and movies, such as Legally Blonde, Hollywood Homicide, Scary Movie V, Mulholland Dr., Orange County, and more!
Check back with us here; we’ll start to populate this section of we start to see any specific questions pop up over and over.
Downloadable Paperback Car Bible (Coming Soon)
If you’re old school and like to keep reference notes on paper, or you’re just a completionist and want a free accessory for your 986 we’ll have a printable paperback Car Bible for you soon.
Think of it like an owner’s manual supplement. Keep it in your car and your days of waiting for slow internet on your phone at the auto parts store are over!
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