A special edition Porsche is a wonderful but expensive thing and something I have wanted to own for pretty much my whole life. However, these cars are rare, brilliant and always come in very limited numbers. This means you might need quite deep pockets to get one and due to their collectability, you’ll probably need at least one other car to actually use.
I have always had my eye on the market place and an awareness of all the different models available in the hope there may be an option to finally scratch that itch. Fortunately, thanks to a number of factors that I will go in to later on, that opportunity has come and this particular Porsche is in fact mine and is now my pride and joy.
The Porsche Boxster development
The first Porsche Boxster is well known to most as it was a very popular car and has gone on to remain a vital model in Porsche’s lineup for 25 years now, as celebrated by the recently released 25 year anniversary edition that will undoubtably go on to be a very collectable car 25 years from now.
The 986 generation car was designed alongside a brand new 911, with the latter car moving to water cooling for the first time. The early 90’s had been a bad time for Porsche due to a number of market place issues as well as their less than completely efficient method of manufacture and a change was needed. Not only was a new volume selling car needed that did not devalue the brand, but a whole new culture was needed within the firm focussing on manufacturing efficiency.
A solution was found that solved a lot of the issues in one go. As the new 911 was going to need to be water cooled and a completely fresh design, it made sense to develop two models at the same time. They were at different price points, serving different markets, but with a host of shared components using the economies of scale to improve profitability.
If the cheaper car was to prove a good seller it would save the life of the legendary 911, but by sharing so many parts guarantee that it did not devalue the brand. Needless to say it worked and it made the Boxster a real bargain as it was a lot of proper Porsche for considerably less money and in many ways for many people, somewhat better having more neutral handling, top down motoring from the off and two good sized boots making it quite practical.
These decisions and some other factors set about making both the 986 Boxster and the 996 911 depreciate quite rapidly over their first decade or so and here are my theories as to why and why that is great news for anyone who is after one of the best cars ever made!
As discussed, these models were developed together, but the Boxster was actually released first. So the new styling direction kind of became the Boxster look and this damaged the 911 when it came along as it basically shared the front end and most controversially of all, the new ‘fried egg’ headlights. This meant that the striking 993 911 was sold alongside the Boxster initially making the new car seem a little too dainty by comparison. Then when the 996 came along sporting the same looks, it was at first considered the ugly duckling 911. With the move to water cooling being a contentious one it had quite an effect on used prices of the 996 911 and one that it is only just starting to recover from. Much of my theorising about the Boxster applies to that 911 too as they were so linked. Needless to say, there was a feeling in some quarters that the Boxster was simply a poor man’s 911.
It was and it wasn’t. It certainly was cheaper, but still not cheap and it offered enough difference to appeal to someone to whom the 911 did not. I know quite a few people like that, but there are certainly some who would have had a Boxster because they couldn’t afford a 911. The early Boxsters could be considered a little light weight as they had quite modest power so as to clearly differentiate them from their bigger brother.
However the launch 2.5 engine was soon replaced by a 2.7 and then the Boxster S came along with a 3.2 that was destined to be the launch engine for the new 911. They had opted for 3.4 for that car, leaving the sublime 3.2 available to turn the Boxster in to a very fast car, nipping at the heels of the 911, but with better handling in a cheaper and more accessible package. It seems the image issues were causing higher than usual depreciation for both these models, but there was another factor that has been affecting a great many cars in similar ways and that’s internet chatter about an engine issue. I had it with my previous car, the one before that and heard it about a huge number off models that I have researched with a view to buying. With Porsche it was the dreaded Intermediate Shaft Bearing (IMS) and the way the armchair agitators ran with the problem, you’d think every single owner had been hit with a full rebuild bill. However, as a used buyer depreciation is our friend and so we must embrace the IMS.
The Intermediate Shaft Bearing
The 2.5 litre engine did not suffer from this problem, but when the new engines came out, Porsche changed the bearing on the IMS from a dual lane bearing to a single lane and under certain conditions, these had started to fail with a fairly hefty bill to have it sorted, assuming of course that it hadn’t failed completely resulting in a new engine or a rebuild.
Naturally this became one of those problems that everyone has heard of and created a fear in the market place sending the value of Boxsters to the floor. From this point on the car was able to be purchased by anyone as they were that cheap to buy, but this did not meant they were particularly cheap to maintain. They still needed to be looked after by dealers or specialists and some of these new owners were running the cars on a shoestring and in turn, ruining them and pushing their reputation even further down. That is not to say that every Boxster has suffered from this, there were still plenty of good ones out there, but the reputation for mechanical fragility had affected the image of the car once more, meaning plenty of potential bargains if you were prepared to take the risk.
The Up Side
The face-lifted versions of the 986 and 996 came along in 2002/3 and the headlights had been changed on both making them look a little different to each other and other vast improvements had been made. These later cars are absolutely stunning, but the damage had already been done and they were massively under valued by the market. The fear about the perceived mechanical gremlins that were bound to rear their heads meant that the values had dropped so far, they were in fact below the amount of any mechanical worst case senario. You could now theoretically buy a car and rebuild the engine for less than the car should realistically cost had it followed a normal depreciation curve and yet still people were scared to buy.
Look at it this way. The cheapest 987 available at the time of writing on Auto Trader is £6995 for a 16 year old car. The earliest 986’s at 16 years old were available for almost as low as you care to link and even now are still available at £4000. For a 40-50,000 mile car you can pick up a 986 S for around £9000 and the equivalent 987 S with similar miles is around £14,000. When I was faced with my decision I could have had a 987 S, but I prefer the look of the 986 and particularly the Anniversary Edition and so I chose to go that way, something that is very much down to personal preference. However, a neutral could opt for a £9000 986 S over the 987 S and have £5000 to play with sorting out any mechanical issues. The truth is you would likely have money in your pocket and that is with the 987 likely at or near the bottom of its curve, while that 9k 986 was 6k five years ago.
I had watched this for years, not wanting to buy while prices were still falling, but knowing that at some point people would work out that the cars are amazing and you can get the clutch changed along with the IMS bearing for around £1500 to give yourself piece of mind. This is surely the best option rather than spending over the £1500 extra on a different ‘safer’ car that isn’t as good and probably has less widely known mechanical issues anyway.
Of course, this did happen and prices are now starting to rise, but one car that is really rising at some rate is the 50 Jahre 550 Spyder version, which although never falling quite as low as the normal models, was still dragged down and at their lowest, going for around £8000, but now going for quite a bit more and rising. I was staring to imagine a point in a few years time when everyone wants an early Boxster and prices are through the roof. We’d all be kicking ourselves for not having bought when prices were on the floor, much like what happened with air-cooled 911s. This is the time for the 986 and I knew it was now or never for me to get the kind of car I should never be able to afford. A real special edition Porsche.
The 50 Jahre 550 Spyder Anniversary Edition
If you are not aware of this special edition, let me tell you a little about it and why I had to have one. It is based on the 986 Boxster S, but was the run out special, so amongst the very last of them made before the 987 came along. In fact its air intake is the one from the 987 and it uses 987 air filters unlike all the other 986’s. That isn’t the only difference though, there are quite a few.
As it was honouring the 550 Spyder, a car that the Boxster was inspired by in the first place, it was made to look a little like the most famous versions of that car. It needed to have silver paint and a new silver had recently been developed for the Carrera GT hyper car and so that beautiful shade was used on this car and that is what really made me want one. The first time I saw it in the flesh, I was amazed by the finish and it is very much worthy of a half million pound hyper car. That it ended up on a car that could be had for as little as £8000 at one time is quite something for those of us who are not billionaires.
To further ape the 550 Spyder, much of the interior is finished in this paint just as it would have been on the original as it didn’t really have an interior. The dials are ringed in chrome with black faces and it has the full extended leather package in either cocoa brown or grey. I have the grey leather version as it looks better to my eye keeping the car monochrome, but the cocoa is a beautiful colour and I took a long time choosing.
There is also a one off gear lever knob in aluminium to operate the short shifter kit as well as a numbered plaque as there were only 1953 of these ever made, with only 150 coming to the UK. Howmanyleft suggest there were in fact 224 registered in 2004 when the car was released, but this is still quite a modest amount.
Completing the unique details were a set of lightweight Carrera 18 inch alloy wheels in a two tone paint, with the rim in GT silver and seal grey on the spokes. The car had a unique double stacked exhaust pipe which along with the air intake gave an extra 6bhp. M030 suspension lowering the car by 10mm and 5mm wheels spacers which improved the stance in a quite striking way. To be absolutely sure you are looking at an Anniversary Edition look out for sports seat with body coloured hard backs, a 911 Turbo S steering wheel, a chromed Boxster S badge and silver painted mono-block brake calipers. Most were well kitted from the factory and mine has factory sat-nav, Bose sound system, litronic headlights, cruise control, PSM and an on board computer.
All of this put together gives a really special feel above the already amazing standard car and for the money I don’t think it can be beaten. Once more people know it exists and experience what it has to offer, it will become even more sought after as all the current owners of these are real enthusiasts. Many of the problems resulting from being poorly looked after are not relevant with this edition as they are so loved by their owners.
If and when my IMS bearing starts to make a noise or when my clutch goes, I will happily spend the £1500 knowing that the next cheapest special edition Porsche is north of £20,000 and way out of my price range for a second car. Put quite simply, once I had seen one of these I just had to have one. Add into the mix that is a real special edition Porsche with a real Porsche flat six for so little money, it really was a no brainer to buy. The IMS bearing and image issues have facilitated my purchase of the best car I have ever owned, please read on for my review of car and what it is like to drive.
I have long believed that there is a golden period for cars from around the turn of the millennium to somewhere in the middle of the decade. I think it ended because of the banking crisis as after 2008 everyone became very cost conscious and low CO2 emissions seemed to rule the roost. Performance cars then ended up being either too big, too heavy or simply too powerful. There are some exceptions with things like the Alpine and the GT86/BRZ, but they come with their own set of problems which make them less than perfect for me. I am having a tough time getting thrilled by the latest crop of cars and the numbers on paper are not doing it for me.
Cars of the distant past were beautiful, but in most cases incredibly unreliable and hard work to maintain. There are those that revel in that, but I would rather be driving and for me that window in the early 2000’s before cars became overly big, overly styled, too complicated and too powerful is the era to buy from. They are old enough now to be rare and feel classic, but they are more like modern cars in terms of reliability. They weren’t so overloaded with technology and have simpler, more timeless styling that appeals to me. It also helps that they are the cars of my time, but for me the best version of every car that interests me tends to fall into this period and it can’t be coincidence.
This Porsche fits that theory to a tee. It was first released in 1996, the year I started to drive and when this one was made I would have been 24 and dreaming of one day owning such a thing. It does feel like a classic, very different to what I am used to now. It feels insanely small these days, far lower than it should be. For me, the simple exterior treatment is just to my taste and as time goes on it just keeps getting better looking.
My previous fun car was a quite powerful Subaru Impreza STI hatchback from 2010 and while it was an amazing car, it was just way too fast. This is something I feel is true for a lot of cars. It has become harder and harder to drive fast these days and yet cars keep getting faster. Driving a fast car slowly is just not as much fun as driving a slow car quickly and although I do want some accelerative thrill, I still want to be able to drive swiftly without posing a huge threat to myself and others, something I felt the Subaru did regularly. Also when driving the Subaru slowly, it was just a fairly cheap Japanese hatchback and not that great, only showing its true colours when pressing on. It suffered from being made after the golden period, as the best Impreza is from 2000-2001 with around 50 bhp less than mine in a lighter package.
This is true of the Porsche as it is around 60bhp down on the Subaru and yet feels just as thrilling. It doesn’t need to be going as fast though as it is so much fun to drive at any speed. Every turn is an event due to the exceptional chassis, beautifully balanced and not too heavy. The centre of gravity is nicely within the wheelbase and very low and you can feel this with every movement. The controls are a tactile joy and everything works in a harmonious way that doesn’t make itself too apparent and really only occurs to you when you’ve been driving for ages and you just want to carry on, taking the long route wherever possible.
The engine is an absolute delight and accounts for a sizeable proportion of the reason for me choosing this car. With the upcoming and unavoidable death of petrol powered cars, I really wanted to experience an engine like this while I can. I have owned a lot of Subarus and have had a lot of flat four engines, some turbo-charged and with quite a bit of power for many years and they are great engines, but not in quite the same league as a Porsche engine. The linearity of the delivery is something I had been looking forward to after the on/off big torque delivery of the turbo’d engines I had been used to.
The fashion these days seems to be toward engines with vastly wide power bands, so you are never without push, but I find it all a little boring. Although they are clearly faster in every situation, they are not as characterful and this engine suits the car so completely. I cannot imagine how scary this chassis would be with a Subaru engine fitted as the thrust comes in so violently, which is very thrilling in a 4wd car with complex differentials, but would just have the rear drive mid engined car heading for the hedgerows. The way the power comes in with the 3.2 never upsets the balance of the car, leaving all options at the drivers discretion should he or she want to upset the balance.
Once above 5000 rpm and on to the 7200rpm redline the engine takes on a racing car like wail once on its second, more aggressive cam profile. Faced with flowing, medium grade corners approached in third at 4000rpm results in instantaneous throttle response on corner exit with swift acceleration until the next braking point. With quite long gearing in normal driving conditions, a shift down to second is always an option to get the engine over 5000rpm and enjoy that visceral scream. Even at low revs there is a guttural roar from the air intake that sends shivers down the spine. The gearbox allows very quick shifts and the engine rewards you at every point in the rev range with aural delights not often heard outside of a race track.
Once you have the roof down the car goes to another level altogether. it is so strange how it takes on another character, somehow driving even better than with the roof up. The trouble is that you find yourself wanting to have the roof down all the time and I have done so in temperatures as low as 5 deg c and in the dark, but it just has to be done. It has led me to feel that if i can’t have the roof down, then I am wasting miles and fuel and I should go in something else. If anything that is the biggest problem with the car.
After a while owning mine, I can honestly say you it would be tough to have one as your only car. They do need to be used to stay at their best and I take mine out at least once a week weather permitting and therein lies the problem. In very rainy or cold cold conditions it is a hard car to use at all and I’d imagine it would be somewhat frustrating if you had to use it every day in winter. It does lack the modern connectivity we have become so used to, which is not a problem when using it as it should be because the last thing you want to do is listen to music or make a call when you have that engine just behind you. If it was your only car though, you probably would want to add a more modern system even if this goes against originality, although you could retain the original for a later sale. Porsche have released a new system for this generation of cars to bring them up to date, but with fitting at a Porsche Centre it comes in at over £2000 which is not worth it for a second car, but may be if it were your only car. On the subject of sound, the Bose system fitted to mine is woeful compared to anything I have used recently, including my wife’s Fiat 500 which is a very cheap car. It is from 20 years ago, but I think it must have been poor even then and I remember Bose house systems being a marvel from the ones I heard as long ago as the mid 90’s, so I feel it was just a bad job on the Porsche one.
Some people will find the interior dated and although I like this as I was after something that felt classic, I know some would not be happy with it. Coming from Subarus it is actually really good, but if you are used to modern German cars you will find it basic. The leather is great and the seats offer fantastic support if you are not too wide with a cabin that is roomy for such a small car, but I am 5’10” and I’d have thought over 6 foot and you will start to struggle. Other than that I would say go and drive one of these and have your perception and possibly your life changed.
I can sum up this car in one word and it is balance. The balance is just spot on in every regard, either by exceptional judgement on Porsches part, or just by coincidence. You have the obvious classic balance, but it is also just the right level of fast and light, but well made and corrosion proof with the feel that it will last forever in a typical Porsche fashion. Much more power in this package would be too much and I know later versions have become so powerful with such long gearing as to be unable to really work the engine on public roads. Stunning on a track, but that is not my thing and I think we may have lost our way with how fast every single car is these days. If the bottom of the range car is too fast already, why are there so many cars faster still. The balance of usability and reliability relative to its age is also spot on right now and they are only going to get rarer and more expensive as time goes on and people figure out that it was the best motoring could be. The relative value on offer in a 986 purchase at this point in time is unlikely to beaten ever and if you are currently thinking about it, do it now.
It is quite interesting to me the difference in Porsche as a maker comparing 1996 when the Boxster launched to how things are today. The best selling Porsches are now the Macan and the Cayenne, both made alongside VAG alternatives with shared platforms and engines. The design of a particular headlight unit is really the least of anyones concern, particularly after the first generation Cayenne and Panamera being quite awkward designs. The Boxster retrospectively looks about as true a Porsche as almost anything they have ever made, particularly as it was book-ended by the 924/944/968 transaxle cars and the Cayenne all having some Volkswagen involvement. I think this is something that people can see and that public opinion of the Boxster is starting to change. Not that all Porsches aren’t great in their own right, it’s just that the Boxster has been horribly under-rated for a long time.
If you feel like me then something like this is exactly what you need, it is just a beautiful characterful car that grabs you every time you get in and just doesn’t let go. At this point in my life it is the best car I have ever driven and maybe ever will.
This write up contains a lot of my opinion which is neither right or wrong and you may disagree with some of it. I am very happy to hear your thoughts and engage in discussions here, but please keep it friendly as it’s only about cars.
I am a professional photographer (not writer!) and these kind of write ups are only really vehicles to show off some pics. I am a studio based photographer primarily, but if you have liked the images and would like any taken of your car then please do get in touch over at www.matthewbrown-photography.com