Having recently sold my 1971 Datsun 240Z, I was left with holes in both my heart and my garage. Both voids have been satisfyingly filled by the recent acquisition of a triple-black 2001 Porsche Boxster. Let’s take a look at what my new-to-me 986 needs. Then you can decide if I’ve bitten off more Boxster than I can chew.
Many of us have our “Pandemic Projects.” If you do happen to go out for non-essential shopping these days, you’ll likely notice empty shelves in the craft, home exercise and bicycle sections of a lot of stores. With more home-time than my life previously afforded I, too, have taken on a new project, though the care and feeding of a Porsche Boxster may demand a greater commitment than scrapbooking or treadmill time.
Now, I’ve never been an early adopter. I honestly have never had the finances to enjoy the latest and greatest of... well, anything. No, what I’m really all about is buying refurbished tech and taking advantage of happy hour pricing. It’s my proudly frugal Scottish heritage showing through.
That means that while I’ve always wanted to have a Porsche to play with, I’ve never had the means to do so. Prices on most models have always been high, reaching ludicrous levels over the past decade or so. I missed my window of opportunity with the entire air-cooled lineup, and even the early water-cooled transaxle cars — 924, 944, etc. — have gotten crazypants pricey of late as well. What’s a poor sap like me to do?
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Well, what I did was focus on 986 Boxsters. These currently represent some of the best values in the Porsche market. Best of all, there were a lot of them produced, and they enjoy one of the most robust support networks on the internet. Don’t believe me? Go do a search for Boxster on YouTube.
I went on YouTube and watched all of those videos. I followed most keenly the how-to videos by Ben Burner, which are hugely instructive not only in how to tackle some of the Boxster’s most common issues but also listing just what those issues are.
I also pulled out my old copy of 101 Projects for Your Porsche Boxster and read that cover to cover.
Armed with my new Boxster knowledge superpower, my next step was to hit up the classifieds, looking for the best 986 my money could buy. I wasn’t too scared about buying a car that needed obvious work. I was mostly concerned about the non-obvious stuff like missing maintenance and repair info.
The first stop was my comfort zone of Craigslist, and what I found there was a disappointing mix of scammy cars and solid but out-of-my-budget examples. I expanded my search to eBay, AutoTrader and numerous forums, all with a similar lack of success.
Then I spotted an ad in the Porsche Club of America classifieds. It described a 2001 Boxster — the edition with a 2.7 engine and a five-speed — and it pushed all the right buttons. The mileage listed was a tad high — 102,000 — but the ad claimed that all the important stuff had been done on it, including a fairly recent clutch and flywheel. The car also, amazingly, was right in line with my budget.
I made introductions with the seller over the phone and scheduled a meet up the next day to look the car over. I packed up my Pre-Purchase Inspection tool kit, and that Saturday morning my wife and I made the hour-plus trek to the Inland Empire of Southern California to see the car.
It was one of the hottest days of the year so I was glad upon our arrival to find the Boxster sitting in the garage. This fronted a well-kept home on a quiet Spielberg-ian street. So far, so good. Sitting next to the Boxster was another Porsche, a race-prepped 914-6. Seeing that, I knew we had come to the right place.
John, the seller, had two more Porsches as well, but those lived somewhere else. He told me that the Boxster had served as his daughter’s daily driver for four years, but now that she was graduating from college, she wanted something more modern to drive. OK, full disclosure; she wanted a big SUV.
The Boxster itself presented really well — a perfectly fine 10-foot car. Up close you could see a number of annoying little dings and paint chips. Nothing extraordinarily bad, but it would all have to be addressed eventually. That was supported by an accident-free history that also included two previous owners and stints in both Massachusetts and California.
I climbed all over and under the car while my wife and John made small talk. A scan with my OBDII reader showed no issues and the instrument cluster was blessedly free of any lamps warning of impending doom.
John let me take the car out for a spin and about half-way through the 20-minute drive I knew I was going to buy the car. I got back, we made the deal, Wells Fargo cut a check, and my wife and I split up for the trip back home. I, of course, got to do so in the Boxster. I’m just lucky that way.
Once I got home I was able to assess the Porsche more thoroughly and determine how I had come out on the deal. John had given me some intel, noting that the fore-aft control on the driver’s seat didn’t work, as well as bringing up on his computer the oil filter he had been using since adding an LN spin-on adapter.
Along with imparting that helpful knowledge, John also provided me with a folder full of maintenance and repair records. Perhaps most important, the folder itself documented every oil change the car had received over the past four years.
The Porsche factory recommended 10,000-mile intervals between oil changes. Owing to an all-aluminum engine with some sketchy design choices, most M96 owners recognized that a 5,000-mile interval was more conducive to engine health. This car has had its oil changed about every 3,000 miles.
That goes a long way toward ensuring a Porsche’s health, but in the case of this car, that wasn’t all that had already been done to keep it fat and sassy.
Let’s start off with the elephant in the room. And by elephant, I don’t mean a real pachyderm. Seriously, don’t let an actual elephant in your house. That’s a poop smell you’ll never just Febreze your way out of.
No, by elephant, I’m speaking metaphorically, and of course, I mean the M96's notorious Intermediate Shaft or IMS bearing. That’s the bugbear that terrifies many and has suppressed values on both Boxsters and 996 911s. On the 2001 2.7 edition, that bearing has about an 8 percent failure rate. Those aren’t great odds and so I was fully ready to buy a car and immediately dive in and change the bearing with one of the many replacement options that can pretty much bring those odds down to zero.
To my great excitement, my car had already had its IMS replaced with the LN Engineering kit, effectively saving me hours and hundreds. Along with the new bearing, the car received a new clutch, rear main seal, water pump and thermostat, along with the infamous air-oil separator. Pretty much everything major that could go wrong had been future-proofed. The extremely conservative oil change regiment helps ensure it all stays that way.
Other pluses here include a set of fairly new Cooper tires, new brake pads and front control arms that were replaced in 2014. To be honest with you, considering what I was able to pay, I couldn’t have asked for a more mechanically sound car.
Of course, when you’re buying any old car you don’t spend your entire wad on the purchase. We all know that the best rule of thumb is to hold back a percentage of the amount you’ve allocated overall to cover any post-purchase expenses. In my case, those included the tax and registration as well as California’s required emissions test. Ka-ching!
Before I took the car to do all that, however, I did a full assessment of what else was needed. The first thing to do was to put the top into service mode and take a gander at that beautiful 2.7-liter flat-six engine.
Well, I guess it was beautiful. It was hard to tell under all the dust. A quick cleaning brought things into perspective. You can see the difference below.
The cleaning helped to establish that there was nothing amiss with the engine — no obvious leaks, rips, tears or missing parts. Also, all the fluids were topped up and nothing smelled funky. It needs a more thorough cleaning, but this will suffice for the present.
One issue that my underhood adventure revealed was an air cleaner baffle that literally looked like it had been used to keep King Tut’s tomb springtime fresh. Ugh, that was not going to do, especially since I needed the car to be on its best behavior for the upcoming smog test. A new air cleaner element was obtained and installed with little problem. I will say that the 986's slide-in air cleaner design is sort of weird.
With the emissions test passed and AAA happy to middle-man my registration check to the DMV, the Boxster was now officially mine. That ownership included all the issues that I knew about, and one that I didn’t (remember me telling you about saving some money for the unexpected?)
The stuff that I did know about included the cup holder which in official Porsche speak was “broke-ass.” There was also the aforementioned seat that didn’t go forward or backward. The unexpected issue was a faulty door latch sensor on the passenger door that very frustratingly would only drop the window for opening and closing intermittently. That would need to be addressed since the window hitting the rail of the convertible top was going to ruin both.
The issue with the latch is a common one on the 986 as well as its 996 brethren. The problem stems from the door having multiple microswitches on the latch itself as well as on both interior and exterior handles. Exacerbating the problem, my car has the M535 security system, which reads all the door switches, along with those on both boot latches, the convertible top, the radio and the center console glove box. An issue with any of those switches not working or sending the security system computer an unexpected signal results in the dreaded double beep error upon actuation. Sure enough, my car started doing the double beep two weeks into my ownership.
I had to put that frustration aside since there was the more pressing issue of attending my first Porsche Club of America meet-up. This took place in the pandemic and under an unfathomably grim pall of smoke from one of California’s hellish wildfires. Nothing can keep the Porsche faithful from their free coffee and breakfast burritos, however.
Aside from having to leave the top up to prevent a cabin filled with mesquite and pine ash — which meant not using the passenger door — the car performed faithfully and the gloomy gray skies hid the car’s myriad of paint imperfections. Interestingly, mine was the only Boxster of any generation at the meet-up, making me feel honored for having done my representational duty.
Back home after the meet-up, I started to tally up all the things wrong with the car. There was the seat, the door, the cup holders, and oh, did I mention that one of the key fobs wouldn’t open the car owing to a broken button on the sender?
You may have noticed that none of the issues I mentioned seemed like particularly big deals. You are absolutely right — none of those problems should prove insurmountable, and aside from the wonky passenger window none should significantly impact the enjoyment of the car .
Still, I can’t let the gremlins win. I just can’t do it. Plus, one of the reasons I bought an old Boxster was so I could have something to work on when the COVID cabin fever set in.
To that end, I’m proud to say that I’ve so far managed to fix all of those issues I listed above. How, you might ask?
Okay, here’s the deal: I’m not going to detail the process for every fix in this post since I think that would be giving each one short shrift. I believe that you all would like to see the work in all its ugly glory. Am I right?
That means I’ll do more posts documenting all the work I do on the car. Would you like to see that? As a teaser, here are some pics to give you a preview of what’s to come.
So, let me know in the comments whether there’s something in particular you’d like to see first. Are you keen on the seat diagnosis, or maybe how to fix the tiny switches in a key fob? Is this a project that even piques your interest? Who am I kidding, of course, it does. That’s what we’re all here for.
Also, let me know if you have any great tips on how to keep a 986 running, or even just what to look out for as an owner.
Caring for an old sports car can be a daunting process, especially one with needs. I’m happy that I don’t have to do it alone since I’ve got all of you to keep me company and help me out, if just in virtual form.
Thank you all for having my back and hopefully, we’ll have some fun on this new adventure.