Apparently it had been raining for weeks in Vancouver (go figure), but on the day I was handed the key to a white 2001 Porsche Boxster S from its seller (and he did look a bit sad), the sun shone, the birds chirped and spring was in the air. I took all this to be a sign my search and ultimate capture of a first-generation Boxster S was more than a foolish exercise in self-indulgence – that finally requiting my unrequited love for Porsche’s sweet two-seat mid-engine roadster was perhaps a smart move.
After years of toying with the idea, I decided it was time to seriously seek out a first-gen Boxster S.
With air-cooled 911s now fetching ridiculous prices, this first-generation Boxster (986) could be the last frontier of affordable naturally aspirated Porsche sports cars. And affordable they are. This Vancouver Boxster S with 126,000 km on the clock was listed at $14,500 – an entirely fair price for one of the greatest sports cars created by humankind. Original Canadian MSRP for this car was $71,500.
The Boxster has always managed to be more than the sum of its impressive parts, showing uncanny balance, poetic moves, perfectly matched controls and a sweet symphony from the flat-six engine. As icing on the cake, the Boxster’s ride doesn’t beat you up, and it has not one, but two useful trunks.
So after years of toying with the idea, I decided it was time to seriously seek out a first-gen Boxster S. I didn’t want to miss the boat on this one, as the 911 ship had already sailed. And hey, I like the Boxster better anyway.
Porsche was in a slump during the last decade of the previous century. Yes, the iconic 911 sports car was still its marquee player but the front-engine V8 928 coupe hadn’t garnered much love and the front-engine, four-cylinder 944 cum
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968 was nearing its end. Porsche needed a volume-selling car, and it settled on developing an entry-level mid-engine roadster.
Shown at the 1993 Detroit Auto Show, the Boxster Concept stirred up some serious enthusiasm from customers and the press alike, prompting Porsche to go ahead with the project. The production Boxster, thankfully looking very much like the concept, arrived for 1997 with a 2.5L flat-six making 201 horsepower. Being the first all-new Porsche in 18 years, it delivered on its promise of luring buyers by being (relatively) affordable and delivering a fabulous driving experience. For 2000 its engine grew to 2.7L and 217 hp in 2000, and the hotter 3.2L 250 hp Boxster S joined the stable.
Along with the bigger engine, the S got a six-speed transmission (vs the base car’s five-speed), more robust brakes from the 911, starchier suspension, leather interior and ritzier trim. Zero to 100 km/h was officially pegged at 5.9 seconds and it had a top speed of 260 km/h.
My search for a 2000–2004 first-gen Boxster S lasted about a month. I looked both north and south of the border, and while US cars had pretty seductive price tags, the 37 percent exchange hit and 6 percent duty once figured in, along with the hassle of importing the vehicle, were deal-breakers.
You can’t speak of the 986 Boxster and 996 911 without bringing up the IMS (intermediate shaft) bearing issue. The next-gen 987 Boxster and Cayman had issues too. The IMS lives within the bowels of the flat-six engine, and it is supported by a bearing with a historical failure rate of about eight percent. Granted, the odds are in your favour, and well-maintained cars (and those that are regularly driven) are mostly free of trouble. The problem is, when said bearing fails, your valve timing goes in the toilet and the engine generally ends up there too. Instantly.
As such, finding a Boxster with the accepted LN Engineering ceramic IMS bearing retro-fit is a good idea. Problem is, I only found two sellers that even mentioned the IMS issue. Looks like I was going to have to factor the $3,000-plus job (the clutch gets done too) into the price of entry.
Diligence is the key to finding a decent car. This white 2001 Boxster S came up on autoTRADER.ca, and by this time in my search I didn’t mind that it was on the other side of the country. The continent starts to shrink when looking for collector cars. As does your brain. I became so hot for this pristine specimen with the rare burgundy/interior, it was just like being back in grade 10 when I stared longingly at what’s-her-name from the back row. But this was different because my Boxster was attainable. And the owner “thought” the IMS bearing had been done, along with its new clutch, tires… all kinds of stuff.
As Manfred Mann sang, “Blinded by the light….”
I asked a friend in Vancouver to have a look, and he felt this wee Porker was worth further investigation. So I sent the owner a deposit, booked an Airbnb and was on a flight to Vancouver within two days.
I won’t deny my heart was all a-flutter on first seeing the Boxster S in the parking garage. The owner had only driven it 4,000 km in four years, and with a family in the works it was time for him to sell. Visually, this roadster was mint – it looked as though it had just dropped in from a 2001 showroom. I was toast, even though the service records showed no evidence of the IMS bearing having been done. Damn. This Porsche was going to be more expensive than I planned. (I’m sure no one has ever said that before).
I did the deed, got a temporary BC permit and arranged for rail transport back to Toronto. But first, a glorious drive up the coast to Squamish. This Boxster S may be only sixteen years old but it feels like it’s from another era. A better and simpler one. The hydraulically assisted steering is a living entity and the naturally aspirated flat-six metes out its power with razor-sharp throttle response and an insatiable hunger for the redline. There are no drive modes to cycle through, feeling pretty much just right all the time.
The simple seat fits me perfectly and there’s not a touchscreen, rotary controller or capacitive switch to be found. iPhone connectivity? Ha. Does the radio work? Not sure. Don’t really care. Flat. Six. Revs.
Yes, I know I’ll be putting some money into this car when it gets back to Toronto. But for me, that precautionary IMS fix will be money well spent.