Building the ultimate early 986 Porsche Boxster
Tuesday, June 13, 2017
The 986 generation of the Porsche Boxster currently has an amazing value. Early cars in decent running condition from 1997-1999 can be purchased for as low as $5,000, with lower-mileage, well-maintained cars easy to find for about $7,500.
For your money, you get a car that up to the A pillar looks almost exactly like a 996 generation 911. You also get a mid-engine roadster that has some of the best handling you can buy. It's a lot of vehicle for the money.
Values of the 986 have fallen about as low as they will likely go, with the fear of the IMS bearing failing being the largest reason for the price drop. Fortunately, this can be mitigated by changing the bearing to a redesigned stronger bearing. It also is worth mentioning that the early 986 cars featured a double bearing design with a lower rate of failure.
Much like the 996 (non-Turbo and non-GT), the IMS issue means the initial price of these Boxsters leaves some budget for modifications.
The early Boxster may be the perfect ride on a winding mountain road, but it is not the quickest vehicle in a straight line. That isn't to say it’s slow. The 0-60 mph time for the '97-'99 Boxster is quoted by Porsche as 6.7 seconds, but magazines of the time managed it in 6 seconds flat.
With such a low cost of entry, what would it take to build the ultimate road-going Porsche Boxster? To accomplish this we can look at the mold used by the Boxster Spyder.
The 987 generation Boxster Spyder used weight reduction to help sharpen the already good car and then added a small amount of power. The result of all the little changes was a car that is a pure driving machine. The later 981 Boxster Spyder added more power with a 911-sourced engine, but the general formula was the same.
In this vein, the ultimate 986 Boxster would have to start with weight reduction. Simply taking out the spare tire, jack, toolkit (except for the tow hook) and storage shelf behind the driver saves 35.4 pounds — yes, I recently weighed these parts from my own 1999 Porsche Boxster.
That's a pretty good start, but before taking out the spare tire and jack you need to be prepared to use roadside assistance or have a can of sealant ready. The problem with relying on roadside assistance is that on a longer trip or on a back road you may not have decent cellphone coverage. It is also a risk to use a tire sealant as it may not always be able to make the repair.
A good compromise is to keep the spare out when you are driving in areas with good mobile coverage and are able to use roadside assistance. On longer journeys, you can always put the spare right back in the car for the trip.
Simply taking out the spare tire, jack, toolkit (except for the tow hook) and storage shelf behind the driver saves 35.4 pounds. (Image: David Hurth)
Further weight reduction can be accomplished by changing to lighter seats. One popular option for the 986 is the 996 GT3 seat. These will save you about 50 pounds if you replace both the passenger and driver's seat.
The biggest issue is that the roughly $3,000 price per seat can possibly total more than the purchase price of an early Boxster. There are other lightweight seat options that cost much less, but no matter what seat you choose make sure they are FIA-approved seats to guarantee safety in the event of a crash. Buying from a well-known performance/racing seat maker, such Recaro or Sparco, helps to ensure you are purchasing a safer seat.
The next item to look at is the heavy battery that the Boxster uses. A good 20 pounds can be saved by purchasing a lightweight battery. One thing to keep in mind when buying a lightweight battery is the temperature at which the car will be started. Depending on the battery, lower temperatures may be an issue, and if you don't drive the car often you may need to keep a trickle charger on the battery to keep it charged while storing.
With these changes, about 100 pounds of weight could be shaved off the Boxster without sacrificing much of its daily drivability. Another 100 pounds could be saved with more severe reduction — removing things like the CD player, A/C unit, spoiler motor and convertible top.
Severe weight reduction
For the CD player, some remove just the player and the door speakers. They then put better speakers on the dash and then put a small AMP to power the speakers and then wire the system to use a mobile device as the player. This can save about 10 pounds, depending on the setup and whether you are removing a CD changer. The advantage is you still have the option for music through your phone.
The air conditioning system, including the air compressor will save about an additional 40 pounds, and it frees the engine a bit as it is one less accessory running on the serpentine belt. This change is one that would only be considered for a full-time track car or if you live in an environment like parts of the California coast, where it only gets up to 80 degrees on the warmest days.
The stock spoiler is raised at speed, but the motor adds about 7 pounds. The spoiler motor can be removed and either replaced with an aftermarket fixed spoiler, or simply raise the stock spoiler and then remove the motor.
The removal of the convertible top with the motor and assembly can save about 40 pounds. If it is removed, you can put on a lightweight top like the fiberglass or carbon fiber hardtops that have a similar design as the factory hardtop, but weigh much less than the factory hardtop's 74 pounds.
The removal of the convertible top with the motor and assembly can save about 40 pounds. (Image: Porsche Archives)
Another option is a Boxster Spyder conversion kit that saves most the weight of the convertible top. The biggest downside to the conversion is the high price of about $5,000 (about what you might buy an early 986 for) and the fact that the top is much harder to put on.
Another option is a Boxster Spyder conversion kit that saves most the weight of the convertible top. (Image: Porsche Archives)
If you did all of these weigh reduction steps you could have a car that weighs about 200 pounds less than stock. You also end up with a car that isn't very fun to drive daily with no A/C and no radio.
So, maybe you don't go full on weight reduction, but you do purchase lightweight seats (an FIA-approved seat for about $1,000 a seat with mounting hardware) and about $400 for a lightweight battery. You also remove the stereo system, but leave two speakers and replace the CD changer/AMP with a lightweight AMP, saving most the weight of the stereo system. While at it, you remove the spoiler motor and take out the spare tire, tools and storage behind the seats.
All of this puts the total weight loss at about 120 pounds.
The stock early 986 Boxster has a curb weight of 2,822 pounds for the manual models. After our weight reduction, we should be at a curb weight of about 2,700 pounds. Given that the early 986 Boxster makes 201 horsepower, this means that each horse would need to move 13.43 pounds versus 14.04 pounds for the stock car.
To put this into perspective, the 1999 Porsche 911 Carrera weighs about 3,100 pounds (depending on the options) and has 296 horsepower. This means that each horsepower is moving 10.47 pounds, and that car is capable of 0-60 mph in 5.1 seconds.
Tires, suspension and brakes
We now have a lean machine and have spent around $2,600 so far. But now we need to look at where the rubber meets the road. We're talking tires, suspension and brakes.
The tires make a huge difference in a car's performance, but when you ask folks which tire is the best choice, many have denominational differences. The Michelin Pilot Sport tires are a popular choice, and the Cup 2 version offers even better grip. The 986 is capable of mounting them on 996 GT3 wheels.
Another popular option for an ultrahigh-performance tire is the Toyo Proxes R888. If you want something that is a little less extreme, then Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 are a good option. For the budget-minded, the BFGoodrich g-Force Sport Comp-2 tires offer a lot of bang for the buck (although some have complained of the added road noise).
With tires, a lot of research should be done based on the type of driving you plan on doing. The right set of tires can make a huge performance difference, so plan on spending $1,000 to $2,000 on a set of four tires for the best performance tires you can get. Some good options like the g-Force Sport Comp-2 tires will cost considerably less (often under $800 for a set of four), but while they are good tires they don't offer quite the performance of some more expensive options.
So far (providing that you did most of the labor yourself), you would have spent about $4,000. Not too bad to make the Boxster a little bit better performing, but now we come to the part that can quickly get out of hand. Suspension and brake parts can quickly add up, and we haven't done anything to the engine quite yet.
For suspension changes, the 986 can use the 996 GT3 lower control arms, which will cost about $1,200 for a set of two. If you start with a Boxster with the M030 option, then you have a good setup already.
If you start with a car that doesn't have the option, then a popular setup is H&R Springs, Eibach Sway Bars and Bilstein Sport Struts. This setup will run you about $1,600 in parts and if you have a shop do it for you, then it would add about $1,000 (depending on the shop you use). You'll also want to get an alignment, which will add about $150 or so.
Now that we can take corners a bit faster, we want to make sure we can stop better. The lower weight will already help with braking, and changing to a big brake kit can further help with stopping, which includes more powerful brake calipers and drilled and/or slotted disc rotors.
On the low end, a new brake kit would cost $1,500, and it can cost up to about $3,000. (Image: Porsche Archives)
On the low end, the kit would cost $1,500, and it can cost up to about $3,000. The stock brakes are already pretty good, and you could decide to spend less with just drilled and/or slotted rotors and premium brake pad upgrades. Going this route lowers the cost to about $600, but depending on what upgrades you make to the power plant, you may want to go to a larger brake option.
We finally come to the power plant. Our early Boxster started out very good in the corners, and now it should be able to outcorner many more powerful cars. However, it still isn't the fastest in the straights.
There are two main street-legal options for the early 986 Boxster. The first is involves installing a higher-flow exhaust and intake combined with a DME remapping. This is claimed to add 20-30 horsepower, depending on what options you use (some of which depends on what is legal for emissions in your state).
That would raise the horsepower up to 231, which would mean each horse only need to push 11.68 pounds based on our estimated curb weight after weight reduction. That isn't all that far off of the 10.47 pounds that the 996 generation 911 Carrera pulls per horsepower.
If you go with this option, there are kits that will run you about $2,000 to $3,500 and include all you need for the exhaust, intake and software upgrade. It may cost about another $150 or so to have a muffler shop install the new exhaust.
Now the biggest gun is an engine upgrade. For early Boxsters, a 3.4-liter 996 engine is an option as well as a 3.2-liter power plant from a Boxster S. If you are going through all this, you would probably choose the 3.4-liter as it would offer 296 horsepower versus 250 horses for the 3.2-liter.
For early Boxsters, a 3.4-liter 996 engine (top) is an option as well as a 3.2-liter power plant from a Boxster S (bottom). (Image: Porsche Archives)
The cost of the 996 flat-six runs from about $4,000 to $10,000, but a 3.2-liter flat-six from a 986 Boxster S can be had from about $3,500 to $6,000. Expect to pay more for lower mileage and rebuilt/new engines (a rebuild is something that should be factored into the cost of any used engine).
Beyond the cost of the engine itself, a software update needs to be done to the DME and a higher-performance exhaust system (or a 996 exhaust system) would also need to be installed. This would add about another $2,500 to the price, depending on what parts you choose.
If you go for the 3.4-liter 996 engine when combined with the weight reduction, the engine only needs to pull 10.03 pounds per horsepower with is better than the roughly 10.47 pounds per horsepower that the stock early 996 offers. The Boxster should now be faster than an early 996 (although the 911 would still have a traction advantage) and keep up with many newer high-performance cars on the track.
Additional items that could further improve performance and reliability are the installation of a six-speed transmission from the Boxster S and the installation of a third radiator. The additional radiator is a good idea, especially if you will be doing any track driving.
With the third radiator, you would need a way to get air to the center radiator. You can purchase a Boxster S bumper cover or an aftermarket bumper cover, such as a GT3 styled unit. The stock Boxster bumper cover can be modified to add the middle air opening for relatively little money. A quick internet search will show all the steps to modify the bumper cover.
Also, to keep the balance just right after the weight reduction, you may want to go to a shop to have it corner balanced. Doing so will make a huge difference in how the newly setup car handles on the track or on winding roads.
So there you have it, the ultimate early 986 Boxster build can be yours for roughly $30,000, including the initial price of the 986. Creating a potent car with just a bit less power could be done for around $15,000, including the price of the starting car.
The Boxster is a stunning value, and with a few upgrades it can become an even more potent machine on both the track and a back road.
- Battery issues: Understanding your RV’s electrical systems
- Back to the future with Ford bioplastics
- Defying the Porsche owner stereotype
- The best Porsche that was never built
- Stemming the tide: Let’s save the manual transmission
- What the FAA’s rule change means for HEMS
- Wide Open: A documentary film about how PCA opened a member’s eyes to track driving
- How much does a $2,500 944 Turbo really cost?
- Digital natives are more likely, more eager to go back to the office
- Ready to take the leap to being vegan?
- Infographic: Move over, VR — XR sports are the future
- Travel recovery will occur when Gen Zers, millennials embark on business trips
- Are you happy with your online giving provider?
See your work in future editions
Your content, Your Expertise,
Your Industry Needs YOUR Expert Voice & We've got the platform you needFind Out How