PORSCHE BOXSTER 986

CANíT DROP-TOP BOXSTER INSTEAD AND YOU CERTAINLY WONíT FEEL SHORT-CHANGED. HEREíS HOW TO BUY A GOOD ONE

IN THE MARKET for a top-notch driverís car for under $40K? Happy to forgo a warranty and grab something thatís already done all its initial depreciating Ė and may even hold its value better than a new car? Be sure to include on your list the atmo flat-six 986 Porsche Boxster, a car still plentifully capable at thrilling those who love driving.

The chassis and steering are so good that the Boxster can seem underpowered, especially the 2.5-litre. It simply blooms when driven at the upper and outer edges of its performance envelope, making you laugh out loud. The noise from behind your ears makes you want to send the tachometerís needle into the upper ranges again and again, the flat-sixís wail coming on song around 5000rpm.

The car tackles country roads with aplomb, its nose responding to even the smallest inputs, the brakes very finely judged. A good Boxster drives like a Porsche should. And it feels solid, just like a Porsche should.

The 986 was also a multiple Performance Car of the Year winner, the Boxster claiming the 1998 gong, while the powered-up S version took home the 2000 and 2003 awards.

BOXSTER S VITAL CHECKS

BODY AND PAINTWORK Park on level ground, then start the exterior examination by checking for obvious signs of body damage or accident repairs. Measure the body panel gaps, particularly around the luggage compartment lids and the doors. If the gaps are even, chances are the body is straight. Major inconsistencies in gaps indicate a poor repair job.

Grab a torch and peer through the front spoiler to assess the condition of the front-mounted radiators. The excellent aerodynamic design of the Boxster is fantastic at drawing cooling air through the radiators, but it also acts as an enormous vacuum cleaner, sucking up anything it can from the road surface. Make sure the radiators are clear of debris, as organic materials will decay and cause corrosion issues.

MECHANICALS Check the brake discs (rotors), calipers and pads. Pad friction material must be greater than 2mm, and the discs must be free from damage or surface rust. Look for evidence of fluid leakage over any components in the wheel wells, including at the rear of each wheel.

03 REASONS TO BUY

1. NAILS THE BASICS

It's a mid-engine, atmo Porsche flat-six with no roof. That's always a recipe for success

2. POWER

Pressure from customers upped the capacity (and power levels), culminating in the 3.2-litre S

3. AFFORDABLE

High production numbers means these are destined to be affordable classics

THE FLAT-SIXíS WAIL REALLY COMES ON SONG AROUND 5000RPM

IN SPECS: PORSCHE 986 BOXSTER S

BODY 2-door, 2-seat convertible

DRIVETRAIN mid-engine, rear-drive

ENGINE 3179cc flat-6, DOHC, 24v

POWER 191kW @ 6200rpm

TORQUE 310Nm @ 4600rpm

TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual

USED RANGE $13,000-$45,000 (including S)

03 OPTIONS YOU MAY CONSIDER

BMW

IF YOUíRE after naturally aspirated six-cylinder acoustics, then a fellow German could be the answer. The 195kW/315Nm 3.0-litre six (E85) was offered with manual or auto and propelled the Z4 to 100km/h in around 5.7sec. An ideal alternative.

MAZDA MX-5

YOU SHOULDNíT overlook any of the generations if you want drop-top fun. The Oz-developed turbo SP (only 100 made) can be had for the price of a 2.7- litre Boxster, while the turbo 1.8-litre four in the SE is another alternative to the atmo MX-5 staples

AUDI TT CABRIOLET

SOME call it a hairdresserís car, but some TTs offer decent topless thrills. The TTS, with its boosted four and all-wheel drive, is a sweet spot (S tronic and manual). The 250kW five-pot TTRS, with its epic soundtrack, is reason to stretch the budget

Remove the battery cover in the centre of the front luggage section and inspect the battery for condition, evidence of acid spill and corrosion. Examine the compartmentís panelled areas for moisture damage and staining.

Itís possible to carry out a basic inspection of the top of the engine. Look for obvious signs of oil, coolant and power steering fluid leakage. Access to the engineís drive belt is via a separate panel, located inside the rear section of the cabin.

A known Boxster issue is failure of the engineís rear main seal Ė a giveaway sign being when oil begins weeping from it. Owners usually keep an eye on the oil level and get a new RMS fitted when the car is having a clutch change or service, but if youíre viewing a car with a weeping seal, factor this into your thinking when haggling on price.

Itís also possible to check the level and colour of both oil and coolant. If the proper coolant/anti-freeze mixture hasnít been maintained, the coolant will be a muddy brown colour Ė contaminated coolant in itself is a reason to walk away.

The intermediate shaft (IMS) bearing, which supports the intermediate shaft on the flywheel end of the engine is a big problem. This was originally designed to be a dry operation, but over time oil and contaminants from the engine can flow down the bearing seal, wash away the original lubrication and become stuck inside. The bearing can then start to wear quicker. When it wears out, the timing chains can come loose and the engine will soon become an ex-engine.

The centre bolt that holds it all together can also be problematic. If the bolt breaks, the IMS will float, the engine will go out of time and blow up. A breaking IMS bearing will also weaken and break the centre stud. The stud has a groove to allow for a sealing O-ring to seal to the outer cover. The groove causes a stress concentration to happen, which makes stud failure much more likely. It's best to remove the bearing and replace the stud with a newer, stronger and grooveless one.

If there's a rattling that goes away 10 seconds after startup or under acceleration, this is a sign that the chains or the bearing are rattling around in the engine. To detect an earlystage problem, if you hear something akin to water pump/belt idler pulley failure, get the car in the air and isolate the sound with a stethoscope. You can also check the oil filter for the presence of metal fragments from ball bearings, or black plastic from the seal bearing. Alternatively, use diagnostic tools to see if the cam timing is out.

INTERIOR Inspect all interior fittings and assemblies, including assessing the condition of both seats, ensuring none of the trim is cracked, torn, faded or missing. Check all electric seat functions are working correctly, especially seat heating (if installed). A cracked dashboard is extremely expensive to repair. Run the electric windows up and down, firstly to ensure they work as intended, but also to see if thereís any moisture trapped in the door.

Operate the power roof to make sure it works correctly, then examine the fabric closely, as itís very expensive to replace. Check sealing, water drains and the condition of the rear window, plus condition and alignment of the frame with the roof open and closed. If the optional hardtop is included in the sale, check for matching colour and condition, while making sure all fittings are present and in good order.

All 986 Boxsters are fitted with a collapsible spare tyre assembly installed in the front luggage compartment. Remove its cover and inspect, as well as ensuring the air compressor and associated accessories are present.

Happy Boxster buying.