RECESSION BEATING PORSCHES - JZ Machtech

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RECESSION BEATING PORSCHES - JZ Machtech

May 2011 www.911porscheworld.com

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Cheap thrills?

Porsche 996s at sub £15k? Boxsters as low as £5k.

Buyers have never had it so good, so where’s the

catch? We hit the road with a £20k Porsche duo

Words: Adam Towler

Photography: Antony Fraser

When you stop to really think about it, it’s

not actually surprising that early 986

Boxsters and 996 Carreras have had

mixed fortunes of late. Virtually every

car ever made – even including

luminaries such as the McLaren F1 – suffer a similar

glide path of sorts, where residual values and

perceived worth plummet with advancing years. It’s

just that some fall further than others, and some don’t

always recover at all.

The 2.5-litre Boxster is the perfect case in point. When

new, the clamour for them was at fever pitch, with

fanatical would-be owners paying over list price to get

into a car, and even left-hand drive examples making it to

the UK (always a sign of untameable demand). The car

was a complete sensation, lauded in the motoring press.

Here, at last, was a mid-engined Porsche, with a semiaffordable

price tag, that promised spectacular driving

thrills and open-air motoring. But years pass and

attitudes change, and these days they’re very much at

the entry point of the Porsche market, and often

42 911 & PORSCHE WORLD

dismissed as an initial attempt that was soon improved

upon. Their relatively low standing is reflected in their

crumbling values.

For the purposes of this test we have a 1997 Boxster

2.5 and a 1998 996 Carrera 3.4, both provided by Porsche

specialist dealer Finlay Gorham out in the Suffolk

countryside.

Our Boxster has just under 80,000 miles on the clock

and is up for the stunning price of £5,995. I’m desperate

to drive it, not least because out of all the myriad

different 986 and 987 models over the 14 years since

the car was launched, the 2.5-litre model is the only

version that I haven’t had a steer in. Other than to satisfy

my own curiosity, I’m hoping this might be vaguely

instructive on the basis of someone coming fresh to the

car with only the accumulated baggage garnered from

14 years of prejudice. In fact, perhaps that’s one point we

should deal with straight away: the Boxster’s image.

Any Boxster, but particularly the 2.5, labours under the

weight of the ‘it’s not a 911’ tag touted around by various

celebrity journalists and regurgitated en masse by


sections of the public. ‘Hairdressers’ car’ is another one.

Personally, I have no time for such misinformed

nonsense, but such jibes don’t help the 2.5’s cause, and

they also have a reputation these days for being, well,

not exactly ‘fast’.

Climbing aboard our Boxster today is a pleasant

surprise. The aftermarket radio/CD in the dashboard

lowers the tone a bit, but the tan leather wears better

than the pale grey alternative often found during this

era, and the slim wheel and low driving position

immediately feels ‘just so’.

In many ways, the 2.5 feels like 70% of the car the

current Boxster is, whether you’re equating it to

performance, sound, grip, solidity or quality – and that’s

meant as a compliment considering the monetary values

involved. The engine fires in a familiar pattern, and

moving around at low revs brings with it that same old

whine and whirr from the engine just over your shoulder.

They’re right: it isn’t that fast, but neither is this a

problem or a dampener to enjoyment in my view.

With five fairly broadly spread ratios and a small

capacity ‘six’, it’s no surprise that the meat of the

Boxster’s performance arrives with revs and that their

extended use is vital to keep within the power band. The

BARGAIN 996 V BOXSTER

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION

PORSCHE 996 C2

ENGINE: 3.4-litre flat-six

POWER: 300bhp @ 6800rpm

TORQUE: 258lbs/ft @ 4600rpm

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual gearbox

TOP SPEED: 174mph

0–62MPH: 5.2s

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATION

PORSCHE BOXSTER

ENGINE: 2.5-litre flat-six

POWER: 204bhp @ 6000rpm

TORQUE: 181lbs/ft @ 4500rpm

TRANSMISSION: 5-speed manual

TOP SPEED: 149mph

0–62MPH: 6.9s

engine comes alive over 5,000rpm, whereupon it finally

finds its voice, delivering a nice surge of power up to the

fairly humble 6,500rpm redline and accompanied by a

tight howl. It’s fun to work the engine thus, because even

with 80K on the clock it’s as smooth as the OPC

salesman’s patter that originally sold it, and as we’ve

written a lot recently, there’s an awful lot to be said for a

911 & PORSCHE WORLD 43


It’s a first generation

Boxster, now 14 years old

and costing just £5995.

That’s a lot of car for not a

lot of money and it wears

its years well. Let’s face it,

most 14-year-old cars

these days have been

thrown on the scrapheap

A proper 911 with proper

history at a proper Porsche

specialist dealer, and with a

sub £15k price tag.

Tempting isn’t it?

Remember, when it was

launched the 996 made the

993 seem old fashioned

and it was lauded as a new

911 dawn

44 911 & PORSCHE WORLD

car that you can drive hard without the fear of being so

far over the speed limit. The latest 997 Turbo being a

perfect example of the opposite phenomenon…

Yes, there are a number of creaks and rattles, but

nothing major and they are to be expected on an open

car of this age. Where the Boxster really triumphs is with

the hood lowered – electrically remember, although you

need to do the ‘Boxster chop’ to flatten the plastic rear

window on these early cars if you’re to avoid damaging it

over time – because suddenly whatever performance it

has ceases to matter and you simply enjoy driving at one

with the elements.

Once you start to drive the car extensively, it becomes

apparent that while it’s clearly a member of the Boxster

family, there is a subtle difference to the way it goes

down a road. Chiefly, I think this stems from the relative

lightness of an early car – it has a flighty playfulness

that has been replaced with an altogether more

aggressive determination, particularly in 987 models. The

steering especially, is a great combination of weighting

and feel, and like any mid-engined Porsche, the benefits

of that compact flat six mounted low and centrally

within the wheelbase are obvious from the very first

corner you tackle.

As Editor Bennett and I keep reminding ourselves

during the day, the Boxster has ruled this class of car

“ To rule out the Boxster on sheer snobbery is to

miss one of the great sportscars ”

since its launch: no one – not BMW, Mercedes or anyone

else – has managed to create a mainstream open sports

car that can satisfy the most enthusiastic of drivers, yet

still fulfil a daily driver role with complete comfort. To rule

out the Boxster on sheer snobbery is to miss one of the

great sports cars.

On then to the 996, and a car that has really been on a

rollercoaster in recent years. Like the Boxster, let’s not

forget just how successful this car was during the prime

of its career. It was Evo magazine’s car of the year, and


the recipient of too many magazine awards to list.

Somehow, and with limited funds, Porsche managed to

completely remodel the 911, decanting its ethos and

projecting it onto a thoroughly modern canvas. Refined,

efficient, usable: a safe, truly modern take on the

original, it looked nothing like the 993 it replaced and yet

was completely and utterly ‘a 911’. It sounded similar,

went even faster, and still drove with the old magic, just

in a much more accessible way.

After the early Boxster, the 996 instantly feels

altogether more serious. This early 3.4-litre car is in good

condition and with only 67,000 miles on the clock gives

the impression that there’s plenty more miles to enjoy

from it. The black leather interior, like the Boxster’s tan

trimmings, has worn much better than the pale grey

examples you see, although parts of the plastic trim

have aged noticeably. It’s just the little things, but it’s

pretty obvious where the money was saved in here

compared to the old air-cooled cars.

Nevertheless, I really like sitting in a 996: to me it

manages to feel narrower and somehow cosier than a

997, despite its flaws and the sizeable quality gap. The

driving position still works well, even though there’s less

adjustment than the current cars, and the slender

steering wheel and simple instrumentation encourage

you to focus on your driving.

In some ways, the 3.4 is a bit of a slow burner. Its clean

shape suits its well-rounded performance. There’s

nothing that jars or really stands out about this car: it’s

all good news, and very polished in the way it goes about

things. Perhaps that’s why some people think it’s a bit

anaesthetised, even slightly soulless compared to the

earlier or later cars, but that seems a bit unfair on a car

that is still so capable. And, it becomes obvious, still

really quick. It’s lighter and a fair bit more powerful than a

993, and it shows. The more simple hydraulic power

steering, in particular, has a nicely organic feel that for

me surpasses that of the current 997. The more you

drive this car, the more connected to it you feel. It really

is as good as everyone said it was back in the day.

So we’ve driven the cars, and they are, I have to say,

surprisingly fabulous. In fact, considering their asking

prices, surely our conclusion has to be that you should, if

at all possible, go out and buy one, post haste. Well, you

might have noticed that our ‘driving’ section of this

feature doesn’t use up all of the word count and that’s

because it’s now time to get real.

‘You get what you pay for’, as the saying goes, and the

reality is that buying either of these water-cooled heroes

from Porsche’s reinvention period is potentially fraught

with the kind of pitfalls that could make a grown man (or

a female Porsche pilot, of course) weep. If there’s one

key message from this feature, it’s that you shouldn’t go

into the ownership of these cars lightly. Homework is the

key.

Homework was never my strongest attribute at school,

but here at 911 & Porsche World we’ve tried to gather an

overall picture of the realities surrounding these cars,

and that’s no easy matter when internet hearsay mixes

so freely with nervous consumers busting their budget

to buy what is often their first step on the Porsche

owning ladder.

The two really, really big things you don’t want to do

with one of these cars are a) crash it and b) blow the

BARGAIN 996 V BOXSTER

This is what it’s all about!

Forget the sub 911 and

‘hairdresser’ jibes – open

top motoring is one of life’s

great pleasures and turns

every journey into an event

911 & PORSCHE WORLD

45


Modern generation Porsche

interiors can suffer and

seem a little fragile.

Colours can be somewhat

dubious too! Both cars

tested here had interiors

that were in fine fettle.

Note near identical dash

and fittings, all part of

Porsche’s modern era

parts sharing. It keeps

costs down

996 C2 drives like only a

911 can. This early car with

its passive suspension

feels light and agile and

still properly fast. It works

with the road rather than

against it

46 911 & PORSCHE WORLD

engine. Point ‘a’ might seem an obvious one, and of

course it applies to any car, but we’ve heard plenty of

stories of 2.5-litre Boxsters being written off for what

were relatively minor incursions with static and

immovable pieces of landscape furniture. When you

damage a wheel and some suspension components on a

six grand Boxster, and the insurance company uses

official Porsche parts prices in its repair quote, it’s

probably game over.

Point ‘b’ is rather more complex, and requires the brain

very much ‘in-gear’. The good news before we start with

that, is that this really is the one area where you need to

focus your attention: beyond that, and bar the normal

second-hand car issues and a few characteristic

weaknesses that can prove tedious and occasionally

costly to sort, these are hardy and surprisingly affordable

cars to run. Yes, radiators and air conditioning

condensers are common failures, but other than

components wearing out there shouldn’t be too many

major issues. As Joff Ward of Finlay Gorham explains,

they’re even fairly easy to work on, once you know your

way around them.

But anyway: to ‘that’ engine. The M96 water cooled

flat six lay at the heart of Porsche’s survival plans during

the mid part of the 1990s. Under fallen superstar

Wendelin Wiedeking, the key to the recovery plan lay in

the sharing of main components between different

model lines, and the efficient manufacture of those

products. Leaving behind the old air-cooled flat six meant

losing over 30 years of in-built reliability and experience,

but there was no choice if the new cars were to satisfy

noise and emissions targets the world over. And without

wishing to state the obvious, the motor in GT3s and

Turbos during the same period is completely different


and what we’re talking about here doesn’t apply to those

models.

As Barry Hart, proprietor of Porsche engineering firm

Hartech (that specialises in these engines) says: “The

engine has a few very good ideas (technically); some

modern ways of doing things that are not quite as good

as the ‘old ways’ but are very cost effective; and it also

has a few areas of design that in my view are below par,

creating weak spots. There are also some issues that

suggest there has been a life or mileage limit placed on

the design, after which it is often uneconomic to

rebuild/repair and fit only for scrap”.

So, like everything with these cars, it’s no good

applying an ‘original 911’ mindset to these engines. These

were mass-produced vehicles, with all the benefits that

brought, but with a more finite lifespan – so that you

might go and buy another one and keep the company

profitable, unlike in the past.

Perhaps the most infamous, and serious, issue

associated with these engines is the weakness of the

cylinder liners. The M96 engine used a ‘Lokasil’ cylinder

liner that in many cases simply has not proved strong

enough: on these early cars it has been known to crack,

with predictably dramatic results. Oxfordshire-based

specialists Autofarm think that much of the problem is

to do with the lack of rigidity in the block. Talk to Hartech

and they’ll say that these engines are susceptible to the

bores – again through lack of strength – moving to an

oval shape over time, again with cracking and

fundamental damage the result. Seizures, and piston

scoring (especially on later cars it has to be said) are also

issues in this area. Both companies offer rebuilds with

their own solutions to these problems: Autofarm have

their Silsleeve conversion that involves machining out the

liners and replacing with more traditional – and harder –

Nikasil coated liners (Autofarm can also offer a capacity

increase to up to 3.9-litres at the same time. Worth

thinking about), while Hartech also replace liners if

required and clamp the remaining liners in place to stop

them shifting in shape. Seeing as there’s nothing to stop

a standard replacement engine from Porsche suffering

an identical failure to the one that took the car off the

road in the first place – many a 996 has gone through

more than one replacement engine – then these

alternatives are well worth investigating.

The Rear Main Oil Seal (RMS) is another long-standing

issue with these engines. In fact, it’s probably fair to say

that it is responsible for much of the scaremongering

with these units, as Paul Stacey of Ray Northway

Porsche concurs: “Main dealers make oil seal problems

out to be worse than they really are”. There are real

engineering reasons why these engines tend to leak oil,

as Hartech will tell you, but the fact remains that many a

996 engine was swapped under warranty by an OPC

when a small oil leak was doing little more harm than

creating an unsightly droplet on someone’s garage floor.

The much talked about Intermediate Main Shaft (IMS)

failure is rather more serious. This chain drive system

reduces the camshaft speed, and the problem lies in the

ball bearing that creates debris with wear when the

“ These were mass-produced vehicles, with all the

benefits, but with a more finite lifespan ”

grease disappears. This debris is then travelled around

your engine with usually terminal results. Both Autofarm

and Hartech offer an upgrade for this component, which

can be a failure on anything from a 986 Boxster to a Gen

1 997 Carrera S. However, the fact that there are

engineering solutions out there is heartening, and even

those firms that don’t currently offer their own products,

such as Northway or Parr, sound as if they have one eye

on what is and isn’t currently working out there. The will,

as they say, seems to be there, and it’s an area that we

hope only grows with time.

Cracked cylinder heads (especially on these early cars)

and faulty oil separators complete the list of woes. The

main problem when putting these things right, at the

moment at least, is the sheer cost of the components

and the labour required to strip the engine down and put

it back together. For early Boxsters, that often means

the end is nigh, as the cost of the rebuild can exceed the

value of the car, a point echoed by Paul Robe of Parr: “We

will see the cars disappearing off the road, like the 924

BARGAIN 911 V BOXSTER

Check it out! That’s a

proper, fully electric

retractable roof. You won’t

find one of those on your

bargain MX-5. Make sure

it’s in good nick, though

911 & PORSCHE WORLD

47


Mmm, they look rather

tempting don’t they? With a

bit of negotiation you could

probably buy both these

cars for under £20,000. Do

your homework, check the

history and be realistic

about running costs. Above

all, though, enjoy

CONTACT:

Finlay Gorham

www.finlaygorham.com

Many thanks to Joff Ward at

Finlay Gorham for supplying the

two cars tested in this feature.

Unsurprisingly the Boxster had

already been sold, but the 996

is still available at the time of

writing for £14,995.

Hartech

www.hartech.org

Hartech have studied the M96

engine in some detail and have

a number of fixes for its various

woes, including replacement

cylinder liners. Prices start at

£2200 and rebuilds carry a 2

year/24,000 mile warranty.

Autofarm

www.autofarm.co.uk

Autofarm were the first UK

company to offer a fix for the

M96 engine with its Silsleeve

conversion to replace cracked

cylinder liners. They have fixes

for all the main issues now and

also supply bigger capacity

M96 engines up to 3.9 litres.

Prices start at £2350 for a

replacement Silsleeve block

with piston rings.

48 911 & PORSCHE WORLD

and 944 before it”, adding hopefully, “if we can catch

them early enough, we might be able to save some”.

How bad are these problems? We can’t tell you

because probably even Porsche doesn’t know the full

extent of them, although there’s the suspicion that

despite upgrading the engines over time, it could have

done more to reduce the failure rate as the years went

by. In truth, we are probably still talking a fairly small

percentage of cars affected, but that’s still a significant

number. Then again, there are 996s out there with very

high mileage running around without any problems…

Finally, the market itself is in some ways adding to the

uncertainty. Joff Ward reckons that as much as 60% of

the customers he sees for a ‘cheap’ Boxster are nonenthusiast

buyers. “They tend to be ‘aspirational’

purchases, and you’re dealing with entry-level budgets”.

He sees his role as partly an educational one, guiding his

clients through the technical maze to hopefully unite

them with the right car, but concedes that problems

often centre on the unrealistic expectations of these

uninformed customers expecting their Porsche to be in

the condition it was in when it left the factory.

The biggest problem seems to arise when buyers

expect their Mazda MX-5 priced Porsche to run on a

Mazda MX-5 servicing budget. This is the biggest mistake

anyone thinking of taking on one of these cars can make;

as Ward says, “they are cheap to buy for a reason”, and

as we’ve seen, when something does go badly wrong it

will cost far more to put right than on that little fourcylinder

Japanese sports car.

Interestingly, he’s adamant that most of the engine

issues can usually be explained with a bit of

investigation, citing low oil levels and too many revs and

“ Buyers expect their Mazda MX-5 priced Porsche

to run on a Mazda MX-5 servicing budget ”

throttle too soon from cold as the usual culprits. The

latter, in particular, is a common theme amongst the

specialists we spoke to. All-aluminium engines need to

be warmed up and cooled down sensitively, so the best

tip for looking after your purchase is to treat it with care

until the oil temperature is up (hard to do when there’s

no gauge!).

So: two great cars, both the toast of their generation,

now available at the sort of money in reach of us mere

mortals. Go into it with your eyes open, research the

topic, and – fingers crossed – enjoy the results. PW

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