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So years ago I had a 2.5L 986 and loved it. It was my first Porsche. I bought it with 25k miles and sold it years later at 90k, so I had plenty of seat time in it. I ultimately sold it seeking a higher power car and found a highly optioned but highly used 993. I’ve had that for now 5 years, and it has proved to be a much larger money pit than I expected. If you thought parts of Boxsters were expensive...

Anyhow, I’m selling the 993 and looking to get back into a 986 (this time an “S”). I love the classic/timeless look of the 986, so I’m keeping my focus on the 986 line. I’ve got about $20k to work with here too. After some searching I’ve come up two intriguing options:

1) A local, pristine 2004 550 SE with grey/black interior (my preference over cocoa). Low miles, needs nothing. Sweet example of the factory’s apex of the 986 design.

2) A cross country earlier gen Boxster S (silver over red, my favorite combo) with a 997.1 3.8 x51 motor transplanted into it, done right. $40k spent on the transplant. Fully documented, including 10 years of passing CA SMOG (which I’d have to do). +60 hp minimum at the wheels could be more with additional intake/exhaust/tuning work.

Pros of 1): height of factory 986 design, highly optioned, likely to hold value/appreciate (if 986s ever do), unique color combo
Cons of 1): not much room to tinker/modify/customize, likely more afraid to use it as it’s a collectors model, late gen 986s are more prone to IMS failure

Pros of 2): engine rated up to 370 hp in 997 chassis by factory, no hesitations about using the car or further modifying it to taste, my fav color combo, IMS is less prone to fail than 986.2 (but still a risk)
Cons of 2): cross county, likely will be hard to sell, probably won’t hold its value like the SE550 would, upkeep will be more complex with a hybrid of 986 and 9X7 components

Both examples are similarly priced, with similar mileage and similar condition.

So stock collectors car or modified unicorn? Either way I plan to drive the car (canyon carving and road trips), attend PCA events, and show the car (wash and shine, no concourses).

If I were in the market for another Boxster that 1st one, the 550 SE, would be my choice.

If the 2nd one had a 996 engine from a similar MY 996 installed that might not be too bad, but with the 997 3.8l X51 engine.... It is a Frankenstein and if there's ever any issue there's always going to be the question about is the problem due to something with the swap raising its head.
... but the highest IMS failure rate of any Porsche model is the 2004 SE 550.
If you decide on that one, make sure you get the issue fixed with the Direct Oil Feed and a new IMS bearing.
Good luck,
Happy Boxstering,

Pedro Bonilla
1998 Boxster 986 - 311,000+ miles: [www.PedrosGarage.com]
PCA National Club Racing Scrutineer - PCA National HPDE Instructor - PCA Technical Committee (Boxster/Cayman)

Racecar spelled backwards is Racecar

"Racing is life. Anything before or after is just waiting" ... Steve McQueen as Michael Delaney in "LeMans"

"If you wait, all that happens is that you get older"... Mario Andretti

"Being second is to be the first of the ones who lose" ... Ayrton Senna
I had an 02 S that the IMS took out the engine. Lucky under warranty, but I brought an '09 simply for the fact that the IMS was designed out of the engine. It was always in the back of my mind whenever I drove the car. My engine went while on a road trip. Luckily, it waited until I pulled into the hotel at 1:00 a.m., in Cleveland. If it went an hour earlier, I would have been in rural OH in late October, maybe without cell service but definitely without an engine to run to keep me warm. I know somebody who just brought a 996. We discussed the IMS issue, he knew about it. His car had it replaced with a pump to provide oil directly to the new bearing. If you are interested, look for the Wheeler Dealer episode from 2019 on the 996. That was the car he brought. If the IMS issues is of interest to anybody, I'd suggest watching. They didn't name the company that provided the fix, but they showed how it was done. To me, that was worth watching just to see that part of it.
"A mile of highway will take you one mile. A mile of runway will take you anywhere."

"A mile of highway will take you one mile. A mile of runway will take you anywhere."
Not scared at all, just well informed. I absolutely intend to slap in a fix for the IMS first thing. The 550 that I’m looking at has under 2k miles per year of use which is a blessing and a curse. Still nice and newish for me to enjoy, but not yet driven enough to rule out the likelihood of IMS failure.

If I went the 550 route, what performance modifications, if any, would you recommend Pedro? Seems like there still is room for improvement on intake/exhaust/tuning, but probably not that many HP.
There are plenty of issues with the 986 other than the IMS. I suggest you look at the possibility of a 987.2 (2009 or later) and at least do a risk assessment. When I looked at this topic a few years ago, I was surprised that the 987.2 cars were not that much more expensive, all things considered. My guess is that the poor reliability of the 986 contributed to the price decline of that model and few buyers realized that the 987.2 was a completely new engine design, and therefore the 987.2 represents a bargain.
Like what? I know the common issues are IMS (at least seen as common issue), aging coolant tank, water pumps needing periodic replacement, window regulators, AOS eventually might fail...

I used to have a '99 986 and put 70k miles on it at least. I am pretty familiar with these cars.

I agree Porsche definitely improved things by the time the 987.2 rolled around. My dream car is a 987.2 Spyder, but it doesn't fit my budget or needs at the moment. Someday...
Since the 986 was the first model year "97), there were some growing pains, like porous engine blocks, which was addressed by model year '98. Rear Main Seal (RMS) some were bad material, others were ill-fitting parts that no seal can fix or stop from leaking. Think their CV boots tended to tear a bit more than other models (could be just heard about them more on this site, but I did have to replace two on my 2002 and my cars tend to be low mileage--6,000 miles per year). Definitely want to have them checked in the pre-purchase inspection for CV boots and any signs of leaking RMS.

The gas caps "leaked" which can cause check engine light as the system needs to be a vacuum. Some even had issues with slow filling gas tanks. By 2004, the 986 was pretty long in the tooth, so I'd imagine many of these issues may have been worked out by then. The IMS was an engineering and design item that took longer to deal with. With your target having been driven only 2,000 miles per year, definitely check as many of the rubber seals as possible and any signs of leaking gaskets. Cars are mechanical and are meant to be used.
Well it looks like I’m probably going with Option 3 instead.

Option 3) 2003 Boxster S w/ 39k miles. Special wishes order with factory delivery. Extremely well specified with sport seats, suspension, and exhaust. Full leather interior in a custom color and deviated black carpets. Pics to come once the deal is finalized.
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