[Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the May 2021 issue of Grassroots Motorsports.]
Porsches. They’re pretty popular. Have been for decades. And they’ve racked up track records around the world.
Many of us have admired the brand since we were young. “Having grown up with Porsches in my favorite movies and hanging on my bedroom wall, they have always been special to me,” admits Vu Nguyen, executive director of the Porsche Club of America. “Through the years, I came to appreciate Porsche’s engineering philosophy, especially after my first on-track event with PCA in my ’87 911.
“But if you ask me today what’s so special about owning a Porsche, it’s the people you meet and the enthusiasm around it that is like no other. It also doesn’t hurt that Porsche is still churning out sports cars that continue to be the standard in the industry.”
Of course, these cars can also require some special care–you know, stuff like not exposing them to sunlight, getting them wet or feeding them after midnight.
So, how does one wade into the Porsche experience without winding up with a gremlin in the garage? Start with the right car.
We’re talking about models that are rewarding to drive yet relatively easy to find and own. Our five recommendations cover a range of budgets and tastes: the G-series 911, 944, 997-series 911, original Boxster and first series of Caymans.
No matter the model, though, all Porsches benefit from strong support–strong parts support, strong club support and strong shop support. Need a widget, advice or a local wrench? You’ll find it.
Porsche Boxster | 1997-2004 • 986 chassis
The Boxster was created to fill a specific niche: an open, relatively inexpensive Porsche aimed at the enthusiast. Call it an alternative to the 911.
This model represented a huge success for the brand–its top seller from its debut for the 1997 model year through the 2003 release of the Cayenne SUV. The Boxster looked great, delivered terrific performance, and didn’t ask for too many sacrifices in return. It offered plenty of cargo space and, with the top up, a quiet, comfortable interior.
Today, all of that still holds true.
But there’s a catch: Prices on the first-generation cars have bottomed out. “They’re not going to be going any lower,” says Charles L. Navarro of LN Engineering, a firm long involved with Porsche engines.
“I have a ’99 Boxster,” Navarro continues. “I don’t think I have come across anything I haven’t been able to purchase for it.”
Plus, the car has proved reliable: “It has over 100,000 miles on it. It’s been tracked. I haven’t had a single thing break. A Boxster is something I would feel comfortable with even my parents buying.”
But what about an issue that quickly comes up in discussions about these early Boxsters: the intermediate shaft bearing? Where the one found in the earlier, air-cooled Porsche engines receives a constant supply of engine oil, the IMS bearing found in these first-generation Boxsters is “sealed for life.”
However, that bearing’s life isn’t always infinite. And when it fails, the debris can take the rest of the engine with it.
Fortunately, solutions exist. The first is a higher-quality replacement IMS bearing from a company like LN Engineering–plan to replace it every six years or so. Or there’s LN Engineering’s popular IMS Solution, which basically backdates the Boxster engine to an oil-fed bearing. This setup doesn’t need any routine maintenance.
The other big question: standard Boxster or the more powerful Boxster S? The regular car came first, offering 201 horsepower from its 2.5-liter engine; for 2000, Porsche increased displacement to 2.7 liters.
The other big news for 2000 was the release of the Boxster S: Its 3.2-liter engine offered 250 horsepower, while the package also added bigger brakes, more engine cooling and a six-speed transmission.
Boxster Expert Tips
Charles L. Navarro
- Most of the cars you find for sale have had an IMS Retrofit or IMS Solution done. We do maintain a database for installations (imsretrofit.com/ims-check), but only a very small percentage of people actually register their IMS Retrofit and IMS Solution installations.
- We also supply a serial number sticker that should be on the car to identify that the car has had the IMS bearing replaced.
- Some people think that if the car reaches a certain mileage, that it’s not going to fail–and that’s not true. The IMS bearing is a wear item. The most important thing to reiterate is that the IMS issue is easily resolved by replacing the IMS bearing and that it is a regular service item, with the exception of the IMS Solution that backdates the engine to an oil-fed, plain IMS bearing like in a Porsche Mezger engine.
- The biggest issue with later Porsches, currently, is bore scoring. But with early Boxsters, you don’t have to worry about it at all–as long as you have done the IMS, put a new water pump on it, and checked for any vacuum leaks.
- There’s lots of plastic tubing on the engine, and those get really brittle. If someone goes to work on the engine and goes to change the starter, an alternator, and they bump the plastic tubing, it will end up cracking and causing a vacuum leak.
- These cars are good at adjusting the fuel trims without throwing a check-engine light, so it will slowly wash down the cylinder bores and cause accelerated wear. So we’re advising that people smoke-test the engine.
- And the last, really big issue that we’ve been seeing is injectors going bad. The injectors will have poor fuel spray, but the worst problem is that the injectors will leak. It will dribble fuel into the bore, and you’ll have a big puddle of fuel, and that will wipe out the cylinder bores and you’ll have a lot of wear. Check the fuel trim data.
- The good thing is that injectors are relatively cheap. The biggest issue that you have is counterfeits, so you have to buy them from a reputable source.
- They’re very reliable cars once you take care of the preventative maintenance. You’re better off buying the best car you can afford and setting aside the 5000 or 6000 dollars. Then the car should be good for another five, six years.
- For me, if the interior is trashed, that would disqualify it. They made so many of these cars.
- If you have a pre-purchase inspection done, that’s probably a good idea–as with any Porsche.
- Cars that don’t get driven and have sat a long time aren’t the best cars to purchase.
- If you don’t put on crazy tires, you can put a deep oil sump on the car and you can track it.
- You don’t have to put on a big-brake kit.
- There was an M030 suspension package offered, and I’d put on that.
- The knobs on the radio turn into gummy bears.
- Porsche put foam insulation in the air ducts and it starts degrading.
Porsche 911 | 1974-’89 • G-Series
The original, air-cooled Porsche 911 remains an icon nearly 60 years after its introduction. Steve McQueen drove one on the streets, and many motorsports legends piloted one on track.
It’s the machine that so many want, and the market has responded with brutal honesty: You want a good, early car? Fine, just budget six figures.
But what about the rest of us who crave the scent of oil wafting through the cockpit? Look later–specifically at the 1974-’89 cars collectively known as the G-series. Prices will vary depending on year, condition, body style and even color, but figure we’re talking new-minivan money.
The darlings of that group have been the 1978-’83 911 SC and 1984-’89 911 Carrera models. These are the ones that introduced the aluminum engine case and perfect amount of fender flare to the standard 911 model line. A full convertible joined the coupe and Targa models in 1983.
The biggest difference between the two models centers around the engine. The SC received a 3.0-liter engine fed by Bosch CIS injection, while Porsche gave the Carrera a 3.2 paired with the more advanced Bosch Motronic injection. In round numbers, figure about 172 to 180 horsepower for an SC and 200 to 214 for a Carrera.
“Don’t overlook the 1974-’77 cars,” adds Per Schroeder, marketing manager at Stoddard, a longtime Porsche parts house. “They typically have lagged behind the earlier and later cars in price because of issues with the 2.7-liter and prehistoric early smog controls.
“By now, the head and case stud issues have typically been fixed and the cars are all old enough to be de-smogged legally. These early G-body cars have the narrow flanks of the long-hoods while also having more effective 5 mph bumpers, making them simple classics that can also stand day-to-day daily driving in traffic.”
A lot of these G-series cars have survived the years, meaning if there’s a downside, it’s that the hunt could take a while. “There are no stinkers in the bunch here, so I would recommend finding the nicest one you can find for the budget,” Schroeder continues. “The problem is that the market for SCs and Carreras has gone nuts over the past five years as the older long-hood cars have topped out. The short-hoods, and especially the SCs and Carreras, have much of the same feel with the benefits of more modern reliability and usability.”
G-Series 911 Expert Tips
- Drive both an SC and a 3.2, and you’ll see there’s a considerable difference in how the smaller SC motor revs easily but lacks the off-the-line grunt of a 3.2. The Carrera 3.2 is much more tractable and feels much more modern in terms of how it drives in traffic, with no flat spots in the torque curve. The Bosch Motronic injection is better at just about everything than CIS.
- I prefer the Carreras and particularly the 1987-’89 years with the later, more robust G50 transmission, but condition would rule over any specific year.
- These cars don’t typically rust all that badly relative to the earlier ones, but it still can be a consideration. Look for rust above the battery in the front trunk–if it’s present, that means the bumper tube support is rusted out. This can happen in northern climates where salt is used. I’d also check the back of the front fenders as well as the bottom of the door striker panel, where the quarter panel meets the seam of the rocker panel.
- One other issue is the motor. Make sure you get a PPI–or at the very least, a leak-down test–to see how healthy the flat-six is. While a Porsche 911 motor can last well over 100,000 miles without issue, that assumes regular usage and maintenance over those miles. Cars that sit or haven’t been properly fed can have issues much sooner.
- After about 1984 or so, there was a build sticker attached to the underside of the hood–sometimes you can find these in the glove box, too–that will show the options.
- They were available in a wide variety of colors in the 1970s and you could get some wild colors later, but by the ’80s, it was pretty much a black, white or red world for Porsche. Original paint-to-sample cars can fetch a considerable premium over your basic Guards Red.
- Option-wise, a car with no sunroof, a limited-slip differential (M220) and sport seats would be the pick of the litter, but those are pretty hard to find and attract a lot of interest.
- If you aren’t concerned about taking it to the track or having a specific autocross car, the Targa is just fine and makes for a very pleasant backroad companion with the top off. The Cabriolet? Eh, I’d pass–it loses all of the bank-vault feel of a regular 911 while also having spectacularly bad rearward visibility.
- In the collector world, stock is best, so the further a potential project is from stock, the worse off you are.
- Now that these cars are older, many of the earlier initial reliability issues have been solved at least once or twice by previous owners.
- These aren’t cars to be babied. They were meant to be daily drivers that love the highway. And with that usage comes wear. In addition to typical wear items like wheel bearings, shocks and brakes, there are some 911-specific problems, like the pedal cluster and the shift linkage. Both are prone to wear and can sour the driving experience. Turn signal and headlight switches can also wear out–and watch out for corrosion on the fuses and fuse box. Modern blade-type replacement boxes are available.
- Since the 911 has always been an enthusiast car, the parts supply is amazing. You can find just about anything you need for all of them, much of it still being produced by Porsche Classic in Germany. There are, of course, aftermarket vendors that offer improvements and restoration bits. We at Stoddard have seen a huge increase in trim and interior restoration part sales as owners are restoring them to the same concours level as the earlier 356s.
- If you ever sell one, you will regret it.
Porsche 911 | 2006-’12 •997 Chassis
Leaning toward a modern, water-cooled 911? How about a 997-chassis car?
Rob Sass calls it today’s sweet spot in that category. Sass, who serves as editor of Panorama, the Porsche Club of America’s publication, is himself an owner of both 996 and 997 models. And while 997 prices quickly depreciated after the model’s debut–as they have with so many other luxury cars–they didn’t stay depressed for long and are ticking upward.
“They’re wonderful cars,” Sass notes. “The 997 is undeniably a beautiful car.”
The 997 followed the 996, the first water-cooled 911, but there’s a bit to navigate here. Still, the hunt makes it more fun, right?
The 997 made its debut for the 2005 model year, with the engines found in both the 911 Carrera and upmarket 911 CarreraS models featuring an IMS bearing setup similar to the one found in the original Boxster. Here’s the kicker: Up until partway through the 2005 model year, this IMS bearing can be easily serviced and replaced; after that, not so much.
From the LN Engineering website: “The larger, non-serviceable bearing used in the 2006 through 2008 model year Porsche Boxster, Cayman, and 911 models is the strongest of the factory Porsche intermediate shaft bearings, but they still can fail. As the bearing cannot be changed without complete engine disassembly, many experts agree that removing the grease seal off the IMS bearing will extend the service life of original bearing and is a must anytime you have the gearbox out to do a clutch job or replace the rear main seal.”
The 997 received a major update for the 2009 model year, though. Enthusiasts refer to these later models as the 997.2, with the earlier cars called the 997.1. In addition to updated styling, the 997.2 features an all-new engine: direct injection–no more potential for bore scoring–plus no more IMS bearing issues along with the optional PDK two-pedal transmission.
But small reality check: “They’re recession cars,” Sass notes. “They came out in the fall of 2008.” Adding that shrinking market for luxury goods with the advanced PDK transmission, he continues, means a relatively small number of available cars today with a traditional stick shift.
So, which to buy? If shopping on a budget, Sass says that his pick for a 997 would be an early 2005 Carrera backed with good oil analysis and borescope reports. “If you follow best practices,” he adds, “it should be a gas and oil car.”
997 Expert Tips
Porsche Club of America
- I think a 997.2 is the apex of water-cooled 911s.
- The 997 depreciated quickly and is trending up already. Like a lot of 911s, it’s a car you can drive and break even.
- It’s a matter of personal preference: What color do you want? What body style do you want? Targas are having this weird moment in the sun. In some instances, they’re bringing in more money than coupes.
- People love Sport seats.
- Color makes a big difference in value. Especially with the .2 cars, the color palette is kinda boring. But even some of the browns are kinda attractive. People want anything to stand out. If you have a red car with red belts or a yellow car with yellow belts, that’s cool.
- These cars can also suffer from bore scoring, and no one knows what causes it. The experts seem to think it’s from injectors and spray patterns–fuel washing the lubricant off the bores. I think the injector issue is the most credible one.
- The big thing with .2s was a mild facelift–and DFI, a completely different engine with no IMS, and PDK was optional. It’s a brilliant gearbox. So the take rate for two pedals went up, meaning it’s really hard to find a 997 three-pedal base coupe.
- The best thing to do is buy an early ’05. If the bore’s clean, replace the IMS bearing and mind your injectors. Buying a .2 is probably a safer bet. The issue there is money–and the difficulty in finding one.
- There are plenty of .1 cars running around with replacement engines. I might stay away from one that’s not a factory replacement engine. Lemon buy-backs, I’d say absolutely not. There are cars without Carfax questions out there.
- I think you’re better off not modifying the car.
Porsche 944 & 944 Turbo | 1982-’92
The 924 gave Porsche a truly modern car for the ’70s–one that still works well today–with a front-mounted, water-cooled engine powering contemporary bodywork that featured flip-up headlights, ample stowage space and, in a pinch, room for four. To help weight distribution, Porsche fit the transaxle in the rear. For the day, it was rather cutting edge.
But as the competition got faster, the 924’s Audi engine seemed a bit anemic. So Porsche split the tree: The 924 would continue as a low-cost model, while the new-for-1982 Porsche 944 would receive a true, Porsche-designed inline-four–basically half of the V8 found in the then-new 928–along with bigger brakes and those all-important fender flares. The 924 eventually faded away, though, with Porsche continuing to refine the 944 into the ’90s.
The first big revision came during 1985, when Porsche revamped the 944’s interior. More legroom was added thanks to a slightly elevated steering column, and the new gauge cluster looked more Porsche 928 than VW Rabbit.
Then, for 1986, Porsche split the 944 lineup itself: the standard, non-turbo 944, and the optional Turbo model. In addition to the force-fed engine, the Turbo model, internally called the 951, also received revised facias–a smoother front bumper and a rear apron–plus stiffer suspension and larger, 16-inch wheels. Thanks to its 217 horsepower–a 30% bump over the standard car–the Turbo could reach 152 mph.
The 944 line continued to grow. Porsche released the 16-valve 944 S for 1987, with the Turbo S appearing for 1988: bigger brakes, Koni dampers, stiffer bushings and a limited-slip differential. Porsche upped engine output to 247 horsepower, but only offered 1635 copies. Missed out on a Turbo S? All of those upgrades became standard on the 944 Turbo the following year.
“The 951s are still a great bang-for-the-buck ride,” says Glenn Sager, Porsche parts specialist at Porsche parts supplier Pelican Parts. “I’ve always loved the 944 body style, and the Turbo bumpers make it even more attractive. The seating position and ergonomics of everything in the cabin work for me. It’s simply a fun car to drive, especially when the car has added horsepower.”
Before 944 production wrapped up in 1991–the 968 line would take over that slot in the lineup–Porsche unveiled a few more upgrades for the non-turbo cars. Displacement of the standard car increased from 2.5 to 2.7 liters, while Porsche pushed the four-valve engine to 3.0 liters, creating the 944 S2 in the process.
For years, 944 prices could best be described as budget-friendly, but they have been ticking up.
944 Expert Tips
- While the Turbo model has the most potential for horsepower upgrades, I prefer the 1989-’91 S2 with the 16-valve, 3.0-liter engine–less plumbing than a Turbo and has a smoother powerband with better low-end torque. For investment and collectability, the TurboS model probably has the most potential.
- As with any other car, you want to stay away from cars that have been in an accident or have water/flood damage. I feel with this model line, it’s especially important to buy the nicest car you can afford and not a project. A project can get over budget in a hurry, and a neglected car with deferred maintenance can be trouble.
- These cars have a contact engine. If the timing belt fails, more than likely you’re looking at a complete top-end rebuild with a few new valves. I would suggest inspecting the timing belt at every convenient opportunity and replacing it at 40,000-mile or five-year intervals. The water pump is also typically changed with the timing belt “while you’re in there.”
- From what I’ve heard from our customers, the 1986 and newer Turbos are still sought after and offer a very nice experience. With a bigger boost spring and chip, they can easily get another 50 reliable horsepower from the car. As far as maintenance, they aren’t much different than the standard eight-valve 944.
- The dashboards are prone to cracking. That’s not only an eyesore but an expensive piece to R&R and repair.
- A 944 that runs hot and overheats regularly is one that I would stay away from.
- The cars from 1983 through January 1985 seemed to have more timing belt issues than the February 1985-and-later model 944s.
- The automatics are pathetically slow, and parts can be hard to come by. The damper plate comes to mind here. The convertibles are enticing, but if the top ever fails or the weatherstripping around the top needs replacing, you’re probably looking at a few thousand bucks to make it nice again. If having a convertible is paramount, a Boxster would be a better choice.
- Regular care is not really any different from other cars. Brakes, tune-ups, fluid changes, etc., are all things that need doing on a normal schedule and are relatively easy for the do-it-yourselfer to perform. The main thing that sets the 944 apart from most other cars is the need to always be mindful of the age and mileage on the timing belt. Besides regular oil changes, that’s the most important part in caring for the health of the engine.
- Fortunately, Porsche still does a pretty decent job of supporting these cars, and the aftermarket has stepped up pretty well to fill some of the gaps. But there are still some wear-and-tear parts that are overly expensive or simply unavailable.
- It might be the late Bruce Anderson who said it first with regards to buying any Porsche, “Buy the latest, nicest example you can afford,” and that certainly applies here. The ’85.5-and-later cars have more modern-looking instrumentation and a few other nice upgrades over the first-gen 944s, but if you can find a “survivor”–a car that’s just been really well taken care of from day one, with maintenance records to prove it, that drives nicely and looks the part–it would probably be a good buy regardless of what year it is.
Porsche Cayman | 2006-’12 • 987 chassis
Porsche redid the Boxster for the 2005 model year. A year later, a sleek, hardtop variant joined lineup: the Cayman.
“Overall, these are wonderfully balanced, modern sports cars that feel like nothing else built at the time, even other Porsche cars,” Don Weaver of Porsche parts house EBS Racing says of the Cayman. “It’s a bonus that you can spend a day at the track and, when it’s time to go home, roll up the windows, turn on the cold a/c, and crank up the Bose system.”
The upmarket Cayman S actually hit the market before the standard version, landing, pricewise, between the Boxster S and 911 Carrera. When it came to performance, though, the Cayman S ran nearly as quickly as the 911.
Power came from a 3.4-liter flat-six tuned to deliver 291 horsepower–15 more than the recently redone Boxster S could muster. The Cayman also boasted a stiffer body, and the weight penalty was only about 50 pounds. Porsche released a standard Cayman powered by a 2.7-liter engine for 2007: less power, smaller brakes, but also a smaller price tag.
“In all honesty,” Weaver continues, “the S model will have the best equipment and the best of everything compared to the base. It’s not that the base models are bad at all, but if you can afford the relatively small price difference, you will want the power, brakes and the potential of a six-speed manual over the base car. Some will argue against this, but it’s the general trend.”
Another option worth seeking, he adds: Porsche Active Suspension Management, a system based around automatically adjusting dampers. “I wasn’t very interested in the PASM suspension until I owned one of these with the system,” he says. “It’s really fantastic and gives the car two distinctive personalities for road and track.”
As with the 911 of the same era, the Cayman’s engine featured an IMS bearing that can’t be serviced. But LN Engineering has some good news: “The incidence of failure with a 2006-’08 M96 or M97 engine as found in the Boxster, Cayman and 911 that have the larger (but non-serviceable) IMS is highly unlikely. Best estimate is about a 1% failure rate.” LN Engineering recommends removing the grease seal to provide better lubrication for the bearing. The company also offers an IMS upgrade kit, but installing it requires engine disassembly.
Also like the 911, the Cayman and Boxster received new engines for 2009: no more intermediate shafts, along with a move to direct injection. “Overall, these engines are really fantastic as they addressed just about every shortcoming of the M96/97 engines, including the deletion of the intermediate shaft–cam chains are driven directly from the crankshaft,” Weaver explains. “In fact, that engine type works so well that the 718 four-cylinder engine is simply the same six-cylinder engine less two cylinders, with bores adjusted for displacement.”
Today’s Cayman prices can vary a bit.
Cayman Expert Tips
- Have a technician read out the computer for random faults attributed to the various systems in the car. Read out the engine over-rev history as well.
- The engine should be pretty dry. Have the oil filter housing removed and inspected for ferrous debris by the person performing the PPI.
- The IMS found in all M96 Caymans will be the larger type that Porsche worked into production in the middle of 2005. These can fail but do not fail often compared to either of the earlier iterations. Because Porsche increased the size of the bearing so much, it’s not truly upgradable without a complete engine teardown.
- In my eyes, bore scoring is a bigger issue with the Caymans–especially the 3.4-liter S–than the IMS by far. We continue to see customers come to us with this issue often.
- The great thing is we have solutions that make this type of bore scoring a total non-issue once addressed. However, this necessitates a complete engine rebuild, which is not at all inexpensive, but you also have the opportunity to make other upgrades and performance enhancements while doing so. We all need a Cayman built to 3.8 liters with CNC port work, cams, etc., right?
- The best cars are almost always the ones with detailed histories: lots of receipts covering repairs and a record of regular maintenance.
- All late-model Porsche cars, including the 987s, don’t require any more maintenance than other modern cars on the road today. Regular oil changes–at least once a year–are a must. Engine air and cabin filters have fairly long service lives, and spark plugs go tens of thousands of miles. Coolant and brake fluids should be swapped out every few years to ensure safety and reliability. None of the valve adjustments, caps, rotors, etc., of the old cars, and the computer is fully self-tuning.
- There are a few things that will simply wear out over time, such as the suspension control arms and shocks/struts, water pump, shift lever bushings and cables and, of course, brake components. Also, ignition coils can crack and fail, causing random misfires and a check-engine light. These cars seem to be sensitive to oxygen sensor aging as well, so that’s something to keep in mind.
- Broken and worn interior trim can be costly to replace. The climate control toggles are known to lose their black coloration, but replacements are now available at a fair price.
- There are a few rare 987s running around with PCCBs–ceramic brake discs–and replacement components are astronomically priced, so beware!