An Entry Level Sports Car That Became An Instant Classic
1st Generation Porsche Boxster (986) Story & History
Porsche Boxster (1997 – 2004)
Date of unveil by Porsche AG: official photos in March 1996 (Geneva Motor Show) / Premiere: Journalist events from August 23, 1996 in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany, public premiere October 3, 1996 Mondial de l’automobile Paris Motor Show / Market launch: November 1996 (as a 1997 model)
Porsche Boxster is a beautiful car, but it was not the best successor to the cars that came before – the 944 Turbo Cabriolet and the 968 Cabriolet. Luckily it didn’t come immediately after the mighty 944 Turbo and there was an adoption period in the embodiment of the 968. Still, even the 968 was better than the Boxster as it had a durable and more powerful engine, and a 6-speed gearbox. Hence, the 2.5-litre normally aspirated 5-speed Boxster really was a drop. The drop was compensated by the drop in price, making the Boxster a really affordable Porsche, almost like the 914 in its days.
Boxster Design Prototypes
The BOXSTER model name was created from the BOXer engine and the roadSTER body. “Boxster” is a name difficult even to some owners – it is not uncommon to see an owner signing the car up for a Porsche club event as a “Boxter”. Real Porsche fans naturally know how to write their baby’s name.
The Boxster is a controversial car – it has a racecar-inspired mid-engine layout that concentrates the car’s mass near its center, but it was destined to get a rather powerless engine, and Porsche’s first fully liquid-cooled boxer. Flat-6 racing engines with cooled heads had existed for long time (also used on the 959 supercar), but the new old idea was to cool the cylinders also with liquid. The Boxster engine was the first Porsche flat-6 with wet sump. Too bad. There was no room in the Boxster for the oil tank as in every air-cooled 911 and a car with the wet sump engine was slightly cheaper to manufacture. While dry sump engines are not vulnerable for lateral forces (heavy cornering during track day use), wet sump meant the Boxster was not designed for racing. Up until the Boxster, every Porsche (except the 928 luxury grand tourer) was designed to stand limitless track day use.
1993 Boxster Test Car “A4”
To test the Boxster’s performance and handling before it was even created, a 911 bodyshell was modified to install axles with the geometry of the future Boxster. A mid-engined car would naturally have the wheelbase longer than on the 911. And that can be clearly seen on the test car called the “A4”.
As it was decided from day one that the Boxster will have a low power boxer engine, the test car was fitted with the old 911 3.2 engine, more precisely its even lower power version for USA and Japan with just 152 kW. The production Boxster would receive a 150 kW engine, but because of much smaller capacity, with less torque than on the 3.2-litre 911 engine. The weight of the 911 curb was reduced to the weight similar to the future Boxster.
Between the A4 test car and later prototypes there was a 968 Cabrio-look Boxster mule – a Boxster prototype was fitted with front end, side mirrors and rear end from a 968 Cabriolet.
The 1997 model year Boxster was introduced to hundreds of journalists in August and September 1996 in Germany. The first motor show appearance happened in Paris – press days were on October 1-2 and the public saw the car on October 3, 1996.
It was clear since 1993 motor show appearance of the Boxster concept that the announced low price will generate sales and that the factory capacity in Stuttgart cannot cope with that. So, a production partner was searched for and the contract was signed with Valmet Automotive car factory in Uusikaupunki, Finland. Valmet had produced cars for different manufacturers and they were also cabriolet specialists (they manufactured cabrios for Saab). While the Boxster production in Germany had started in summer of 1996, the production in Finland started in September 1997 with 1998 model year cars.
While some people might question the build quality of an external assembler, I as the author of this article, can assure they should not. I visited the Valmet factory twice during Porsche production and have visited other Porsche factories many times. For example, back in the old days, in the beginning of the new millenium, German workers were still allowed to smoke at their working stations while assembling the engines (it was permitted by the labor union and Porsche couldn’t do anything about it). I didn’t see anything like this at the Finnish factory. Naturally, a contract with Porsche was a big thing for them. How to tell if your Porsche was made in Germany or in Finland, check the 11th character in the VIN – “S” stands for Stuttgart and “U” for Uusikaupunki.
In August 1999 started the 2000 model year, which brought larger engines to the Boxster – 2.7-litre instead of 2.5 and a new 3.2-litre version called the Boxster S. It was initially planned to launch the 911 996 Carrera with this watercooled 3.2-litre flat-6 (but was finally launched with a 3.4-litre engine). The Boxster S was fitted with 6-speed manual transmission, but the basic Boxster remained with the 5-speed transmission (remember, the predecessor to the Boxster, the 968, was built with 6-speed as standard already from 1991).
Although Porsches are rarely ordered with standard wheels, it should be mentioned that while the standard wheel size for the Boxster was 16″, the standard for the Boxster S was 17″. The Boxster S also received larger cross-drilled brakes from the 996 Carrera 3.4. The discs were 318 mm at the front and 299 mm at the rear (regular Boxster had 298 and 292 mm discs). The 911 brake calipers were painted red for the Boxster S (yes, the brakes on the Boxster S look cooler than the same brakes on the 911). Compared to the base version, the Boxster S had stiffer shock absorbers and higher-rate springs (+25% front, +23% rear). In addition, longer rear lower control arms supposedly increased toe-in stiffness and larger wheel bearings increased camber stiffness for high-speed cornering stability. Front stabilizer bar diameter was increased from 21.6 mm to 23.6 mm (18.5 mm rear stabilizer remained the same). The Boxster S had a higher coefficient of drag (Cd) due to additional center-mounted radiator and wider tyres. The Cd of the Boxster S is 0.32 compared to 0.31 of the more aerodynamic base model. The weight distribution of the Boxster is close to fifty-fifty, with a bit more weight on the rear axle (Boxster 2.5 manual 47% front/53% rear, Boxster 2.5 Tiptronic 45/55).
There were no real changes for the 2001 model year, except the modified instrument cluster and two new wheel sets – the 17″ Boxster wheels and the 17″ SportClassic wheels. Rod antenna for telephone (mounted on the top of the windscreen frame) was not available anymore.
As the new generation of the 911 (996.2) was unveiled for 2002 model year and Boxster being closely tied to the 996, some changes were carried out also on the Boxster although its very mild facelift would happen a year later. The 2002 model year changes included seatbelt pretensioners and load limiters, buttons with matte finish, car key with a colored Porsche Crest (the car key now also controlled the optional power seat memory function). The new optional high-end sound system now came from Bose.
USA versions featured the new compulsory internal anti-entrapment release for the luggage compartment. For non-criminal Europe it sounded completely weird that such a feature ever becomes necessary, but the facts speak: USA has the highest rate of prisoners compared to any country in the world and approximately 5 times/400% higher rate than in the European Union.
The Boxster 986.2 (Refresh)
While the 996-generation 911 was facelifted for the 2002 model year (996.2), the Boxster 986 never received a real facelift, just a number of changes were carried out for the 2003 model year (986.2). The biggest news was the new roof with rear window made of real glass (and now heated). Compared to the quickly fading plastic window, it is a single reason to prefer the 986.2 over the original Boxster (986.1). The most notable new interior feature was the glove compartment. Why it had been missing for the first 6 model years, only the decision makers know. The PCM (Porsche Communication Management) was also new, with larger screen, and the retro cassette player was finally replaced with a CD-player. To be honest, the cassette player was old tech already when the Boxster came out in 1996. While the PCM 1 came with the telephone module as standard, for the PCM 2 the telephone had to be ordered separately.
A new conveniency feature was the remote controlled opening of the front and rear lids.
New VarioCam technology on both the 2.7 and 3.2-litre engines increased engine output a bit and marginally reduced fuel consumption (exhaust emissions). The 986.2 introduced the “returnless” fuel supply system. Until model year 2002 any excess fuel used to flow back to the tank. The 986.2’s returnless fuel system incorporates the pump, the filter and the pressure regulator in the tank, meaning that only the fuel really needed is pumped to the engine.
’50 Jahre 550 Spyder’ Edition – Porsche Boxster S 550 Spyder 50th Anniversary Edition
Porsche premiered a special edition Boxster S at the Detroit Auto Show in January 2004. The official name was “Boxster S Anniversary Edition 50 Years of 550 Spyder”. Although the 1953 550 Spyder was Porsche’s supercar and the Boxster is the entry level model, this Boxster S at least does not have the power-to-weight ratio worse than on the 550 Spyder half a century earlier – interestingly, they have exactly the same power-to-weight ratio. 1953 examples of the 550 Spyder edition Boxster S were made. They were painted with the Porsche Carrera GT supercar color, the GT Silver Metallic and the cocoa brown interior was also a carry-over from the Carrera GT. The soft top came also in cocoa. Alternatively the car was available with dark gray interior, black carpets and a black roof.