Seven years ago I bought my first Porsche, a 1997 Boxster (986). I couldn’t believe I really owned a Porsche; this was a marque of dreams… and the start of something special. I guess most people don’t realize that it’s possible to find a Boxster for the same price it cost to purchase a brand new Yugo in 1985.
Over the last seven years it’s been a remarkable car. Fun to drive, great sounds, and ultra reliable (maintenance has only been about $500 annually). That being said, it’s reached an age and mileage where things simply start to fail and more non-routine maintenance needs to be done. For example, it needs a new top, door latch, door locks, top latch, and front suspension. It also has two leaks that allow enough water in the car to fill a child’s swimming pool.
These things need to be addressed. The idea was to fix everything in one shot. I called several places and visited my mechanic to get quotes on various repairs. The total estimates came close to $8,000. That’s a lot of money to spend at once, and that’s about the most the car is actually worth according to KBB. But, if you have a car you love, it’s not about money. It’s about keeping the car running and in good shape.
Do I love the car? Yes. Do I love it that much? Hmm… let me think about that.
The truth is, I don’t like convertibles. I moved to Northern California about eight years ago. If ever I was going to own a convertible, that was the time. It didn’t take long for me to realize I hated convertibles, despite how much I loved the Boxster. On a perfect, beautiful day, I can’t think of anything more fun than driving a convertible through the Santa Cruz mountains. But what about those not-so-perfect days?
Contrary to popular belief, Northern California does not have perfect weather all the time. It’s often hot, or even too cold. There’s an abnormal amount of pollen, and it’s no fun when a bird poops on you. Let’s not forget how much fun it is to fight off bees and wasps while stopped at a traffic light without looking like a raging lunatic. But, the car. It is so much fun despite those environmental issues. I found myself in quite the conundrum.
What do I do? Do I fix everything and continue enjoying a perfect Boxster, but still a convertible? Or do I replace it with something different? I decided I would only replace the Boxster if I could find something that is just as much fun, or more. And costs $20,000 or less (that was simply the most I could afford). Well, that turned out to be a bigger undertaking than I had imagined.
In my mind, the only cars that would be just as much fun, or more, would be a Ferrari or another Porsche. Ferrari was immediately out of the question as the maintenance costs alone would ensure I couldn’t keep a roof over my head, plus, there’s no such thing as a $20k Ferrari. Porsche, on the other hand, might work. There are certainly several Porsche’s you can buy for under $20k… but did I want too?
I considered a 914, 928 and even a 944 or 968. But, I realized how insane that would be. All those cars would be older than my Boxster. All those cars would likely have higher mileage than my Boxster. Remember, one of the main reasons I’m even considering this is due to the mileage. However, that throws another wrench into the plan. Now, I have to find something just as fun as my Boxster, or more, that has lower mileage and is reliable. That’s a tall order.
Like most Porsche fanboys, I wanted a 911. In fact, my favorite is the G50, made from 1987 to 1989. I would take any air-cooled 911 to be honest, but the G50 was the dream. Slight problem: it’s almost impossible to find any air-cooled 911 under $30,000. The G50? You’ll be lucky to find a good one under $50,000. Anything newer and water-cooled was still out of the realm of possibility. A 997 (2005 to 2012) are the same prices as G50s, and the current 991 is six figures.
There is one that everyone overlooks. The first water-cooled Porsche 911 was the 996, made from 1999 to 2004. It’s the least desirable 911 right now, which translates to: it can be bought on the cheap. Why is it undesirable? Some people think it’s ugly, but that’s subjective. The real reason is it represents a lot of ‘firsts’ for the 911. It was the first water-cooled 911, the first 911 built to price, the first 911 to have a completely different body, the first 911 to step away from round front headlights, the first 911 to share common parts with other cars (Boxster), the first 911 built on an assembly line, and the first 911 to be mass-produced. It also has an IMS Bearing issue which is a catastrophic failure if you’re one of the unfortunate two or three percent who experience that.
What people don’t realize, or simply choose not to believe, is those changes were necessary. They had to happen. If the 911 hadn’t matured to a water-cooled engine and been mass-produced on an assembly line, Porsche simply wouldn’t be the company they are today. They might not even exist. The 911 would have certainly been a joke amongst other cars of its class. And, there’s a permanent fix for the IMS Bearing issue, so quit using that as your excuse.
What are my chances of finding a solid 996 that’s had the IMS Bearing issue resolved, has low mileage, and is in excellent condition within my price range? And, let me just make it a bit more challenging, it can’t be black, silver, white, or any shade of gray. It has to be something with color.
Maybe, just maybe, if I could find that, I’d buy it.