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Model Guide: Type 987 — Boxster matures, Cayman coupe launches

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Article by Pedro Bonilla
Photos courtesy Porsche

The second-generation Boxster (987) came to the US market as a 2005 model — along with the 997 Carrera — following the very successful run of the first water-cooled flat-six powered cars from Porsche: the Boxster (986) and Carrera (996) models.

Above: 2006 Porsche Cayman S cutaway diagram.

It was a revamped version of the original 986, and although the interior and exterior were all new (Porsche claims that 80% of the 987 was new), the engines and transmissions were, for the most part, carry-overs, albeit with the obligatory and customary modest bump in performance for both the base (now at 2.7 liters and 240 horsepower) and the “S” version (3.2 liters with 280 hp).

One of the differences between the previous and new engines was that the new M97 flat sixes had a mechanical vacuum pump and an electronic oil management system, which did away with the beloved oil dipstick. The main difference though was that the M97 was offered with a larger and stronger single-row intermediate shaft bearing that, unfortunately, is not replaceable without splitting open the engine case.

Above: M97 engine from a 2006 Cayman S or Boxster S.

For model year 2006 the BIG Boxster news was the introduction of the "Boxster coupe": The Cayman S (the base Cayman was launched in 2007). Porsche decided to place the Cayman S above the Boxster S in the 987 hierarchy and, in order to justify the higher price, offered a slightly larger, 3.4-liter 295-hp engine. This pricing structure didn’t make sense because it’s more expensive to manufacture a convertible than it is to make a coupe — Porsche was the only automaker to charge more for a coupe than its convertible stable mate. This strategy would last into the 2017 model year when Porsche finally decided to change the pricing structure of its mid-engined platforms by offering the Cayman for a bit less than the Boxster.

Above: 2006 Porsche Cayman S.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s look back to model year 2007, when the base Cayman joined the 987 lineup. The interior and exterior remained mostly the same, but the Boxster S received the Cayman S 3.4-liter flat six while the 2.7 in both the Boxster and new Cayman received VarioCam Plus, which bumped horsepower up to 245. Both the Boxster S and Cayman S made 295 hp.

Above: Diagram of VarioCam Plus, showing how the system advances and retards camshaft timing.

For 2008, the 987 continued on mostly unchanged. 

Up to now the engines were all M97-type engines with an intermediate shaft (IMS), and they were closely related to the previous M96 engines. Despite the lower failure rate of the larger IMS bearing, the perception of the intermediate shaft as a design flaw could not be shaken. Porsche replaced it with a brand-new design without an IMS: The 9A1 type engine.

Above: 9A1 engine from a 2009 Boxster S or Cayman S.

Model year 2009 saw the first 9A1 engines in the 987. The 2009-2012 987 is often referred to as 987 Gen II or 987.2. The 3.4-liter S engines gained Direct Fuel Injection (DFI) and outputs climbed modestly to 310 hp in the Boxster S and 320 hp in the Cayman S, once again separating the performance of the coupe and convertible. The displacement of the base model flat six was increased to 2.9 liters, good for 255 hp in the Boxster and 265 hp in the Cayman, but it was never given direct fuel injection.

Above: Seven-speed PDK automatic transmission cutaway image.

Arguably an even larger bump in performance for 2009 was the new automatic transmission option, a double-clutch type with seven gears as opposed to the old torque converter Tiptronic. The Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (PDK) transmission greatly decreased shift time compared to the Tiptronic and, for the first time, performance in automatic cars rivaled, and even beat, those with slower-shifting manuals.

The 987.2 continued on through 2012 with only minor changes, and for 2013 Porsche introduced the 981-generation Boxster — we’ll cover that model in a future article.

As was customary, the factory offered several Special Edition cars, especially towards the end of a model’s production run. They include, but are not limited to:

2008 — Boxster RS60 Spyder. Only 1,960 units were made. This car celebrated Porsche’s 1960 overall win of the 12 Hours of Sebring with the 718 RS60 Spyder. It was offered with a GT Silver Metallic exterior and Carrera Red interior and top. Many options came as standard in the package. The engine had 303 hp and the MSRP was $64,900

Above: 2008 Boxster Spyder RS60 Spyder.

2008 — Boxster and Boxster S Limited Edition. This limited edition was offered with an eye-catching GT3 RS Orange exterior and Alcantara- and orange-accented interior. 250 base cars and 250 “S” cars were produced and offered at $49,900 and $59,900, respectively. This Limited Edition Boxster has been one of the most popular Boxsters yet produced.

Above: 2008 Porsche Boxster S Limited Edition.

2009 – Boxster S Design Edition 2. This special Boxster had a very limited production run of 500 cars. Only 50 of them were destined for North America (US 32, Canada 18). This version was offered in Carrara White, two-tone black/gray interior, and light gray stripes on the exterior. It had basically the same performance specs as the “normal” production cars and an MSRP of $66,900.

Above: 2009 Porsche Boxster S Design Edition 2.

2011-2012 — Boxster Spyder. The Spyder was a lightweight, higher-performance Boxster introduced for model year 2011. It was the lightest Porsche offered, weighing in at only 2,811 pounds. It had a manual convertible top and many aluminum components, such as the doors, trunk lid, and hood. It also came standard without air conditioning or a radio, although they were a no-cost option to add back in. The engine produced 320 hp. MSRP was $61,200.

Above: 2011 Porsche Boxster Spyder.

2012 — Cayman R. Following the Boxster Spyder, Porsche decided to apply much of the same lightweight ideology to the Cayman and produced the 330-hp Cayman R. It was 121 pounds lighter than a Cayman S if equipped with the six-speed manual transmission. The car came without air-conditioning or a radio, but those who desired them could add them for free. It also had a unique aero package including a distinctive fixed rear spoiler, a limited-slip differential standard, lightweight 19-inch wheels, aluminum door panels, and, of course, cloth interior door pulls as seen on other high-performance Porsche variants. MSRP was $67,250.

Above: 2012 Porsche Cayman R.

Porsche has stated that the 987 was designed to look more aggressive than the 986. It was well received by critics and customers alike, and many of the 987s were sold to previous 986 owners who wanted a more modern and powerful version of their previous sports car. 

Overall the 987 is a very good car. It’s fun to drive, with an intoxicating exhaust note — especially if equipped with the optional sport exhaust system (PSE).

No car is void of issues and the 987 is no exception. The IMS bearing, although much stronger than in the previous 986 Boxsters, still has the potential to fail — albeit at a much lower rate than before. Even though the bearing cannot be replaced without splitting the engine block, there are ways to improve its long-term reliability without breaking the bank.

The interior finish has brought the most complaints. If not a full-leather-optioned car, the interior is finished in a rubbery-type paint that tends to peel quite easily, revealing the unsightly black plastic underneath. Many people have opted to re-paint the interior or upholster those surfaces in leather.

Also, the 987 had a high incidence of broken shift cables. Newer, updated replacement cables are stronger and available from Porsche or from aftermarket suppliers.

The oldest 987s will be teenagers soon, and they’re at or near the bottom of their depreciation curve. Some believe that the prices have stabilized and will soon start to slowly rise. We don’t expect a meteoric rise akin to what the first and/or last air-cooled 911s experienced, but a steady rise nonetheless. 

This is the perfect time to look for a used 987. Since Porsche has introduced two more mid-engined platforms after the 987 — the 981 in 2013 and the 718/982 in 2017 — there are many 987s in great condition on the used marketplace.

To find that perfect roadster or coupe, you can search the web (such as the PCA Mart), ask friends and fellow PCA members, maybe even your next-door neighbor. But before you hand over your cash, make sure you get a pre-purchase inspection (PPI).

The 987 is a modern car with all of the complexities of the times. It has multiple onboard computers that monitor and control the engine, the alarm, the convertible top, the windows, the A/C, the ABS, etc. In order to know how all of these systems are working and if there are any error codes or malfunctions, the car needs to be hooked up to a Porsche tester such as the PIWIS device. This system will allow the inspector to see the engine data and determine if the engine has ever been over-revved and by how much, as well as look into all of the individual systems in the vehicle to determine its health. A good inspector can also tell how the car has been treated overall, whether it has seen time on the track, if parts have been replaced due to a possible accident and, if so, whether the repairs were done correctly and therefore not affecting the value of the car.

Also, with the chain of natural disasters that we had over the summer, there are quite a few “drowned” Porsches (including 987s) on the used market. The inspector should dedicate time to look for telltale signs of water incursion and/or damage. Remember that oftentimes the damage won’t be apparent for quite some time, when it will then be very costly to remedy. The cost of a PPI is a very good investment.

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