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Ah yes, The Poor Man's Porsche. A phrase uttered by automotive journalists, writers, bloggers, reviewers, and probably anyone who has ever written or spoken a word about cars for decades, all in the attempt to show just how great that 'fill-in-the' blank' car really is. Porsche being a brand world-renowned for excellence is certainly not news, they have been the standard in the world of useful performance pretty much from the beginning, so when a car can do everything we ask of it, and it's fun to drive? Well, the comparison is hard to resist, and it's been a thing since the late 50s or early 60s, depending on who you credit for coining the term.

While a car which is LIKE a Porsche is great, a car that actually IS a Porsche could be better. It certainly holds a little more caché and has that little extra sparkle. I'm a die-hard Volkswagen GTI fan, but like many GTI owners, having a Porsche of some sort has been a dream of mine since I was young. Thanks to the prodigious output and prevalence of Porsche models over the years, the time has finally come where there are relatively cheap examples to be found. Just don't expect any of them to be air-cooled. 

 

Porsche 944 

Porsche 944 Production Years: 1983-1991

Current Porsche 944 Prices: $3,000-$15,000

01_Porsche 944 frontImage Source: Bring A Trailer

When you think 'entry-level Porsche,' the 944 is probably the first thing that comes to mind, and for a good reason. The 944 was immensely popular back in the 1980s. They were absolutely everywhere. Thanks to the sheer number of examples produced and the stout and relatively simple design, they remain an easy car to find for sale, even some 30+ years later.

Perhaps due to the stigma of having been birthed from Volkswagen parts, or being the wrong design on at least three different levels (front-engined, water-cooled, in-line 4-cylinder), the 944 has long been derided as not a 'real' Porsche. They're not as cheap as they once were, but they are still an attainable Porsche that could also be considered a classic. Thanks to near-perfect weight balance, looks which have aged far better than nearly anything else from the decade, and a satisfying drive, they're a great car for an enthusiast looking for a cheaper Porsche. 

02_Porsche 944 RearImage Source: Bring A Trailer

The 944 was produced from 1983-1991, but the value will be in pre-89 models. The best buy is a 944 base model car, which is powered by a 2.5 L 8v engine producing 163 horsepower. There are more powerful models such as the 2.7 L 16v 944 S, 3.0 L 16v S2, and 944 Turbo, but these are going to fetch a higher base price and be more expensive to maintain. Lower production numbers of these models means that some parts can be harder to come by, and the more desirable the cars (i.e., rarer) fetch a lot more money. Notably, there was an update in 1986 that included interior and suspension changes, among other things, and again in 1987, which changed wheel offsets added ABS and airbags. 

03_Porsche 944 engineImage Source: Bring A Trailer

Positives of the Porsche 944

  • Cheap. Prices starting under $4,000, with even better deals to be had if you aren't picky
  • Classic looks, low running costs, balanced chassis
  • Easy to DIY most jobs
  • Good community and parts availability for most items

Negatives of the Porsche 944

  • Prices have already bottomed and gone back up a little over the last few years
  • Still a Porsche, which means you get the Porsche tax on some parts
  • They're an old car, which means some parts will be harder to find, and restoration projects will be common on the lower price range
  • It's unlikely that you will get your money back out of these cars, not an 'investment Porsche'

 

Porsche 986 Boxster

Porsche 986 Boxster Production Years: 1997-2004

Current Porsche 986 Boxster Prices: $4,000-$18,000

04_986 Porsche Boxster FrontImage Source: Bring A Trailer

The Porsche Boxster carried the unenviable task of being the model to introduce the world to the face of the new water-cooled 911 back in 1997. It was also the first mid-engine Porsche since the 914, and in the mid-late 90s, when it was launched, the world was a bit convertible-crazy. BMW's Z3 was selling like crazy, Mercedes had their SLK, but the Porsche Boxster was a hit. A hit that Porsche desperately needed at the time. It's exceedingly difficult to nail down exact numbers, but something in the range of 160,000 Boxsters was produced between 1996 and 2004. While many may dismiss the Boxster for being not-quite-a-911, the fact remains that they're fantastic handling, easy to work on, and have aged well thanks to the continued success of the Boxster and Cayman nameplates. 

05_986 Porsche Boxster rearImage Source: Bring A Trailer

Early Boxsters are not without their potential issues, but thanks to the sheer number sold, there are plenty to choose from on the used market. While the car is fun to drive, it isn't setting the world on fire in terms of performance. The original Boxster, produced from 1997-1999, comes with a 2.5 L M96 engine, which makes 201hp and all the right sounds. Starting in 2000, the base model received a bump to 2.7 L and 217hp, but for us, the best buy is the Boxster S. Thanks to a 3.0 L engine producing 250hp, the Boxster S has the performance to match the balanced chassis, and pricing is still relatively affordable. There was a minor facelift in 2002 which swapped a plastic convertible top window for glass, along with some other modest updates. 

06_986 Porsche Boxster InteriorImage Source: Bring A Trailer

Positives of the Porsche 986 Boxster 

  • Many shared components with the 996 911, low-cost consumables
  • Lively chassis, fun to drive, flat-six sound
  • You can find some real bargains, with the S coming in under $10,000 and early 2.5 L cars dipping below $5,000 depending on the market. 
  • Easy to work on and most services are DIY-friendly, spares are very easy to come by (minus engines)
  • Looks have improved with age, future classic? 

Negatives of the Porsche 986 Boxster

  • M96 engine has multiple documented issues which can be a major problem, replacements or remanufactured options are very expensive, always get a PPI before purchasing
  • Interior isn't great, very plasticky and cheap feeling, wood or carbon trim pieces are very expensive to replace on highly optioned models
  • Interior switches, window regulators, door lock modules and other electrics can be troublesome
  • The market has stabilized, is not likely to get much cheaper, and is not likely to go up a ton in value if you overpay
  • Low cost of entry means lots of poorly serviced or not so well cared for examples are still around

 

Porsche 996 911

Porsche 996 911 Production Years: 1999-2004

Current Porsche 996 911 Prices: $14,000-$25,000

07_Porsche 996 911 Carrera frontImage Source: Bring A Trailer

The 911 is Porsche, Porsche is the 911. It is the model by which they will forever be known and judged. You could find some cheap examples of air-cooled cars not all that long ago, I remember a time when high mileage 964 Coupes were going for under $12,000; unfortunately, that is no longer the case. If you want a 911, the 996 is the only one you can currently touch for money that is affordable for the more average enthusiasts. There are some reasons for that, but it doesn't change the fact that the 996 still offers a fantastic performance value. 

08_Porsche 996 911 Carrera 4 rearImage Source: Bring A Trailer

The strikes against the 996 are based on both fact and opinion, with the truth lying somewhere in between. The M96 engine indeed has its issues, but with proper care and use, they can be reliable and surprisingly durable. Most of the examples still around at this point seem to be the "good ones," with the worst quality units having self-destructed long ago. Launched in 1999 with a 3.4 L engine, the base 996 911 makes 296 horsepower and is a legitimate sports GT car. Early models share the 'fried egg' look headlights with the 986 Boxster, while a facelift in 2002 gave the standard Carrera models the 911 Turbo-look headlights, and it also updated and uprated the interior significantly. This mid-model facelift bumped engine displacement to 3.6 L and power up to 315, and dropped 0-60 times below 5 seconds for the first time. The best buy will usually come down to user-preference and market availability. The facelift cars are generally preferred by most, but the classic 1999-2001 996 has a lot of appeal despite the cheap interior. 

09_Porsche 996 911 M96 engineImage Source: Bring A Trailer

Positives of the Porsche 996 911

  • Excellent performance for the money, even by today's standards
  • Shared components between the 986, and 997 mean cheap running costs when it comes to consumables, lots of used spares on the market
  • The versatile design lends itself to being a GT cruiser or track-day racer. 
  • It's a 911! Average pricing has probably bottomed, but deals are still out there. You can find well-cared-for examples for under $15,000. 
  • Now-classic looks, aging well

Negatives of the Porsche 996 911

  • M96 engine has multiple documented issues which can be a major problem, replacements or remanufactured options are very expensive, always get a PPI before purchasing
  • Interior isn't great, early models don't have a glovebox
  • Interior switches, window regulators, door lock modules and other electrics can be troublesome
  • The standard factory suspension is pretty soft and tuned for comfort, upgrading is highly recommended for the best handling

 

Porsche 955 Cayenne

Porsche 955 Cayenne Production Years: 2003-2010

Current Porsche 955 Cayenne Prices: $5,000-$40,000  

10_Porsche Cayenne S FrontImage Source: CarShop.com

Porsche would not exist as we know it if not for the Cayenne. It more or less single-handedly saved the company (along with those profitable high-volume sellers, the 986 and 996) and simultaneously redefined what an SUV can be. Sharing a platform with the Volkswagen Touareg, the existence of the Porsche Cayenne was a bitter pill to swallow for the hardcore sports car fans who wanted to see Porsche stick the 911 and only the 911, but the fact remains that it's a good truck. These days it's also a cheap truck, with the V8 Cayenne S easily coming in well under $10,000. 

11_Porsche Cayenne S EngineImage Source: CarShop.com

The Cayenne 955 was introduced in 2003 and sold until 2010, which means plenty of options to choose from when it comes to mileage and spec. Although you could get the Cayenne with a VW VR6 and manual transmission, a diesel, Turbo, and high-performance high-output GTS over the years, the V8 Cayenne S hits the sweet spot for value and utility. From 2003-2007 the Cayenne S was powered by a 4.5 L V8 making 340hp. In 2008 a 4.8 L unit was introduced, bumping power to 380hp and torque from 310 ft-lb to 369 ft-lb. Although the Cayenne is deceptively fast, it's also a great all-purpose SUV. It is a surprisingly capable off road, has plenty of room for hauling various household goods or people from place to place, and has a 7,716-pound towing capacity. The Cayenne S is the perfect track-day tow vehicle for those looking for something a bit more refined than the average diesel dually. 

12_Porsche Cayenne S InteriorImage Source: CarShop.com

Positives of the Porsche 955 Cayenne

  • Capable all-around SUV with performance and luxury to match
  • Towing capacity for your boat or track day set up
  • Lots of examples on the market to choose from, and they should keep getting cheaper
  • Good chassis, solid engine, and transmission with regular service 
  • Inexpensive; starting well under $10,000 depending on the year and options
  • Cool GTS and Turbo models available for those looking to spend a bit more

Negatives of the Porsche 955 Cayenne

  • Factory plastic coolant pipes are failure-prone, but easily updated to the aluminum versions
  • Look out for water damage and electrical issues from clogged drains in the rocker panels 
  • Coding of modules and electronic components usually requires a factory scan tool
  • Major repairs can be pricy, always get a PPI before buying 
  • Watch out for poorly maintained examples; Cayennes tend to attract more non-enthusiast inattentive owners compared to Porsche sports cars

 

Porsche 987 Cayman

Porsche 987 Cayman Production Years: 2006-2012

Current Porsche 987 Cayman Prices: $16,000-$30,000

13_Porsche Cayman S frontImage Source: Bring A Trailer

As great as the Boxster is, there are plenty of people who aren't into convertibles. Maybe you're tall, maybe you live where it's cold, maybe you just don't want birds to drop presents on you from above, whatever the reason, they're definitely not for everyone. Enter the Porsche Cayman—a Boxster with a roof. The 987 was also introduced at a time where Porsche was no longer on the brink of financial disaster and started to put quality back into their interiors. The 987 was a favorite upon release for the performance packed into the little mid-engine chassis, and it remains an excellent car to this day. Stiffer, lighter, and more powerful than Boxsters of the day, with a more naturally balanced chassis than the rear-engine 911, the 987 Cayman offered something that many considered better than a 911, for less money. 

14_Porsche Cayman S RearImage Source: Bring A Trailer

In an atypical move, the Cayman S was launched in 2006 before the base model and featured a 3.4 L M97 engine making 291hp, scampering to 60mph in just over five seconds. For this reason, along with pricing from the mid-teens, the early Cayman S is our best buy of the bunch. The base 2.7 L model is fine, but the lower output doesn't seem to reflect in the pricing, at least not at the moment. The M97, an evolution of the troubled M96, shares the primary architecture of that engine but is generally accepted as being a lot more reliable. The facelifted 2009 Cayman S introduced the direct-injected 9A1 engine as well as the Porsche PDK transmission to the world and has proved to be very reliable. Still, you will pay a premium for the option. 

15_Porsche Cayman InteriorImage Source: Bring A Trailer

Positives of the Porsche 987 Cayman

  • Great chassis, fun to drive, a balanced performer, a great street or track car
  • More distinct looks than the earlier 986 Boxster models
  • The market still seems to be finding its level, deals should keep getting better
  • Overall a much nicer and more modern drive than the 996 911 for similar money
  • DFI and PDK available on the newest examples 
  • Lots of carry-over from the 986/996/997 means plentiful spares and fairly low running costs and consumables 

Negatives of the Porsche 987 Cayman

  • Pricing is all over the place depending on mileage, the market has yet to stabilize
  • The M97 engine is better, but still suffers from some M96 issues, always get a PPI before purchasing
  • M97 intermediate shaft bearing update cannot be completed with the engine in the car
  • Coding of modules and electronic components usually requires a factory scan tool

With this list of five Porsches, I hope to have inspired aspiring owners into taking action to make their dreams come true. While not everyone can afford an air-cooled classic or one of the modern-day Porsche supercars, there are some real bargain Porsches out there just waiting to be scooped up and enjoyed by true enthusiasts. It hopefully goes without saying that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and there are rarely any truly cheap Porsches. Do your research and always get a pre-purchase inspection (PPI) before you put down your hard-earned dollars. With a little help from FCP Euro and our Lifetime Replacement Guarantee, we hope to make the cost of owning and maintaining any Porsche a little more affordable for everyone. 

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Written by :
Nathan Brown

FCP Euro's Event Director by day, writer and contributor by night, and wanna-be race car driver on the weekends. Nathan has been working in the VW and Audi performance aftermarket for nearly two decades, and dabbled with Porsche and BMW. He also used to write under the pen-name of Alex Rogan for magazines like Eurotuner, Performance VW, Total 911, and European Car. He has a Cornflower Blue Rabbit Edition GTI daily driver which is surprisingly still mostly stock, and a Mk5 GTI track car which is mostly not. ••• Instagram: @njbrown55


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