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What you need to know before buying a Porsche 987.1 Cayman

By Andy Enright, 21 Nov 2020 Features

What you need to know before buying a Porsche 987.1 Cayman

Can’t afford a 911? Lucky you. Porsche’s 987 Cayman had the talent to weave a compelling narrative all of its own

Pick almost any used performance car and they tend to scribe a U-shaped line of desirability as they age. Some dip deeper than others, others tease that temporal nadir fore and aft a little. Porsche’s 987 Cayman is a case in point. When the 217kW/340Nm 3.4-litre Cayman S first arrived in Australia, back in March 2006, it seemed like Zuffenhausen’s magic bullet, faster around a circuit than a 997 Carrera and more focused than the 3.2-litre Boxster, which ceded 11kW and 20Nm to its hard-top sibling.

Of course, Porsche wasn’t shy in positioning the newcomer as a more serious driver’s car than the Boxster and pricing it accordingly, adding $16K to the price of the Boxster S for the privilege and, in the process, bucking the convention that convertibles are a price-plus version of a coupe. That wasn’t to last – the 718 generation finally saw Porsche come clean on that score.

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A 180kW/273Nm 2.7-litre base Cayman was subsequently introduced in February 2007, priced from $118,000. This, in turn, was replaced by the 195kW/300Nm 2.9-litre lump in a June 2009 facelift. At the same time, the 3.4-litre engine gained direct injection to help lift it to 235kW/370Nm. The old Tiptronic S auto transmission was swapped for the six-speed double-clutch PDK ’box and a limited slip diff was introduced as a factory option. The problematic intermediate main shaft (IMS) bearing design was also redesigned.

Australia never received the limited-run Cayman S Sport or the 777-unit Design Edition 1 that were offered in some right-hand drive markets in 2008, but we did get the swansong for the 987c program, the lovely 243kW/370Nm Cayman R of 2011 complete with aerokit, 19-inch wheels shared with the Boxster Spyder, a 54.8kg strip-out and a passive suspension setup that was 10mm lower than a Cayman S with Porsche’s Active Suspension Management (PASM). Only 500 were ever built and they’re still in very strong demand.

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By the time it was due to be replaced in 2012, the Cayman had enjoyed a six-year innings and had burnished its reputation as one of the finest-handling cars Porsche had ever built. Thing is, it wasn’t the most robust car to ever wear the Porsche crest yet its cachet is on the rise again. Here’s how to bag a good ’un.

IN THE MARKET FOR A PORSCHE 987 CAYMAN?

Sales of the 987 Cayman were never as strong as the equivalent Boxster, the soft-topped car outselling it globally by around three to one, largely on account of the Cayman’s then-divisive styling and the fact it cost more than the roadster. However, the usual adage of ‘when the top goes down, the price goes up’ never really applied to the Cayman. Its relative rarity means that a Cayman S is typically worth around 15 per cent more than the equivalent Boxster.

Manual cars were initially trading lower than automatic/PDK models but that trend has reversed in recent years as vehicles with three pedals have seen demand spike. 

PORSCHE 987 CAYMAN BODY & CHASSIS

The Cayman body is primarily steel, with aluminium panels used for the bonnet and doors, so check these panels for dents. The rear hatch is notorious for rattling, especially on the Finnish Valmet-built cars. There’s also a plastic panel behind the tail lights that can vibrate and owners have reported that fitting a piece of foam to this rectifies this issue. Another ‘home fix’ popular with 987 buyers is a set of grilles fitted to the front intakes which prevents wet road detritus sitting on the radiators, which retails at more than $1000 per side. The paintwork on the 987 is typically good, so any poor quality paint finishes are often a sign of accident repair.

PORSCHE 987 CAYMAN ENGINE & TRANSMISSION

So what of the big three issues that affect the M96/M97 family of engines? Cylinder bore scoring is a relatively rare issue on Caymans, typically affecting the 3.4-litre engine more than the smaller units, so look for persistent white smoke after start up or a tapping from one side of the engine. The intermediate main bearing (IMS) was strengthened by Porsche in 2005 and completely redesigned for the Cayman facelift, so it’s far less of an issue than in early Boxsters. The third gremlin, the rear main seal (RMS), can weep oil and, in the worst cases, contaminate the clutch friction plate. Also check for ignition coils and spark plugs. Because the front-left plug is so hard to reach, many Caymans will still have an ancient OE-fit item down there.

PORSCHE 987 CAYMAN SUSPENSION & BRAKES

Cayman suspension tends to be fairly sturdy, but anything rubber will degrade over time. Fitting the beefier track-rod ends from the second-gen cars is a popular 987 mod. Steering pumps can overheat if you’re giving the car a real workout on track. Brake performance is decent, from both Cayman and S. The former got 298mm front vented discs and 288mm rears, while the S featured the bigger 318mm front rotors, 299mm rear units and red-painted calipers. Carbon ceramic brakes were a very rare option take-up given that they represented 20 per cent of the price of an S alone, but last well if they’re not subjected to circuit use.

PORSCHE 987 CAYMAN INTERIOR & ELECTRICS

The minor controls can wear, especially frequent-use items such as the air conditioning switches. Check that the air-con works, as condensers often go on the fritz. Water ingress around the side window seals is also a recurrent complaint. Check seat bolsters for damage. Facelift models also got much better looking steering wheel designs.

OTHER OPTIONS YOU MAY CONSIDER

1. BMW Z4 M COUPE

A bit more of a hot rod feel thanks to your fundament seemingly parked on the rear axle, but certainly no less exciting than a 987. Was forever overshadowed by its Z3M predecessor, but make no mistake, the Z4 is a better car. Getting hard to find $50K cars now.

2. NISSAN 370Z

It seems to have been going longer than the Stones yet we still love the big-hearted Nissan. Feels heavy next to the lithe Cayman, but it’s hard to ignore the VFM. For the price of a scruffy ‘07 Cayman S, you could nab a mint, low mileage 370Z a decade younger.

3. FORD MUSTANG GT

A different take on the quick coupe, but a 2017 Mustang GT will set you back around $45K and delivers plenty of poke. It won’t stay with a Cayman in the twisties but life is sometimes more about the size of your grin than the cold science of peak apex speeds.

PORSCHE 987.1 CAYMAN S SPECS

Body: 2-door, 2-seat coupe

Engine: 3436cc flat-six, DOHC, 32v

Power: 217kW @ 6250rpm

Torque: 347Nm @ 4200rpm

Transmission: 6-speed manual / 5-speed tiptronic auto

Weight: 1370kg

Used range: $45,000-$55,000