Porsche Boxster Versus Factory Five 818

By Tom Suddard
Oct 6, 2017 | Factory Five, Porsche | Posted in Features | From the Feb. 2015 issue | Never miss an article

Many cars have a clear adversary: Mustangs have clashed with Camaros for years. The Evo-versus-STI feud is still going strong. These pairings are more than just petty rivalries, though–they’re an exercise in measuring performance. After all, what’s a race without a wellmatched foe nipping at your heels?

But what about a homebuilt roadster made from a wrecked Subaru? Is there a yardstick for the Factory Five 818?

We think there is, and it’s called the Porsche Boxster S. Like the 818, the Boxster has a midmounted engine with horizontally opposed cylinders. It’s a roadster. It has two seats. And most Boxsters are weekend toys, likely owned by the same kind of enthusiasts who would have the time and ability to build an 818.

Then there’s the money. Less the graphics, it would cost $19,459 to duplicate our 818–and that includes fresh tires, a top-shelf Braille battery and a few other niceties. Boxster prices can range depending on year, model and condition, but you could easily spend that much on a nice Boxster S.

So we set out to compare something built in our garage to a finely engineered German performance car. Did our home-built creation measure up, or did it have room for improvement?

The venue for this test would be The FIRM, a newly renovated motorsports facility just outside of Gainesville, Florida. And the driver wouldn’t be one of us–we wanted a true test pilot for this comparison. We commandeered Dan Shields, five-time SCCA Solo National champion, nationally certified driving instructor, and ASE-certified master technician. He’s also a nice guy.

If anyone could drive our 818 and keep it in one piece, it would be Dan. As a bonus, he also brought us a Porsche–his wife’s pristine 2002 Boxster S that’s a regular in Porsche Club of America autocross competition. Aside from a set of Bridgestone Potenza RE-11 tires, it’s still stock. Our 818 rolls on Yokohama Advan Neova AD08 R tires, making this a fair fight right down to the rubber.

By the Numbers

On paper, there’s only one standout difference between the 818 and the Boxster: weight. The Boxster weighs 1000 pounds more than our homebuilt sports car.

Otherwise, there’s little difference between the two cars. Once you factor in driveline loss, they both make about the same amount of power. Both cars have a similar footprint, too.

The question is, will the Boxster’s inherent “Porscheness” make up for its heftiness on track? Or will the 818’s light weight and better suspension design shoot it into the lead?

Track Time

Before we could answer the question, we needed test criteria. After an hour or so of getting acquainted with the 818, Dan mapped out a course. His final design combined a long straight with a series of S-bends, a slalom, a banked sweeper, high-speed transitions, and a few 90-degree, city-style corners. In short, it was the perfect test of a sports car’s abilities: handling, braking, acceleration, transitions and even driver confidence.

Once he was comfortable driving each car, Dan completed four flying laps of his test course. The verdict? The 818 is faster than the Boxster.

A thousand pounds is hard to hide on a road course, even when the driver has spent years learning how to work with the extra weight. Dan has campaigned a huge variety of cars–from MG Midget to Ford Mustang–at the national level in both road racing and autocrossing.

Dan’s laps were über-consistent in the Porsche, but varied a fair bit in the 818. We’ll chalk that up to his unfamiliarity with the Factory Five, though we can’t help but wonder if a Porsche is easier to drive than our turbocharged monster.

Creature Comforts

Track testing, though, is only one part of this comparison. That extra 1000 pounds had to go somewhere–Porsche spent it on creature comforts, metal bodywork and safety features.

Comparing the Boxster and the 818 as street cars isn’t even a contest–one has carpet with sound deadening, one has a metal floor with drain holes. One has a/c, one doesn’t have a roof. One has power windows, one has a hood that constantly waves at the driver like a drunk guy on a parade float.

The Porsche also has not one trunk, but two. Try to carry anything bigger than an insurance card in the 818, and you’ll be disappointed. If you push through that disappointment and try to put anything in the rear “trunk,” then your cargo will arrive nice and toasty. The Porsche also has crumple zones, air bags, stability control and decades of crash testing experience behind its design.

Something Else

Good lap times and street manners don’t necessarily add up to a truly great car. It takes something more, something intangible. The 818 and the Boxster both tick the “je ne sais quoi” box, but in very different ways. The 818 is awesome because of its origin: your own garage. The Porsche, in contrast, hails from a company with a rich racing pedigree and a reputation for producing great sports cars. One lets your neighbors know you’ve finally made it, while the other lets your neighbors know you’ve literally made it.

The Porsche does have the allure of easy maintenance, provided your checkbook is thick enough. Any dealer will gladly work on it, and you’ll never get your hands dirty if you don’t want to.

The 818, though, is the opposite. No dealer in their right mind would touch it, but its parts are simple and easy to find. Plus, the simple act of buying one means you’re required to learn how to work on it. It’s a safe assumption that anyone with a running 818 has gained the skills to keep it that way. Both cars are well supported by local and national clubs, too.

So what’s the verdict? The 818 is clearly a faster track car, while the Porsche is clearly a better street car. Buy the one that fits your desires. If you want a track toy that will remind you of the fun you had playing with Legos as a kid, then buy the 818. If you want a timeless, turnkey sports car that will help you unwind on weekends, buy the Porsche. Either one is a great choice, because either one is a great car.

At this point, we’re comfortable calling our Factory Five 818 finished. We started with nothing more than a pile of parts, a wrecked Subaru and an instruction manual, and we finished with a car that can attract drooling bystanders, beat a Porsche on track, and take you to work every day. This 10th installment will be the last official story in this project car’s series, but that doesn’t mean it will disappear. We’ll still be writing about it online, so don’t be surprised if you see the occasional update in the pages of Grassroots Motorsports.

Now, what to do with it? As we proved by building a supercar in our garage, almost anything is possible.

Dan's Driving Impressions

Dan Shields has spent years honing his craft in the Boxster. What did he think when we dropped him into our homebuilt, turbocharged track car?

“This is an interesting car. As a track toy, it is really fun. Compared to a Porsche, parts are cheaper, it’s easier to work on, and it’s clearly faster on the track, mostly because it is half a ton lighter.

“I was concerned the 818 would be peaky and hard to drive as the turbo spooled up. Honestly, it was pretty benign. I had heard the chassis might be twitchy, but on track it was surprisingly neutral and confidence-inspiring. If anything, it’s limited by understeer, just like the Boxster–though not to the point that I’d try to change anything. The 818 is crisp, and it’s fun to drive. It really delivers a great driving experience. I like it.

“The Boxster S feels like a well-broken-in pair of shoes. I know what it will do, I’m comfortable in it, and I know it’s going to help me any way it can. I’m not at that point with the 818, and it needs some ergonomic improvements before I can get there. If it were my car, I’d shorten the shift lever and move the pedals slightly so it’s easier to heel/toe. The ability to adjust the seat would be nice, too.

“The Porsche will put in a day at the track and still let you relax in comfort on the drive home. Those two trunks will swallow a lot of gear for a road trip.

“The 818 is a modern take on the classic roadster. It isn’t a car that many people would want to drive every day–not even to and from the track–but it is great while on the track or during a nice drive in the country. Plus, if you take it to a show, you can smile and tell people, ‘Yeah, I built it myself.’”

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View comments on the GRM forums
dculberson PowerDork
10/6/17 2:34 p.m.

1000 pounds and 2 seconds faster on a road course. I would have thought the difference would be more pronounced. What does everyone else think?

tuna55 MegaDork
10/6/17 2:44 p.m.

Agreed. That doesn't seem like a big enough difference. Same tire compound? 

Robbie GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
10/6/17 2:59 p.m.

Same tire compound I think but Porsche's tires are wider by almost half an inch front and back.

Also, the Porsche has more HP, and more than a few years of sports car engineering prowess behind it.

Edit: doh! I only remembered the second half of the statement that seems plenty contradictory:

"Aside from a set of Bridgestone Potenza RE-11 tires, it’s still stock. Our 818 rolls on Yokohama Advan Neova AD08 R tires, making this a fair fight right down to the rubber."

tuna55 MegaDork
10/6/17 3:09 p.m.

In reply to Robbie :

Oops missed that.


That makes it pretty disappointing.


z31maniac MegaDork
10/6/17 3:32 p.m.

Goes to show weight isn't that important if the car can handle it.

Kreb UltraDork
10/6/17 4:07 p.m.

I imagine that someone who isn't as dialed in with the Porsche as Shields might find the performance gap to be greater. 

Vigo UltimaDork
10/7/17 7:25 p.m.

I agree, but someone with a lot of experience tracking any MR car has got to be closer than average to hopping into an 818 and doing well. 

I think one thing that's not really mentioned here is that the 818 seems intended to be a thrill machine, and it's a little incongruous to have a mostly stock powertrain in it. Add a little 'easy turbo power' and the gap could become fairly huge, especially on a faster track. Not very easy (or cheap) to add power to the Boxster. 

Brian MegaDork
10/8/17 6:03 a.m.

Track, 818. Street, Boxter. I say that having visited Factory Five two days ago. 

spin_out HalfDork
10/8/17 6:25 a.m.

Danny your car is pretty

irish44j UltimaDork
10/8/17 3:10 p.m.


If we're tossing out the "living with this car on regular roads" and really just comparing track capability, why not compare the 818 with a track-use Boxster S? From what I've read, a Boxster S stripped down to a "track spec but still street legal" (including a hardtop) gets down to about 2500lbs or less.

Also minor bone to pick that I didn't notice on the first read. For the FF you list the power as 225 (wheel) but list the porsche as 250 (flywheel). This is not apples to apples. 250 at the flywheel is more like 210 at the wheel for the Porsche. So anyone surprised about the "more powerful Porsche" being slower, should look again....  At very least you could have talked to your Porsche tuner buddies (I know you must have one) and found out what a typical "wheel" horsepower for the Boxster is.

Side note: remind me what engine/turbo is in your 818? 

In any case, not defending the Porsche per se, but I'm an analyst so I like to see comparitive analysis conducted using the same criteria and rating. I suspect that a 2500# Boxster S with the same level of "track" modifications as your 818 would probably beat the 818 on the track, or at least come close to it. Just speculation there, of course.

Both will badly thrash my 924S on the track, haha (and my WRX will absolutely annihilate it...)

irish44j UltimaDork
10/8/17 3:16 p.m.

A quick internet search indicates that a typical stock early-2000s Boxster S puts down about 220hp and 195 tq to the wheels...

D2W HalfDork
10/9/17 3:48 p.m.

I've always been a fan of the FFR 818, watching its whole development, but that picture above with the boxster sure makes it look like a cheesy kit car.

Robbie GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
10/9/17 4:23 p.m.
D2W said:

I've always been a fan of the FFR 818, watching its whole development, but that picture above with the boxster sure makes it look like a cheesy kit car.

Thank you for putting your finger on exactly how I felt!

Kreb UltraDork
10/9/17 4:27 p.m.

The preponderance of graphics on the FF818 doesn't do it any visual favors IMO. The coupe version looks a lot more grown up.

Huckleberry MegaDork
10/9/17 5:24 p.m.

2.32 second average faster lap is a lifetime in a race.  The 818 would be lapping the Porsche in about 40 or so laps at that track based on those lap times.

Not even close.

irish44j UltimaDork
10/9/17 5:44 p.m.

Maybe the next one should be the 818 Coupe vs. Cayman R laugh

nowucme New Reader
10/9/17 6:06 p.m.

Is that a 2002 Subaru engine and suspension in the 818? No disrespect to Mr. Smith and the fantastic corral of cars his company builds but it doesn't seem like an apples to apples comparison. Perhaps an Exocet would be a better comp.

Huckleberry MegaDork
10/9/17 6:26 p.m.
irish44j said:

Maybe the next one should be the 818 Coupe vs. Cayman R laugh

They make an 818R kit for $10,990 that laps Lime Rock in :56 and 2:00 flat at the Glen. So, genuinely for reels fast. If you are going to build a kit car for the track I can't imagine why you wouldn't start with the better spec kit even if you had to mix and match a little to get a license plate. If you are able to swing $20k for a kit car build... you can swing 25k to make it haul ass.  Really you just need two junk cars to be donors... one crappy WRX, and then a 2004-2007 Subaru STI to donate the motor and a few other racy bits.


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