Back in 1997, the Boxster made Porsche a household name... and without our help. Yup, if you're going to mess up, you might as well flame out in a Boxster.
Now is as good a time as any to reveal our misadventures with one of the most intriguing and groundbreaking sports cars ever made.
With nearly every auto writer in the land begging to test Porsche's new mid-engine marvel, we somehow managed to score a gorgeous 1997 Guards Red Boxster for a week's worth of cruising along a portion of the view-rific Pacific Coast Highway that hugs the cliffs and shoreline between San Francisco and Los Angeles, Calif.
Sadly, that trip ended far too soon.
Late on the second day, a photo shoot on one of Monterey's many beaches (south of Pebble Beach) turned into our worst nightmare when the Boxster became bogged down in sand. In trying to free the car, which had sunk to the point that the rear tires were no longer in contact with anything, a lower control arm was severed. The damage promptly ended the drive, but that was only realized after four body-builder types literally picked up the rear (the heavy end with the engine) of the Porsche and, risking double hernias, literally carried the Boxster about five metres back to asphalt.
The flat-deck truck driver who eventually arrived at the scene kindly dropped us off at a hotel after hauling the wounded and somewhat sand-encrusted roadster to the nearest dealer for repairs. Not so kind were the remarks delivered over the phone by Porsche's PR folks.
"OUR CARS ARE NOT MEANT TO BE DRIVEN ON BEACHES, YOU KNOW!"
The significant repair costs included several hours to vacuum several pounds of beach from every nook and cranny that occurred from spinning the Boxster's wheels in a futile attempt to coax the car onto more solid ground.
Prior to this misguided episode, the Boxster (the name is a derivation of the car's horizontally opposed flat or "boxer" engine and "roadster") was a sure-fire traffic stopper, whether in the city or out on the open road. The response was understandable considering the car's stunning looks. But what really caused jaws to slacken and hearts to fill with lust was when the base price was revealed to be much lower than the 1997 Porsche 911 Carrera convertible.
Initially, Porsche set out to produce an affordable car that would reflect its half-century in the sports-car business. The design inspiration was the company's mid-engine 550 Spyder and the rear-engine Speedster models dating from the 1950s.
There was nothing old-fashioned about the Boxster, however. Unseen behind the cockpit was a 201horsepower 2.5-litre horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine. Porsche claimed a zero-to-60-mph (96 km/h) time of about six seconds with a slick-shifting five-speed manual transmission. A five-speed Tiptronic automatic with steering-wheel-mounted shift buttons was optional.
Atop a lengthy list of neat features was a power-operated top that resided beneath a clamshell-style lid that, in a mere 12 seconds, automatically opened wide to swallow the fabric roof. Other standard goodies included 16-inch alloy wheels (17-inch versions were optional) air conditioning, power windows, leather seats with power adjustments for the driver and stop-on-a-dime disc brakes.
The Boxster's practical nature showed through with a deep storage space up front plus a bonus luggage area behind the mid-mounted engine.
By the year 2000, a newly installed 2.7-litre flat-six gave the Boxster 217 horses to play with, while the all-new Boxster S model's 3.2litre engine produced 250 ponies.
Also by that time, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz were producing their own relatively affordable open-top sports cars. Even Honda had entered the fray with its high-winding S2000 roadster. In no time flat the entire nation was awash in fun-to-drive rolling hair dryers.
Now with a brand-new third generation model arriving, Porsche continues to refine the Boxster, adding progressively more power and content, along with modestly escalating prices. But its continuing popularity, along with that of the Boxster-based Cayman coupe launched for the 2006 model year, have broadened Porsche's sports car lineup, added considerably to the company's fortunes and introduced a previously untapped fan base to the Porsche experience.
A Porsche on the cheap? Not exactly. But a thoroughly competent sports car (that works best when restricted to pavement) for nearly half the price of a comparable 911? What's not to love?
Malcolm Gunn is a feature writer with Wheelbase Media. He can be reached on the Web at www.shiftweekly. com by using the contact link. Wheelbase supplies automotive news and features to newspapers across North America.
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