After 25 Years, Celebrating the Little Car That Saved Porsche
(Bloomberg) -- Last week, in the no-mans-land between Malibu and Calabasas, Calif., Porsche loaned me a rosy-silver Boxster with two-tone bronze metallic wheels and a leather interior the color of Marilyn Monroe’s lipstick.
The little roadster was the same underneath its hood as a conventional 2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS: it offers 394 horsepower, with a 0-60 mph sprint of 3.8 seconds (in PDK automatic format) and a top speed of 182 mph (in manual form).
But this one was special, Porsche says, and the unique colorways signified it. Emblazoned with “Boxster 25” badges and Neodyme copper color on the front and side air intakes, this was an edition limited to 1,250 Boxsters, made to celebrate the plucky machine that saved Porsche from ruin.
With a starting price of $98,600—more expensive than a Mazda Miata, sure, but more affordable than a Porsche Cayman GT4—the Porsche Boxster 25 Years represents a way for brand loyalists to own an easy, fun-to-drive model that carries the weight of historical significance to boot.
Porsche spokesman Luke Vandezande demurred when I asked specifically how many Boxster 25s remain available to buy. But as with anything, where there’s a will, there’s a way: Make friends with your local dealer, who just might find a hidden allocation for you—or at least someone who will sell you theirs.
The Little Car That Could
At any rate, the Boxster makes for a great story. People like to say that the Cayenne SUV saved Porsche. But before that, it was the humble Boxster.
In 1987, Porsche fell off a cliff. The public’s excitement with the bellowing 911 Turbos of the 1970s and ‘80s had cooled to “meh.” Sales of the entry-level front-engine four-cylinder 968 had done nothing to jolt Porsche into anything other than being known—if known at all—as a small brand fit only for track buffs.
Sales in the U.S. market had dropped from all-time highs near 30,000 in 1986 to fewer than 9,100 in 1990. By the beginning of 1993, Porsche was selling just 3,700 vehicles a year there.
Horst Marchart, then Porsche’s research and development boss, knew that if Porsche were going to survive, it would need to develop a car that was exciting, cheap to make, and aimed at the company’s biggest potential market: North America.
“It was to be a two-seater with a front end close to that of the 911 to guarantee clear identification of the car as a Porsche,” Marchart told Hagerty years later. Left unsaid: Its front end would look like (i.e., mimic) much of that of the 911, so it could share parts and cut costs.
“The new car should cost around 70,000 marks” (roughly $41,000, which made it half as expensive as the 911), Marchart said, “and also appeal to younger customers.”
Enter Grant Larson. By the end of 1993, the American car designer who went on to design the Porsche Carrera GT and Porsche Panamera had developed the concept that would fulfill Marchart’s dictate. Larson based it off the super lightweight, simple and topless Porsche cars from the 1950s and ‘60s (the 356, the 550 Spyder, the 718 RSK)—with the idea of making a more sophisticated 914, the tiny roadster Porsche had discontinued in 1976. Since then, the visual shape and look of Porsche’s two-door cars has barely changed.
Another American, Steve Murkett, concocted the name “Boxster,” which was a mashup of the famous Porsche “boxer” engine and the “roadster” (car without a top) body. Meanwhile, Porsche plied a group of former Toyota executives for their expertise on streamlining production to maximize profits.
Et, voila! The Boxster concept debuted at the Detroit Auto Show in 1993. Porsche marketed it as the future of spirited, affordable driving. Production started in 1996. In the first year in the U.S. alone, Porsche sold 7,000 of them. It instantly became the company’s best-seller.
The Same But Different
Driving the modern Boxster approximates driving its forebears. So if you’re hoping for something other than cosmetic enhancements on this special edition, you’ll be disappointed.
But those looking for their first Porsche, or for a sports car they can drive every day while keeping the 911 in the garage for special occasions, will be charmed. During my day carving through canyons drenched in golden October light, its flat-six engine and lightweight body felt spunky and light, as you might imagine a souped-up Miata. Its six-speed manual transmission and super-tight steering adhered it to the road with the urgency of a hungry pup. It grrrr’d when I pressed the gas. This is a car you can push to the edge of its limits. It feels accessible—attainable—which is generally way more fun than driving some 700-plus horsepower monster you’re constantly fighting to hold back so the thing doesn’t kill you.
The Boxster’s interior cabin is arranged just like that of other Porsche cabins. It is pleasingly familiar with its small screens and careful balance between touchscreen technology and tangible buttons and knobs. (It was noticeably smaller than that of the 991 Turbo S in which I had arrived that morning.) It’s all usable but not extensive: The soft-top roof rises in roughly 10 seconds; you can fit a duffel bag and a coat in the front trunk, nothing more. There is, of course, no back seat. The cup holder count is like the 911’s: two.
You can buy the Boxster 25 in GT Silver Metallic, like what I drove, or in Jet Black Metallic or Carrera White Metallic. In addition to that Bordeaux Red leather interior with a red fabric roadster top, both interior and top are available in Black, too. (I’d choose those: The bronze on the car I drove wasn’t quite dark enough, nor was the silver bright enough, to capture my heart, aesthetically speaking.) The interior package with brushed aluminum accents, 14-way electrically adjustable sport seats, door sill trims with “Boxster 25" lettering, and a heated sport leather steering wheel are included as standard equipment.
What I liked knowing most is that Grant Larson—the guy who had designed the first Boxster a quarter-century ago—is still with Porsche today. Now design director of special projects, he designed the Boxster 25, too. The old and new cars look strikingly similar. Continuity! Talk about a selling point. The car hardly looks much different from the first one, but don’t call it boring. Call it 25 years of heritage.
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