25 Years (and a bit) of the Porsche Boxster
Ok, confession time: 2021 was the actual 25th anniversary of the iconic Porsche Boxster but we were a bit busy relaunching Great Driving Days after the pandemic so it sort of passed us by. So it's a belated Happy Birthday to the car that - probably - saved Porsche.
We added a Boxster to our classic car hire fleet in 2020. Lets celebrate by exploring how the Boxster came about, why it succeeded and why you want to drive one.
How it Happened
From the late 1970s Porsche had been beavering away trying to solve one simple problem: how to survive beyond the 911. Desirable and distinctive as the definitive rear-engined sports car might have been, it meant Porsche was a one-model business with all of its bets placed on one car.
The firm's solution was to push upmarket and downmarket, launching the 928 GT and the 924 coupe. These cars were good, really good, but they didn't deliver what Porsche needed, which was sales volumes and profit. So the 928 was pushed further upmarket and the 924 became the more expensive and more powerful 944.
The problem with both cars is that they didn't really follow Porsche DNA. Buyers expected something different and unusual from Porsche: two conventional front engine, rear drive sports cars didn't deliver.
So by the 1990s Porsche faced a problem. Its efforts to diversify beyond the 911 hadn't really worked and those models were beginning to look long in the tooth. Added to which the 911, the car that was meant to dwindle and die, was more popular than ever. Porsche needed new models with a new direction if it was really to build on the 911 legacy.
Step forward the Mazda MX5. The diminutive, inexpensive MX5 proved that there was a previously un-tapped market for proper two seater, drop top sports cars. It gave Porsche an idea.
Armed with a brief to build a Porsche MX5 the designers started by looking back at an icon from the firm's history, the gorgeous 550 Spyder of the mid 1950s. Borrowing the styling and mid engine layout of that lightweight car, the Boxster's lines began to take shape.
The Boxster was conceived to be an upmarket sports car but one that would be inexpensive by Porsche standards. This was a new model for people who might have previously thought they either couldn't afford a Porsche or didn't want the hyper-performance of the classic 911.
Why it Succeeded
The Boxster succeeded where the 928, 924 and 944 didn't quite for two simple reasons: firstly, it was very good. Secondly, it was profitable.
When developing the original Boxster Porsche took everything it had learned about the 911 and applied it to the new car. Because the mid engined new car had a similar layout to the rear engined 911 this was simpler than it had been with the previous front engined cars. The Boxster, put simply, benefitted from what Porsche was already really good at. So the finished car used a detuned 911 engine, most of the suspension and running gear were shared and even the interior was similar. The Boxster was built well and handled brilliantly, just like a 911.
Then there was how it was designed and built. Porsche already had experience building really good sports cars like the 928 and 944. But they weren't profitable enough because each car was distinct with few shared components. The Boxster was different. As well as most of what you can't see, most of what you can see is shared between the Boxster and the 911: expensive bits like the front wings and bonnet and the dashboard and interior. This made the Boxster cheaper to build and therefore more profitable.
All of which could have made the Boxster just a low-powered 911. But it is much more than that. By putting the engine in the middle, Porsche created a car with a very different character than the 911, and in some ways a much better one. The Boxster has none of the older car's propensity to create Porsche shaped holes in hedges.
Why You Want To Drive One
There seems to be two camps with two different points of view when it comes to the Boxster: one side argues that it is an 'almost 911', the car you buy when you can't afford a 911. Another argument is that the Boxster is the real world Porsche you can actually enjoy on Britain's roads.
We've had several 911s on our fleet and we're firmly in the second camp. A classic 911 is an experience but hard to drive. Lovely as it is, it's hard to escape the idea that it's a Beetle with a lot more power. A modern 911 is far too fast and powerful to enjoy properly on our clogged roads. For us, the Boxster is the perfect blend of performance and handling. With 200 bhp our early Boxster has enough power to be exhilarating whilst enabling you to plan ahead for corners and enjoy its sublime chassis.
Because it really is an extremely good car. The flat six boxer engine is turbine smooth, delivering an insistent thrust from even low revs. You can just enjoy that thrill or indulge its superb handling, a lovely mix of direct, communicative steering and grip, lots and lots of grip.
The Boxster's clever trick is that it does all this whilst also being comfortable, not something you can always say about the 911.
The original 1996 Boxster went on to spawn a series of successors, each one subtly nudging the boundaries of the first template. Later cars got more power and grew in size and, in the classic Porsche way, introduced gradual improvements.
Our Boxster consistently surprises customers with just how good it is - during the season our team is regularly asked if it's for sale or where to buy one and what to watch out for.
You can hire our Porsche from just £69 as part of our 60 Minute Classic Tasters or drive it on one of our multi-car Road Trips. It is also available to hire by the day from £299. To find out more CLICK HERE.
If our Boxster celebration has whet your whistle - or if you've driven ours - and want to buy one, here is a quick buying guide. It's not extensive - as with any old car, get as much information before buying as you can.
The Boxster is currently extremely good value, in part because it's an old Porsche that isn't a 911. Used buyers of 25 year old sports cars tend to be put off by the perceived cost of running a cheap Porsche.
While is it true that a bad Boxster will be an expensive hole into which you can pour as much money as you're able - and more - it doesn't have to be that way. The Boxster, like all Porsches, is extremely well engineered. There are some well known weaknesses, but they are surprisingly small in number. The main one of these is the IMS bearing on early cars - this can be avoided by buying an early 2.5 car.
The main problem when buying an old Boxster is maintenance. Because they're cheap to buy - and sometimes expensive to fix - maintenance can sometimes fall through the cracks; buyers can afford to buy, not afford to maintain. So check the history file carefully - a low owner car with good history is a much better buy than a better spec car with lower miles.
Porsche also sold the Boxster in a bewildering range of colours and specifications. Choose colour - for interior and bodywork - carefully and try to avoid the temptation of a cheap auto. This is a sports car, it needs a manual gearbox.
Graham Eason, Great Driving Days, 01527 893733