The Porsche Boxster we ultimately received in 1997 was quite unlike the Porsche Boxster we were promised in 1993.
Porsche has become so synonymous with success over the past two decades, it’s easy to forget that the erstwhile sports car maker form Stuttgart Zuffenhausen was on the brink of bankruptcy more than once.
On one such occasion, in the early 1990s – amid a significant recession, on top of internal issues (such as poor productivity and ageing products) – the powers that be at Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche AG decided that the then-current range of products overstretched the company’s resources and therefore wouldn’t be replaced like-for-like.
The evergreen 911, incidentally the newest and best-selling model at the time, was to stay, but the 968 2+2 and 928 GT were to be axed. In their place, Porsche wanted to launch a product that would take advantage of the roadster craze that had been started by the Mazda Miata/MX-5 in 1989.
The first result of these considerations was unveiled at the 1993 Detroit Motor Show – then still one of the car world’s mainstay events – to rapturous applause.
Even more than quarter of a century later, it is easy to see why. For the Boxster concept was not just very much of its time, what with its organic forms and some steampunk-inspired details that look endearingly quaint, but not necessarily attractive from today’s perspective. Predominantly though, it was an exceptionally well proportioned piece of design, with a muscular stance, whose surfacing featured perfectly judged volumes that lent the Boxster an athletic tautness rare among designs of the ‘soft’, 1990s kind, which tended to appear considerably more flaccid.
Responsible for this excellent exterior was American car designer, Grant Larson, whose German colleague, Stefan Stark, was in charge of the interior design, with both working under Porsche’s then-chief designer, Harm Lagaay.
The Boxster concept would be the first clear statement car created during Lagaay’s tenure, as the 993-generation Neunelfer, which was also credited to the Dutchman, still owed quite a bit to the stylistic legacy of his predecessor, Anatole Lapine.
The Boxster concept’s well-deserved acclaim inevitably resulted in considerable anticipation for the production model, which arrived three years later. And was considered a bit of a disappointment.
It most definitely wasn’t the loss of the peculiar horn details used for the concept car’s gear lever, steering wheel buttons and badge that grated. Nor the absence of body colour accents in the very plastic-heavy production car’s cabin. It was, above all else, the deflated volumes of the exterior’s surfaces, the somewhat less pert proportions and the resultant overall lack of poise, in contrast to the Boxster that had been promised three years prior. A combination of many, seemingly minor changes that resulted in great expectations not being met.
Some of these changes are quite easily explicable, as they are related to the dire straits Porsche found itself in during the Boxster’s development process. The cheap materials used in the cabin are the most obvious consequence. The need to share as many components as possible with the upcoming 996-generation Neunelfer, inevitably resulting in the less than clear cut distinctions between both models’ design, are almost as self-explanatory.
Yet why the production car appeared so significantly more limp than the concept remains far less obvious.
However, despite these reservations, the Boxster turned out to be a huge sales success that played a significant role in Porsche’s long-term survival. Maybe this could have been greater still, if the eventual production car had been more in keeping with the designer’s original intentions. Maybe the Boxster wouldn’t still be suffering from the stigma that it’s a car bought by people who ‘couldn’t afford an Elfer‘, if the first of its kind had not been so obviously styled as the 911’s smaller/poor relation.
Be that as it may – aside from any theoretical quandaries, the Boxster concept illustrates the power of seemingly minor details in car design. For better or worse.
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