Today we feature a car that, thanks to a clever facelift, was finally given the desirability to match its dynamic qualities.
The original 1996 Porsche Boxster 986 had all the right mechanical ingredients for a terrific sports car, and so it proved to be. However, the styling was a disappointment, particularly after the excitement generated by the pert and beautifully detailed 1993 Boxster Concept, first shown at the US Auto Show in January of that year.
Porsche’s severe financial difficulties during the 1990s forced the company to share as many components and body parts as possible between the 986 Boxster and new 996 generation 911. The Boxster was an unknown quantity in terms of sales potential, whereas the 911 was the mainstay of the company’s range, so it was the requirements for the latter that would be the dominant factor in specifying shared components.
The common elements included all of the bodywork forward of the B-pillar, including the notorious and widely disliked large fried egg headlamp units. Because these components were designed primarily for the rear-engined 911 with its relatively long rear overhang, the front overhang ended up being rather too long for the mid-engined Boxster and its short tail.
The consequence was an inadvertent front to rear symmetry that gave the Boxster an unfortunate “is it coming or going” stance. Overall, the production Boxster looked rather over-bodied and flaccid for what was meant to be an athletic sports car. Inside, the shared dashboard and secondary controls were cheap and unpleasant, both to look at and use.
It is not unfair to say that the 986 sold primarily on its performance, handling and usability, rather than its appearance. A minor facelift in 2002, with new front and rear valances, and smoked rather than orange indicators, improved matters somewhat, but the overly large light clusters still dominated the heavy looking front end.
In 2005, Porsche launched the second-generation Boxster 987, which was an extensive facelift of the 986 rather than an all-new car. The 987 retained the centre section of the original but was given a new and unique front end, no longer shared with the 911.
The front corners of the car were pulled back to reduce the apparent length of the overhang. Smaller oval headlamps were more appropriate to the scale of the car. At the rear, the 987 was given slightly smaller revised lamp units, the shape of which seemed to make the hips over the rear wheels look more prominent. On the flanks, tall and slim triangular engine air intakes replaced the inert looking boxy originals. The wheel arches were enlarged to accommodate 19” wheels instead of the 18” maximum size for the 986.
The changes were individually all relatively minor, but together they transformed the appearance into something much more dynamic looking and desirable. Although the 987 shared exactly the same overall dimensions as the 986, the increased curvature of the front end (in plan view) larger wheel arches (and wheels) and more sophisticated shut-line management contrived to make it look smaller and altogether more taut and athletic, as though the body was stretched more tightly over the platform. A new and much higher quality dashboard and interior trim completed the overhaul.
The impact of the revisions was much more apparent in reality than in photographs. I recall seeing my 987 parked next to a 986 and was amazed at the difference. So successful was the facelift that the 987 was widely perceived to be an all-new car. The 987 would remain in production until 2012, with just a minor facelift in 2008 which was limited to new lamps front and rear and revised bumpers.
To my mind, the 986 to 987 transformation proves that how deftly the details in any design are handled really counts towards its overall perception, so much so I would argue that the 986 and 987 represent the least and most successful Boxster designs to date. The subsequent 981 and 982 generation models are certainly handsome cars, but they lack the delicacy of the 987 and instead go for a more aggressively sporting look.