Great Drive: 2009 Porsche Boxster S

Timothy Ferris
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Mark Bramley

Like many Porsche drivers, I've long loved 911s but felt a bit snobbish about the Boxster. Raw power was not in evidence, the original Boxsters sporting only 201 hp. And the styling? Granted, Porsches are about engineering rather than looks - they're like the smart, plain schoolgirl who wears no makeup because she knows that any boy who's going to get interested in her will have to pay closer attention than that - but even so, the early Boxsters resembled bugeye Sprites more than Carreras. The Boxster may have been Automobile Magazine's 1998 Automobile of the Year, but to me it smacked too much of the 914.

Younger readers may wish to be reminded that 914s were mid-engine half-Volkswagens - in Europe they were even sold from VW showrooms - that Porsche produced from 1969 to 1976. Most of them had four-cylinder engines, and almost all seemed to be painted the same awful road-cone orange. The good ones were said to be remarkable, but the only good ones I ever encountered were at the track, at Porsche club events - and here I must admit that my snobbery, like all snobbery, was based on a combination of ignorance and insecurity. Back in the 1990s, I'd be tooling around the track in my street-legal, silver-on-black 911 Carrera 4S when a shuddering flash of orange in the mirrors announced that I was about to be overtaken by a stripped-down, souped-up, slicks-shod 914. Club racers on a budget bought aging 914s for a pittance - they liked to call them "disposable" cars - and turned them into fierce competitors that proved to be as agile as Pro Bowl cornerbacks. All I could do was sigh, wave the damned thing past, hound it down the straight, then watch its little orange tail whip away through the twisty parts.

I had the half-baked notion that "real" Porsches have their engines behind the rear wheels. It dated from the day in Miami that I first saw a 356 up close. I was fourteen years old. One sunny afternoon in 1958, our music teacher, a suave veteran of the Broadway orchestra pits who wore Italian loafers yet was rumored to be heterosexual, took me and three peerlessly cool Latino trumpet players outside to see his new white Speedster. I didn't know what to make of it. Just when American cars were sprouting enormous fins and grilles as edgy as medieval maces, the Porsche looked as soft and droopy as a half-used bar of soap. It was so tiny that you could almost have hung it on davits across the back of my father's Cadillac, and the engine, which seemed only marginally bigger than the Eldorado's air-conditioning compressor, was situated where the trunk should have been. Yet the Speedster's single-minded design, its wire-mesh headlamp grilles and knockoff wheels, its sparse, race-car-like interior - not to mention the fact that the trumpet players flipped up their sunglasses and ogled it with genuine respect - persuaded me that Porsches must be a) cool and b) rear-engined. Since the 911 was a direct descendant of the 356, I came to regard it as a proper Porsche, the Boxster not as much so.

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