True Confessions from the Driver’s Seat of the 50th Anniversary Edition.
Friday, June 4, 2004
Perfect car and weather, perfectly ridiculous traffic
Just how perfectly is this working out? At 10 a.m., when I pick up the special-edition Boxster S that commemorates 50 Years of the 550 Spyder, the radio forecaster warns of a high UV index. After Ann Arbor’s rainy spring, such a thing is almost impossible even to imagine.
It was two months ago when I arranged to have the car for this very week. During the interim we’d already driven it on Automobile Magazine’s annual Track Day, and it emerged from the field of more than a dozen other cars as my personal favorite. We know, for example, that it corners well enough to negotiate even the anfractuous twistings and turnings of the United Nation’s Oil for Food Program. But loving the Boxster S on the track is like falling in love in the bedroom. So what’s it like to live with?
This anniversary edition’s 3.2-liter engine makes 264 hp (compared to 258 for the regular Boxster S). The suspension is tauter and the track is widened by 10 mm. Porsche‘s Litronic headlights are standard, although the lamp arrangement isn’t terribly handsome. The twin-stack stainless-steel exhaust tips are unique, the convertible top is a handsome cocoa color, and leather of the same color generously covers the interior surfaces. (As one editor said, "All the Boxster ever needed was an interior.")
With the Boxster range scheduled for imminent replacement, this example represents the ultimate development of the first-generation and foreshadows a new focus on interior quality for the 2005 Boxster, code name 987. It will also conveniently help Porsche to move a few units-presumably without having to discount them as heavily-at the end of the product cycle.
I can’t wait to drive it outside the city. On tap for this evening is the first of three weekend parties for graduating high school seniors. The destination is a farm 25 miles southwest of Ann Arbor. Between here and there, the glacial topography undulates, and the roads curve some-a rare thing in Michigan. Then my wife and I will need to race back to the city for an 8:45 p.m. dinner with friends.
* * *
What a disappointment! Afternoon traffic is awful. We mire down in a huge Interstate 94backup. Even in the Boxster S anniversary edition, with all this supple leather, it’s a drag. When we finally reach the party after an hour and 40 minutes, teenagers crowd around the car. The Boxster has been around since 1997, but Porsches are something of a rarity out here.
The drive home goes better, although the ambient temperature is falling fast and we dial up some heat inside the cockpit. The car is so easy to place in the turns. All the controls are positive. And the engine’s song is one of Walt Whitman’s long unmeasured lines: a "barbaric yawp," as he said. However, on our rough roads, the chassis oscillates. The car remains composed, but you sometimes feel as if you’re on horseback. They’ll surely address this in the 2005 model.
Saturday, June 5
Some apexes and two more diplomas
The first of today’s parties is in a suburban neighborhood. Someone here calls the Boxster a chick magnet. I’d expand that to “people magnet.”
Out to the sticks again for the second party.. This is the third-straight gorgeous, dry day. The blue sky could be cerulean, azure, or ultramarine. (The dictionary says they’re more or less the same.) Throughout May the sky was gunmetal, slate, and pewter. Now, under these porcelain heavens, driving a roadster is a joy. This powerful, speedy Boxster S must rank as the real-world roadster of roadsters.
This second party, in the village of Clinton, is at a house on a Chevy-Ford–Dodge street. The Big Three employs everybody. One place has an F-150, an Explorer, a Ranger, and a Mustang. The Dodge people (Caravan and Intrepid) likely work at DaimlerChrysler’s Chelsea Proving Grounds. Our host (Cavalier and Astro van) drives 70 miles to a GM foundry in Defiance, Ohio, where he’s on the maintenance crew. The only foreign models on this two-block stretch are a , which has conveyed other party guests, and the Boxster S. My wife and I sit at a table sharing a Seven-Up while an accountant for a printing company tries to talk cars. He asks, "What’s that hot one Chrysler makes?" I say, "The Viper." "No," he replies, "that’s not it." When we depart at 6 p.m., my wife begs me not to make a U-turn and parade past the lawn party, but I can’t resist doing just that.
She rode out with a jacket over her knees to prevent sunburn. And of course she was concerned about her hair becoming disarranged. This is impossible for two reasons. First, her red hair is as coarse as wire. And, second, the cockpit is serene enough; having a conversation is easy, even at 75 mph, although I might not bother specifying the optional Bose sound system. (Oh, hell, yes I would.)
We return to Ann Arbor with the warm early evening sun at our backs. Cottonwood seeds flurry down. There’s almost no traffic. Encountering any at all, we blast by. Mid-range torque? Wow! Move the short-throw gearshift down to third, open the throttle, and 90 mph comes up right away. But mostly we cruise along at 65 mph, enjoying the fragrant countryside and the serenity that’s only attainable in an open car on a perfect day.
Sunday, June 6
The threat of a home-equity loan
Sunday starts fast. I have to drive my wife to the airport. She is flying to LAX and will spend the week in Palm Springs and then Laguna Beach with her sisters. When I open the bonnet to try putting in her suitcase, she says, "Where’s the motor?" Her confusion must have doubled when (because the case wouldn’t fit up front) I open the rear lid. No motor there, either. You can hear it but not see it! Maybe the driver’s throwing his voice!
It’s cloudy and 56 degrees at 7 a.m. She forbids a lidless run. In light expressway traffic, the Boxster S gobbles up the road. Included with my curbside drop-off good-bye is a threat to greet her in six days with papers for a equity loan so that I can buy one of these.
On my way back home, the top stays up. I’d never make it as the owner of a vintage Bentley roadster.
Sitting at a downtown Ann Arbor intersection, I overhear someone on the sidewalk saying, "Nice car!" On North Main Street, a middle-aged couple in a Grand Prix pulls alongside and paces me for a hundred yards while looking it over. From the cockpit of the Boxster S, a Grand Prix looks like a whale; harpoons should be optional. (Now that’s a special-equipment package!)
By late afternoon the sky clears. I’m enjoying some quiet time, catching up on magazines, when the phone rings. The downstairs neighbor, Ann, wants to see the car. It is she and her visiting parents who treated us to the late dinner Friday. Now we go for a 15-minute ride before she and her mother will prepare their own evening meal. Ann’s daily driver is a 1986 911, white with white wheels. Her father, who flew back to Florida on Saturday, has owned eight Porsches and commutes to work in either his 1989 Speedster with 123,000 miles or his 1996 911 Twin-Turbo. When her mother flies back Monday, she’ll make do with her 2002 Boxster S (and her Lexus LS430 with the handling package).
Ann and I go out to the glittering Huron River. We turn around, and on the way home, I explain more about what makes this 50th Anniversary Edition singular: the leather, the center-console plaque (number 0006 from the run of 1953), and the 18-inch wheels’ two-tone paint. In two years as our neighbor, Ann has shown a consistently keen interest in the cars I’ve brought home. The Boxster S anniversary edition really is a kind of farewell observance, given her saturation with Porsches and the fact that she will soon be leaving Ann Arbor. After having recently completed her residency in orthodontics, she’s been recalled to active duty as a U.S. Air Force officer. I’m sure going to miss the pulsing sound of her 911, which has come to represent her own friendly voice.
Monday, June 7
Even a short cross-town trip is an adventure
Mmmm! The garage smells enticingly of leather upholstery. I backed in the car last night, and now those powerful-looking haunches are voluptuous.
Another beautiful day. Needing to work at my desk, I stay in Park (and sometimes Reverse) till late afternoon, when at last I venture cross-town to the photo lab, never surpassing third gear. I’m now used to the car and forget it’s a Porsche and everybody’s looking. Or rather, not quite forgetting. At stoplights I maintain good posture: left elbow out the door and right hand on the wheel or the gearshift. No grooming activity, as I might otherwise do.
This Boxster S is such a sweetie around town. The engine pulls from 800 rpm. It’s like using the same sharp implement on lettuce that you also use on two-by-fours.
Near home, sitting at a light, I hear a man’s voice: “That’s a nice car.” There’s a late-middle-aged couple in an Olds Aurora.
“Thanks,” I say, having long ago given up making the confusing disclaimer that the test vehicle isn’t really mine. Not to mention the fact that I’d like to think the Boxster S really is me. “Yes,” I continue, “a perfect day for a convertible.”
“But a special car,” he says, evidently recognizing the anniversary edition. “Want to trade?”
“Just buy one of your own.”
This draws a big reaction from the wife: “That’s what I say!”
When they drive off I see the Aurora’s roof is rusty.
Tuesday, June 8
A Major Interruption
The presence of the Bentley Continental GT in Automobile Magazine’s short-term fleet interrupts my test of the Boxster S. The big $149,900 coupe needs to be driven-by me. (You can buy two and one- third Boxster S 50th Anniversary Editions for that price.) It’s interesting to see how simple the Boxster S is by comparison. And how practical. The six-speed manual transmission and the comparative lack of electronic governance and protocols stand out as prime examples. On the other hand, open up the Bentley‘s bonnet and you can see the engine. Or at least a lot of plastic shrouding.
Wednesday, June 9
From Here to Kalamazoo
Today I’m going on an expedition with my friend P. (I will call her that because she works for another well-known magazine.) The destination is Kalamazoo, about 100 miles west, and the goal is an exhibition of Impressionist paintings.
This most promising morning, the temperature has already reached the mid-70s; but P. states her desire-no, her requirement-that we travel with the top up. Riding in the open Boxster S will muss her hair. But then, sensing my disappointment, she concedes that perhaps we can lower the top on the way back.
We escape the city by a back way and ride 35 miles through the countryside to Jackson before joining expressway traffic. Racing up the entrance ramp, I shift out of second at 5000 rpm, and we glory in the engine’s commanding report. It’s guttural but at the same time highly refined, like the German tongue, like Beethoven.
Approaching our destination, I think the available navigation system would be nice. But that’s really asking too much of the Boxster S. And besides, how hard could it be to find anything in Kalamazoo? Not hard at all. We view the exhibit and I announce that I’ll take home one Monet and one Czanne. My dear P. will have a Matisse.
Returning to Ann Arbor, we cruise along the Interstate. Sixth gear is just fine; there’s still plenty of pull at 75 mph. The rougher stretches make the ride a bit unpleasant. At Chelsea we get off the big, busy road. At a stoplight, the truck driver beside us honks three times, scaring the hell out of the woman in the car ahead of him. Finally, P. looks over; he gives thumbs up and mouths, “Nice car.” It’s definitely time to unseal this verdict, so in the downtown area we stop, lower the top, and experience pure pleasure on the country roads leading back home.
Thursday, June 10
The Return of Rain
Rain has returned. Before a morning errand, everything about the power top is appreciated: its alacrity, the tight and quiet seal, and the rear glass. Whatever changes are to come with the next Boxster, the convertible top can pretty much be left alone. In fact, there aren’t many changes recommend except a stiffer chassis and better-looking front lamps. Thank God a Porsche is still a Porsche.
Tomorrow morning the Boxster goes back to its keepers. And if I don’t head directly to the home equity department, it’ll be a miracle.