Just as the Cayman, the Boxster, and the 911 share an increasingly flexible common DNA, the project 906 launched forty-seven years ago was closely related to the first-generation 911. The homologated racing car, also called the Carrera 6, featured an upgraded version of the production car’s flat six mounted in front of the rear axle. Painted off-white and sporting the distinctive light yellow Perspex engine cover, our mint-condition example of the first-ever six-cylinder mid-engine Porsche pointed the way toward today’s Boxster and Cayman. Its dramatic proportions are simply out of this world. At 39 inches tall, the gull-wing two-seater is lower than just about any current hardtop sports car. The 66-inch width is positively petite, but the length measures a self-conscious 162 inches, and the long-tail Le Mans version stretches an even more substantial 181 inches. Among the most eye-catching features are stacked headlights, turn indicators, and long-range driving lights covered by low-drag, flush-fitting lenses; a Kamm-back rear spoiler complemented by a brace of front splitters; a truly panoramic windshield; and two chrome, teardrop-shaped side mirrors.
The latest Porsche Cayman, which will arrive in the United States in the spring, promises to be a competent and affordable 911 alternative. Although it looks familiar from all angles, the 2013 Cayman S is actually brand-new from top to bottom. The wheelbase has been stretched by 2.4 inches, the track is slightly wider, and the front overhang has been clipped. In addition, the design team, under the direction of Michael Mauer, created a more aggressive nose, a set of heavily modified doors, and a markedly different rear end. Also new are a sleeker roof and a more practical hatch made of aluminum. The previously fixed rear spoiler is now motorized; it is significantly larger than before and extends to a taller position and a steeper angle to provide additional downforce. Its drag-cutting counterpart at the front reduces axle lift. Detail changes include newly designed daytime running lights; bigger, straked, matte-black lateral air intakes; and a full-width, high-mounted LED brake light. Perhaps the most striking styling element is the prominent wraparound crease that extends from the doors to the rear fenders, the lipped taillights, and the aforementioned air deflector. Nice work.
Although the Cayman is cheaper to build than the Boxster, which requires extra stiffening measures and a complex power-operated top, it actually sells for quite a bit more than its softtop sibling. Like the common components concept that fused the 911 and its mid-engine sister models, the Cayman’s ambitious positioning was the idea of former Porsche chairman Wendelin Wiedeking, who didn’t know a lot about cars but was an expert at milking the customer. The 275-hp, 2.7-liter Cayman is priced at $53,550, but the 325-hp, 3.4-liter Cayman S pictured here will cost you at least $64,750. Although the new coupe is not that much more expensive than the model it replaces, you can easily shell out ten grand or more if you succumb to the temptations of the extensive options list, which stretches well into 911 territory. If money is no object, Porsche will happily fit a Burmester sound system, two-tone leather, passive entry and ignition, adaptive cruise control, heated and ventilated memory sports seats, the latest infotainment wizardries, and just about any conceivable color and trim combination. A wider liftgate accesses a larger, 9.7-cubic-foot cargo area, but the liftover height is still quite tall. Access to the engine is from below, but coolant and oil can be topped off via filler necks in the carpeted cargo bay.
A tall crossbar made of brushed aluminum stops luggage from sliding into the cockpit. Although the cabin is still cozy, the extended wheelbase and the redesigned seats furnish tall drivers with an extra bit of room to move.
The 906 was a perfect fit for short and stocky pros like Hans Herrmann and Gerhard Mitter. The gull-wing doors are by no means a fashion item — they are absolutely essential to making your way past the tiny, low-mounted, three-spoke steering wheel and sliding onto the ridiculously small and narrow cloth-trimmed bucket seat. Once you’re installed, the ergonomics are quite acceptable. Visibility is excellent, the wide sills that house the two fuel tanks create sufficient elbow room, and the only obstacle en route to the standing pedals are a couple of oil pipes that can get red hot in the course of a long race. The thinly padded seats look and feel more like uncomfortable bonsai living-room chairs, safety belts are conspicuous by their absence, and the solid single-piece steering column points directly at the driver’s chest. The driving environment is extremely basic. The only instruments are a tachometer redlined at 8400 rpm and an oil temperature gauge. The cable-operated clutch isn’t much heavier than the throttle, and the five-speed manual gearbox is surprisingly light and slick. A row of black rocker switches operates the single-arm wiper, the lights, and the rudimentary fan.
Thanks to extensive use of lightweight materials such as magnesium and high-strength thin-gauge steel, the curb weight of the 2013 Cayman S was reduced by sixty-six pounds. At the same time, the static torsional stiffness went up by some 40 percent. The Cayman’s increase in power over the previous edition may be marginal, but fuel economy also improves a bit and the new S version’s performance numbers match those of last year’s top-of-the-line R model. When fitted with options like the PDK automatic gearbox and the Sport Chrono pack, the Cayman S will, according to Porsche, sprint to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and reach a maximum speed of 174 mph. Both six-cylinder engines benefit from direct fuel injection and automatic stop/start, but the variable camshaft timing is still only on the intake side, and of course turbocharging remains reserved for the 911. Features that have filtered down from the 911 include extras such as carbon-ceramic brakes (PCCB), torque vectoring (PTV), active dampers (PASM), dynamic transmission mounts, and Power Steering Plus, which reduces effort at parking speeds while at the same time enhancing self-centering forces.
Tipping the scales at about 1500 pounds — depending on equipment — the Carrera 6 weighs roughly half as much as the new Cayman. This is primarily due to the radically lean tubular-spaceframe chassis clad with self-supporting composite clamshell front and rear body sections. Other contributing factors are exotic materials such as beryllium, magnesium, titanium, and aluminum. The air-cooled 2.0-liter flat six delivers 210 hp at 8000 rpm and 145 lb-ft of torque at 6000 rpm. Although it is 62 hp more powerful than the engine installed in the 1966 model-year 911, it weighs an amazing 119 pounds less. When fitted with the tallest of three available final-drive ratios, the long-tail 906 would top 172 mph. The rack-and-pinion steering and the four ATE disc brakes lack any trace of power assistance. Whereas the front wheels are suspended on control arms, the rear wheels rely on a mix of longitudinal and lateral links. Coil springs, fixed-rate dampers, and small-diameter antiroll bars complete the setup. Fifteen-inch steel-and-aluminum wheels are shod with 5.50-15 Dunlop tires.
In the past, the Cayman wasn’t allowed to outperform the more profitable 911, but this policy is about to change. Since Porsche has learned that there is virtually no overlap between the two clienteles, we are almost certainly going to see another Cayman R, and there’s even talk of a GT3 variant, which could compete in its own junior racing series. At the other end of the scale, the midcycle makeover expected for late 2015 may yield a new entry-level Cayman powered by a more frugal turbocharged four-cylinder boxer engine. Also said to be in the works are a seven-speed manual gearbox and a wider choice of operating modes modeled after BMW’s driving-experience selector and Ferrari’s manettino.
Derived from the so-called Bergspyder hill-climb special and developed by the then freshly promoted chief engineer Ferdinand Piech, grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, the Porsche 906 carried a 45,000 deutsche mark sticker price — a huge increase over the 29,700 DM price of the outgoing 904. Despite this hefty premium, the limited production run of fifty units sold out quickly. In the end, Porsche actually completed fifty-two vehicles, along with nine rolling chassis equipped with the evolutionary 220-hp fuel-injected engine and four works prototypes fitted with an experimental 250-hp, 2.2-liter flat eight. All customer cars featured two triple Weber carburetors capped by striking intake trumpets that sounded spine-tinglingly sexy under full throttle. Willy Mairesse and Herbert Mueller drove a private Scuderia Filipinetti 906 to victory at the 1966 Targa Florio, the car’s main claim to racing fame. Although the 906 won its class in that year’s world championship, after only one season it was superseded by the brawnier 910. Feel like investing in a well-kept Carrera 6? If you’ve saved up more than $850,000, you may be able to buy a numbers-matching specimen for those occasional track-day outings — and a fully loaded, brand-new Cayman S, which would make a supersweet daily driver.