When you consider the behemoth that is Porsche today, it's difficult to imagine that back in 1993, the company was on the brink of bankruptcy. The future of the firm hinged on one car, luckily that car was the Boxster
To say the Boxster saved Porsche is an understatement. To set the scene, Porsche had gone from selling over 50,000 cars per year in the mid-1980s to 14,000 in 1993. With the 911 in need of a refresh and the front-engined 968 selling poorly, younger buyers had lost interest in the brand and the outlook was bleak. Something needed to be done before the company faltered, and the Boxster was just that something.
Designed by Grant Larson, the Boxster’s purpose was to target the USA where Porsche sales were weak. The car needed to be affordable but have all the hallmarks of a Porsche. The design took inspiration from the 550 Spyder and 718 RS of the 1950s (the central exit exhaust, larger front overhang, and air intakes), but also incorporated modern features like new headlight and taillight designs. On the inside, the Boxster continued its modern classic design style with features including terracotta trimmed leather and suede, body-coloured door panels and possibly some of the coolest air vents ever seen.
The true masterstroke of Larson’s work was being able to combine an original design with the German’s requirements of frugality. Porsche wanted to target the mid-market sportscar sector, which meant the Boxster needed to be cheap. But in true Porsche fashion, they were not willing to compromise on quality. Queue the COP (Carried over parts) philosophy. Originally pioneered by the likes of Toyota, the idea was to use common parts across a range of cars, which meant you could still build a quality product, but at a lower production cost. By incorporating parts destined for the upcoming 911 (see everything in front of the A-pillar), Larson created a car that was not only cheaper to manufacture, but also created a design language that would carry into the new 911, making the Boxster a warm-up act for the 996.
The concept was launched in 1991 at the Detroit Auto Show and was an instant hit. The US press was wowed at the concept of a sub $40,000 Porsche, in comparison to the $64,000 price tag of the 911. Autoweek called the car “best in show” and allegedly blank cheques were written by many prospective clients. Porsche’s management were so impressed by the public's response, they stopped the design of the road car and decreed, “please build the concept, exactly like that”.
Development continued on the Boxster and as with any concept car, a few elements of the design were taken away, the side intake, split rim wheels and slice your finger off air vents were all removed. What remained was a perfectly proportioned silhouette with a truly original design. There was still a hint toward the heritage of those 1950s race cars, but it certainly wasn’t a try-hard retro design.
When the car launched in 1996 it hit a sweet spot in the market, with its 2.5-litre flat-six producing 204bhp, 181lbft, and reaching 0-62mph in 7 seconds. That level of performance combined with Porsche’s famed build quality at a price of just £34,000 left people wondering why would you buy anything else. Contemporary reviews claimed that “no other roadster offers the same dazzling blend of performance, handling, ride and refinement,” and that, “every corner was an event, every drive, no matter how short, an affair to savour.” High praise indeed, but in typical Porsche fashion, it wasn’t enough. With the success of the Boxster, Porsche went from a player in the sportscar market to a dominant force, and in order to keep that place, they would have to improve upon an already brilliant car. In 2000, the S model was launched featuring more power (250bhp and 225lbft) thanks to a new 3.2 engine, bigger brakes, revised chassis and some visual tweaks. The original Boxster also saw an upgrade in the form of an uplift in capacity to 2.7 litres, which increased power to 217bhp and 192lbft. These improvements had the desired effect and the Boxster continued to sell well in the US and across the world. By the end of the 986 run in 2004, they had sold over 100,000 units globally and Porsche was well and truly back on its feet.
When it came to the difficult second (987), third (981) and fourth (718) albums, Porsche never missed a beat. The Boxster still remains relevant today and continues to be one of the best-selling sportscars globally and has a firm hold on the market. In 2021 Porsche even paid homage to the original concept design with the special edition Boxster 25 Years. Based on the 4.0 litre GTS model, but wearing a colour scheme that harks back to the 1993 concept, it told the world how grateful Porsche was for the Boxster.
Although many dismiss the Boxster for not being a “proper” Porsche, without it there would be no GT3, no Carrera GT, and no 918. The Boxster is a guaranteed future classic and a car that one day will truly get the recognition it deserves.