Modern Classics: Porsche Boxster, 1997 2011 modern classics car culture
Porsche Boxster. Click image to enlarge

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By Jeff Burry; photos courtesy Porsche Canada

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Porsche Boxster

At a time when most automotive manufacturers are tweaking vehicles to “de-sensitize” the driving experience, Porsche continues to produce vehicles that truly connect the driver to the vehicle, and in turn to the road.

The Porsche Boxster was introduced to the world in late 1996 as a 1997 model. It was Porsche’s first mid-engined roadster since the 550 Spyder was unleashed back in 1953.

Manufactured in Stuttgart, Germany, the first generation Boxster (also known as the 986) was designed as a more affordable Porsche that would take on the likes of BMW Z3 and Mercedes SLK. Just three short years later, and Honda would produce yet another competitor in the roadster class – its race-inspired S2000.

Initially, the Boxster was outfitted with a 2.5-litre dual overhead cam “flat” 6-cylinder engine producing 201 horsepower. This horizontally-opposed engine, situated behind the cockpit, and producing an almost perfect 50/50weight distribution, could achieve 0 to 100 km/h times in the 6.7 range with a top speed of 240 km/h.

Modern Classics: Porsche Boxster, 1997 2011 modern classics car culture
Porsche Boxster. Click image to enlarge

This rear-wheel drive roadster came equipped with either a five-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed Tiptronic transmission. Clearly, Porsche, in typical fashion, got it right with its latest entry into the roadster market: immediately the Boxster became Porsche’s biggest volume seller.

The combination of staggering good looks (thanks in large part to Harm Lagaay, Head of Porsche’s Styling Department), performance and affordability (40 per cent of the Boxster parts were shared with the Porsche 911, thus keeping the cost reasonable) was a winning one. It immediately gathered rave reviews from press outlets and journalists from around the world.

Not a lot was tweaked or changed for the following two years, but in 1998, there were two significant safety enhancements made to the model – the introduction of standard door-mounted side airbags and an optional child-seat detection system.

In the first three years of production, Porsche sold more than 55,000 units and had to contract to the Finnish company, Velmet, to begin production of the Boxster at a second facility in Uuisikaupunki, Finland just to keep up with the ever-growing demand.

In an effort to respond to the buying public’s increasing demand for a more “performance-oriented” Boxster, as well as a corporate decision to close the performance gap between the Boxster and the 911, Porsche introduced the Boxster S. The “S” version offered a larger water-cooled powerplant – a 3.2-litre engine capable of producing 252 horsepower.

Modern Classics: Porsche Boxster, 1997 2011 modern classics car culture
Porsche Boxster. Click image to enlarge

To better distinguish the Boxster S from the base model, Porsche also equipped it with 18-inch wheels and dual “centered” tailpipes (as opposed to the single oval-shaped one). In true Porsche fashion the arrival of the Boxster S received worldwide acclaim and was an immediate sales success.

The base model Boxster also received a slight performance upgrade for the 2000 model year outfitted with a slightly larger 2.7-litre engine (up from 2.5L) producing an even more respectable 217 horsepower (up 16 ponies from the previous version).

Neither the Boxster nor Boxster S underwent any significant changes for the following two model years. However, in 2003 there were some minor body, engine and interior upgrades. For example, the original plastic rear window was replaced with the more preferred glass window.

Horsepower ratings for the base Boxster were increased in 2003 to 228 and the Boxster S also saw its output increase to 260 horsepower.

The following year (2004) saw the arrival of the limited edition Boxster S 550 Spyder 50th anniversary edition. A total of 1,953 units were produced to commemorate the 550 Spyder that was introduced to the world in 1953. Horsepower ratings for this very limited edition were tweaked to crank out 265 horses, five more than the Boxster S.

With 2005 quickly approaching, engineers and designers at Porsche were busy prepping the next generation Boxster for its unveiling at the upcoming 2004 Paris Motor Show. The new 2005 model was dubbed the Boxster 987.

Modern Classics: Porsche Boxster, 1997 2011 modern classics car culture
Porsche Boxster. Click image to enlarge

As with the first generation Boxster, Porsche continued to focus its attention on providing the buying public with an exhilarating and entertaining driving experience. While the engine capacity remained unchanged at 2.7 litres, its output increased to 240 horsepower (base model), and to 280 horsepower for the Boxster S, which housed the larger 3.2-litre engine.

This second-generation model sported redesigned front and rear fascia, the front air dams and side intakes were increased in size and the wheel wells were expanded to accommodate optional 19-inch wheels that could be fitted to the vehicle. Interior revisions were kept to a minimum – again a smart move not to mess too much with the highly successful Boxster 986 (first generation model).

In addition, and as a much desired improvement to the ride comfort, one could now order the PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) system. This suspension dampening system would adjust ride comfort based upon driving conditions.

In 2007/08, the Boxster would share the same powerplant as the Porsche Cayman. The base Boxster was equipped with the 245-horsepower 2.7-litre flat six while the Boxster S housed the 3.4-litre 295-horsepower engine, offering fifteen additional ponies from the previous 3.2-litre engine.

The enhanced performance better suited the more muscular contours of the Boxster (introduced on the second generation model) and yet there was no mistaking its pedigree next to its predecessors.