WITHOUT ITS ROADSTER, PORSCHE MIGHT NOT EXIST TODAY
Motor Trend|July 2021
That was the headline on a New York Times story published on January 20, 1996, detailing the German marque’s effort to turn around its finances and reinvent the way it had built cars for more than 40 years.

“Putting Porsche in the Pink.”

As the newspaper pointed out, the company that produced must-have products for the upwardly mobile during the cartoonishly decadent ’80s—in 1986, North American sales exceeded 30,000 units—had reached its last gasp. Antiquated, inefficient manufacturing processes collided head-on with an economic recession and a misjudged, aging product range to result in just 3,713 sales in the same region in 1993. Threatened with bankruptcy, Porsche had to change.

As the 968 and 928—the latter originally and inconceivably meant to replace the 911—disappeared from showrooms for good, there was a vacuum of new products as the company set about its transition. Yet even before the 993-series 911 arrived in early 1994 to barely keep the lights on, then-new CEO Wendelin Wiedeking called in automotive engineers and manufacturing gurus from Japan, who promptly turned Porsche production on its flywheel. “Just in time” manufacturing practices replaced an antiquated process whereby factory shelves were stacked with surplus parts. Gone were the inefficient manufacturing complexities that long qualified as—perhaps even defined—German “precision.”

1996 might have been the year Porsche’s self-cast lifeline became apparent to contemporary observers with a keen eye for business practices. But what occurred three years earlier, smack in front of the brand’s customers and enthusiasts became a foundational pillar of today’s strong and healthy Porsche.

Behind the scenes, the near-term product plan called for an all-new water-cooled 911, then 996, to go on sale in the U.S. in 1998. It also called for another car: a cheaper two-seat convertible slated to arrive a year earlier and to share a significant amount of parts and panels—a practice learned from the Japanese consultants—with the flagship coupe. When Porsche pulled the cover off the little silver roadster in January 1993 at the Detroit auto show, the first tangible evidence of a new era was on full display.

The Boxster stole the show, and unlike a majority of concept cars that appear from thin air and vanish into history just as quickly, the two-seater was already greenlit for the assembly line. But the concept was actually created separately from and in parallel with the program developing a future production roadster.

“We started the show car at the end of ’91,” says Grant Larson, today the director of special projects for Porsche’s design team. As a young designer, he shot to stardom in Porsche circles after drawingthe concept car under the eye of design boss Harm Lagaay. “While that was looking pretty good, I had my version of the production car going. And it was quite a bit different. The show car, it [was] just out there to showcase the idea.

“While we’re finishing the show car, the production car was in its infancy stages,” he continues. “The good thing about the concept is that it forced the production development [team] to look a little bit deeper at getting [similarly] tight proportions. They kind of fed off of each other.” As the process progressed, the concept ultimately emerged as the best of several studies to eventually become the production car tagged internally as “986.”

It’s easy to see why, beyond its objectively stunning lines: The 964-generation 911 and its 993 successor still used the famous sports car’s original 30-year-old proportions, and Porsche’s front-engine cars of the time weren’t gorgeous and failed to draw on the company’s memorable design heritage. The Boxster concept achieved the elusive product design accomplishment of feeling both utterly fresh and classic, a borderline tableau recognizable as nothing but a Porsche. But it also avoided retro-retread cues long before “retro” design became mainstream, cliché solution adopted by a variety of industries—even if the messaging was a bit muddled.

“When the Boxster was introduced, the Porsche press department drew a lot of parallels between it and the 550 Spyder, just because the 550 was well known,” Larson says now. “But my inspiration was the 718 RSK, which is to me the ultimate. There was this one key photo I took at the Oldtimer Grand Prix at the Nürburgring, and that 718 RSK, it was the business. Everything about it was just for me. It was the perfect, ultimate mid-engine open car. The 550 almost looks kind of toylike in comparison, the short front end and everything. But the RSK had a little more sensuality to it.”

Mention to Larson that the original Boxster's rare and still has optical pull today, and he lights up more

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM MOTOR TRENDView All

CARLOS GHOSN

SPEAKS ON HIS TIME IN A JAPANESE PRISON AND LIFE AS A WANTED FUGITIVE

5 mins read
Motor Trend
January 2022

2022 GMO Hummer EV

Our kind of monster.

3 mins read
Motor Trend
January 2022

2022 TOYOTA TUNDRA

THE ALL-NEW TRUCK AIMS AT THE HEART OF THE MARKET.

4 mins read
Motor Trend
January 2022

2022 Ford Maverick

Redefining the (small) truck.

2 mins read
Motor Trend
January 2022

2022 Toyota Corolla Cross

Earning the famous nameplate.

2 mins read
Motor Trend
January 2022

Powertrain Tech Deep Dive

CAR OF THE YEAR WINNER

3 mins read
Motor Trend
January 2022

LUCID AIR

THIS GAME-CHANGING ELECTRIC SEDAN POINTS THE WAY FORWARD

8 mins read
Motor Trend
January 2022

Lithium-sulfur battery promises 3x energy density, pricing that undercuts combustion.

Might lithium-sulfur batteries push solid-state aside as The Next Big Thing in battery technology? Silicon Valley battery tech company Lyten just came out of stealth mode at September's Motor Bella car show/mobility conference in metro Detroit after several years of federally funded research, and it made a very promising pitch: Triple the energy per weight!

3 mins read
Motor Trend
January 2022

The one new car I most want to drive.

The Big Picture

3 mins read
Motor Trend
January 2022

2021 Ford F-150

No, no—relax. There is no V-8 under the hood of the 2021 F-150 Raptor. At least, not yet—Ford says the eight-cylinder Raptor R super truck is rumbling its way toward the horizon break and should arrive sometime next year. For now, the standard Raptor is the top-of-the-line off-road baddie from the F-150 family.

3 mins read
Motor Trend
February 2022
RELATED STORIES

PORSCHE'S TOP SECRET SUPERCAR

The GT3 Touring is an absolute monster—in 911 clothing.

2 mins read
Men's Journal
November - December 2021

Flat Sixes

Fanatical artisans

5 mins read
Flying
December 2021

Sweet Dreams

The evolution of desire

5 mins read
Flying
August 2021

Porsche Design Acer Book RS: This stylish, blazingly fast laptop lives up to its name

The detachable display and 360-degree hinge of the original Porsche Design Book One are gone, now replaced by sheer speed.

10+ mins read
PCWorld
March 2021

MINE'S THE PORSCHE - ON TEST // ELAN GT6

IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT THE BADGE: WHY PORSCHE BECAME INVOLVED IN THE DESIGN OF ELAN’S NEW FLAGSHIP

10+ mins read
Yachting World
December 2020

The Porsche Design Acer Book RS brings sports-car flair to the laptop

With a name like that, it has a reputation to uphold.

3 mins read
PCWorld
December 2020

Sports Cars For the Wrist: Porsche Design Custom-Built Timepieces Program

The user has the opportunity to customize the signature element of the self-winding movement, the new COSC chronometer-certified Caliber WERK 01.100, developed in-house at Porsche Design Timepieces AG in Switzerland.

2 mins read
Watch Time
September - October 2020

Maisto Datsun 240Z

Stock and tuned Zs that deliver big bang for your buck

5 mins read
Die Cast X
Holiday 2020

WHY ELECTRIC VEHICLE RANGES VARY FROM EPA ESTIMATE

You’ve probably heard the phrase “your mileage may vary” with regard to how your real-world fuel economy compares to the EPA estimate. The adage refers to gasoline-powered vehicles, but the same applies to electric vehicles.

3 mins read
AppleMagazine
September 25,2020

POWER SURGE

From supercars to superminis and reborn classics to high-tech saloons, 2020 will see a huge array of new cars vying for your attention

5 mins read
Business Traveler
July/August 2020