Thursday, October 16, 2008

Porsche Losing Porscheyness

In an article I wrote for 911 & Porsche World magazine I talked about how I liked the first generation 986 Boxster because it "left off everything that could be left off". I would like to expand on this thought a bit.

The vintage car I have linked in above is the 1948 Porsche #1. The one. The first Porsche. A true, glorified VW. What is important to note is the extreme reserve in the design. The lack of anything busy or fussy. And this is at a time when most automobiles had quite a bit of busy, fussy things going one. Look at any 1948 MG, Jaguar, Fiat, etc and you will see what I mean. They were rolling Victorian drawing (and in some case tea) rooms. This first Porsche did what is hardest and stayed pure and clean. The hardest part in designing anything is to leave things off. A house. An ad. A watch. It is easy to add and add. Make bigger and bolder. But that will only lead to a fad.

Now look at the 987 Boxster compared to the 986. The most vulgar of the design changes is the side vent. The ones that feed air to the engine. The new 987 has large, hard edged gashes often pimped with chrome or carbon fiber. I am sure someone out there will say, "It is functional, the engine needs more air so the practical engineers made the vents larger." Maybe. But I also know that they thought the new design made the car seem more muscular, powerful. 

Also notice the redesigned bumpers. Both front and rear now feature deeper creases. More aggressive venting and flaring. Even the wheels are busier by a factor of ten. 

This Boxster to Boxster comparison is a small sampling of where Porsche is going design wise. They are straying ever further from their roots in search of a new, broader market. If I put a picture of the Cayman, Cayenne or new 997 (excepting the base Carrera) the family heritage would be tough to see. Don't even get me started on some of the options Porsche makes available like contrasting seat belts, emblazoned wind screens and aero kits for non GT3 cars.

And Porsche is not the only manufacturer to yield to the pressure, wrongly desired, of new and fancy. Look at the pure Audi TT generation one next to the new, bloated version. The Mercedes SLK today has such a busy snout it looks as if the person who did the makeup for Mr. Mistoffelees designed it. 

This is not to say I do not like progress and new models. I love it. I look forward to new releases like a fat kid looks forward to pizza day at school. It's just that some times, it would be nice to have a well-prepared cheese pizza versus a messy stack of 'the works' that leaves your slice wilting and dripping.

Pictures from canadiandriver and


Dr. Kobi Abayomi said...

I agree - the best porsche was the 998 911. The zenith of the design.

Kevin Gosselin said...

Dr. -

The 998 I think is the next 911. Maybe you mean the 993, many people believe that to be the best, last air-cooled 911.

I'm on the fence about my feelings for the 993. Sometimes I like it. Sometimes I don't. It is simple though.

the connasewer said...

I guess it was impossible to keep the Boxster design true to the RSK competition car. But it's a decent effort. Same goes for the Audi TT show car. The production model was a spot on duplicate. How often does that happen? But of course the designers could not leave well enough alone. The new UGLY front end is beyond belief. This styling trend now appears on many new models. Think Japanese cars - Nissan GTR for example. And does anyone like the new Subaru models with the "fashionable" jewelery box taillights? If I wanted a car to look like a tarted up whore I would have called an escort service.
Send the designers to the Gulag.

Patrick said...

Agreed, Kevin.

Porsche, as a corporate exercise, cares very little about design and much more about profit - which is fine. It's been that way for some time. In fact, their designers might have nothing to do if not for their line of watches and other accessories. The engineers do build brillant cars - functionally speaking - but the company hasn't made a collectable car since the 1960's, with the exception of the 959 - and that was based far more on its performance and tech specs than its looks.

When you think about it, the Boxter itself is nothing more than a precurser to the Caymen. Porsche could see gaps in ownership and the 911 was to high a mark for most potential enthusiasts to hit. That's why it needed the Boxster. The Caymen fills the gap between the two. And why does one buy a Boxster or a Caymen? Because he can't afford a 911.

John said...

I disagree with Patrick's comment about buying a Boxster or Cayman because one can't afford a 911. I like a GT car for short driving trips (a week or less, and with luggage) on mountain roads or other good places to drive. I had a 2001 Carrera 4 that was fun to drive but a literal pain in the back to load and unload stuff to and from behind the seats. Sold it. Got a souped up (220 hp) 2005 Mini Cooper S that was a ball. Kept it 3 years, sold it to my daughter, who needed a good, small, fun car. Bought a 2008 Cayman S and, with its mid-engine design, it's probably the finest driving car I've ever had (and I've been through Alfa, Triumph, Audi, Volvo and 4 BMWs). It carries luggage in front and back, both easy to get to. Simple design, in and out. Doesn't even have some of the bells and whistles of the Cooper. It's simply an easy to use, fine driving machine. I drive it every day (although an X5 is my winter car). After work, I return to a parking garage near the subway, see the Cayman and just smile. Great design, great performance, great car.

Kevin Gosselin said...

You Connasewer, my phonetic friend, share my automobile aesthetic.

To the gulag! Harumph. Here. Here.

Kevin Gosselin said...

And the Boxster and 911 are two different beasts. I own one of each because, they are as has been said, two different tools to head to work on the roads with.