25 Years Ago, Porsche Put a Boxer in a Roadster Again and That Saved the Company

In 1996, Porsche started producing the car that would revitalize the company by offering customers a mid-mounted, 201 hp engine in a two-seat roadster cheaper than the 911.
1996 Porsche Boxster 11 photos
Photo: Porsche AG
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It all started 30 years ago when the German carmaker was struggling financially. The gamble it took with the 928 was not paying off, with sales falling way below expectations; that meant that the future of the upcoming 968 wasn’t looking too bright either.

The aging 911 was barely keeping the company alive, so the head honchos decided to build a completely new mid-engine roadster that would replace the unsuccessful models while offering customers an affordable Porsche.

Combining the words ‘boxer’ and ‘roadster’, the creative minds in Stuttgart came up with the name Boxster. By the end of 1991, development had already begun, with engineers working on the powertrain and the design teams drawing up concepts of the bodywork.

Porsche Boxter Sketch work
Photo: Porsche AG.
Among those busy with sketch work was Grant Larson, who had visited the Tokyo Motor Show earlier that year and was inspired by Audi’s Avus concept.

Harm Lagaaij, the head of the design department at that time, liked Larson’s early sketches and gave him and his team full freedom to design a show car that would be used to test the feasibility of a mid-engine roadster.

The result was a concept car that incorporated design cues inspired by 550 Spyder and the 718 RS 60 from the 1950s. It had short rear overhangs, a centrally placed exhaust, and a front end that stretched well beyond the axle. Other distinctive design elements were the air intakes and outlets, the innovative headlights, taillights, and the futuristic interior.

Porsche Boxter Concept
Photo: Porsche AG.
When it debuted at the 1993 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, it was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews from both the press and the public.

Back home in Germany, a further conceptual design was halted, and the company hurried to put Larsson’s concept into production.

During this process, several design alterations were made that resulted in the Boxster we know today. Several components had to be redesigned due to fitment issues, but by 1994, Porsche was already testing several prototypes.

1996 Porsche Boxter
Photo: Porsche AG.
Series production of the 986 Boxster began in mid-1996, and the base model was given a low displacement version of the 3.4-liter flat-six found in the upcoming 911 (996).

The engine in question was a 2.5-liter water-cooled six-cylinder that would become notoriously problematic over the years, but in fully functional form, it was capable of delivering 201 hp (150 kW) of pure joy.

In 2005 the second generation was released, packing more power and showcasing a design inspired by the Carrera GT. One year later, the coupe version named Cayman was introduced to the public.

The model received another refresh in 2012 that featured many improvements and a design language that distanced the Boxster and Cayman for the 911.

Porsche 718 Boxter \- 25 Years Edition
Photo: Porsche AG.
In 2016, the cars became the 718 Boxster and 718 Cayman and endured the loss of the naturally aspirated flat-six in favor of a turbocharged flat-four.

Fortunately, Porsche now offers the GTS 4.0 variants, which, as the name suggests, get a 4.0-liter six-cylinder that develops 394 hp (294 kW).

Time flew quickly, and the Boxter still remains one of the hottest roadsters out there, twenty-five years after it rolled off the assembly line. It will go down in history as the model that fueled a financial turnaround and saved Porsche.
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About the author: Vlad Radu
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Vlad's first car was custom coach built: an exotic he made out of wood, cardboard and a borrowed steering wheel at the age of five. Combining his previous experience in writing and car dealership years, his articles focus in depth on special cars of past and present times.
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