One of our 911s is missing
It’s hard to believe, says John Boggiano, but there’s definitely a gap in the 911 range…
On Wednesday this week, I ordered a Boxster Spyder. Oh, I’m sorry – you weren’t ready for that were you? I should have told you to sit down. Or lie down. Or not read this at all. Anyway, pull yourself together, pour yourself a stiff drink and I’ll get back on message in a minute.
To recap briefly my recent Porsche ownership – I had a 964 Carrera 2 for absolutely ages, sold it and bought a 997 GT3, which I kept for a couple of years and then recently I bought back my 964. As I keep explaining to people who ask me why I switched (in either direction), I am one of those people who is lucky enough to appreciate pretty well the entire 911 spectrum. Show me an early 911S and I’ll want to take it home and keep it forever. Show me a GT3 RS and I’ll want to thrash the pants off it somewhere suitable (although somewhere unsuitable would be even more exciting). Air-cooled or high-tech: I want them all.
As far as the modern stuff goes, there seems to be a 911 to suit everybody at the moment, and almost all of them suit me depending on my mood. Yet for all that, I now realise that there is something missing; an absentee from the range that it just so happens would have been just right for me at this precise point in time. And that’s why I ordered the Spyder.
Looking back a few months, who in their right mind would have thought of this? A two-seater, open-topped, mid-engined version of, well, a two-seater, open-topped, mid-engined sports car. But one that’s not as good as the normal version, in many respects. And costs more! Even I would have been forced to concede that such an idea would be marketing gone mad; a niche car that created its own niche, and probably a niche into which nobody would look.
It just goes to show that I don’t have a clue about this stuff. I’m not a marketing expert. Otherwise, why would one of these cars be (at this very moment, quite possibly) bobbing along a production line and wearing a little tag with my name on it? The thing is, more often than not, we punters don’t really know what we want until it’s put in front of us. That’s why those pre-planning, car-design customer focus groups lead inevitably to dull, uninnovative cars that nobody wants. We’re not the experts at this stuff. Many years ago I remember reading a little story about a small boy who was brilliant at drawing cartoons. Asked if he’d like to be a professional animator when he grew up, he replied after some thought that, no, he wouldn’t because it would spoil the fun of watching a cartoon if he knew what was coming. I know what he meant.
If I can just try to pull this train of thought back on track for a moment, the plain fact is that this little niche-slotted oddity that I have committed to has highlighted a hole in the 911 range. Given the plethora of models, specifications, body-styles and transmissions currently available to the man in the street who thinks of buying a 911, it genuinely came as a bit of a shock spotting this gap, but it’s there all right. I know it’s there because having gone looking for the most appealing elements of the Boxster Spyder in its bigger brother, I couldn’t find them.
I suppose this particular niche went unfilled when the change from air- to liquid-cooling happened. Porsche realised that contemporary buyers were after a bit of luxury and comfort, plus a few toys and so on – even those who wanted their 911 to have a bit of an edge. Thus the ‘chuck-out-all-the-surplus-kit’ approach of the earlier RSs gave way to the ‘performance-through-hard-core-brute-force’ approach of the GT3. Modern techniques made it possible to have your cake and eat it, allowing precise handling and blistering performance without losing much of the comfort and safety in pursuit of ultra-low weight. And it’s been that way since then. Even the RS versions of GT3s don’t go too far down the lightweight road – no missing glovebox lids or properly-stripped interiors here. Frankly, even if they did, that would be too hard-core for what I’m looking for.
My current want-niche is at the other end of the spectrum. The end that doesn’t need masses of power, loads of grip, humungous brakes, devastating performance or an ultimate track time. Nor indeed does it need the last word in luxury or comfort, toys or equipment. In this little niche, what’s needed is what we would once have called a 911 with ‘honesty’. That is to say, one that is basic, pure and fun to drive. It needs to be as light as possible without going to ridiculous extremes, devoid of almost everything as far as equipment goes (let the buyer himself select carefully those few extras that suit him), and offering a delightful, engaging driving experience.
It also needs to be distinctive, to further help make it feel special. The double-dome roof of the 911 Sport Classic, together with its ducktail, is along the right lines. But that car’s too luxurious and the price too astronomical.
Make something similar; something special to look at and fun to drive, light, cheerful and just a little more Spartan than the norm, at a reasonable price and you’ve got a winner, Porsche. I’d have ordered one on Wednesday…