This car acts as my daily driver, my weekend warrior, my date to cars and coffee, and my chariot to journeys unknown.
As the roof above my head retracted into place behind me, I suddenly felt the early morning dew on my skin, the soft and fresh mountain air through my nose, and the purr of the flat 6 idling into my ears. I was at Fontana Dam in North Carolina. What lay ahead of me was The Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap, one of the tightest and most technical public roads in the world featuring 318 demanding, undulating corners over 11 miles.
First, let’s rewind quickly to a few days prior. I’m in Pennsylvania and need to decide which car to take on a 1,500-mile road trip. I’ll be meeting family there, but will still be able to have some alone time on my favorite driving roads. The Porsche 928 is one of the best road trip vehicles ever made, but its heft makes it a less than ideal car to hustle the dragon, even with its amazing Weissach rear end. My modified Z3 M-coupe would surely be a blast in the twisty bits, but as a track-prepped car, it would be a bit extreme for the more mundane interludes. So the 911, God’s second chariot next to the E30 M3- was this the answer? The famously well-rounded Porsche 911 is just about the perfect road tripper thanks to its 6-cylinder rasp, luxurious interior, and direct handling, but I found myself with a few issues. My passenger and I needed to store a good bit of luggage and while our overflow baggage could certainly go behind the seats, I have never been a fan of loose kit flying about the cabin while on back roads. More pressing however is the matter of 911 values. They have recently held very strong and in many cases, they have gone up. With our accommodations not having been finalized, and the concern of something damaging the paint to sample paint, it adds some additional worry, and worry is not what I wanted.
So what I needed was a car with highway poise and prowess. It needed to be capable enough to tackle the most technical and narrow roads of all time, while still providing sensations in a manner that only an enthusiast could perceive. While driver engagement was key, passenger comfort was paramount and good fuel mileage and reliability also welcome. This car would preferably be a drop-top as it was fall leaf season, possess two trunks for a seemingly excessive amount of luggage, and something that doesn’t feel precious in order to alleviate the fear of abusing something more desirable… Did the Porsche Boxster really just top the list? Couldn’t be, but maybe so? Only one way to find out…
The car was already warmed up and I was in my groove when I decided to drop the top and embrace the crisp 45-degree morning air as the Dragon lay ahead. While the Boxster’s classic status is starting to be considered by some, this car, fortunately, isn’t from a vintage lacking modern amenities, and I won’t be ashamed to say that I went straight for the heated seat button. The heater fan remained off, however. After all, we can’t make this experience too relaxing! As I pull away and start cutting through the mountainside, I hear a symphony in my left ear that tunes out all other thoughts. Unlike a naturally aspirated 911, the Boxster has its air intake located in the scoop right behind the driver’s door. It’s like a trumpet sitting next to your head. To make this instrument really play, it takes work. Think Miles Davis but with talented feet. It all pays off as I enter a braking zone in the top of second gear at nearly 7k RPMs while trying to hear every sonorous tone. Hard on the brakes (Porsche brakes are always there for you), I then begin to dial in the steering. Instantly we change direction and lock down the vehicle’s weight as if connected by a magnet that’s controlled with your mind. Seemingly locked to the ground, the car dances in towards the apex, engages the rails on the outside edge of the tires, and as I plant the throttle mid-corner, the weight doesn’t move, it stays put as she glides out and ever so softly kisses the white line of the next straight. The purring flat-six begins to scream again, a cry to forget about all troubles, a cry of freedom. It yells at me to keep my foot in it longer and longer, until again, with no second for error, hardback onto the brakes to haul her down and then rotate with poise again into the next corner.
Time disappears when having such fun, and as I’m ending my fourth pass I’m left sitting in amazement. This car took me partway across the country with absolute ease and joy, only to then tackle one of the hardest roads in existence while running at near the limit for hours. Now it was calm and giving me a feeling of serenity and bliss. I eased away from the Dragon in the direction of home, following a pickup truck that certainly wasn’t there for the same reason that I was, and I felt relaxed. It was one of the top 5 driving days of my life, which is no small feat considering the excessive amount of driving experience I’ve gotten under my belt. The thought of passing this slow truck crossed my mind, but with the top down and music going, driving slowly enjoying the scenery was rewarding enough. Some sports cars are boring at slower speeds, but the Boxster was still giving me everything I wanted.
But then I heard it. Screams of terror and agony came out of the woods, sounds I was familiar with. I sat nervously awaiting this imminent arrival, and then in my rearview, the beasts appeared. Leading first, a 991 GT3 RS, followed by a modified 997 Carrera GTS, and running at the back of the pack, a 997 GT3 with a 3.9-liter Sharkwerks race engine… Before I even had time to grasp what was upon me, they were already passing on my left. Being in the often dismissed stepchild of the Porsche brand, I simply couldn’t just sit idle and do nothing about this!
Clutch in, gas on, slide into first, and drop it (because that’s what you do when you’re in a 2.7 base Boxster trying to catch cars with years more of advanced engineering and twice the power!). The cars in front barked, screeched, and screamed as they clawed at the pavement leaving high-octane fumes and shredded rubber in their wake. But then a break from the madness as the little orchestra from behind my head started to chime in. Maybe it wasn’t as strong and brutish as the newer cars, but it was equally as vibrant and felt more determined. Quickly I realized that these guys hadn’t just come here for the leaves and scenery. They were here to run. In trying to gain some rational thought while following them, I suddenly realized that I had no clue where I was. I had no cell reception, no maps, and I didn’t even remotely know which direction we were heading. But I knew that I had made a promise to make it home in time for dinner, and that was a promise I could not break…
Quickly the futile and tragic game of trying to keep up with these cars went from being a laugh to a necessity. Had you asked me a day earlier if I thought there was a chance at hanging with these guys, I’d have laughed at the question. But having just spent the day trying to find the limits of grip from the Boxster with no real success, well maybe, just maybe, there was a chance. Having previously raced cars, I don’t condone driving cars to their limits on the streets, but technically I hadn’t found the limits of this car yet, and what was I supposed to do? The wrath of missing dinner was looming in my mind and the Boxster was yelling at me not to give in, not yet.
It became apparent that this pack of monsters was becoming tired and frustrated of having this “slow” little classic car biting at their heels corner after corner. So they upped their game, a game I swore to stop playing 14 corners back. Amazingly, the Boxster didn’t give up. They would leave us for dead on the straights, but we would reel them right back in through the corners. To push a 502 hp, rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive car to near its limits on the streets is madness. Going 9/10ths in a 225hp, mid-engine, rear-drive car is a much more attainable task, and can ultimately provide more speed and enjoyment. As I used the momentum from my corner speed to slingshot past the Sharkwerks 3.9 in one of the final passing zones, I knew I had picked the right car for the trip…
Not long after, we hit the highway and slowed to “reasonable” speeds, and began to decompress. One by one, each beast gave the acknowledgment of wonder and amazement to their forefather. Or is the Boxster the third cousin twice removed? Maybe it’s a sibling? Whatever way you see it, the fact remains that it had gained the respect of, and warranted a seat next to, some of the greatest performance offerings to ever come from Stuttgart.
Even with the unexpected 2-hour detour, I made it to dinner on time, enjoyed it in relaxation, and shared stories of my day. The rest of the night I kept asking myself a question though. The question was “Is this the best car that I own?” Had I asked that question 2 days prior to my choir of automobiles, I would have applauded the 986 Boxster for everything it had shown me up to that point but would have politely asked it to sit back down and let the more expensive and serious boys figure out who is really the best. That day changed the standing of the Boxster in my mind forever… It was now tied at the top.
Over the next week, we journeyed through the mountains, took many scenic adventures, and received dozens of compliments on the car. When I had to run an errand to the store, it was no longer a chore to find someone to accompany me for the ride. The car hadn’t just provided me with driving sensations on the trip, but rather helped set and hold the tone for this epic journey. When your day starts with a flat 6 firing to life, it’s automatically booked marked as being something special. Upon returning home,I would realize how special those days truly were. My brother-in-law, who was on this vacation with us, never made it back home… After we all parted ways, he had a health issue, and after complications in surgery, his heart gave out.
Life is full of hard lessons, and one of the lessons I’ve been learning is that we need to live and enjoy every day to its fullest, for we never know when it will be our last. As an enthusiast, I know that if I had brought the minivan down on this trip, it wouldn’t have felt as special for any of us. It would have been great still I’m sure, but it would have lacked a level of romance that the Boxster gave everyone. Having the car bug can affect those around you, and while sometimes it’s not always in the most positive of ways, most of the time there is a positivity that comes from it that is well beyond what we realize. My most recent memories of him all have that car in the background, and what great memories they are.
This car acts as my daily driver, my weekend warrior, my date to cars and coffee, and my chariot to journeys unknown. It’s my old reliable friend that never ceases to amaze, and is ready for any adventure at any time. When you sit in a Boxster, you sit way lower than you do in a 911. You have a wall behind you, and with the pontoon fenders out in front, it truly gives you the feeling of being in something exotic. As a kid, my father always hailed how the really special driving cars were ones that worked in harmony together mechanically. Taking that a level further, I’ve realized it’s equally as important to have a harmonious relationship between car and driver.
There is a real beauty about a car that can be pushed on the street and reward you in doing so without arriving at a level that is unsafe. Having been hidden in the shadow of the 911 since its inception, the Boxster has all too often been overlooked in the past. This is changing though, and it’s happening quickly. As more people get to experience the 986, more will realize what they really have to offer; enjoyment to its fullest.
While Adam’s beautiful and highly capable Zanzibar Boxster is not currently for sale, if you are interested in experiencing the same thrill written about in this article please check out the 2000 Porsche Boxster S available now in our Current Offerings section by clicking the image below.