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Published: 04/01/2008 - by Steven Cole Smith, Contributor
These days, when somebody says Porsche is a giant killer, you think they're talking about the world of finance. Porsche's recent takeover of Volkswagen is surely a far more amazing story of corporate balance sheets than all the news from Detroit that fills the news headlines.
Of course Porsche has been doing more with less ever since the company took shape in an old sawmill in Austria just after World War II, only it demonstrated its expertise on the racetrack instead of at the stock exchange. And it is this heritage of motor racing that the 2008 Porsche Boxster RS 60 Spyder celebrates.
Introduced to us at the 2008 Sebring 12 Hours, the 2008 Porsche Boxster RS 60 Spyder commemorates the days when the efficiency and reliability of Porsche sports cars enabled them to beat larger, more glamorous makes in long-distance sports car races. Back in 1960, a Porsche Type 718 RS 60 Spyder driven by Hans Hermann and Olivier Gendebien won at Sebring, then as now a serious test of machinery on a brutally rough racing surface. This year, Porsche unexpectedly prevailed again, as its twin LMP2-class RS Spyders outlasted the favored LMP1-class Audi R10 diesels.
Nice of Porsche to arrange this little sales promotion for the 2008 Porsche Boxster RS 60 Spyder, isn't it?
Think Small, Think Special
It's probably appropriate to acknowledge the role of the Porsche Cayenne in making Porsche sufficiently rich with cash to swallow a controlling amount of Volkswagen's stock. But it's really been the Porsche Boxster that has saved the company. Conceived in the midst of a business recession that killed off a lot of sports cars, the Boxster concept debuted at the 1993 Detroit Auto Show. Its appearance looked backward, which was a real departure for Porsche. But its engineering looked forward, because it was designed for rational, affordable production in the manner of a Japanese car.
Since the Boxster entered production in 1996, nearly 150,000 have been built. That's a lot of cars, and the Boxster has carved out a niche for itself as Porsche's entry-level car in a way that neither the Porsche 912 nor the Porsche 944/968 could manage.
Of course, the Porsche Boxster is getting a little too familiar, as U.S. sales slumped to 4,505 last year, a decline of 19.6 percent. This accounts for Porsche's attempt to squeeze out a last bit of sales appeal before the car gets another makeover. Think of the Boxster RS 60 as a generous attempt to create a unique combination of standard and optional equipment for future Porsche enthusiasts to obsess about in much the same way that they currently pore over records for the 356 and 911.
Excellence Was Expected
Back in 1960, a midengine Porsche RS 60 Type 718 powered by a 1.7-liter four-cylinder engine beat a brutal front-engine Ferrari at the 12 Hours of Sebring. Drivers Hans Herrmann and Olivier Gendebien were as surprised as anyone else that their little silver giant killer won, and just as surprised that 2nd place should be another RS 60 entered by Brumos Porsche (then as now an influential Porsche dealership in Florida with racing connections) and driven by Bob Holbert, Roy Schecter and Howard Fowler. In 3rd? A Ferrari, some 11 laps behind the winning Porsche.
Looking for a way to inject a little excitement into the aging Boxster, Porsche has built 1,960 — as in 1960, get it? — Boxster RS 60s to commemorate the little car that could, that 550-based RS 60. We had a chance to lap Sebring International Raceway an hour before the 12 Hours race began in one of these silver Boxster RS 60s this year.
Leading our little pack of new cars was a pristine 1960 RS 60 from the Collier Collection, located in Naples, Florida. The Collier family was instrumental in the creation of the Sports Car Club of America and it has an impressive collection of vintage cars. (Unfortunately it's not open to the public.) The Collection's RS 60 did not race at Sebring, but did win the 1960 Targa Florio in Sicily, with Jo Bonnier and Sebring winner Hans Herrmann at the helm, plus it had been entered by Goodyear-sponsored Camoradi Racing.
Well, It's a Boxster
Which brings us to the Boxster RS 60 Spyder, and why you might want one. All 1,960 of them are painted GT Silver Metallic, very close to the color of the 1960 car, and you can get either a dark gray or a red top. We suggest red, as it matches the Carrera Red leather interior so well.
The Boxster RS 60's front end incorporates the Porsche SportDesign package. There's also a black frame for the windshield, the taillights have red lenses and the car wears 19-inch SportDesign wheels.
Mechanically, the car is pretty much a Boxster S, only with this version of the 3.4-liter six-cylinder it makes 303 horsepower instead of 295 hp. Porsche's active suspension system (PASM) is part of the package as well.
Porsche bills the Boxster RS 60 as the only Boxster with more than 300 hp, which is certainly true, but our butts are insufficiently calibrated to tell much difference. Porsche claims a 0-60-mph time of 5.1 seconds for the Boxster S with the six-speed manual transmission, and that was exactly our best time (using a handheld watch) with the RS 60. We did not test top speed, which Porsche claims will exceed 170 mph, a tick faster than the Boxster S's 169 mph.
Live the Dream
The interior of the 2008 Porsche Boxster RS 60 Spyder is certainly a fine place to be. There are a few nice details that really add some life to the second-generation car's interior, like the stainless-steel kickplates for the door sills, a snappy knob for the shift lever and a slightly different instrument binnacle.
This year the Boxster features optional sport seats with carbon-fiber reinforced construction (reducing weight by nearly 20 pounds per seat) and pronounced bolsters, so the RS 60 comes with them as standard equipment. Carrera Red is the color of the upholstery.
As with all Boxsters past and present, this is not a 0-60-mph car, and the joyous noise that comes from this so-smooth engine as it approaches ultralegal speeds can best be appreciated with the top town, stereo off and police hopefully otherwise occupied.
Inside, the seats are comfortable and supportive, and the one-button power top is easy to use. The RS 60's construction quality proved superb, with no squeaks, rattles, uneven seams or irregular panel gaps. It's built in Uusikaupunki, Finland, which is pronounced — um, FIN-land. As with all Boxsters, the front and rear trunks provide plenty of luggage room.
The Price of Entry
Since fewer than 800 of the 1,960 cars will be coming to North America, Porsche doesn't seem to think there will be end-of-the-year discounts on the 2008 Porsche Boxster RS 60 Spyder.
That said, the price of entry here is not exactly entry-level. A base-model 2008 Porsche Boxster S lists for $55,700, while our test car starts at $64,900 and tops out at $69,925 with shipping and a handful of options. This seems a little pricey, especially if you start that game called, "I can get this Boxster for $70,000, but a 911 Carrera Coupe starts at $73,500." Which, before you know it, has you justifying a $136,500 2008 Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet.
That's going to be the challenge for the next iteration of the Porsche Boxster. It has grown so sophisticated mechanically that it's hard to keep the price down without making the interior seem screaming cheap. The devalued dollar and the small step up to the price of a Porsche 911 further complicate things.
But this car sure drives good. It's a nice reminder of how good the Porsche Boxster is, not just how great the Porsche 550-derived RS 60 Spyder once was.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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