Clarkson on: Porsche
I don't want a Porsche Boxster. There are several reasons for this. First of all, while it is beautifully made and beautifully balanced, it is a bit cramped for fully grown men, the clutch is a bit of a faff and the styling's a bit backwards. Most of all though, I don't want a Porsche Boxster because James May has one. And there is, quite literally, nothing in his life that I covet. Not his postcode, not his old motorcycles, not his hoopy jumpers. Not even his swish new Vickers Velos aeroplane.
However, parked outside my house right now is a limited-edition Porsche Boxster called the RS60 Spyder. I've been using it for the last seven days, and I've decided I don't want one of these either.
Partly this is because it isn't a limited edition at all. It's just a normal Boxster S with a button that makes the exhaust a bit louder and an interior finished in what they call Carrera Red. Oh, and it has a 'unique' front spoiler designed primarily to make a hideous graunching noise on every single one of Oxford's 2.5 billion speed humps.
Of course, the RS 60 Spyder name is designed to stick its hand down the trousers of every Porsche enthusiast in the world and remind them with a warm squeeze of some long-forgotten racing car that Fortesque Major took to victory in the Mille Florio of 1903. But it doesn't. What this car does - what every Boxster does - is sit outside your house reminding you that you couldn't quite afford a 911.
I don't want a 911 either. And no, this has nothing to do with Richard Hammond. Yes, he does have a 911, and that's bad - I mean, look what it's done to his hair. But then he also has one of every other car in the world, so abandoning the 911 just because some fridge magnet in the Welsh borders has one wedged between his cross-eyed Morgan and his Vauxhall Firenza is silly.
“I don't want a Boxster because James has one. And there is, quite literally, nothing in his life that I covet”
I wish I did want a 911. I love the way they drive. I love the way they look. I love the way they are built. In my life, right now, a two-wheel-drive 911S would be absolutely perfect. So why did I buy the souped-up SLK55 Hitler-mobile instead?
Maybe you think I'm heading toward the Cayenne. Nope. Things I'd rather have include ebola, six elbows and an unquenchable desire to goose the Pope. It's brilliant. Tougher than you could imagine and properly fast. But it simply doesn't float my boat.
This is odd. We are all aware there is a chemistry between people. You meet someone, and before they've even drawn breath to speak, you know you hate every fibre of their being, and would like to hit them in the head with a shovel. Certainly, I felt this way when I first met Piers Morgan.
But how is it possible to have a chemical reaction to a ton-and-a-half of wiring, glass, steel and oil? Why do I now want a Mercedes SL65, which is a pointless car that has so much torque it will only accelerate downwards, through the centre of the Earth, and not a Porsche turbo, which is excellent?
I understand, of course, why some people deliberately buy awful cars.
Take the Citroen Picasso. This is a car for people who drive everywhere at 40. On the motorway. On the A44 when I'm in a rush. Through villages. In garden centres. Everywhere. Styled to be non-threatening, it manages, by trying not to be offensive to anyone, to be offensive to everyone. So why does anyone buy such a thing when there are so many alternatives? A wheelbarrow, for instance, or a holiday in Guantanamo Bay, or gout. I'll tell you why. Because the Citroen is cheap.
It's cheapness that causes people to buy a 4WD Kia. They need something to pull their caravan up a muddy field, and while they'd like a Range Rover, it's too expensive. That makes perfect sense to me. If I were a caravannist, with a family to feed and a modest income, I'd probably buy a Kia.
No, come to think of it, I wouldn’t. If I were a caravannist, with a family to feed and a modest income, what I’d actually do is kill myself.
What I’m bothered about though is what happens when you take value for money out of the equation. When you are making a purchasing decision in which dealer service, fuel economy, carbon dioxide and government tax bands are not an issue. In short: what I’m bothered about is why don’t I want a Porsche.
It’s not the badge. Speak this quietly, but I was the only person in the world who wanted a 924. I knew that it had an engine from a Volkswagen van and that it took six years to get from zero to 60mph and that it cost a million pounds and you were only paying for the badge. But it had pinstripe velour seats, and I liked that.
And then they fitted flared wheel arches and a new four-cylinder 2.5-litre engine to create the 944. I wanted one of those so much I ached. In fact, if I were to draw up a list of the 10 best cars I’ve ever driven, the 944 turbo would certainly be included. You can buy them these days for five grand.
By rights, I should hate the 928. It was the first press test car I ever crashed. And I used one to go and see my dad the day before he died. I also disliked the dreadful ride quality in later models. And yet, even today, when one grumbles by, my head does the full Linda Blair. It is, I think, one of the best-looking cars ever made.
So what’s happened? Why did I used to like Porsches and now I don’t?
Image? Well, yes, there was a time when a flat-nosed, guards red 911 with a whale tail spoiler was an automotive precursor to the imminent arrival of a twat. But since then, the cocks have been through the BMW phase and are now tailgating your arse with big, fast Audis. So what’s stopping me?
Happily, I think I have an answer. In the old days, Porsches were flawed and a bit flamboyant. The 944 had flared arches. The 924 had a van engine. The 928 had chequered flag seating. In brown. You got the impression they were designed by people who understood the whole business of cars. Not just how to make them go round corners.
Today though, I have the impression that Porsches are built by people who have an enormous collection of small screwdrivers. They really like choosing the exact composition of the tyres and the precise calibration of the fuel injectors. This is why the engine bay of a 911 looks like the back of a washing machine. It’s because it was developed by engineers, possibly the best in the business, and they don’t really care about aesthetics. They only want to build an equation, a formula, which will
go round the Nürburgring as quickly as possible.
So, when you buy a modern Porsche, you are demonstrating to the world that you are very interested in driving. And being ‘very interested in driving’ means that, for you, it is a hobby.
This is bad. Hobbies are for people who were caught masturbating as a child. They were told by their mothers that it’d drop off unless they got out of bed and did something useful. So they did. They built model planes and collected stamps. Some may have taken up ornithology. This will have made them very unpopular with their peers who could think of many more exciting things to do with bushes and birds. Show me someone in a 911, and I’ll show you someone who was bullied at school.
I have no statistics to hand, but I bet a great many golfists drive 911s. It’s because of what their mums told them. That they must have a way of filling their time that doesn’t include shuffling off to the loo with Asian Babes. They are not wankers, then. And that, weirdly, is exactly the problem.
Want to comment on this?
The 911 is fabulous and I speak as someone who has taken years to get my head round the whole engine at the wrong end thing.
Great article. Hats off.
Love this article, especially the point it makes about chemistry. I was 19 years old when I laid my eyes on a Porsche 911 model (scale 1:16) and immediately fell in love with it. I wasn't interested at all in cars before I saw that small model car and held it in my hands. I don't really *feel* anything when I look at a Ferrari. I can get excited about them, but I always go back to the 911. Always. It's like love. And I'm a woman.
So there reason you're not buying a Porscha Jezza is because you're strapped for cash.My life is now complete.
great article - its really to keep the little boy (sorry girl as well @mello7) inside alive. Its about the emotion, the dream car, the dream brand. Porsches are hard to love recently. They are clinically flawless. They are almost too perfect and not awesome beautiful in the italian way. I am curious what will be the dream car and brand from my little boy, he is 1 year old...