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The Ghost of Spyders Past - Driving Porsche's Newest Boxster Model on One of America's Oldest Tracks

by David Bellm

David Bellm is a full-time automotive writer and former editor of Publications International, publisher of Collectible Automobile and Consumer Guide magazines, as well as hardcover books such as Corvette Chronicle, Lamborghini--Supercar Supreme and Porsche--The Essence Of Performance.

The valley reverberates with history. Over some five decades, Road America has played host to practically every major North American racing series, including Trans-Am, Can-Am, IMSA, and Indycars. What's more, it's also beautiful. Built in the mid 1950s to replace a public-road circuit that ran for several years amid the nearby village of Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, the track is nestled between rolling, green, glacier-cut slopes that are as nice to look at as they are to drive over.

In short, it's an ideal place to test a Porsche, in this case the new "50 Years of the 550 Spyder" Boxster S. (Yes, the name is a mouthful. For the sake of brevity, I'll refer to it as the "Anniversary Edition" from here on.)

Like Road America, the Porsche Spyder name is similarly steeped in the past. A stripped-down, purpose-built race car introduced in late 1953, the 550 Spyder successfully did battle with front-engine machines that had far more displacement. Piloted by such drivers as Ken Miles and Hans Herrmann, it racked up an impressive competition record, sealing its place among the more famous cars in the history of this German manufacturer.

Among its current offerings, Porsche's closest thing to a direct heir to the Spyder is the Boxster, first introduced in 1997. Yes, there are significant differences; the Boxster is larger, heavier and vastly more plush than the original Spyder. What's more, the Boxster is powered by a smooth-running liquid-cooled six that makes more than twice the power of the Spyder's rattley, VW-derived, air-cooled four-cylinder.

Those things aside, the cars share one key element: a horizontally-opposed engine mounted between the cockpit and the rear wheels. And, like the Spyder, the Boxster competes in a market packed with mostly front-engine machines.

Road America should prove to be an excellent setting in which to evaluate this new version of the Boxster. With long, open stretches punctuated by corners that range from an autocross-tight chicane to a sprawling carousel, it can gauge the mettle of anything you want to put on it.

Brumos Racing Porsche
Accompanying me for this test will be race-car driver David Donohue. He's been an active pro for years, but can I remember what he drives? Duhhh, nope. "You're probably thinking of my Dad--Mark Donohue," he says. It's typical of the modest, unassuming manner with which the younger Donohue carries himself. Easygoing and calm, he may not seem like the sort to muscle a Viper into a class win at Le Mans, but he did. And now he makes his living driving one of Brumos Racing's Porsche-powered Daytona Prototypes in Grand American Rolex Sports Car competition.


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The Ghost of Spyders Past
Driving Porsche's Newest Boxster Model on One of America's Oldest Tracks

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