Thursday, October 2, 2008

Out for a spin: One week, one limited-edition Porsche — what to do?

Published in the Portland Phoenix
Driving a 2008 Porsche Boxster RS 60 Spyder Limited Edition is an exercise in ridiculous, indulgent impracticality. But it’s fun — and it might get your name written on the inside of teenage girls’ pants.
Through no effort of my own, a man I had never met drove that car — number 296 out of 1960 ever made — into the office parking lot last week, and handed me the key. When he had called out of the blue offering the car as part of a Porsche marketing and promotion effort, all I’d done was tell him I’d drive it and return it in one piece. I made no promise to write about it, and only a vague verbal assurance that I could drive a stick-shift car. (For the record, my regular car, a 1995 Subaru Impreza wagon, is a stick-shift. So I wasn’t lying.)
On the very first night, it failed utterly as a utilitarian object. My wife and I were slated to pick up a friend (who was in town on business) at her hotel and take her to a restaurant for dinner. But the Boxster has just two seats, so within hours of receiving the key to a $65,000 car, one of just 800 in North America, I had to leave it parked in the garage while we picked up our friend in my wife’s 2000 Subaru Impreza Outback wagon.
That was the first of a few downers. Other low points were general paranoia about police officers — my uncle, a genuine “car guy” — had reminded me, when I called to gloat, that “a ticket is wasted money.” And then there was the horrific downturn the nation’s economy took, almost from the moment I received the Porsche’s key. At various points I drove past the panhandlers near the Deering Oaks Park I-295 on-ramp, and along the social-services end of Congress Street, in a car I did not own, could not afford, and could never imagine myself ever actually owning, even if one day I do have that kind of money just sitting in the bank. Don’t ask me what they thought of me — I was studiously avoiding their eyes.
Let’s move on to the high points.
Some of the people I took for rides surprised me, and even themselves. A freelancer who normally bums around in a 1980s-era Volvo with more than 300,000 miles on it turned out to also own an ancient sports car he keeps in good repair. And an utterly grounded, down-to-earth college friend became totally flighty upon sitting in the passenger seat, and spent much of the ride extolling the just-discovered virtues of expensive cars (except when she was feeling guilty for being so materialistic).
Better than enacting my high-school fantasy of driving the coolest, fastest car on the block was giving someone else that feeling — a guy in a Pontiac Firebird spotted me in Cape Elizabeth and tailgated me for a while, hoping to race. Eventually he gave up and roared past me, earning the right to truthfully tell his friends how he totally dusted a Porsche.
My sister’s boys — ages 5 and 3 — had a total blast, even without going for a ride. They clambered all over the car, hid in the trunk and under the dashboard, got me to put the top down and up and down again, and pretended they were driving to Vermont to see their grandparents. The older one even managed to yank on the gearshift enough to make the car move just a little — before I intervened with the emergency brake.
The biggest high point of all had to be the spin a friend and I took out to Kettle Cove in Cape Elizabeth at sunset on a Friday night. As we drove through the parking lot, checking out the scenery, I heard someone woman shout, “Hey! Wait! Can I take a picture of your car?”
Sure, I thought, no problem. I pulled around and parked, and we found ourselves surrounded by a screeching group of teenage girls. I’ll let one of them tell you how it went, in an account posted on her Facebook page. But first, I have to explain (before any accusations of impropriety arise) that four of them share a pair of pants — a sort of “sisterhood of the traveling pants” — and wear them to special occasions, after which they write about what happened at the events on the inside of the pants, in laundry marker. With that, here’s the story, with spelling and grammar intact from the original:
So today was the best day of my life!!!! I was at my BFF’s sweet 16 and it was towards the end of the party and out of the cornor of my eye i saw the most beautuful site ever.....modle number 296 Porche!!!! Good lord it was the most beautiful thing I have scene!!! it was silver with a red interior!!! so of course being the very subtle person i was i yelled out to the driver....” CAN I TAKE A PICTURE OF YOUR CAR!!!!!!!” And to my suprise he came and rove over!!!! I was like salavating over the beauty of the car....and then he said something that made my whole year....” well do you want to take a picture in the driver’s seat...?” I almost dropped to the floor in praise, exclaiming...YES!!!!!! It was the most amazing experience of my entire life!!!!! My firends and I took sooooo many pictures that I think we could have gone through 2 memory cards!!! I think that the driver of the amazing car was more entertained with the fact that ther where like 10 screaming girls around his car than we where!!! He was just as giddy as us...not to mention that he was very gratious to let us take turns taking pictures in his beloved porche!
Well that was my day and i can’t believe that it happened to me!!! thank you soooooo much for making my day amazing!!!! “you will forever be in our pants!!!” hahahahahahahahah!!!!!!
I did indeed let the girls sit in the car, and they took tons of photos, many of which are now also on Facebook. And when I found out that it was a Sweet Sixteen party, I offered the birthday girl a spin. Her eyes lit up and she jumped in the car. Just before she closed the door, she said quietly, “It just occurred to me how sketchy this could be.” But she got in anyway, and off we went for a quick trip around the parking lot.
I showed her the same stunts I showed all the folks I drove around — its snap-your-head-back acceleration, growling exhaust (complete with a button on the console that makes it louder), stick-to-the-road cornering, tight turning radius, and snap-your-head-forward braking power. She was quiet but had a huge grin on her face. Her friends were more vocal, squealing away on the sidewalk. One of them called it “the Porsche that changed my life.”
The bottom line, though, is that it’s a silly car. Yes, it is a convertible, which is one of the key attributes I dream of in a car. It shows you on the dashboard your real-time miles-per-gallon performance (which I think every car should have), what the tire pressure is, and how many miles before you’ll need to stop for fuel. It has heated seats, which extends the top-down time period by a few weeks in the spring and fall. There’s a button to extend the rear spoiler if you think the silver car with red-leather interior doesn’t look cool enough as it is.
For all of those things — and for a week — I could overlook the biggest frustration, which was that I couldn’t get the racing timer to work. Mounted very prominently atop the dashboard, in a car that is in its entirety a tribute to racing, and there was no way to get it to start. I also could ignore its 19-26 miles-per-gallon fuel “economy,” those ultra-bright halogen headlights (I hate being blinded by them in oncoming vehicles, and I hate even more being that oncoming vehicle to other drivers), and slick tires that I wouldn’t trust at high speeds in the rain.
It’s entertaining to drive, though. If you’re on vacation somewhere sunny and have some extra cash to blow, rent the Porsche instead of the economy mini-compact you might otherwise choose. And if someone offers to loan it to you for a week, say yes.