A Porsche that would thrill James Dean
MOVIE buffs may recall the Porsche 550 Spyder as the car in which American teen idol James Dean met his tragically premature demise.
Dean dreamed of becoming a racing driver, but when his manager discovered he was entering the Spyder in amateur speed events, he made the young star promise to stop.
It was on his way to secretly take part in a club race that Dean rolled his Porsche and was killed instantly.
From wherever he is today, Dean is no doubt looking approvingly on Porsche's renewed interest in the era as witnessed by one of its latest development projects.
Porsche has always been active in carrying out the technical and stylistic development of its Spyder speedster and roadster sports cars and frequently makes it clear it intends to continue this policy.
Subsequently, Porsche AG has put forward its latest idea on this theme: the Boxster sports car study.
The intriguing prototype is an open two-seater based on the German manufacturer's original mid-engine concept and is noteworthy not only for its interesting body shape but also because of a host of clever design solutions.
The external appearance is marked by special proportions - like the 550 Spyder and the RS 60 of the '50s, both considered to be timeless classics by Porsche connoisseurs.
With the mid-engine powertrain configuration as a basis, there was a list of requirements which gave the Boxster its final form.
Among these is the desire for a long wheel-base in relation to the car's dimensions, and the location of the cockpit well towards the front of the vehicle.
It is also interesting to note these basic design characteristics describe the current trend in world championship Formula One racing cars after years of research and evolution.
While body overhang in the back is kept extremely short, the nose, with its integrated radiator, extends well beyond the front axle. This variation in layout of the overhang underscores the individualistic appearance of the Boxster.
Other design details bristle with distinctive features. The exhaust system is included as an integral component of the body shape and similarly air intakes and air outlets, headlights and even blinkers are made equally important as complementary styling elements.
An unusual layout is used for the lighting system: low beams lie on top in vertically-divided main headlights, while the high-beam headlight units are in the lower portion of the asymmetric elements.
Fog lights in three-dimensional, ellipsoid form are integrated into the sides of these same housings.
Even the washer jets to clean headlights are part of the overall design exercise. Rear lights, with their intricately arranged light diodes, provide even light-level distribution and the blinkers are set into the light units as small light islands.
Head designer Harm Lagaay based his interior styling concept on the recognition that driver and passenger place different demands on their seating spaces.
Thus the seats are alike in upholstery design but offer different shapes. The driver's seat is laid out for maximum restraint, with additional lateral leg bolsters ensuring the seating position, even on fast curves. A portion of the right leg bolster of the driver's seat also serves as handbrake lever.
By contrast, priorities for the passenger include leeway for movement with generous leg freedom and varied storage possibilities. For instance, the back rest offers space in a zipper pocket for a light jacket, thoughtfully provided in the prototype with Porsche colours and logo.
A futuristic ''Blade Runner'' style LCD screen located centrally in the dashboard is accessible to both driver and passenger.
It contains these functions: radio, equaliser, TV/video, CD control functions, navigation system, clock, on-board computer and telephone controls.
Two full-size airbags protect the driver and passenger, the unit on the driver's side being integrated into a surprisingly thin-profile three-spoke steering wheel.
The instrument cluster is typically Porsche. Five classic round analogue dials - with rev counter in the centre - are melded without losing their individual identity in the process.
An innovative illumination system improves instrument visibility. Figures and numbers are engraved on the covering glass, becoming prominent through lighting projected from behind the glass.
Pointers are also lit from the back and appear on the dashboard glass as shadows. Outstanding legibility of dash indicators is increased by a reflection-reducing ''bridge'' above the instrument panel.
Imaginative design ideas are also found in the shaping of doors and door panels, again presented differently for driver and passenger.
The inside door handles, designed as thin metal tubes, not only serve to close the door, but are integral components of side-impact protection as well.
All four fresh-air outlets, implemented as styling elements, have their own fans and are individually adjustable.
At the rear of the cockpit, a panel is shaped to form a centre console in the middle which then extends forward between the front seats. Along with two storage bins in the console, there are two removable bags, matching the car's design, enclosed in the panels to the rear.
The colour and material considerations for the Boxster's interior are also interesting. Silver-painted metal is used for door panels, instrument panel and central console. Apart from enhancing design possibilities, the use of metal interior elements offers a chance to save weight and avoid upholstery materials which are difficult to recycle.
Will the innovative Boxster become a reality? Porsche insists it will be made available in the mid-1990s, with many of the singular design features of the original study still intact.
If only a handful of the ideas show-cased in the prototype make it to the showroom, Porsche will certainly have created one of the most interesting sports cars to be seen in many years.
James Dean would be delighted.