Jeremy Clarkson on the Porsche Boxster RS60

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Jeremy Clarkson said:
Porsche Boxster RS 60 Spyder
Fair Porsche, my sweet Italian lover

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If I were to walk round a modern-day motor show featuring all the latest cars with all their clever electronic gizmos, there might be one, or maybe two, that I?d think seriously of buying. While walking round a field in Leicestershire recently, I found about 200 cars that I?d have gladly swapped one of my kidneys for. There were a few I?d have swapped my heart for.

It was the Auto Italia festival, an event at which thousands of car enthusiasts spend the day demonstrating who is best with a vacuum cleaner. They even have a competition to see who has the cleanest car. It is ridiculous.

If you delve behind the preposterously lacquered paint and the Mr Sheened dashboards, however, you are left with acre after acre of machinery that will leave you breathless with desire. I wanted everything.

And I?m not talking here about the fields full of Ferraris. Mostly, they were crummy 348s, which had wooden tyres and suspension made from old pianos. Nor was I overly bothered by the Lambos either. Owning a Countach or a Diablo is just another way of saying that you are deformed.

No. The stuff that blew my trousers off was the humdrum 1970s cars from Fiat, Alfa Romeo and most of all, surprisingly, Lancia.

Let us begin our romp down the autostrada of yesteryear with the Lancia Montecarlo. Early models were plagued with a tendency to lock up their front brakes and so Lancia took the unusual step of removing it from production while the problem was addressed. A year passed and everyone assumed the little sports car had gone for good. But no. Lancia then rereleased it, saying it had cured the issue by removing the servo. In other words, it had simply made the back brakes perform as badly as those at the front. Brilliant.

Provided you never want to stop, you can buy a Montecarlo these days, in good condition, for about ?4,000. And for that you get a 2 litre twin-cam mid-engined sports car with, if you want, a folding canvas roof, tweed seats and looks that could melt a girl?s face. I decided after about 10 minutes that I didn?t want one at all. I needed one. It was more pressing than my next breath. I even started offering one owner some money and then, when that didn?t work, some quiet threats. ?Look,? I whispered. ?This car will be no good to you if you have lost your legs. And you will, sunshine, if you don?t sell it to me . . . ?

His dignity was saved because, while threatening to burn his house down, I noticed out of the corner of my eye a selection of Fulvias. By modern standards, the Lancia Fulvia is not much to write home about. It has carthorse suspension at the back, a setup that?s weirdly complicated at the front and a 1.6 litre V4 engine that, in the HF, develops just 115bhp. Fast? Well yes, but only if you are a visiting Victorian, or you are used to driving a Motability shopping scooter.

However, they are balls-achingly pretty and one of the show cars belonged to an old mate. ?Hello, John,? I said cheerily but with a hint of Stanislavski menace. ?Would you like to sell me your car or would you like me to stab you in the throat and get the crowd to cheer as you gout arterial blood all over everywhere? Because those are your only choices.?

Happily, from his point of view, I realised that I was actually leaning on the bonnet of a Delta Integrale at the time. And I decided that what I really wanted, more than anything in the world, was this ludicrous, left-hand-drive superstar from the original Sega Rally machine.

Of course, people with blazers will explain that Lancias are old rot-boxes that fell to pieces long before anyone had a chance to drive them to the shops. But having driven across Botswana in a Beta last year, I can assure you this is bunkum.

A classic Lancia will have no more problems than a classic Mercedes. Automotive time is a great leveller. So I?d made my mind up. I was going to buy, having buried the owner in a motorway bridge, a supercharged Lancia Beta HPE. Right up to the moment I spotted a right-hand-drive Fiat 124 Spider.

Or no, hang on a minute. Isn?t that a 131 Mirafiori over there ? the car that was advertised in a cage, growling? And it?s parked next to a 132. My head was starting to swim. And that?s when I spotted the Alfa Romeo Montreal.

You may remember, at the beginning of the film True Lies, Arnie breaks into an embassy cocktail party at a snowy Austrian schloss. There are lots of cars outside but the only one that?s recognisable is a Montreal. And you can forget Morse?s Jag or Bond?s Aston. That?s the best bit of car casting yet. It is the perfect way of saying, without saying anything at all, what sort of people were at the party. People with style.

This 2 litre coup? was first shown at a motor show in Montreal, hence the name, but by the time it reached production it had been given a road-going version of Alfa?s quad-cam, fuel-injected V8. Now with 2.6 litres, it developed 200bhp and had a top speed of 137mph. In 1970 that was lots.

Above the racing heart was a body that had been styled by Bertone and garnished with all sorts of beautiful adornments it simply didn?t need. Such as six air vents in each rear pillar and grilles over the headlamps that retracted when the lights were switched on. Or, rather, being Italian, didn?t retract when the lights were switched on.

Of course the Montreal was a catastrophic sales failure. Fewer than 4,000 had been made before it was officially discontinued in 1977. But most people believe they stopped making it years before that and had simply spent the time shifting unsold stock.

This is what makes it stand out today. It?s what made so many of those cars in that Leicestershire field stand out. They were not made to make their makers money. They were made by enthusiasts because making cars, when you?re a car maker, should be fun. They were, in short, Italian.

Did the world need a Fiat X1/9 or an Abarth version of the 500? Cars such as this and the Montreal, the Montecarlo, the Fulvia and countless more besides were, in the 1970s and 1980s, dream cars. And they remain so. I yearn to own them all because they are beautiful and they are interesting and they were designed by people who truly loved cars.

And that, rather late in the day, brings me on to the Porsche Boxster RS 60 Spyder. I have a sneaking suspicion that Porsche is now the only car maker left that?s still motivated by the same things that motivated the Italian car companies of yore. There is no Porsche econo-box. The 911 still puts its horsepower at the back. And when the firm did finally follow fashion and build a 4x4, it gave it a sodding great turbo.

Porsches do not sound like other cars. And they do not drive like other cars. They drive . . . how can I put this? Better.

This is not a volte-face. For reasons I don?t understand, I still do not want one, but that is not relevant here. If I put on the hat of an impartial reviewer, ignore the badge and concentrate on the RS 60 as a piece of machinery, I?m forced to conclude it?s wonderful.

Yes, it looks silly, the driving position is cramped and the interior colour on this limited-edition special is exactly the same colour as a cow?s bottom just after it?s given birth. I must also say I cannot see how it?s worth ?5,405 more than a normal S. All you get is bigger wheels, a button to make the exhaust noisier and a dribble of extra power. But those are details. The package is superb. The way it steers, the way it rides, the way it grips. It makes you fizz and shiver in a way other cars do not.

I drove it on the Fosse Way with the roof down the other night. There was no other traffic. The sun was out. The countryside looked stunning. And then, as Nessun Dorma came on the radio, I started to smile. Because ? and this is the highest compliment I can give to any car in these profit-and-loss times ? it felt Italian.

Vital statistics
Model Porsche Boxster RS 60 Spyder
Engine 3386cc, six cylinders
Power 303bhp @ 6250rpm
Torque 251 lb ft @ 4400rpm
Transmission Six-speed manual
Fuel CO2 25.7mph (combined cycle) 262g/km
Acceleration 0-62mph: 5.4sec
Top speed 165mph
Price ?45,400
Road tax band G (?400 for 12 months)
On sale Now
Verdict So good, it ought to be Italian
From Jeremy Clarkson's Times Online column
 
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