I have to disagree with T.S. Eliot about April, which I do not consider the cruellest month at all. Not even close. Here in Canada, mid January is the low point of the calendar - the holidays are done, your credit cards are maxed out, and you're still facing three solid months of snow shovelling.
Never mind. I have enough sunny memories to carry me through until spring. One of them is the Porsche Boxster Spyder, my favourite convertible ever. Who knew? The standard Boxster was never a car I lusted for. To me it was like some of the women I dated before my wife: somewhat attractive, good family, no spark.
But the Spyder is different. Lighter and lower than a standard Boxster, it has fat tires, extra power and a humped rear deck that evokes the Porsche 550 that James Dean loved so much. (Of course he died in it, too, but never mind.) The Spyder has the ineffable aura of a true sports car - low, agile and stripped down.
Some test cars languish in my garage, but not the Spyder. I drove it every minute I could, revelling in its beautiful balance, telepathic steering, and incredible brakes - when an inattentive driver pulled out in front of me, I braked and slipped around him with the ease of Ovechkin deking out a third-rate defenceman.
Thanks to all the over-compensated yuppies who use them as rolling status symbols, I have a bit of a love-hate thing with Porsches. When I worked as a Porsche mechanic back in my twenties, many of my customers barely knew how to drive, and I once met a woman whose father gave her a Porsche 911 with an automatic transmission for her sixteenth birthday - she crashed it the first week,
But the Spyder made forget all that baggage and remember why my dad and his buddies loved Porsches long back in the fifties, when only the true aficionados knew about them. I went to Mosport racetrack and arced the Spyder through the curves, addicted to its cornering force and the rasp of the high-tuned motor. I parked it at Starbucks and stared at it through the plate-glass window. Spyder lust was upon me. I checked the price (about $80,000, give or take) and pondered the balance of my son's education fund, wondering if he'd miss it.
I could see that the Spyder isn't the car for everyone. To save weight, it has a manual top - to put it up, you have to pull off the road, extract the top from a rear compartment, and assemble it like a little pup tent. If you're stuck in highway traffic and it starts to rain, well, tough luck. For me, this only added to the Spyder's appeal - I'm sick of decadent, overweight sleds that masquerade as sports cars, and the manual top was a symbol of sporting commitment. So was its six-speed manual transmission, which shifted with minimal wrist-flicks, like the bolt on a perfectly oiled Lee-Enfield rifle.
As a boy, I dreamed of tiny, convertible sports cars like the Lotus Elan and the Porsche Speedster. The Spyder is their direct descendant, a car just big enough to wrap itself around two people. My wife and I headed out of town, revelling in the pleasure of a small, fast car with no top.
I drove the Spyder to Montreal to cover the Grand Prix, then to Muskoka to hunt for twisting roads. I put the top up just twice - once when I got caught in rain too heavy to ignore, and the second time after a topless highway session during a summer heat wave that left me utterly broiled. (Ten minutes later, I took the top back down again, because it felt wrong to miss the experience, broiling notwithstanding.)
The Spyder reminded how much we miss by riding around in climate-controlled boxes that disconnect us from nature. In a small convertible you are just one step removed from a motorcyclist or a pony express rider - you smell flowers and fresh cut corn, and as you blast past a paving crew, you are struck by a hot, moist bouquet of tar. When the sun falls, you reach for a sweater. Beautiful.
I realized that the Spyder is an ideal example of one of my favourite car genres: the factory hot rod. Having modified a few cars myself, I know how hard it is to actually improve a vehicle. It's easy to produce more power or make a car corner flatter, but most modifications exact a steep price in other areas (comfort, reliability, fuel economy, the list goes on….) Making a car better all-round calls for true sagacity, and it's hard to beat a team of professional engineers, especially the kind that work at elite firms like Porsche, BMW or Ferrari.
Now I was driving a mechanical dissertation. Compared to a standard Boxster, the Spyder's changes are minimal: a few millimetres of suspension drop, ten horsepower, eighty kilos of lost weight, and some speed humps on the deck lid. Doesn't sound like much. But for me, it meant everything.
Peter Cheney's memorable cars - the good and the bad