Porsche was not new to mid-engine cars when the car to which the Cayman owes its existence was presented to the motoring world in 1993 at the Detroit Motoring Show. Although the car which Porsche arguably owes its existence to may be said to be the most notorious rear engine car ever produced, Porsche’s first cars were mid-engined cars.
Even before Dr. Ferdinand ‘Ferry’ Porsche famously ‘built the car of his dreams’ which was the mid engine Porsche 356/1, his father had been involved in designing the Auto Union race cars funded by the Nazi regime. Hitler had announced that he would be funding two projects: a new ‘people’s car’ (Porsche designed the Beetle) as well as a government sponsored racing program. The funding for the racing program was initially pledged to Mercedes Benz but Porsche convinced Hitler that two programs would be more suitable and the funding was to be split between Mercedes and Auto Union. This was the beginning of the great rivalry between Porsche and Mercedes. The race-car that Porsche designed had a mid-engine layout and the engine was a V-16 engine which Porsche had designed years earlier in the aftermath of the great economic depression of the late twenties and early thirties. The fuel tank was placed directly behind the driver who sat just behind the front axel. The car proved to be a sensation in the racing world. The mid-engine formula had truly proved itself in all senses. A series of fortuitous events meant that most of the Porsche (father and son) initial history was directly, intricately and rather inevitably influenced by the two world wars. Ferry Porsche started working on the 356/1 in Gmund (Austria) and in 1948 the mid engine 356 prototype which had a tubular chassis was completed. Porsche was concerned about the lack of interior space, the lack of rear seats and storage capacity and in the same year decided to move the engine behind the rear axle with the 356/2 Gmund coupe. The 911 DNA had started to take shape. Over the following decades though the mid-engine Porsche formula re-surfaced time and time again often in iterations of immense beauty and great racing heritage. In 1955 Porsche stunned the world with the aluminium constructed 550 spider to which James Dean famously lost his life in California. The successor to this car was the Porsche 718 RSK and its claim to fame was the famous Targa Florio victory in 1959. That year, Porsche also claimed second place with the 550 RS and third and fourth place with the 356 A Carrera. Porsches racing heritage was set in stone and the racing and enthusiast world alike wanted their cars. Another mid-engine Porsche which Porsche purists never really took to due to the joint development with Volkswagen was the 914, which was built through the first half of the seventies and although it was looked at as a black sheep it was still raced quite successfully winning its class in the 1970 24 hours of LeMans. The first overall wins in Le Mans for Porsche in 1970 and in 1971 were also thanks to the mid-engined beautiful beast if there ever was one that is the Porsche 917. The 1973 Porsche 917 Can-Am was turbocharged to achieve over 1000 bhp and the numbers it achieved are mind-boggling even by todays standards. The car was capable of a 240 mph top speed and zero to sixty was achieved in a little over two seconds. It is said to be the most powerful sports car racer ever built and raced and it dominated the Can-Am race series.
Porsche were true masters of mid-engined sports cars and though their trump card shall remain the legendary 911, it was once more thanks to a mid-engined car that Porsches finances would survive the mid nineties. The hype which the Boxster prototype had created in 1993 meant that Porsche decided to take the car into production. The mid-nineties were crucial for Porsche. Focus was on cost cutting and manufacturing efficiency and Porsche embarked on a parts sharing mission to cut costs. Decisions were taken to switch from air-cooled engines to water cooled engines and Porsche developed the water cooled horizontally opposed flat six cylinder M96 engine which was to be used for the Boxster and later on in the Porsche 911 996 with which the Boxster also shared its bonnet, wings, headlights, interior and overall engine architecture. The decision was once more taken to place the engine in the middle of the car in front of the rear axle. The car was an immediate success and Porsche was back in business. Car magazines heaped the car with praise and accolades with Autocar naming it the best roadster in the world and other magazines hailing it the best sportscar of the decade. Fast forward ten years and in 2006 Porsche decided to introduce another mid-engined sports car which would sit between the 911 and the Boxster and would be based on the Boxster but this time it would be a Coupe. The Porsche Cayman was first unveiled to the world at the Frankfurt Motorshow in September 2005 and was launched in 2006. It is said to share 40% of its components with Porsche Boxsters and its incirporates styling elements from the 356/1 the 550 Coupe and the 904 Coupe. The first Cayman to be launched was the more powerful S version and I doubt Porsche themselves knew what a success the Cayman would prove to be, with car magazines comparing it directly to the 911 and often claiming they prefer the neutral handling which the Cayman offers (due to the engine being in slung low in the middle of the car). It was an immediate success and quickly established its position as one of the best drivers cars ever built. Again car magazines in 2006 waxed lyrical on the Cayman and nine out of ten journalists crowned it as the best sports car of 2006. Autoweek’s headline summarises what most magazines thought of the car: “Porsche’s latest hit offers near Carrera performance at Boxster price”. The Cayman is approaching its tenth year anniversary and it has come a long way, establishing itself firmly as a sports car in its own right and no longer seen as the more economical version of the 911. I’d seriously be torn as to which car to buy if I were on the market for a new Porsche today even if money were not an issue especially if two extra seats were not part of the equation. The Cayman looks, drives and feels just perfect. All other things being equal it is probably all the sports car you’ll ever need.