Revived Nameplates: Porsche 718 Boxster

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This isn't the first time Porsche has used "718."

Get ready to permanently call the Porsche Boxster the 718. The latest model is already being billed as the 718 Boxster, but we can expect the Boxster name to disappear entirely when a complete redesign arrives in the next few years. But Porsche didn't randomly select those three digits. Nor does "718" make any reference to displacement figures, like the Ferrari 458 Italia (4.5-liter V8). Unless you're a Porsche fan, you may not realize that the 718 was originally built from 1957 until 1962.

That's right, it even pre-dates the 911, which debuted in 1963. However, the original 718 wasn't the premium luxury roadster that we know today, but rather a race car in the purest sense. The 718, essentially the successor to the iconic 550 and often called the 718 RSK due to its unqiue front end design, featured an open cockpit and mid-engine layout. Sounds familiar to today's 718, yes, but that's about where the similarities end. The 718 was powered by a 1.5-liter quad-cam four-cylinder Boxer engine. Turbocharged? No, a few decades too early for that. This was a naturally aspirated engine that produced a total of 142 hp.

Doesn't sound like much, but considering the 718 weighed only 1,260 lbs. the power-to-weight ratio was quite impressive. A five-speed manual transmission sent power to the rear wheels. Unlike today's 718 Boxster, this 718's true home was on the race track. It debuted at the 1957 24 Hours of Le Mans. It didn't finish the grueling endurance race because of an accident but returned to Le Mans the following year and finished first in its class. A 718 also came in second at the 1958 Targa Florio, and won that race outright in '59. The 718 was such a good endurance racer that Porsche, not surprisingly, simply kept evolving it for the next few years by introducing a number of variants.

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A few include the RS 60, which had an enlarged 1.6-liter engine due to FIA regulatory changes, and the 718 GTR Coupe. Now the 718 GTR Coupe was really quite special because that Boxer-four was swapped out for a 210-hp eight-cylinder F1-derived engine. When Formula 1 switched to 1.5-liter engines in 1961, Porsche appropriately modified the 718 with a new body, among other things. Taking the 718's history into account, it's no wonder Porsche chose to revive this nameplate. But why not, say, the 550? Probably because, as we previously mentioned, "550" is too much of an icon, especially for Porsche fans. Remember, legendary movie star James Dean was driving one when he was killed in 1955.

The Porsche 718 Boxster and Boxster S you can buy today, rest assured, are much safer than the original. It's much faster and more powerful, too. Two turbo flat-fours are on offer: a 2.0- and a 2.5-liter with 280 and 350 hp, respectively. The six-speed manual transmission and PDK dual-clutch are carryovers. The question for many is whether this new 718 Boxster (and Cayman) is any better than its naturally aspirated direct predecessor. Styling wise, and despite mostly all-new body panels, it's kind of hard to tell last year's model apart from this year's. No matter, though, as the 2017 Porsche 718 Boxster delivers the goods and continues to be the benchmark premium roadster on the market. It rightly deserves the "718" moniker.

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