A Museum Ate My Porsche
Over the last two decades, I’ve had the fun of driving a “Tigger” Porsche (it’s the only one!). I found this 1997 Boxster on eBay listed by an owner in Maryland, brought it to California, took it through the process of California smog legalization and registration, and then set about driving it and figuring out just what I had. It was the start of an adventure!
The start of the mystery was in the warranty book: “Werkseigen,” a German word indicating the original owner was Porsche itself, but destined for Scottsdale? Subsequent stamps in the warranty book showed it was then maintained at the Porsche factory in Germany. And the prior owner claimed it had a different engine.
Indeed, the block was stamped with a non-standard engine number: 99627021. A brief search shows this isn’t the numbering method for Boxster engines. Plug the car into a computer and the computer can’t tell what kind of car it is. Baffled diagnostic computers list a whole series of possible Porsche models.
I started researching while just having fun with the car. First was auto crossing, where it was definitely faster than than a ’97 Boxster with Tiptronic and ran hotter. What was in there? The California smog referee concluded from the engine number it was “996” engine (3.4 liter), possibly strangled by standard Boxster headers. Could it be?
I just drove the car in between chasing down history. I traced it back as far as a Harley-Davidson dealer in Rhode Island, then the trail stopped–leaving about a five-month gap between there and the last factory stamp in the warranty book. Somehow, the car made it from Stuttgart to Pawtucket in that five months. A brisk swim?
I stopped at Porsche Redwood City (then Carlsen Porsche) to have Michael Hobgood look up what he could on the car. The only information in the warranty computer was a production date and a retail delivery date one month later (before the Porsche factory stamps in the warranty book). There was no information for any warranty work. Michael stated that, for a U.S.-spec car, this was “impossible.”
Then I got a call from the Palo Alto Concours at Stanford. Turned out they were featuring Porsche that year, GGR and Zone 7 were providing the judges and rules for them, and Porsche Redwood City owner Charlie Burton was presenting the awards. Would I write an article on Porsche for the program?
Sure: why not? And why not enter the car also?
Thankfully, ignorance and optimism were good preparation for getting one’s autocross car ready for a concours. By the time I learned just how crazy clean it had to be and how you need a good back to detail a Boxster engine, it was ready. Beginner’s luck: we got second place in the class. And I got a close look at the very neat, hand-built parts in the engine compartment which converted the car from throttle cable to e-gas (not introduced till 2000). Must have been part of the “maintenance” at the factory.
Back to getting the car dirty! Here it is all hunkered down in the backside of the Corkscrew at Laguna on the ultra-low, non-standard suspension it also picked up somewhere along the way.
My mechanic quickly learned he had to check existing part numbers on the car before ordering anything: so many were “996” parts (many shared between Boxster and 911s), but different than on a standard Boxster. Thankfully, whenever the car did something odd rebooting it would generally do the trick. As Alex at Sharkwerks told me when I had him check out the car: “It doesn’t have a normal ECU identifier… Someone’s been messing with the software!”
I got the idea of enlisting Panorama in the search. Then-editor Pete Stout pitched in with querying his contacts at Porsche HQ, who forwarded them to Weissach. The initial answer: no information.
One very exciting day, we got a note forwarded from an engineer at Weissach. He said yes, he remembered the car. He stated that, after dealer presentation in Scottsdale, the car was used by Porsche’s engine test department for a year. The “99627021” engine number meant it was a 996-block, 2.7 liter, engine number 21. He was happy to hear the car was still running, but had no explanation for why it got out with a test engine.
I wrote all this up for a feature article which appeared in the March, 2014 issue of Panorama.
My car truly was unique: 1997 Boxster fitted with a hand-built, pre-production 2.7 liter e-gas test motor for the engine introduced on the 2000 Boxster. Plus all the other things done to it. Below is the photo of the crew on hand at Porsche Redwood City when we put the car up and used bore and stroke gauges to verify that, of the “996” blocks bored out to various displacements, it actually had a 2.7 liter.
Although I long enjoyed just driving the car, I pondered its next home. Keep it forever? Or try to find a new owner who would appreciate this unique and historical vehicle?
Andrew Forrest had the bright idea: how about the Blackhawk Auto Museum in Danville? I contacted director of operations Jon Snyder and he enthusiastically agreed. The car would be perfect for display, educational programs, and car shows. My little Boxster would have a suitable next home after all.
Jon and I completed arrangements for the donation, and they took delivery of the vehicle in April. I look forward to visiting the car once it’s on display.
In the end, what happened to my very mysterious yellow Boxster?
A museum ate my Porsche.