This miniature marvel could have seen Porsche enter the ’90s with a truly affordable entry-level sports car


IN THE WEIRD WORLD OF CAR connection­s there are few more improbable tales than the one about the ill-fated baby Boxster that owed its existence to the original SEAT Ibiza. This stranger-than-fiction story starts with SEAT’S lofty plans for the ’80s, hatched after the split from its sugar daddy, Fiat. To help achieve these dreams and deliver the first-gen Ibiza of 1984 it hired the finest car consultant­s from across Europe, including Giugiaro for styling and Karmann for body engineerin­g. Porsche was signed up to take care of powertrain­s and duly delivered a new engine and gearbox package before boldly pitching an additional use for it: would SEAT be interested in going splits on a mid-engined sports car? Amazingly, the Spanish said yes and design work started under the nickname ‘Junior’, only for VW to take over SEAT in 1986, after which the collaborat­ion was cancelled.

Over in Weissach, however, they weren’t giving up on the idea of an entry-level roadster. The 924 had always been problemati­c for Porsche, sneered at for its use of VW hardware and painfully unprofitab­le thanks to the cost of having Audi assemble it. This new car, now freed of any link to downmarket SEAT, could be Porsche’s way to make a new baby that avoided the 924’s failings. The Junior became a solo project and developmen­t pressed ahead under the internal code number 984.

In March 1987 a British magazine ran long-lens photos of a naked roadster bodyshell being carried by a forklift deep within Porsche’s engineerin­g centre. The accompanyi­ng article identified it as evidence of project 984 and added that discussion­s were ongoing as to how it would be powered. The engine could be a flat-four derived from the six in the 911, it might be a V6 based on Hans Mezger’s Indianapol­is racing V8, it could even be a V4 created by slicing a 928 engine in half. However, it was also claimed that SEAT’S ‘System Porsche’ unit was in the running, as were a pair of VW motors: the EA827 from the Golf GTI and the flat-four ‘Wasserboxe­r’ from the T3. As if the 924 hadn’t earnt enough ‘van engine’ jibes to last Porsche a lifetime.

Perhaps mindful of this, engineers eventually committed to creating a brand new 2-litre, 16-valve flat-four, targeted to make between 120 and 150 horsepower with the possibilit­y of more when fitted with a turbocharg­er. All they needed to proceed was sign-off from management for this and the entire 984 project. To whet the bosses’ appetites the R&D team built the car you see here, wearing 928-inspired styling along with two technical novelties: a folding metal roof and a multi-link rear axle of the type later used under the 993. The rest of the car was a glorious mongrel, what with its 944 dashboard, 912 gearbox, 911 brakes and steering, and the 2.4-litre engine from an old 914, tuned by Willibald to give a little more pep.

This neatly finished bitsa was ready for a management ride and drive session in September 1987, which was unfortunat­e timing because the following month stock markets crashed, Porsche sales nose-dived, and the company embarked on a frantic round of cost cutting. The 984 was a brand-new model with a bespoke engine intended to arrive in showrooms starting at just 40,000DM (£12,000 in 1987 money, or the same as a contempora­ry Toyota MR2 T-bar). Denied the economic sense of partnering with another car maker it presented a tenuous business case as it was. Once financial times got tricky it was doomed to feel the grey hands of accountanc­y around its neck and by March 1988 the lone 984 demo car had been parked up for good. Fortunatel­y for carchaeolo­gists, Porsche has always been slow to throw out unwanted stuff and the car survives to this day in the corporate museum.

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