Porsche Cayman Wizardry and Lizardry

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My first step in publishing each post is to write utter garbage. Whatever you may think of the final product, I just spill all my words out into something tangible – enough so that I can show it to someone else and have them tell me it’s crap.

Then after inhaling the waft of my printer burning toner or whatever it does while coughing up multiple drafts and revisions, I’ll arrive at something I am only slightly discontented with and ready to post, though not without trepidation. Typing up a first draft that’s polished enough to call a final product is not how I roll.

Perhaps some car companies operate the same way. They throw something together based on a concept and keep refining it until it finds its niche in the world or the scrap pile.

The process of launching a car involves a lot of trial and error, prototypes and fixing myriad problems. Possibly all because a couple of engineers debated the merits of one way or another of doing something while chowing down burgers, schnitzel, sushi or pasta during their lunch hours.

Then someone, after perhaps many sips (or gulps) of some inebriating beverage says, “Hey, why don’t we try that?”, and the others at the table nod in agreement. Or seem to nod because they’re plastered.

I mean, how else do you explain putting six cylinders without a radiator on the backside of something akin to an upside down bathtub that shared a bunch of parts with a VW Beetle and calling it a sports car?  Then, many brew addled lunches later turbocharging some version of it, slapping a giant wing on it and pretty much kicking the entire world’s collective sports car racing ass?

Anyway, my point is that if you want to get started doing anything, just throw something together and see if it seems like a good direction. Then keep polishing. That’s my theory on how the Porsche 911 became one of the world’s most, if not the most, iconic sports cars.

But this piece isn’t actually about that car. It’s about something that happened a generation after its debut, where perhaps another group of engineers may have revisited the rear-engine vs. mid-engine debate. One thing led to another and, hopefully without fisticuffs in the biergarten, they wanted to put things to the test and came up with the Porsche Boxster.

It went so well that the debate then moved on from powertrain layout to open top versus hardtop. How much different (ahem, better) would a hardtop Boxster be? So again they put their hypotheses to the test and came up with the Porsche Cayman, named after the caiman lizard.

What a car. Especially the Cayman S. Even if you don’t read the rest of this post, that’s all you need to know. That car is some hot molasses, and I mean that in the best way. After writing this I want one. Of course, it’s not without its faults, which I’ll get to later. But that doesn’t take anything away from its sports car demigod status.


Essentially a hardtop coupe based on the second generation Boxster (Type 987), the Cayman S went on sale in the U.S. in early 2006. The initial engine was a 24 valve 3.4 liter flat-six unit belting out a tidy 295 horsepower and 251 lb-ft of torque. Equipped with variable valve timing (known as VarioCam Plus) on the intake side, it shared its cylinder heads with the 3.8 liter engine from the 911 Carrera S (Type 997) and could reach a melodius redline of 7,300 rpm.

Power was delivered to the rear wheels via a choice of two transmissions: A six-speed manual or five-speed automatic Tiptronic S unit.

Body & Chassis

The powertrain was mounted in a steel unibody nearly identical to that of the Boxster and also shared the floor pan, doors, hood and front fenders with the convertible. Yet it was only 11 pounds lighter, something unusual for a hardtop.

The result was a chassis that was 2.5 times stiffer in torsion and had double the bending stiffness of the Boxster. With a 43/57 front/rear weight bias and relatively light weight of about 3,100 lbs endowed by its mid-engine layout, it was a natural sports car.

Due to the increased precision that came from greater chassis stiffness, the shocks, springs and anti-roll bars were all tuned differently from the Boxster, resulting in sportier and more aggressive handling.

Like the Boxster, aluminum MacPherson strut suspension was located at all four corners and carried standard 18 inch wheels shod with 235/40ZR-18 and 265/40ZR-18 tires. Nineteen inch wheels were optional.

The rear spoiler extended at 75 mph for increased downforce while channeling air around the Cayman’s slippery shape which has a Cd (drag coefficient) of just 0.29 – just a whisker behind the 911’s 0.28. The spoiler also served as an external speedometer of sorts for sharp eyed law enforcement, particularly those with an affinity for low slung sports cars. Especially those painted red or fly yellow.

Dollars & Dimes

Impressive stopping distances could be achieved with any Cayman model. All models had standard drilled and vented brake discs made of cast of iron. The S model came with 12.5/11.8 inch front/rear brake discs, while the base Cayman was curiously equipped with smaller 11.7 diameter front discs, which presumably offer less stopping power, but the same rear discs as the S.

A very pricey ceramic-composite brake option called PCCB (Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes, duh) was available for more than $8,000. But cars with this system would stop on a dime (maybe even faster) in the range of 110-115 feet.

A Lizard’s Gizzards

Like many a two-seater, the Cayman wasn’t the most practical vehicle for some real world events, like hauling a refrigerator, sheets of drywall and lumber. If you wanted to build more than a dollhouse.

Of course, there are other vehicles for those who wish to indulge in those occasional occurrences. There are plenty of people who buy big four wheel drive SUVs that even years later have never seen so much as a gravel driveway. Or just rent a truck when needed.

But among the world of enthusiasts, the Cayman could easily serve as a daily driver. It had all the conveniences of a “normal” car like heating and air conditioning. Even a couple of cup holders.

It was also unpretentious in the sense that it just had two seats for real people, lacking a backseat of the kind that car magazines have described ad nauseam as “useless to anyone larger than a small child”.

Between the front trunk that could hold a suitcase, various storage bins in the passenger compartment and a rear hatch, it possessed what by sports car standards is cavernous trunk space.

The rear hatch could no doubt draw utterances like “Where’s the engine?” from curious passersby not familiar with the results of my imagined foodfight between engineers in Stuttgart.

Unlike its Boxster sibling, which offered easier engine access from above due to the absence of the cargo hatch, the Cayman was unusual in this regard. To access the engine from above required removal of the floor of the trunk, which essentially doubled as the engine cover. The other way to access the well hidden powerplant was from underneath.

For the Outlet Mall?

The base Cayman was priced about ten grand less and wasn’t quite as well equipped as the Cayman S. On paper it had less power, smaller wheels, tires and brakes and one less gear. But it was also impressively light at about 2,900 lbs. and, if one wasn’t careful with the option list, could still end up costing more than an S model, which started at about $59,000.

A 245 hp 2.7 liter flat-six engine was paired with either a five speed manual or Tiptronic S transmission. An optional six speed manual transmission, same as in the Cayman S, brought with it PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management System), which synchronized suspension stiffness, ABS, yaw control and the differential in one happy dance to keep the shiny side up and the nose pointed forward, despite most indiscretions a noob driver could muster. It could be partially deactivated but would intervene whenever the ABS was triggered.

Smaller 17×6.5 inch front and 17×8.0 inch rear wheels riding on 205/235 series tires rounded it out the mechanical differences. Eighteen and 19 inch diameter wheels were optional.

That Thing That Sports Cars Do

The Cayman sprinted from zero to 100 km/h (62 mph) in a tick over six seconds, stopped from that speed in about 110 feet and could top 160 mph.

Naturally the Cayman S was faster. Zero to 100 km/h arrived in the low to mid-five second range. Claimed top speed was 171 mph. It was also capable of about 0.98g on the skidpad.

For track use the optional Sport Chrono package included a lap time counter, launch control.

Meanwhile, Back At the Nürburgring

In 2009 the Boxster/Cayman duo received an update. The base Cayman engine was bumped up by 20 hp to 265 hp, courtesy of a host of refinements including the addition of direct injection and an increase in displacement to 2.9 liters.

Similar changes effected a 25 hp increase in the 3.4 liter Cayman S, lowering its zero to 100 km/h time to under five seconds.

Furthermore, the Tiptronic S automatic was replaced by a seven speed PDK (Porsche Doppelkupplung, which is apparently German for dual-clutch) transmission, which offered both paddle shifting and fully automatic modes. An optional limited slip differential also became available.

Silent Nights At Le Mans

Ever heard of a Cayman at the top level in sports car racing? No? That’s because Porsche said “Achtung” when it came to racing the thing. Sure, the Cayman has won a few junior level series events but nothing on the international stage such as at the 911’s French playground, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Porsche never wanted it to step on the toes of its pricier stablemate, or to be perceived as offering better performance. The Cayman’s place in the lineup wasn’t at the top then, and it isn’t so now requiring careful tuning to maintain that delicate balance.

Fit & Finnish

Due to Porsche’s limited production capacity at the time, in part due to the success of the Boxster, Caymans were assembled through 2011 by Valmet Automotive in Finland. Production of both models was consolidated in Germany beginning in 2012.

After a successful eight year run, the Type 981 Cayman drove off into the sunset, replaced by the Type 987 for model year 2014. That’s a diatribe for day that’s still years away.

Photos courtesy Porsche Cars N.A., Inc.

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