Interestingly, I can remember the exact moment at which I fell out of love with the car I thought would be an ownership experience to cherish. Getting out of my car at 6PM on a Friday to walk into the local watering hole with co-workers after leaving the office, I pulled the door handle to let myself out of the low slung coupe and the handle, instead of freeing me from the confines of a cramped two seater, flopped into my hand like someone giving a cold, limp handshake. Something in me just had enough – this car is going up for sale.
Sure enough, the next day the car was posted up on Autotrader, Craigslist, etc. with the requisite history of the car and accompanying photos. A month later, a very nice fellow gearhead came by to look at the car and within two weeks he had taken delivery of the car thus so concluding my shortest term of ownership of any car to date.
The car in question that I so hastily dispatched from my garage? A 2007 Porsche Cayman.
Growing up, my family seemed to always have an affinity with German muscle. My grandfather had an S Class, my grandmother whatever the latest 7 Series available. My uncle had a more macho interest in German cars via a number of high power BMW’s and of course, the quintessential 80′s goodness that could be found in his red Porsche 944 Turbo. There are still photos tucked away in the family albums of me climbing around in the black leather interior of the 944 in Superman PJ’s, hanging on to what was then a gigantic steering wheel. From a young age I could remember that I wanted to be able to own my very own Porsche before I turned 30. The 911 was the target and, quite obviously, the one to have.
However, Porsche went and got smart about moving into lower segments to better round out their sales demographic and in 2006 released the Cayman S – a car many have said, and with whom I’ll agree, could wholly out handle the ubiquitous 911 if only it had a hair more power.
After 7 years and 110,000+ miles of driving my little E46 325Ci since new, it was time to find a new car which was without a doubt going to be a BMW until I found a relatively good deal on a CPO’d 2007 Black on Tan Porsche Cayman at a local dealership. Sure enough, less than a week later and just over a month before my 29th birthday I bought my first Porsche thereby crossing off the goal I’d set for myself as a kid. The Cayman itself was fairly stripped down with just leather seats, a 5-speed manual gearbox, optional 18 inch wheels and a slightly upgraded factory sound system but it could grip the road with its Michelin Pilot Sports to such an extent that my face was more likely to let go and slide off before the rear tires broke traction.
It was everything I thought I could want in a sports car with none of the cliches of finicky ownership problems and for a fraction of the price of the just-released Type-991 911. I received lots of compliments from co-workers, strangers and the like and was patting myself on the back for making an excellent choice in motoring instruments. The Cayman had performed admirably when I used it for a pre-dawn jaunt to Sebring from North Florida managing speeds unmentionable and with relative fuel economy to boot. However, I quickly found that my 6’4 frame did not appreciate being folded like a piece of origami into the cabin.
The other issue I found was I just wasn’t in love with a car I’d always aspired to own. Yes, it was a Porsche but should I have held out for a 911? Maybe, but I while I was constantly wowed with the grip of the Cayman and the exhaust note and gearbox engagement, the little mid-engined coupe seemed to do everything I asked of it with absolutely no sense of drama. Impressive for the two months but the car began to feel a bit soulless – not to mention the lack of anything beyond the rear hatch and a smallish front trunk were becoming less than convenient. The whole car, while it performed admirably on nearly every front, well beyond what my BMW E46 had been capable of – the car always left me with a hollow feeling which my underpowered 325Ci never did with its seat-of-your-pants driving experience.
After the door handle went on that Friday evening plus a few small, niggling issues that cropped up it was time for me to part ways with the Cayman and so I did. The gentleman that bought it seemed to be a genuine gearhead and someone who might be able to enjoy the Cayman more than I so I was happy to see it go to a good home. But I still needed a car. Once I’d decided to sell the Cayman, I ran through the gamut of every BMW under the sun I could buy. Should I get an E46 M3? Their values are stabilizing. Should I buy an E30 M3? They’re quickly becoming mobile investments. Should I buy an E39 M5? Arguably the best M5 ever built. In the end, I surprised everyone, myself included and for a relatively good price, I bought a 2007 E91 328i Touring. Yep, I went from a mid-engined, black mid-life crisis-ending Porsche to a boring, Barique Red BMW station wagon with an autotragic gearbox! Sacrilege!
But it’s not a boring wagon, after all. Being a car nut I’d always had a thing for wagons over SUV’s(tip of the hat to Audi and their earlier RS2,4 and 6 models!) and this was not an ordinary 328i. Buying it off of my boss, a guy who’s owed Porsches, an M3 CSL, and hi-po Audis it was in the excellent shape I expected and had a few goodies under the hood that made it stand out from the pack. Besides the relatively obscure exterior color, the engine received an cheap and easy upgrade via the European 330i’s air intake to improve breathing, a BMW Performance strut brace to clean up the turn-in of the car, and out back it received a BMW Performance Exhaust which was a night-and-day difference over the factory system.
The icing on the cake was that it received a Stage I Active Autowerk tune to remap the ECU of the last great naturally aspirated 3.0L “big six” - the N52. The tune optimizes the ECU for premium fuel and manages to squeeze a few extra German ponies out of the N52 while also seemingly transforming the GM gearbox into a dream when left in Sport mode. The extra grip comes by way of the light weight OZ Alleggerita wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sports. This 328i Touring has left a few motorists a bit surprised with both the noise it makes as well as the speed at which it leaves the stop light. Watch this space for more as we’ve got a few more upgrades to come to this little wagon.
After buying the wagon and being removed a few months from Porsche ownership I have to say that I don’t regret the decision to sell the Cayman and buy a German-equivalent Family Truckster. I enjoy having a car to mod for the first time in my life and also one that better meets what I want from a car needed for daily driver and weekend back-roads blaster duty. That said, so that everyone knows I’m not crazy, of sound mind I acknowledge that I bought a car which, in my mind, is far less capable in nearly all performance categories than the Cayman with the exception of one: the intangibles that make a car fun for me to drive.
At the end of the day, isn’t that more important than 0 to 60 times, quarter mile runs or lap times at the Nurburgring? After all, the intangibles are likely what made you a car enthusiast in the first place.