In the hills above Queenstown.

Big rap for Boxster in Tassie blast

Car: Porsche Boxster

Drive: North-west Targa Stages (108km)


First, a disclaimer. Our flying visit to Tasmania (six days, four nights) is not only about driving the Apple Isle’s stonking roads in one of the best handling cars of its time. 

Nope, we’re also taking in some of its finest attractions – a cruise up the Gordon River, ride on the West Coast Wilderness Railway, hike around Cradle Mountain etc. 

Just outside Launceston airport, a low kilometre-for age Porsche Boxster 986 awaits, its overall condition contradicting any perceptions you might have of a prestige-brand sports car pushing on for 20 years-old. 

Like most other gearheads, I’d read plenty of praising prose about the Boxster, Porsche’s first truly new road car in a year shy of two decades.

As such, the design is fresh from the ground-up, complete with a 2.5-litre, 24-valve water-cooled dry-sumped flat-six. 

The Boxster tips the scales at an impressive 1250kg, partly because there’s no folding steel roof, but also smart use of aluminium (engine and suspension), magnesium (roll bars) and lightweight steel (body). 

MacPherson struts with lower control arms are fitted all-round; the suspension reportedly designed to provide negative toe-in at the outer front wheel and positive toe-in at the outer rear to improve stability and encourage mild understeer. 

Our itinerary takes in Poatina, Waddamana, London Lakes, Derwent Bridge, Queenstown, Strahan (two nights), Zeehan, Rosebery, Cradle Mountain (two nights), Mole Creek, Westbury and Evandale.

But let’s focus on those legendary north-west Targa stages. 

We pick up the pace at Derwent Bridge, about 145km to the south-west and start of the longest Targa Tasmania stage, Mt Arrowsmith. 

The 52km blast along the A10 (Lyell Highway) is notorious for being not just a car breaker, but a heart breaker. 

It is here, out past Mt Arrrowsmith and Victoria Pass, along the fast, open stretches punctuated by tight and deceptive bends, where competitors’ hopes and aspirations of winning a coveted Targa plate are all-too often dashed.

“In parts, the road is bumpy and the key to a successful fast drive is to be near the maximum on the wide parts and take care on the bends, some of which you think might be taken them flat out,” is the advice given to Targa crews by organisers. 

It’s worth heeding, even when the roads are not closed for competition. To spice it up further, we’re approaching south to north, opposite direction to Targa time.  

The sum total of 150kW and 245Nm might not look all that impressive these days, but plant the right foot and glide through the sweet-shifting, five-speed manual and you engage an eagerness to please. 

Braking late for one of those tricky bends you initially think could be executed without brushing the middle pedal fails to faze the Boxster and it remains calm, composed and well-poised on turn-in to the (imaginary) apex, and exit.

Next up, Queenstown. Known locally as the 99 Bend Road, this 6km stage along the A6 is arguably the most photographed in Targa history. 

The moonscape side of Mt Lyell, denuded by logging and then sulphur fumes from the area’s copper smelters, creates a stark but stunning backdrop to an Italian racing red classic or Japanese brand sports sedan. 

During Targa, it’s a full-on assault in 2nd all the way up, a right-left-right climb to the saddle. The run down the other side is not as frenetic, but still a handful where big questions are asked of the brakes.     

The Strahan stage could not be more different – at least in appearance and atmosphere.

The eerie starkness gives way to lush rainforest, right down to the road’s edge, as the B24 (Lyell Highway) rollercoasters and snakes its way for 33km. 

There’s no let-up, with sweeping corners and esses linked by a surplus of short straights.  

From Strahan through Melba siding, Renison Bell and Lake Pieman, the Roseberry stage poses yet another challenge. 

Its reasonably long straights look straight-forward, but sometimes around the bend is a closing-radius trickster that could lead to understeering off into a roadside cutting or oversteering tail-end against a stout tree. 

Bridges, climbs and crests add a further degree of difficulty to the 17km run along the A10 (now Murchison Highway).

When the tempo slows, though, the Boxster proves itself as much as accommodating cruiser as it is consummate sportster.

Ride, on all but the most broken and buckled road surfaces, remains compliant, seats firm but comfortable and luggage capacity surprisingly good thanks to the small, yet deep, front and rear boots.

Now I know, first-hand, that all the fuss about Porsche’s Boxster was so well-warranted.        

1996 Porsche Boxster 2.5

Basic price (new): $109,995

Engine: 2.5-litre 24v flat 6-cyl

Power: 150kW @ 6000 rpm.

Torque: 245Nm @ 4500 rpm

Transmission: 5-spd manual

Weight: 1250kg

Drive: Rear-wheel

0-100km/h: 6.9 secs


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