Porsches have been an integral part of the American carscape since the death of film idol James Dean at the wheel of a silver 550 Spyder in the mid-'50s. New model introductions are few and far between, with none so auspicious as that of the recently introduced affordable ($40K and northward) Boxster. Taking stylistic cues from the revered 550 Spyder, the Boxster has caused a stirring in the souls of the Porsche faithful.
Early in 1997, shortly before the public release of the new model, author James Morgan importuned the powers-that-be at the German automotive giant to subsidize a road trip (and subsequent book); his car of choice was a late '70s Porsche 911. Intrigued with the idea, Porsche honchos suggested a slight modification: How about doing the journey in a new Porsche . . . say, a Boxster? With remarkable presence of mind, likely in homage to the late Mr. Dean, Morgan asked, Can I have a silver one? Early on in Distance to the Moon, Morgan professes not to be a car nut, proclaiming himself to be of the soccer-dad persuasion: a two-van man. Still, his automotive past includes a '62 Impala SS, a '69 Malibu Super Sport and a Fiat Spyder, so he clearly brings some car-guy credentials to the table. Amidst his meandering tale of life on the road, Morgan reminisces about the love affair Americans have carried on with the automobile over the last few decades: I have a vague image in my head: My father and I are standing outside an automobile showroom as the first bite of fall nips the air. It is early evening; the showroom is closed. But the lights inside are on, and in the center of the room, a new car sparkles like a jewel in a case. We stand silently outside. For a minute my nose is pressed against the glass. We say nothing, each of us lost in hopes, dreams, perhaps regrets. Morgan pilots the babe magnet (a 16-year-old admirer notes: You know, you can get any woman in the world in that car! ) through the south, visiting old friends and reminiscing about people and cars of bygone days: the '60 T-Bird which belonged to his schizophrenic cousin who died in a mental institution; the '67 Mustang of a close friend who lost control and his life on a rainy Mississippi night; the '57 Imperial in which he rode in back with a lovely young lass: (She) rested her head on my shoulder and went to sleep. She wasn't my girlfriend, and never would be. But forty years later I can still smell her hair, a sweet blend of shampoo and dust and cotton candy. And I can remember how alive I felt during that drive. I wanted it to last forever. Bruce Tierney is a reviewer in Nashville.