Two from the group that cooked up the idea would supply their expertise. Darin Irvine’s formal training in art and talents with metalworking made him the right guy for the project. Irvine came to his craft in the best way possible: It’s in his DNA. While attending the Kendal School of Art and Design, he worked and studied under his father, a builder of hot rods. When the younger Irvine opened his Northport shop, he specialized in restorations and modifications, but concentrated on sports cars.
JP van Raalte is the proprietor of Van’s Garage in Leland. Imagine a cool vintage auto repair shop on the corner of a picturesque Lake Michigan coastal town and you have Van’s Garage. It’s been a family business in the same location since 1933, with the accumulated know-how passing from generation to generation. The cars have changed, though: While in the 1930s you may have found offerings from Detroit in the garage, today you’re more likely to see Porsches. The talent doesn’t stop there, as van Raalte’s wife, Tracy, would handle the upholstery for the Boxster project.
After a few more meetings, Howard gave the project a green light. In September 2006, he purchased a 2003 Boxster S. As a driver first, he had one requirement: The end result would have to drive as well as the donor car — which is no small feat. To that end, he gave Irvine the car to drive for a few months to understand how the finished “550” must perform.
BY JANUARY 2007, THE PROJECT WAS UNDERWAY. Fixtures to hold the chassis true during the extensive surgery required to strip the Boxster of all exterior panels were fabricated. The lateral supports between the hinge pillars as well as the heavy Boxster windshield frame were then removed to allow for the much lower profile of the 550-style body. New supports were designed, mimicking the Porsche design for strength.
With a skeleton of a Boxster on the floor, Irvine took the critical measurements and penned 550 lines proportional to the 986 chassis — no small task as the Boxster is larger in every way than the ’55 Spyder.
As fate would have it, an exacting replica body of a 550A was being formed in another Michigan shop, Automobile Metal Shaping. The shop owner, Mike Kleeves, was building the car for a client, and was given use of an original example from the Collier Collection as a guide. A mutual customer of Kleeves and Irvine shared the respective projects with the two shop owners, who subsequently set up a meeting so Irvine could photograph and measure the 550A. This information proved to be vital in the design of a new, larger body.
After the drawing was complete, a 1:1 line drawing was generated and mounted on Irvine’s shop wall. While it’s tempting to think such drawings are merely inspirational, the truth is that they are working blueprints used to make plywood profile guides that can be attached to the chassis so that a new skin can be formed.