In my interview for this Jalopnik job, one of the editors asked me for my most controversial automotive opinion. (We actually asked him for his worst opinion. —ED.) After all, what are bloggers if not bad-take dispensers? There are many answers I could have given, but I’m still relatively new, so I’m going to save those for another similarly slow news Friday.
My answer was that Porsche’s 996-generation 911 headlight design — the maligned “fried egg” — was actually good. While I can’t remember precisely what words I used, I recall doubling down, leaving no doubt that my takes were just as eyeroll-inducing as some of those that earned Jalopnik infamy in the past. I might have said “best ever.”
Do I really think the fried egg lights — named for its blobby shape and yolk-like amber indicators — are the best Porsche headlights ever? If we’re factoring legacy into the criteria, then no, clearly not, because Porsche ditched them, to the rejoicing of hardcore fans, with the 997-generation 911 in the mid-2000s, and did the same for the 987 Boxster that arrived around the same time. Not only did Porsche scoop away the fried egg, but the design team didn’t replace it with anything remotely as unique. It was back to the circles, maybe a bit more oblong this time.
But look, this isn’t about what the Porsche faithful thinks — this is about me. And you know what, yeah: The fried egg was the best.
Why do I feel this way? Like many strongly held opinions, this one was cultivated in childhood. And like many strongly-held opinions I have, it was influenced by a racing game. In 1997, Sony released Porsche Challenge. Not to be confused with Need For Speed: Porsche Unleashed, which was released three years later and included an assortment of cars plucked from the Stuttgart sports car maker’s history, Porsche Challenge was all about one car: the Porsche Boxster, all-new at the time.
The Boxster was the star of Porsche Challenge; it’s the only car in the entire game, and it’s everywhere. From the cover art, to the specs on the back of the box, to the full-motion video menu background with its dramatic panning shots, to the two-minute video about the car’s design included right on the disc, Porsche Challenge is best described as an interactive pamphlet masquerading as a solid arcade racing game. I assume it was supposed to corral the brand some young new fans, and it certainly worked on yours truly.
Now, this article isn’t about Porsche Challenge (though if you’re looking for that, I wrote one years ago). It’s about the Boxster’s headlights. The game is a testament to the power that slick marketing striking a very impressionable mind can have on a young fella. The fried-egg headlights, chiefly the work of designers Grant Larson and Pinky Lai, were fresh, distinctive and — to kid Adam, anyway — cool. They were seamlessly integrated into the contours of the upper fenders and nose, unlike the circular lamps of old. And the pairing of the silvery-white projector portion and the amber signal housing created an instantly recognizable graphic and eye-catching mix of colors.
There weren’t a lot of car designers melding headlights and indicators together like this in the ’90s. With later refreshes, Porsche abandoned the amber plastic shroud for the indicator and changed it to clear, making the bulb itself amber, and I always found that to be a lot less visually stimulating.
German automakers cultivated a strong sense of design consistency through the ’80s and ’90s. While we all look back on those years fondly, that consistency inevitably bred repetition, arguably to a fault. Whenever a hotshot designer came in to shake things up, they were dragged for breaking with tradition. Sure, not every Chris Bangle-era BMW design was a winner, but as with Larson and Lai, I think the level of criticism he received was undue. For me, the early E65 7 Series and E90 3 Series still hold up.
What’s more, they were daring, and I feel similarly about the fried egg headlights. Look, I’m not saying all car design experimentation necessarily yields good results — I promise you, you’ll never see me defending the grille on the new 4 Series. But you have to embrace evolution to a certain degree, lest you end up creatively stagnant. The one time Porsche adapted a signature element of the 911's design to fit a modern aesthetic, the outcome was so reviled by the company’s most outspoken followers that it had little choice but to jerk the wheel hard in the other direction with the following 997 generation. It probably won’t surprise you to know I find those cars dowdy and featureless by comparison.
It seems as if the dialogue is finally beginning to change on Porsche’s turn-of-the-century products, and I guess to a certain degree that was inevitable; things are either hated or celebrated in their time, the hated things are cast aside for about a decade before people eventually come back around to say “you know what? Maybe that wasn’t so bad.” It’s the relentless cycle of culture, and I’m ready for it to finally give Porsche’s coolest headlights their due.