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Revealed: The Porsche Cayenne Convertible that never happened

Revealed: The Porsche Cayenne Convertible that never happened

This top-secret two-door drop-top was one of the early proposals for a full family of Porsche Cayenne models.

German sports car maker Porsche seriously considered a two-door convertible Cayenne when it was developing its landmark SUV in the late 1990s, the company has revealed.

The open-air contender was one of three possible spin-offs from the five-door SUV wagon that saved Porsche from potential bankruptcy and provided the cash to continue with its classic 911 and Boxster sports car line-ups.

The other contenders were a long-wheelbase seven-seater SUV and a coupe — nearly 20 years before the current Cayenne Coupe joined the Porsche line-up in 2019.

The convertible prototype — which survives today in the Porsche museum collection in Germany — has been revealed as part of the 20th anniversary celebrations for the original Cayenne.

​​“An SUV as a convertible is a challenge both aesthetically and formally,” Porsche’s current chief designer, Michael Mauer, said in a Porsche media statement as the prototype was revealed.

“An SUV always has a large and heavy body. You combine this with a small top half and then cut off the roof: you get very strange shapes emerging from that.”

His words help to explain the slightly frumpy looks of the Cayenne convertible, including the height of the rear hatch needed to cover its folding canvas top.

The styling also shows why the car was not approved by Porsche management for production.

“Forecasts regarding profitability were not particularly promising and doubts remained as to whether the car would look as appealing as a Porsche should,” Porsche said in the official statement about the car.

Even so, a lot of work went into the concept convertible — which is described by Porsche as a Package Function Model, sitting between a clay model and a full-scale drivable prototype — to assess its suitability for production.

The hand-built one-off was never intended to be driven, so there is none of the underbody stiffening needed for a functioning prototype, and the concept vehicle must be carefully transported by truck to events.

The rear view of the car shows two potential design themes, in an asymmetrical presentation often used in car design studios.

The left-hand side is more curved and sporty while the right-hand side is more upright — perhaps to provide better luggage space.

Porsche’s designers also had to package the car’s folding roof at a time when a number of carmakers were struggling with a new generation of convertibles, including the ‘clamshell’ folding hardtop developed by Mercedes-Benz for its flagship SL roadster.

“A now-familiar soft-top mechanism was envisaged: the luggage compartment lid of the Cayenne-PFM was attached at the front and rear, allowing it to be opened in both directions,” Porsche said in the statement.

“The mechanism never got past the computer simulation stage for the Cayenne convertible, however, and was never fully constructed. Today, the fabric top is stowed in the luggage compartment of the museum piece and must be fitted manually if required.”

Although the Porsche Cayenne convertible never went into production, three other car companies have successfully chopped the roof from their SUVs – though two of these models were short-lived.

Nissan sold the Murano CrossCabriolet (pictured below) in the US from 2011 to 2014.

The company promoted it at the time as “the world’s first and only all-wheel drive crossover convertible”.

Land Rover also trimmed the top from its Range Rover Evoque to create a convertible version and it was sold from 2015 (pictured below).

The droptop Range Rover Evoque came to Australia in small numbers, but the convertible did not survive the transition to the latest model now on sale in Land Rover showrooms, and was discontinued globally in 2019.

The demise of the Porsche Cayenne Convertible before it even made it to production – and the axing of the Nissan Murano and Ranger Rover Evoque drop-tops after they did make it to showrooms – appears to show new-car buyers do in fact have a limit in terms of how far the SUV concept can be stretched.

However, Volkswagen still offers a convertible version of its T-Roc small SUV in Europe (click here for photos and details).

Revealed: The Porsche Cayenne Convertible that never happened

Paul Gover has been a motoring journalist for more than 40 years, working on newspapers, magazines, websites, radio and television. A qualified general news journalist and sports reporter, his passion for motoring led him to Wheels, Motor, Car Australia, Which Car and Auto Action magazines. He is a champion racing driver as well as a World Car of the Year judge.

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