29 April 2013

5,661 Miles in a Porsche 911: On the road

Editor’s Note: Yoav Gilad is Editor in Chief at [keep it] Wide Open, a website dedicated to bringing the thrill and romance of cars to the enthusiast. Yoav recently undertook a cross-country journey in a Porsche 911 to celebrate the model’s 50th year. This is the second story in a three-part series documenting the adventure.

I awoke at approximately 6:15 a.m., got ready and packed the old Porsche. Besides my clothes and toiletries, I was bringing a 117-piece Craftsman tool set, jerry can, flares, compressor (for the spare tire), sleeping bag, jacket, computer, video and photo gear, road atlas and snacks courtesy of my girlfriend. (Thank you!)

I set out to battle Los Angeles traffic to pick up Anthony, my co-driver, who was ready and waiting when I arrived. Traffic headed east was virtually nonexistent and we initially drove toward Las Vegas before cutting east in Barstow and following historic Route 66 through Amboy to Needles. The 36-year-old, magnesium cased, 2.7liter engine ran strong as Route 66 unwound. The Mother Road is a bit slower than I-40, but it’s empty and cuts through the desert like a fast, solitary rattlesnake.

The Colorado River came and went and still we didn’t need gas. For an old sports car, the Porsche is quite impressive with regard to fuel economy and its twenty-one gallon fuel tank doesn’t hurt, either. Hell, it handled everything it had been tasked with so far more than gracefully. It accelerated vigorously and handled slow twisty sections quickly and smoothly.

The drive across the Rockies and Texas hill country was uneventful and quick. We alternated between super-highway and smaller, but more entertaining back roads. We were in central Texas two days after leaving Los Angeles and in Florida on the fourth day out.

After an extended back-road run, we returned to the highway as there was no way across Mobile Bay other than I-10. We pulled to the side of the road next to the giant “Welcome to Florida” sign to snap some pictures. About to press the shutter again, a distinctive wail shrieked from behind us and went by almost instantly. “Ferrari!” I yelled. “Get in!”

Anthony and I dove into the silver machine as a red blur accelerated rapidly away. I buckled up and mashed the gas in pursuit. We left a black eleven on the pavement as the Porsche’s new tires struggled for grip. The 915 transmission, usually notchy, seemed to enjoy the acceleration and was compliant engaging second, then third, fourth and fifth gears. The Ferrari, a 328, disappeared around an 18-wheeler. I dropped the 911 back into fourth gear and kept my right foot down.

A couple of minutes later we were right behind the Louisiana-plated Ferrari, the driver’s blue baseball cap visible through the rear window. Finally, we pulled alongside as I lifted off the gas slightly to give him the thumbs up. The driver wore mirrored Ray-Bans and smiled broadly. I flattened the gas pedal again and we proceeded to spar over the next 40-some miles sometimes following, sometimes leading across western Florida until he exited the freeway. As he split off from I-10 he waved through his car’s open targa roof.

We didn’t stay on I-10 much longer either. Maybe 10 miles after the Magnum PI Ferrari exited, we also pulled off to get gas and afterward kept driving on a back road through the swamps. Ahead of us, we caught glimpses of a white first-generation Mazda Miata keeping a quick pace. Over several miles we slowly caught up.

It was fun shadowing the small sports car in and out of shady bogs but we wanted to pass. We thought our chance had come when the road widened into four lanes but the Miata immediately seized the opportunity to swing into the passing lane around a slower pickup truck. We also went by the truck expecting the Miata to move over after we’d both passed.

The Miata didn’t move over and Anthony decided to pass on the right. But we were rapidly bearing down on an 18-wheeler and the Miata was unrelenting. Parallel with the little Japanese roadster our lane began merging with the Miata’s. I looked over and a weathered, tiny grandma with a pink visor flashed a grin and moved toward us. Anthony had to yield. We fell in line behind her, she behind the large diesel.

You had to respect her gumption and impishness. It seemed like she was saying, “if you’re going to pass me, you’re going to earn it!” Indeed. A couple of miles later we finally drag raced her into a corner, and won, on a double yellow two-lane. Who knows if she was upset, but since she had closed the door on Anthony and me, we’d been laughing like schoolgirls. That grandma was just having fun in her car, like us.

We eventually wended our way back to I-10 and entered Jacksonville as the 10 ended in the I-95. Through some local streets, we headed as far east as possible and finally saw the Atlantic Ocean on a small bridge leading to Amelia Island. It wasn’t sunset yet and we stopped to shoot some photos near the beach, the sound of the waves breaking and seagulls calling behind us.

While we photographed, a 1956 Robin’s Egg Blue Ford Thunderbird stopped to ask if we needed help because we were nearly on the road. We said no and as soon as he pulled away, a Miata driver (not the granny) stopped to ask if we were part of the Porsche Club driving event tomorrow (presumably surveying the route). “Porsche driving event?” we asked. Apparently, Porsche was running a drive for owners around the area at 7:30 in the morning with Hurley Haywood and the Brumos Porsche team.

As night fell, we proceeded to the Ritz-Carlton to pick up our media credentials, but arrived after the Concours Media department had closed. We found a motel close to the Jacksonville Airport and checked in. Anthony and I then located a Buffalo Wild Wings nearby and ate about five pounds of spicy wings. The following morning we did not go on the Porsche drive. I won’t get into details, but we spent the day driving short distances. It was a rather inauspicious beginning to what turned out to be a wonderful weekend full of beautiful weather, entertaining seminars and, most importantly, gorgeous cars.

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