Porsche 911 – A Spirited Drive Through the Mountains


It seemed only natural, a week after mercilessly forcing the old Mercedes 560SL to tear through the mountains, to do it all again, this time with the Porsche 911 Carrera.  In other words, I planned to use the right tool for the job.

I’ve had a tumultuous experience with the Carrera. At first I still only had eyes for my old Boxster, and the Carrera just didn’t live up to The One That Got Away. But I modded the exhaust and the shifter, and I’ve started taking a page from the convertible book (and by extension the motorcycle book) and I’ve been forcing myself to roll down the windows, which for some reason really brings jams the experience of driving right into every one of my senses.

As it always does with a Porsche, it happened mid-corner. It was one of those 20 MPH ones, a non-blind left, which I took at some speed far exceeding the recommended rate. I suddenly realized, oh yeah, these cars! Porsches corner really, really flat and they have amazing grip, and if you don’t do something dumb like snap your foot off the gas mid-corner, or god forbid brake in the corner, they become shining little chariots of joy, confidence, and sublimity. With the mountain air rushing through the little cabin and the engine howling with excitement out back, the Carrera actually became my Boxster in my mind for the first time.

Porsche’s dirty little secret, which they seem less and less to care about these days, is that all Boxsters and Caymans drive almost exactly like the Carreras. Sure they’re mid-engined and they’re “slower,” but the brand consistency is remarkable. So remarkable, in fact, that it makes it really tough to justify a Carrera when you can have the same experience for a lot less. It also means that Boxster and Cayman customers who trade up to a Carrera, the Porsche, don’t really come away with more than they already had. That was my issue and frankly I didn’t expect it. I mean, the 911 is the car! The one we all want!

I think that in my mind I had decided that my new Carrera was so amazing and so frighteningly fast that I let it intimidate me a little, which I’m embarrassed to say but it’s true. With the Boxster I’d just wring its neck and hammer it on back roads because, you know, this is just a slow Porsche and it’s a friendly, approachable little beast. But the Carrera, that thing is seriously fast and it’s a 911 so, hey man, don’t mess it up. As a result I’d never just said fuck it and hammered the Carrera on a back road and so I didn’t know what kind of car was really sitting in my garage. Well, today I found out and it was amazing. And yes, I’m a car guy and I have sinned. Today was my repentance day.

Not only are Porsches fast cars but they also manage to be fun cars, and with that Carrera sitting under me and a nearly empty mountain road before me, I had the time of my life. I suspect that sports car drivers are as insane as me and occasionally laugh maniacally between corners, and that was definitely happening today. You don’t need me to explain all the ins and outs of how the Carrera drives at speed; you have the car magazines for that. Yes, they’re basically perfect. But you should know that a property sorted car like the Carrera is very fulfilling and fun to drive. It’s not a serious car, just look at its face! It’s a thing built for fun. That it also happens to be otherworldly fast track car is, I’m convinced, just coincidental.

My favorite mountain drive is about 120 miles one way, so it’s a decently long haul. It follows a small mountain road out of Salt Lake City and near the city it’s a crowded drive and there are bicyclists everywhere so you have to be careful. (Endangering other people is absolutely not okay and I won’t be a part of that; even if bicyclists are annoying they have the same right to be there as I do.) But as it gets further and further from the city the traffic lightens, the bicyclists disappear, and traffic thins out big time. As things get better and better, the drive gives you a sense of constantly increasing excitement all the way to my turn around spot, where things slowly cool down and give you a change to relax and come home refreshed, even with the traffic and bicyclists and all that.

When I’m really moving, out away from everyone else, and the road tightens up and a good corner rushes up to me, my brain can think only about driving. Nothing else matters, and nothing else gets the chance because I’m so laser focused on driving, looking into the corners, and seeing what’s up ahead. Instead of my head filling with stressful information, only the most relevant information gets through and paradoxically my head quiets down. That’s how you know you’re driving well, and this is true on the racetrack as well, because you’re not even actively thinking. You’re not worrying. You’re not stressed. You’re only driving, and those moments are what keeps me coming back to these mountains and to my deserts, out away from people and away from the world.

Mercedes R107 (560SL) – A Spirited Drive (!) Through the Mountains


I think it happened on the first switchback or two, when I was following a motorcycle and a Corvette in my Mercedes 560SL at perhaps beyond the posted speed limit, when the drive became more aggressive than the one I had intended. For starters, I was keeping up with the somewhat aggressively driven vehicles ahead of me. What’s more, I was a little irritated because I might have passed them if given the chance. This is not at all what today was supposed to be like.

The 560SL is a smooth car. A comfortable car. Since the day I bought it I’ve said the car just slooooooows everything down. Evenings unfold lazily. Time stretches out. The 560SL has been my chariot of relaxation, a floaty cloud upon which my cares just fall away behind. An hour behind the wheel is plenty for me to re-center and chill out. For that reason I’ve never hurried the car along. In fact, I’ve always taken things easy on the old thing, out of fear that demanding a task so far removed from its core competency that it might upset the car too much, or worse, break it. from a standstill the car always starts in second gear; I’ve clicked it down to first gear maybe three times. Never seemed right, you know?

So today I’ve got the tires  squealing on a tight right-hander and I’m wishing the seats had a little more lateral bolstering. Obviously I’ve gone completely insane. Little things start to occur to me, like how the very considerable body roll stops rolling and firms up just as it should, or how shocked I am that this beast has no understeer and stays deliciously neutral through the corners. You know, wonderful things. German things.

Now I don’t mean to suggest that the R107 Benzes are in fact sports cars posing as wallowing grand tourers. These are decidedly not sports cars. Here we have a decidedly overweight car — a 30 year old car — riding on minivan tires, with a massive 5.6 liter V8 sitting way out front making very little noise and not much power, being asked to corner aggressively and carry speed from one bend to the next. Traction is unimpressive. The lazy four speed gearbox is geared stupidly high and doesn’t want to downshift. The steering is good enough but doesn’t really approach “communicative,” not to mention very lazy reactions of the chassis. But again, this is not a sports car.

Still, try to tell that to the guy in the Corvette up ahead. Again he hammers it but this old car with the star on the grille just won’t fall back. I did the same thing to a sport biker who flew by with pipes wailing. Sure buddy, you’re fast in the straights but when the road tightens up this damn red car comes right back. It was great fun.

I probably won’t do this ever again. It was rather perverse to begin with, hustling this car on a mountain road. I’ll go back to the lazy and relaxing side of the 560SL, the job that the car was built for and the one it does better than any car I’ve ever driven, new or old. Still, it’s fun to know that there’s more than a little German sportiness to the old car hiding beneath that floaty ride and elegant bodywork. It’ll give me just a little extra to love when I look back after parking it.