(A/N: Written on Friday, December 6th, 2018)
Yesterday I found heaven. No, that’s not the jet lag talking.
When I found out a few weeks ago that I was going to be invited to the Porsche Night of Champions by Porsche Motorsport North America, my heart leapt. It’s impossible to deny that Porsche is a brand very close to my heart. Those of you who know me know that I learned to drive in a Porsche. Driving in England and Australia felt normal for some strange reason, because I learned to shift from the passenger seat, using my left hand. On the way to pre-school, my dad would have me shift our Turbo, a car he got as a Champion driver. He would push in the clutch and I would have to listen to the revs to know when was the appropriate time to move the gear lever from 3rdto 4th, or reach as far away as possible to go from 3rdto 2nd.
I used to play in the Champion showroom when Dad was drinking coffee with Dave Maraj. I’d be picking out a Porsche to be my first (dream) car, and Paul Householder would always pass me his business card, telling me to call him when I turned 16, that he would set me up. (For the record, my first car was a Toyota Celica. Great car, not a Porsche).
Another frequent hang out spot was Formula 1 Motors in Miami, where Jaime Galceran would try to shift my bias towards Ferrari by letting me drive a go-kart adorned with Maranello stickers around his shop. I’d do hours of lapping around Maseratis, Aston Martins, Bentleys, Ferraris, and all sorts of exotics, but I only ever wanted to sit in and start the Porsches. And in fairness, I never wanted to get out of the kart. It was only when the brakes would get a bit hot and I’d have trouble not running into people walking by that my dad would suggest we take our leave.
I cheered as an 8 year-old when a Porsche won Le Mans, although I didn’t really understand what it meant. I just knew that my brand had won. As in any sport, my dad passed on who I should cheer for: The Oakland Raiders in the NFL, the Kiwis in America’s Cup yacht racing, Canada for every Olympic sport. In CART, Alex Zanardi was the man. IndyCar was always Dario, but let’s hope for a 1-2 finish with his teammate, Scott Dixon. Common pattern there? They all are a part of the Ganassi family, and Dad gets on really well with Chip! NASCAR, which we rarely watched, would always be best if Dale jr. won. Dad really respects him after he had that bad crash at Infineon and said it was driver error. Few drivers of his caliber would choose to not blame something else. Our sportscar allegiances were simple. Porsche, as a brand, is always a celebratory win. I always rooted for the good guys, and Dad would rave about Patrick Long and Jörg Bergmeister, Sascha Maasen and Timo Bernhard. When Audi rolled around in the big leagues with some familiar faces and good friends, they became staple favorites too. We always loved Risi Competizione, the little guys fighting against the factories. Bobby Rahal is a man that Dad respects beyond words, so when his team would win, it was worth a round of applause. Gary and Robin Pratt are dear family friends (they were at my parents’ small wedding 31 years ago) so when Corvette Racing took a W, it was like the family had won! Basically what I’m saying is I have reason to celebrate and be happy when every single one of our modern GTLM teams in the WeatherTech Sportscar Championship wins a race!
I was raised with many biases, but the only racecar I wanted a street car version of was a Porsche. We always had one in the garage, thanks to Champion, and so that musical exhaust was only a short walk away. Not that I would be allowed to take the car for a drive, but I was permitted to reverse it out of the garage for a bath!
Flash forward to two days ago, getting a boarding pass with the destination as “Stuttgart”. I could hardly contain my girlish enthusiasm! When we descended through the fog, the German countryside appeared. It was very similar to France, but very different. There’s something about the highways even that exude organization, control, order. It’s beautiful in its own way.
Yesterday morning, we checked into our hotel. It was described to me as “boutique” although it’s hardly a bed and breakfast by American standards. Every other floor of the Abacco is dedicated to one of the two major manufacturers whose base is located in Stuttart. My room is Mercedes Benz themed! There’s a picture across from my twin bed of a beautiful old 190SL from 1955.In the lobby, there’s a quote from Wilhelm II, the Emperor of Germany in 1916, about how the horse will outlast the temporary automobile. The quote is inscribed in both German and English.
After a quick work out to get the endorphins going and to help stave off any travel exhaustion, it was time to go to the Holy Place. Having worshiped at the altar of Porsche for so many years, the idea of going to the Museum was like Christmas, birthday, Hanukkah, every holiday that gives you a present, wrapped into one.
Dave Engelman, who is my partner in staying out of crime this week, knows the Museum. He goes about 3 times a year, and as he pointed out, it’s always different. The cars on display are all fully functional. They all run, and are constantly being repositioned to different areas of the world. The total collection of cars is upwards of 300, but the museum might only have 100 or so actually in house at a time. Dan Gurney’s F1 Porsche, for example, is out traveling the world now but is usually housed next to his F2 car, which is present.
When you drive down the main road towards the museum, first you pass by an old brick building. It’s still in use today, the home of Dr. Porsche’s office and the PR department, amongst other things. Overhead is a bridge, where cars come off the line and go across the street (literally) to the painting area of the factory. As it has grown, the factory has taken more and more city blocks and, in typical Porsche fashion, not an inch of space is wasted. Who wants to wait for traffic to slow so they can move new cars? Not Porsche. Everything is contained and indoors, so the cars stay out of the weather until they’re complete.
Straight ahead is a monument built several years prior for Goodwood. It looks a bit like an Olympic torch, with three large white prongs, a Porsche several stories high in the air on the end of each. This is located at the center of a roundabout, with a large dealership on the right, the factory to the left, and the Museum straight ahead. The architecture itself of the Museum is worthy of praise. It’s futuristic and modern. If an alien saw it from the sky, it might land on top, thinking that this would be a technologically advanced center of learning. Of note, just up the street from the Museum and behind the dealership is the new manufacturing area where the electric cars will be built, so again Porsche is expanding and advancing while staying close to its roots.
Also in this garage where they repair and maintain was a stunning 917 in the full Gulf livery, a GT1 street car (20 were built and the Museum has 3), and a car that hit closer to home. There, sitting on a repair lift, was an early 1990s Turbo in almost the same color as the one Dad taught me to shift. Yup, I thought, today I’m home.
After a delicious lunch, (who’d have thought a spinach burger would make for a great vegetarian burger? Hey Bubba Burgers, get on this please!) it was time to buy our tickets and venture up the escalator to the clouds. If you’re a Simpsons fan, you’ll understand the reference to the Escalator to NoWhere, and that’s a bit what this felt like. If you’re not, picture an escalator that, when you look from the bottom to see where you’ll step off, there’s no end. You still can’t see a finishing point when you’re about half way up, which by the way is almost 2 stories. It isn’t until you’re about 10 feet away from it that you’re able to see it has an end. If ever I was put in charge of naming it, the escalator would be called a Rainbow, because there’s a pot of gold at the end!
Number 1 is there. The first Porsche, the original creation from 1938. Still a very shiny silver, with a red leather interior that bears the signs of the times. It has been slightly refurbished, especially since it was accidentally dropped out of an airplane, but the car is the start. That sets you up nicely for what becomes a spiral of classics. From number one, you make a hard left turn and walk in a counter-clockwise pattern, following the ages. There are machines built by Porsche before the company. Cars from the Great War are there, bulbous shapes and design ideas play out through different models, showing evolution pre-and post the Second World War.
As you round the room, there’s simply too much to describe in terms of the old streetcar glory. But it’s not all streetcars! The Porsche 597, a light military vehicle that was amphibious, sits next to a tractor! There are glimpses of what could have been as well.
Then start the racecars. 907, 908s, a 16 cylinder 917. A 908 LH sits ahead of the Pink Pig and alongside the Martini 917 LH. There’s a Gulf 917, then the Rothmans 962 suspended upside down from the roof. A 935. A Camel GT Carrera RSR 3.0 in bright orange. A piece by piece display of a 12 cylinder engine. Too many cars with too much history to name them all. You walk back around a corner to a place of slight respite, a place to catch your breath and let all that you’ve just drawn in catch up with you. But no! Ahead is one of Kussmaul’s Dakar beasts, staring out the window. There are seats, incase you need a moment to give your weak knees a chance to gain some strength back. But you won’t want to be seated for long.
A modest trophy display is ahead on the right.
Continuing along comes some of the more modern classics. Cup cars from the 944 to the 997. The “Cars” car is there too, of course, and Sally is smiling at those who stop to capture her essence. Why wouldn’t she be smiling? She’s parked ahead of the GT1 street car and across from the GT1 Petit Le Mans winner. It’s a rare treat to see the racecar so close to the streetcar version too, and to be able to glance back and forth to the one you could drive on the street and the one you’d be arrested for thinking about driving on the street.
The 2008 American Le Mans Series champion LMP2 Penske car sits proudly in front of a display where Patrick Long leads a field into turn 1, and a picture of Romain Dumas. I remember going to the St. Pete Grand Prix with Dad that year, walking into the Penske trailer, and meeting both ofthem. It was a slightly surreal experience to see them represented next to the car when they’re so intertwined in my memory. I remember cheering for that car, and cheering for the Audi R10, feeling so perplexed as to who I’d want to actually win. Split loyalties, you see.
One more corner to round and this is where the truly “modern” technology begins. On spinning platforms sit the first Porsche hybrid, recently found in a barn. It was a stagecoach effectively, using fuel to power a battery pack. It has Porsche’s name inscribed on it, so they attribute this old wooden mover (still with metallic suspension, mind you) to the first hybrid. There’s a Cayenne with clear panels to show you how the hybrid system functions through the entire car. There’s a Boxter that actually was the first fully electric Porsche. And there’s the 919 LH, the car that went faster around the Nurburgring than anything before, with a picture of Timo close by of course!
Up the stairs to the final section is the newest addition to the family, the Taycan. Now let me just say this: I’m a huge fan of Tesla. Driving the Model S Roadster in 2013 was wickedly fun. I still say it’s one of the best cars I’ve ever driven because I felt so engaged with it the whole time. But the Taycan is by far the most beautiful electric car I’ve seen. With the headlights not illuminated, it doesn’t have that distinctive Porsche look, but I’ve been promised it’s up to snuff when they are. I really, really can’t wait to drive one.
Also worth mentioning are the original Boxter, which looks petite and simplistic next to today’s iteration, but I’m a fan of the creature comforts, and the 1 millionth Porsche 911 to roll off the line. It is in a rare deep green, the favorite color of Dr. Porsche. Pretty staggering to think that there have been one million plus of those stunning cars to come out of the factory, and they all call back to the same design. If it isn’t broke don’t fix it, and nothing about the 911 body-shape is wrong, in my opinion.
The Archive tour came next, and let’s just say that Porsche’s Museum has everything. From hand written cards detailing the earliest cars, their model numbers, interior and exterior colors, extras, tires, and when the warranty runs out, to smaller wind tunnel models of race cars designed well before the bigger versions were built, the Archives house pretty much everything you’d ever want to know. Hand written journals from the two Porsches who steered (pun fully intended) the company in its early days are nearly illegible yet they’ve been digitized. They’ve got pictures from every track, almost every event, every car. It’s not too well known that at one point Porsche built snow sleds, and the Archives house two of them. There’s a wall in the public section with boxes containing press releases about certain Porsche drivers, with one box labeled Bell-Belloc, and yes there was a folder for Adam, B.Every racing book printed involving Porsche is in a library, with every edition from certain magazines bound into leatherback books. There’s instruction manuals from every car, racing posters from every event, helmets from drivers, Ferdinand Porsche’s death mask. It’s a historian nerd’s dream and I ate it all up!
The last stop of the day, of course had to be the gift shop, and yes, I indulged. My dream car has long been a GT3 RS. I first drove one in November 2008, and have wanted one ever since. My favorite color (and not just for a car) is Miami Blue, yes helped by the name.
Yesterday, I bought my first Porsche. It won’t be my last. It’s a 2018 GT3 RS in Miami Blue. It may be 1:18 scale, but it’s mine. I finally own my own Porsche. Belinda Carlisle got it right: Heaven is a place on Earth, and it’s located in Stuttgart.
|The LH is too long for a single picture.|
|IMSA proudly represented|
|This picture was not inverted!|
|944 Cup Car, just needs a Rothman's livery to be perfect!|
|Quite a successful PLM livery|
|How you know you're in the right place|