Alfas Swimming in a Sea of Porsches: The 2014 NW Passage

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It does say something about the nature of a tour when the primary topic of conversation each night revolves around whether or not your car has air conditioning. And when you offer someone the chance to drive your vintage Alfa in exchange for a turn behind the wheel of their late-model Porsche, you get turned down every time.

SCM has been a sponsor of the Oregon Region Porsche Club of America‘s Northwest Passage for many years. Jim and Judy North are the driving force behind the event, along with the organizing committee, and everything is done to a very high standard. In fact, I continue to maintain that in terms of pure driving pleasure, this is my favorite event every year.

Last year SCMers Mark Berns and Jaime Gesundheit from Los Angeles drove my 1967 GTV, and this year I decided it was time to bite the bullet and drive a vintage Alfa myself — my recently acquired 1967 Duetto.

A quick trip to Seattle a few weeks back revealed that the car needed a new radiator, trailing-arm bushings, replacement Bilsteins in the rear and a radiator fan shroud. Dan Sommers of Veloce Motors found the shroud, and Nasko’s Imports took care of installing everything, so I was ready to roll.

There were 52 cars on the event, the majority being late-model Porsches. SCMer Joe Angel brought two GTVs, and Glen Enright and Jan Whittlesley courageously showed up in their 1961 Healey 3000 BT7.

Courageously because this event is known for its high-speed cruising on back country roads. High-speed cruising in a late-model 911 is an entirely different animal than cruising in overdrive 4th in a 53-year-old English car.

Add to that the unusually hot summer. Temperatures in the Bend, Oregon area where the event took place were between 90 and 100 every day. The heat from a Healey 3000 can melt the rubber on the soles of your shoes on a cool day; I wondered how much ice it would take to fully pack their cockpit at the start of each day.

Bob and Lynn Lucurell drove their handsome 1965 Porsche 365 SC coupe, which performed brilliantly on last year’s NW Passage.

Day One – Portland to Eugene

The initial registration and driver’s meeting was held just south of Portland in Wilsonville. Our route that day followed highways 226 and 228, with a slight jog onto 126 into Eugene.

With the ambient temperature in the 90s and the sun blazing, it was top-up most of the day as we passed through the bucolic towns of Silverton and Stayton. The Duetto ran about 10 degrees hot, at around 190 degrees, which I thought was more than acceptable.

Joe Angel and his son Chris drove their two GTVs, and they provided some momentary excitement as a red light came on in Chris’s 1971 Euro 1750 injected car. Our three Alfas made a sadly familiar sight as they sat on a side road and we all waved at the Porsches going by. I didn’t know what the red light was indicating, as I’m not fluent in Euro 1750 GTVs, but I did notice that the brake fluid was low – a quick stop at a local parts store solved that problem.

We visited the “mothership” of the U of O football team, the Phil Knight-funded athletic center.

Nike has been good to Knight, and he in turn has been good to his University. In addition to helping make the Ducks into national championship football contenders each year, his name is on the library and the law school. Knight has also established 27 endowed professorships in every department at the university, which collectively receive over $325,000 in bonuses per year.

There were many SCMers on the event, and at the reception before dinner we spoke with Legal Files columnist John Draneas and his wife Carlyn (serene after an afternoon in their air-conditioned Boxster S, top up of course). ACC Corvette guru Michael Pierce was there with Berns. Pierce lost a u-joint in his 1984 Callaway Corvette the day before, leaving him a choice between his 1967 427/435 roadster and the 2011 BMW 535 he just acquired. He said the BMW was comfy, and he didn’t offer to trade with me.

Day Two

Our route went down highway 38 nearly to Roseburg, and then continued on 138 to picturesque Diamond Lake for lunch.

The Duetto surprised with its effortless cruising between 80 and 90 mph (4,000 – 4,500 rpm in 5th). While it is heavier, has a slightly-less highly-tuned engine and has a more flexible chassis than my 1965 Giulia Spider Veloce, it somehow seems to run more comfortably at high speeds. There is no question that the Spider Veloce is an edgier machine; each brings its own strengths to a trip.

I became reacquainted with the reason vent-windows were invented. They allow you to put a nice stream of air into the cockpit – below 60 mph in the Duetto. Above that speed, the pressure of the wind closed the vent. Maybe it’s a form of high-speed warning device? And although the heater was completely shut off, it still leaked some hot air into the cockpit — an added bonus in the sweltering heat day. Alfas just never stop giving.

That afternoon we had a spirited run along the Cascade Lakes Highway, which provided some memorable driving. The road was relatively freshly paved and consisted of sweepers that could be taken at invigorating speeds in the Duetto. We even managed to pass a few 911s, but I’m sure that’s because the German cars were probably stuck in 2nd gear.

Day 3

Our route took us on highways 27, 26 and 207. Oregon has a varied landscape, with geological features that would not be out of place in the Southwest. We went through Mitchell and Spray, and we stopped at the Painted Hills, to see evidence of millions of years of climate and geographic evolution.

At this point the Duetto had covered nearly 700 miles on the tour, and I watched the odometer turn over for the first time (supported by repair bills). I’ve never seen 99,999 turn into 00,000 on one of my cars, and now I have both pictures and a video of the occurence. Think what it meant when manufacturers didn’t believe it was necessary to put a sixth digit on their odometers.

SCM gave several awards at the dinner that night, including “Car We Would Most Like to Have on the Cover of SCM” which went to a spectacular 2011 gray and red 2011 911 GT3 RS driven by Eric Jensen from Washington, with Kristine Kruger as his copilot.

Day 4

This was a quick run home, taking the always-spectacular route over Mt. Hood – the same route I had recently taken in the Giulia Spider Veloce on the Old Spider Tour. As I rolled into the SCM garage, the trip odometer of the Duetto read just over 900 miles. It hadn’t burned a drop of oil (no, the sump wasn’t empty before I started, I did check), used no water, and got just over 25 mpg, at consistently high speeds.

The NW Passage has several things going for it. First, it’s in my backyard, which means no airplane flights and no trailering of cars. Second, Oregon has terrific roads and a variety of scenery ranging from the coastal forests to the high desert. But most important, the organizers and all of the entrants have a friendly spirit and enjoy having their cars in an environment where they can run safely at speeds that remind us of why we call them “sports cars” in the first place.

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Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

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