Our 2001 Porsche 911 Turbo arrived a week ago, and as soon as I was able to wrestle it away from my 23-year-old daughter Alex, I started scouting out reasons to take a road trip.
An email announcing “Deadly by Nature: Venom and Poison” caught my eye. It was a new exhibit at the High Desert Museum in Bend, OR, opening Saturday, January 31.
My favorite route to Bend uses Highway 26 over Mount Hood, through Government Camp, Warm Springs and Redmond. It’s 175 miles of interesting road and terrific scenery.
It had “Porsche Turbo” written all over it.
At 3:30 on Friday, I was waiting for my seven-year-old son Bradley as he left school. When I told him he could sit in the front seat, his face lit up. “Really?” he asked. He’s now old enough, tall enough and weighs enough to sit in the official co-pilot position.
The Turbo was packed full of books, games and the other paraphernalia required to keep a small child entertained.
Bradley immediately discovered that the power seats in the Turbo reclined almost flat. And they were heated. All that was missing was a massage option.
He pulled up a GPS app on his iPad Mini and became my expert navigator. The app also displayed my speed, the posted speed limit and whether any police had been recently observed on the route.
Bradley kept up a running commentary about my speed and what to watch out for — as if he were guiding me through anti-aircraft flak on a daylight bombing run. “Dad,” he said, “if you’re going 75 mph and the speed limit is 55 mph, does that mean you can get a ticket?”
Soon enough we were out of rush-hour traffic and headed through towns with names like Boring, Sandy, Zigzag, Welches and Rhododendron on the way to the summit at Government Camp (elevation 3,980 feet).
Several things set this first drive apart from most of the first-time experiences with cars new to the SCM fleet.
First, nothing was broken. Most SCM cars are at least 40 years old. By the time we get them, many bits and pieces are completely worn out. And if they have been restored, the work is often uneven — for instance, with shiny paint but bad shocks and suspension bushings.
At “only” 14 years old, and having covered just 29,500 miles, the Turbo is essentially a new car. I was delighted to discover that the wipers wipe — at two speeds and with an intermittent feature! The climate control actually heats and cools. The brakes stop the car without sending it toward the ditch. The seat motors and heaters work.
How Fast Do You Want To Go?
And then there was the power: 413 ft/lbs of torque and 420 Stuttgart thoroughbreds, eagerly awaiting a little prod from the tip of my toe.
I barely touched three digits, as I was driving a car that was new to me, the roads were wet and heavily patrolled, and I had Bradley with me. But I can say that 100 mph is clearly just a way-station to much higher speeds.
The factory claims a 189-mph top speed, which is 9 mph faster than the 993 Turbo it replaced, and 15 mph faster than the semi-race car GT3.
While I didn’t push the car in the turns, it stayed absolutely flat and felt predictable. The AWD was not apparent except when making very tight U-turns, when there was a little “crabbing” from the front wheels.
There has been a lot of discussion about the Tiptronic in this car and many opinions, ranging from “best option ever” to “why don’t you get a real Porsche?” And now I was finding out for myself.
Under normal acceleration, the Mercedes-sourced 5-speed automatic starts off in 2nd and shifts through the gears to 5th almost imperceptibly. Pushing a button on the steering wheel spokes immediately puts the gearbox into manual mode.
I didn’t drive the car in anger, but in normal situations the manual choices were superfluous. The gearbox instantly responded to my throttle input and picked the right gear.
I’ve been a manual-shift boy since I learned to drive, and this is the first sports car where an automatic has seemed like the perfect fit. Almost too perfect.
Snakes and Scorpions
The High Desert Museum is always a delight. It is a beautiful reflection of the High Desert community, and the architecture blends well with the landscape.
All of the animals in the regular displays are either injured and recovering, or have imprinted on humans to the point where they could not survive in the wild.
Bradley enjoyed the porcupine show-and-tell. He also delighted in seeing the bobcats, otters and bald eagles.
The poisonous critters display was more interesting than astounding, but I was glad we didn’t take any of the venomous snakes and salamanders home with us.
Next morning we loaded the 911 up and headed back to Portland. Bradley reconfigured the app, and just three and one-half hours later we were back in Portland. We averaged about 19 mpg.
Fast, Safe, and a Little Too Comfortable
If I had to choose one sports car to use as my primary driver — for hauling the kids, idling in traffic and occasionally rocketing up a curving on-ramp — the Turbo might be a perfect choice. It is very safe, with front and side airbags, along with electronic traction and stability control. It has the DNA of a race car, and I would have to be a far better driver to begin to explore its limits. The automatic makes it as comfortable around town as is on a challenging mountain road. (And at this point in its depreciation curve, you can buy one for one-third of its initial $115,000 msrp.)
Do all of those things make me want to sell all my truly old cars and just drive this one?
No way. The old cars still deliver a visceral experience that a modern car can never offer.
Yes, they are slow, barely stop and have tires that squeal like frightened pigs when you ask the car to go around a corner. That is because you must master them, and they reward bad driver manners with unruly behavior.
But when you hit the rpms just right, tap the brakes, pitch into a turn and get back on the throttle, there is absolutely nothing like an old car on an interesting road.
For now, however, I’m lucky enough to have the best of both worlds. I’ve got charming old cars that take me back in time, and the Turbo for a taste of just how good cars have become.
(To view more pictures from the trip, click here. You do not have to be a FB member to view these shots.)