“Old age, experience and treachery will overcome youthful enthusiasm and talent. “ In car speak, that translates to: “A mature driver in a vintage 4-cylinder sports car can easily overtake someone younger and less-experienced — no matter what they are driving.”
Two weeks ago, I discovered that saying is simply not true.
I asked my daughter Alexandra if she’d like to go to a winemaker’s dinner at Marchesi Vineyards and Winery in Hood River, about 60 miles from Portland.
She said yes, and decided to drive the 2001 Porsche Turbo. I chose our 1967 Alfa Romeo Duetto. As we continue to dial the Alfa in, it’s becoming one fine machine — nimble, balanced and with a sense of poise that only comes from a car that is properly set up.
It was in the mid-80s on Saturday afternoon when we left Portland. I had the Duetto’s top down, and Alex had the Porsche’s a/c turned up.
When we left Interstate 84 and took the Sandy River turnoff to Marmot Road, I told her to go ahead and I would catch up. She smiled and was gone — the fat meats on the back of the 911 spitting gravel as she accelerated away.
I’ve been driving on Marmot Road since 1969, when I first came to Oregon. It’s several miles of perfect, winding two-lane blacktop on the west side of Mount Hood. I’ve driven it in Alfas, Porsches, Vipers, Ferraris and Corvettes. It’s as close to gearhead paradise as you can get.
Somehow I thought that my skill and experience would make up for the 290 horsepower difference between the cars. (The Alfa has 125-hp, goes 0-60 mph in 9.7 seconds and has a top speed of 115 mph; the Porsche has 415-hp, goes 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds and has a top speed of 189 mph.) All these stats don’t even account for the AWD, modern suspension and big brakes on the Teutonic rocket.
I was wrong about catching Alex. Not just a little wrong — but completely wrong. After the first few curves Alex had just disappeared. Every couple of miles I’d find her pulled over, waiting. Waiting to show me how fast she could be out of sight again.
The Alfa comported itself respectably; our only concern was the smell of gasoline on twisty roads. We traced it down to a loose-fitting gas cap that needs to be replaced. The Porsche simply conquered the road. It was a four-wheeled Blitzkrieg that I only caught fleeting glimpses of as it streaked towards Government Camp.
By the time we reached Hood River, I was hot and sweaty from constantly pushing the Duetto close to its limits. The Duetto’s water temperature was running on the high side of the gauge, and I could smell my brakes.
Alex hopped out of the 911 looking as fresh as a daisy, and said, “Gee Dad, that was a lot of fun, let’s do it again!”
The dinner at the winery was fabulous, as they always are — Franco Marchesi has brought Italian vines over to grow in the hot summer sun of the Horse Heaven Appellation of southern Washington State. His dinners are timed to the release of his latest bottlings. And he always has an opera singer who performs arias between each course.
We stayed in the classic Hood River Hotel, and then meandered our way back home on curvy Washington State Route 14.
As I followed Alex down the State Route 14, I thought about the vast differences that separated our two cars. One was a 4-cylinder, front-engined car made 50 years ago, and the other a rear-engined, twin turbo-charged, 6-cylinder machine just 15 years old.
In fact there were more differences than similarities between the two cars. The driving technique you would use for the Alfa would be inappropriate and ineffective for the 911 — and vice versa.
What binds the two cars together is that they were both built by enthusiasts for enthusiasts. You don’t buy a Duetto or a 911 as a practical daily driver. You acquire them as your magic key to a world of accelerating, braking, finding apexes, nailing braking points and more. You are decoding the road and making it into a puzzle that unrolls as you cover it.
For someone who loves sports cars, is there anything more satisfying than hitting a shift at just the right moment? Than applying the brakes just enough to get your car setup properly to accelerate out of a turn? And using the throttle to push the tail end out just a little to get the perfect line through a hairpin?
For many, a car is just an appliance – a safe and practical way to get from Point A to Point B. But for those of us who love to drive, a sports car becomes an extension of the passion we feel for driving as an art form.
My weekend with Alex and the sports cars demonstrated two things to me. First, that there is nothing better than being with one of your kids and flying along a challenging two-lane road. Second, if I want to stay ahead of Alex, I need to be in the Turbo next time.
Otherwise it will never happen.