This is the unexpurgated version of my article published on Autocar’s website recently. Space is precious on a mainstream website, but here I can do what I like! I have split the article into a two-part feature describing the high and low point of my Porsche ownership experience.
Part One – The High
In an effort to provide you, dear reader, with some fascinating statistics on how many cars travel to the Continent from the UK each year, I fell asleep on my keyboard and incurred a nasty abrasion by the letter ‘k’ on my cheek. Suffice to say, there are a LOT of cars heading to La Belle France on an annual basis and there’s a fair chance one of them could be you. If that were the case, I’d hate for you to make the same mistake that I did.
After I finally succumbed to temptation and bought a Porsche 996 Carrera 4S, I was keen to use it as much as possible. If this meant developing a left leg that Geoff Capes would have been proud of, due to clutch operation in London traffic, I was determined to drive it and enjoy it at every opportunity. It’s not every day that a loving wife agrees to accommodating a Porsche 911 in the household and so I felt it churlish not to embrace the situation.
Some weeks went by and I began to cook up a plan to take the family on a driving holiday in the 911, and leave the, perfectly good, Ford S-Max on the driveway. Bless them, my wife and two boys were keen on the idea of driving down the east side of France, reaching as far as Barcelona and back up the French coastline to the UK in the compact German 2+2 seater.
In an astonishing display of expert lightweight packing, we managed to stash the bare minimum of luggage, and the four of us, into the Porsche and we headed for an early morning Eurotunnel crossing. A pleasant run to the first stop in Dijon – stopping every few hours to allow young legs to be stretched – and we smugly walked into the Vertigo Hotel with two small bags and were greeted with a surprised look on the receptionist’s face.
The next day, we dispatched another 7-hour drive southwards to the small town of Cessenon-sur-Orb, near Carcassonne, to stay with an old family friend who kindly volunteered to put us up for a few days. On arrival, the noise of the 911’s outrageously upgraded exhaust reverberated deliciously around the walls of the cul-de-sac.
The look of disgust on the neighbours’ faces, as I inched the car out of the garage, was worth the trip alone.
Staging Point Three involved a blast across the Basque country into northern Spain to stay with a great friend from school who had emigrated to a town just outside of Barcelona. Usually when driving abroad, it involves struggling with the tiniest hire car you were willing to cough up for. This time it was a joy to have the 911 on foreign soil and keep pace with the Barcelonians, who could pedal most standard hatchbacks at a rate similar to that of a white Ford Transit (which we all know to be the fastest thing on four wheels).
Up next was the trip’s raison d’être. Leaving Barcelona on a north westerly course, we headed into the Pyrenees for some fun tearing through the mountain roads and the chance to play some Matt Munro on the audio system. If, like me, you found that the 1969 Italian Job film made an indelible mark on you, it is impossible to resist the temptation to put on some magnificent sunglasses (cigarette optional) and pretend you are Rossano Brazzi. It’s not a Lamborghini Miura and it’s not the Italian Alps but the effect is the same, with the howling exhaust pinging off the rock walls. Heaven.
We stopped for the night in the exotic location of an old monastery, now hotel, in the town of Boltaña. Following a swim, a nice meal, a hilarious game of cards with the boys in one of the many stone alcoves and a good sleep, we headed out for another brief play in the mountains before descending into what might have been a film set for Star Wars. The massive sand dunes of Arcachon provided some entertainment to the point that, upon returning to the car, the boys seemingly brought half the dune into the 911. Ho hum. The car was working hard and a little sand wasn’t going to hurt it.
Our final main stopping point was on the Île de Ré, near La Rochelle. Again the Porsche proved an unusual guest at a camp site, but it fitted in rather better with the general population of the island’s cars that were mostly of a better grade than that usually found across France. The 911 was amusingly incongruous on day trips to the beach and merely served to cement the locals’ opinion of us being “Les fous Anglais”.
With the end of our trip in sight, we drove north to a gîte just outside of Rouen, so that we would be only a short hop to Calais for the next day’s return trip on the EuroTunnel crossing to the UK. The selection process for the accommodation was something akin to a game of “pin the tail on the donkey”, but it proved to be fine for our brief stop. We’d arrived in good time that afternoon and, having heard reports of the anticipated long delays in boarding, we thought we’d better stock up basic food and water stocks to be stashed around the few storage areas in the car. We reversed off the driveway of our gîte and trundled up the small suburban road towards the nearby supermarché. As we approached a tight right-hand corner, I could see a Renault Clio approaching from around the corner and I slowed to the point of becoming stationery to allow him to pass with ease… continue to part two.