20 Jul 5,200 kilometres through Europe in 14 days
Porsche trip to France and Italy
From Copenhagen to Le Mans Classic 2014. From there to Provence. Provence to Piemonte. And from there up to the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart and home. The old Porsche 911 ate 5,200 kilometres of European tarmac in 14 days.
Waaay back in the last millennium, when I had finished my 2 semesters as an exchange student in Australis, my mates and I bought a beat-up old Mitsubishi minivan and drove it 17,000 kilometres across Australia. We had to replace the generator after just 400 kilometres. And the thing ate up tires and guzzled oil like there was no tomorrow. It was glorious.
I haven’t really been on a road trip since. Until just now. Because I have just come back from a 5,200 kilometre journey through Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, France, Italy, Switzerland and some of Europe’s most beautiful landscapes.
It all started in the winter of 2014, when the gearheads on early911.dk started talking about Le Mans Classic and the possibility of a 911 convoy from Copenhagen. I really wanted to go, and it seemed like a shame not to extend the holiday a bit and explore France and Italy, when the race was done. So I bought the tickets and persuaded my girlfriend to come along.
From Copenhagen to Luxembourg
We sat out on early in the morning the 3rd of July. Our little convoy consisted of six Porsche 911s. The methusalem a Targa from 1972 and the toddler a Carrera 4 from 1993. A bit of initial electric window repair and our very own Le Mans Classic door decals saw us off in high spirits.
But honestly, the Danish and North German highways are so dull that they can kill the spirit in just about everybody. Everything is just flat and straight ahead. Sure, the drive over the Great Belt Bridge is beautiful. And sure, it is always interesting to see just how long the queue at the Elbe Tunnel around Hamburg will be. But the trip only really started once we were past Hamburg and into unfamiliar territory.
By the time we reached Cologne we were already running quite a bit late for a dinner appointment we had in Luxembourg. And then we got hit by the dreaded Autobahnstau. For an hour or so we were stuck in stop-and-go traffic, and we could envision our evening meal getting cold, while the beer turned warm. So when the queue finally cleared, we stepped on the throttle.
That was when I started to get a bit worried about oil consumption and overheating. My 911 does have a working trombone oil cooler in the front, but despite this temperatures easily reach 120+ degree Celsius above 4,000 RPM. So I tried to hold back and reminded myself to check the oil levels at the earliest opportunity.
When I did, panic struck. There was no oil at the end of the dipstick. So I poured in a healthy 2 litres and considered my opportunities. Do I cancel the trip and turn back? Or do I take my chances and press on? Well, the choice was easy.
From Luxembourg to Le Mans
After our rest in Luxembourg we sat out on what would turn out to be the maddest drive in a very long time. By now my girlfriend, who wisely had chosen to fly to Luxembourg, was with me in the car. Little did we know, what this Friday had in store for us.
We pack the cars for the final leg of the journey to Le Mans.
You see it all started with the big question anyone driving through France has to ask: What do we do about Paris? Do we take our changes and drive straight through? Even if it could mean that we could be stuck in endless queues for literally hours? Do we drive south of France? Or do we turn north? We chose the latter option through Amiens and Rouen. And boy, was that wrong.
You see in Rouen there is a tunnel. From Amiens on it gets you to the south bank of the Seine. Trouble was, the tunnel was closed and in a stroke of genius the authorities had chosen to redirect the traffic through the old city centre of Rouen. It was pure madness with steep, narrow roads and myriads of kamikaze car drivers stuck in one giant traffic yam where all resemblance of order and civilization had broken down. Imagine a Battle Royal for cars, and you get the picture.
We regroup after Rouen just half an hour or so before the rain hits us.
Miraculously we all made it past Rouen with nothing by our nerves in tatters. This was where it got really interesting. Not only because the road was suddenly full of sports cars of all types and ages. But also because the sky opened and the mother of all torrential downpours started. At times it was only the feeling of the road surface marking through the steering wheel that kept me on the right track. It was unnerving to say the least. I did not dare to stop for fear of being rear ended. And I feared I would aquaplane and hit one of those mad black Audis roaring by.
After much sweat and confusion, we finally arrived at Le Mans Classic and Bleu Nord camping. But what transpired there is another story for another day.
From Le Mans to Italy
When my girlfriend and I set out for the Mediterranean coast and for Italy, we were on my own. The rest of the gang had gone back to Denmark. From here on our plan was to take it slow and with plenty of stops.
So we spent 3 days driving from Le Mans to Monforte d’Alba in Piemonte, Italy. The very first stop was outside Vichy. The hotel we had booked looked like someone had dreamt of building a replica of the Bateman Hotel from Psycho and had turned it into a nightmare. The place was totally deserted when we arrived, safe for a single car in the parking lot. Probably its owner lay in pool of her own blood in a shower somewhere on the 2nd floor.
My car had shrunk in the French downpour.
In the end we survived the stay, the evening meal and the hordes of retirees who descended on the hotel restaurant in the evening to re-enact Meal of the Living Dead with hushed voices.
For our next two stops we had been somewhat wiser and employed the fantastic services of my good friend, Mette Ingstrup from xplorefrance.com. She had booked two absolutely fantastic hotels for us in Tavel, Languedoc-Roussillon and La Cadière-d’Azur in Provence. Do contact her if you plan to go France and need some expert advice.
Our final destination for this stage was Monforte d’Alba in Piemonte, Italy. To reach it we drove along the beautiful Riviera stretch and stopped for lunch, more queues and 8 Euro bottles of water in Cannes.
Monforte d’Alba is absolutely fantastic and there is gloriously little to do but visit wine bars and vineyards. The small mountain roads leading up to the medieval city centre are great fun in any small and nimble car, and the steep and stone paved inner city roads are nothing short of amazing. Suddenly the Fiat 500 starts to make sense.
From Monforte d’Alba to Stuttgart
My better half had taken the wise decision to fly home from Milan in order to avoid the arduous Autobahn stretch through Germany. So I pushed on alone from Milan to Stuttgart, where I had booked a sleepover and planned to visit the Porsche Museum.
The drive through Switzerland was simply spectacular. It had everything from winding mountain roads and incredible panoramas with turquois lakes and snow-white mountain tops. These roads in any sports car are the kind of thing that will stay with you forever.
Of course it was a long trip as well. Overheating and oil consumption was still a major concern, and as I queued up for the one lane drive through the St. Gotthard tunnel, the engine simply refused to idle. As the queue slowly crept up the slope to the tunnel, I spent 30 minutes or so doing my own little cockpit dance to keep the engine alive, while not bumping into the car behind me. I kept having to watch the throttle and keep the RPMs up, and I’m sure that everyone around me simply thought: “So ein Dummkopf!”
But in the end I arrived in Stuttgart after yet another torrential rainfall. The next day I would visit the Porche Museum, but this is also another story for another time.
From Stuttgart to Copenhagen
I must admit I somewhat dreaded the long drive from Stuttgart to Copenhagen. Mentally I had prepared for a 14+ hour trip and even a possible sleep-over on the way. But in the end everything went remarkably smooth.
The Autobahn traffic was mostly light and I was spared any rain until I reached the Danish border. The only hazards were really my oil problem and those 200 kmph black Audi station wagons that seem to attract lunatics everywhere.
5,200 kilometres of European tarmac later.
When I parked the car in the garage, I had travelled 5,200 kilometres in it. Oil consumption was a whopping 12 litres. Five had been acceptable, but the amount I had used more or less constituted a total oil change. There is very clearly something very wrong with that engine. You would not happen to have a spare 930/10 engine, would you?
Just do it!
If you are the lucky owner of a 911 – or any old car really – then do yourself a favour. Go on at least one long road trip in your life. I promise you, it will be an adventure.