Can 48 hours in a Porsche 911 Speedster convince a classic car nut it's the bees?
Can the 911 Speedster turn the head of classic car obsessive and Porsche 356 owner Tom Gädtke – known on social media as @onassisporsches?
People who know me know that my passion is for old cars: classic Porsche models in particular. Yet here I am: at the foot of the Großglockner mountain range in Austria, standing next to a 911 Speedster from the 991 series, complete with Heritage package. I’m surrounded by a group of “other” 911 cars, most of them from the air-cooled model years.
My 356 from 1961 is in good condition, but is tuned uncompromisingly for engine speed and is equipped with gear pairs in the gearbox that are nearly 60-years-old. The very idea of driving 2,000 kilometres over fast mountain stages – as is planned for the next few days – and doing so without damage, is – to put it mildly – optimistic. Of course, you can do that, but you don’t have to. For me it’s an experiment in futurology. With an open end. Luckily, I have a different set of wheels for the job …
The Porsche 911 Speedster: a purist driving machine
When it comes to the 911 Speedster, my excited expectations are neither based on experiences or comparisons: new vehicles are, as the words suggest, new to me. At first look, I’m reassured. The ignition lock is on the left, the Porsche logo is present, there is the classic H gearshift. These are things I’m familiar with. The Speedster has six gears, compared to my own four, but the three pedals are the same and the accelerator sits at a slight and familiar angle. The car does not have much else, other than a steering wheel with a button for the horn – and that’s it. It’s just how I like it and means no scrabbling around if you have to react quickly. So far the Speedster appears to be a textbook driving machine.
The plan for the next 48 hours is as follows: around 800 kilometres of mountain roads and passes in a group of more than 25 cars all wearing the 911 badge. They date from 1965 to 2019 and some are modified. The route – much of it winding and twisting at altitude – features no traffic lights and only one planned stop. There will be narrow sections and plenty of braking and revs. The latter worries me the least – if there’s one thing this engine can do, it is deliver revs. What I hope to find out is whether the Speedster is the perfect car for such a trip in spite of, or perhaps even because of, its spartan concept …
An early start to the Großglockner High Alpine Road
The alarm clock was set very early, and so we find ourselves standing at the toll station at the foot of the Großglockner mountain at 05:15 on the dot. Before the line of 911 cars is a handful of bikers who had obviously got up even earlier than us. There are also a few cyclists as well, hoping to make the most of the cool early morning temperatures to climb as high as possible before the sun rises and warms the air.
At 05:30 the traffic light turns green. Ticket bought, car full of leaflets, stickers and newsletters, seat position adjusted, low gear selected: let the games begin!
Can the Speedster impress?
Anyone who has ever driven our chosen route up to an altitude of just under 2,500 metres will remember it well. For those who have not yet had the pleasure, just know that a combination of motorway tarmac and giant uphill slalom is what awaits you. In some sections, the challenging route is a tight slalom that would suit Alberto Tomba, while in other parts it becomes a real Super G. Here, where the engine can sometimes rev above the magic 4,000 rpm line, is where pure pleasure can be experienced.
I’m grateful, happy and satisfied all at once, because our plan of being at the summit before sunrise works out. It feels a bit like an early-morning run with the prospect of a shower and milky coffee in your favourite beach house. Just in the mountains. Cooler and much clearer. The steam from the coffee cups of the campers who have stayed overnight disappears into the small columns of exhaust gas from the car tailpipes. And this group has quite a lot of those to offer.
I enjoy the moment, because I have just completed my first mountain stages with a “super sports car”. Measured against the superlatives of the automotive industry, the Speedster is not a candidate for this category. However, in my universe the car ticks all the must-have boxes. I’m impressed, because it’s just as intuitive as the first phone from the manufacturer with the apple back in the day. But I probably won’t know what the car has triggered deep down inside me until the end of this trip.
The Speedster has quickly become part of the group
After completing the early-morning sprint to the summit, it is now a question of waiting and enjoying the moment. The darkness recedes, but we’re still waiting for the sun’s unbroken rays to reach us. And then it is there, the unique moment that fascinates people all over the world. The air turns golden, and the shadows draw silhouettes. The Speedster with closed roof, bathed in golden light against an endless blue horizon – simply fantastic.
The weather is picture-perfect and the mood is strong – among drivers and cars. All the cars have shown themselves willing. The Speedster has quickly become part of the group and has been fully adopted as a new member. Maybe even assimilated. In terms of its visual appearance with the very flattering white nose, it is definitely not an off-the-shelf model, and this makes it a topic of conversation among the enthusiasts in the more creative Porsche hemisphere. The questions about “what is it like” become more frequent, and I try to stay neutral.
In my heart of hearts I still adore the old Porsche cars. At least that is what it says on my label. It’s a car, has four wheels, and drives. Yes, it’s fast. But it would be a disappointment if it were not. And so on. However, by this point something had already been set in motion inside me that I had not expected before I started out on the tour. A feeling of unrest that I had not known before. We’re not under any time or deadline pressure, but still I want to press on. To drive! With this car! And so at the end of a long day I’m really happy, because we complete the last few kilometres in cruise mode with the top down as twilight descends. We meander our way through long valleys surrounded by mountains towards our evening destination.
On to Porsche Italia – into the Dolomites
After a short but restful night’s sleep – we had a lot to talk about the evening before – the lounge of our overnight accommodation slowly starts to fill up. There is a new destination today. The Three Peaks in the Dolomites. Porsche Italia, here we come. The piston rings of the odd participant are definitely wider that the rings around their eyes, and the morning engine maintenance therefore starts with a fresh slug from the oil can. Things I’m familiar with from my old car as someone who is a hobby mechanic myself.
The Speedster really proved its qualities on the first day, because the car was really put through its paces. But that does not seem to worry it, on the contrary. It is standing there as if to say “was that it already?!?”. So we stop delaying and set off. In the direction of Italy with the prospect of exploring completely new ground.
Here, the roads seem to follow the given topography even more closely, so they are much more twisting than yesterday. It’s great fun, because in addition to the beautiful countryside I also enjoy the incredible steering precision of the Speedster. The braking and steering points can be recognised only very late in some cases due to the interplay of light and shadows. I drive by sight, and the convoy is driving at high speed. The Speedster does its job to perfection. There is not a single moment where I feel that the car is not made for this interplay of throttle, brake and cornering acceleration.
The Carabinieri also show their respect for the Speedster
Not far from Cortina d´Apezzo, we drop anchor at one of the typically Italian restaurants with a view of the Three Peaks. For a while I have a feeling of dolce vita, because when you’re enjoying an Italian doppio espresso macchiato looking at the collection of cars, you really become aware of what you’re currently privileged to experience. I will never forget that I’m sharing this moment with some good friends.
The Carabinieri are also enjoying life and, how could it be any different, are also mad about cars. So we enjoy the friendly exchange with the custodians of the law about one or the other exotic vehicle they themselves have in their garages. Here also, the Speedster receives a respectable thumbs-up, well-done, bene!
After the last “Arrivederci” we set off again and start out on the return journey. Our entourage drives past rock walls, through tunnels and galleries hewn into the mountain sides and back towards Austria. The echo from the engines fills the ears. The small air-cooled engines sound hoarse, while the larger ones produce a loud bass volume. The 4-litre naturally-aspirated engine in the Speedster sings in its own class and has an unrivalled sound in the engine speed range between 4,200 and 4,500 rpm.
At this point I could relate many other anecdotes about this trip. However, everyone who loves and celebrates driving will be able to use simple maths to calculate what will be the bottom line in the end.
A vehicle with the same soul as its forebears
I had not expected that a sports car manufacturer would be willing and able to build a modern vehicle that feels like a classic car at heart in these times. Unfiltered, honest, with a soul.
Hardly any other vehicle model has shaped a style in the same way as the original Speedster since its introduction in the 50s. Or perhaps been the first car to establish its own category. Simple, reduced, no frills. Easy-going, smart and nevertheless still a sports car through and through.
The 991 Speedster is the best car that I have personally ever driven. Because it makes you forget everything that we have taught ourselves to expect in terms of comfort and relaxation. Also because it is a machine that works. And above all because it cuts an extremely good figure in every situation and gives off an air of completely honest pride.