The Sunday supplement: exchange mates
Breaking down language barriers on the road with two owners’ clubs
An elderly looking sheep grazes at the side of a deserted road, an unlikely escapee on the hunt for tastier greenery. Although there’s a breeze, it carries no sound except for a lamb bleating as it follows its mother through a gap in a crumbling stone wall onto the smooth tarmac.
In the distance, like a wave approaching the shore, a faint thrum of engines grows steadily louder, echoing off the rocky walls that rise up on either side of a narrow mountain pass.
Suddenly, a Porsche 911 3.2 turbo-bodied Carrera appears over the crest of the hill, swiftly followed by a 997 S, a Cayman S and a Carrera GTS.
The sheep barely notice as 20 more cars come into view, each one hugging the road as it weaves left and right before opening out into a glorious stretch that seems to go on for miles.
With one eye on the runaways eating at the side of the road, the driver of a 991 Targa passes wide and grins, waving at the oblivious animals as they continue to eat, heads buried in bushes.
It’s as if the car at the front has driven these roads a thousand times or more, as it picks up the pace and leads the delighted convoy on a spirited drive across the empty valley. The Porsches snake up a steep hill that kinks back and forth before coming to a halt in the car park of a pub bearing orange, green and white flags. Drivers and passengers climb out, and as they laugh and shake hands a look of amused concentration crosses several faces.
“How was that?” calls out a rich Irish accent. “Incroyable,” a lady yells back, in French, before a third man chips in “Moutons! Beaucoup de moutons”. His eyes crinkle as he pats his new acquaintance on the back and makes an action with his hand, as if he’s holding an invisible glass. “Il est temps pour la Guinness!”
This is the first of what promises to be many meetings of the French and Irish Porsche owners’ clubs.
Like a grown-up school exchange programme, but with several thousand hp in tow, 25 cars have made the journey from the Brittany Pays de Loire region of France, via Roscoff, to southern Ireland, where they’re spending the best part of a week driving the better – and lesser – known roads on which their welcoming hosts have been making memories for years.
With a number of Irish enthusiasts dotted among the convoy, there are around 40 people on today’s outing, and while they share very little in terms of language, these cherished cars – brand new, classic, wholly original or gently modified – have laid the foundations of what’s looking like the beginning of a special friendship.
Together with his wife, Brigitte, 997 4S cabriolet owner Jacques Nouveau is behind the trip. It marks his tenth visit to Ireland but he’s driven hidden roads that he didn’t know existed.
“We discovered Ireland in 1976, when we hitch-hiked from France, and we’ve been in love with the place ever since,” he smiles. “We wanted the rest of the club to experience the culture and scenery that we’ve seen over the years and in the end, so many people wanted to join us that we had to start turning them away.”
While a few hang back to admire each other’s cars, the group heads into the pub and the bonding continues over plates piled high with salmon and potato salad, washed down with Guinness by those who’ll be enjoying the return leg in the passenger seat.
“Ireland is a special place and the people are incredibly welcoming,” continues Jacques. “We already feel closer to the men and women of the Irish club than we do to some clubs within our own country. It feels a little like they’ve shared a secret with us as we’ve driven along roads unlike anything we’d find at home.”
A carefully planned route, which combines some of the best bits of southern Ireland’s Ring of Kerry with single-track passes that zig-zag inland, returns the party to Killarney – their base for the evening.
A few hours later, cars parked away for the night, the group is in a different bar. Live music provides a backing track to their laughter and conversation, which has grown in volume, warmth and confidence.
Tables of people huddle over route maps for the following day as talk turns from the day’s prompt pace, set by local boy Mel, and an excited discussion about a bull that had found its way on to the road, temporarily calling proceedings to a halt.
The language barrier all but removed (Jacques later claims that after several glasses of Guinness he could “practically speak Japanese”), the friends – dressed in Porsche jackets with the details of this trip embroidered on the sleeves – are plotting their next adventure.
While many of the French group are considering when they can return to the Emerald Isle for a holiday, in 2019, the two clubs hope to meet again, in France, before driving in convoy to the Nürburgring.
While it may be lacking in stray animals and Guinness, the likelihood that this next meeting will see the bonds strengthen further is written on the faces of dozens of men and women, as they raise their glasses in turn to guests, and hosts.
“Our cars provided the initial connection,” smiles Jacques, “but we now have friendship in common too.”
911 Carrera GTS: combined fuel consumption 9.4 – 8.3 l/100 km; CO2 emissions 212 – 188 g/km
718 Cayman S: Fuel consumption combined 8.1 – 7.3 l/100 km; CO2 emissions 184 – 167 g/km