Countless Peaks And Passes, 24 Porsche 911s, And Two Days Of Driving Bliss In The Alps
Photography by Markus Haub & Susana de Val
The past year hasn’t been the most generous, and opportunities to meet friends and likeminded people have been scarce, reminding us that that element of car enthusiasm really is the most meaningful. But as the situation improved in the summer, we had a brief chance to drive in the mountains with some good friends in August for the “Sick Alps” tour organized by Moritz and Kerstin of Flat6 High5. As we anxiously look forward to the coming summer, we’ve been resisting these memories often, tiding ourselves over.
Our base camp for the weekend-long trip was in Bruck, near the Großglockner, Austria’s highest peak, which happens to be quite close to Zell am See—the homeland of the Porsche family. Twenty-four vehicles took part in the two days and 700 kilometers of sightseeing and rev-matching, including our 1968 SWB 911. We traveled to Zell am See a day ahead of schedule to visit a good friend in the area, and also to stop by the Porsche Design Studio.
In the afternoon we exercised the car up the Großglockner High Alpine Road for a shakedown of sorts, and to take a few photos—how can you not? The highest surfaced mountain pass road in Austria—opened in 1935—is almost 50 kilometers long and remains one of the best places on earth to drive a sports car, or a diesel van for that matter. A major tourist destination nearby is the Pasterze Glacier, Austria’s largest, and a perfect place to be in the summertime if you ask me.
Our group got together that Friday; 40 people bringing with them 24 very different Porsche 911s—funny how that probably sounds oxymoronic to someone not so interested in cars! Almost all model years were represented, and the diversity of eras and specs meant that each break from driving was never short of conversation and the opening of doors and engine lids to see what everyone had brought to the party. Black, gray, and white paint predominated, but Mario’s “orange” car provided a bit of color to the palette and was always easy to spot in the group photos.
That evening we had a relaxed dinner in the garden and looked forward to the next day, full of driving. Going to bed not too late is the idea, because we would begin very early in the morning, but you know how hard it is for excited kids to fall asleep on Christmas Eve.
The voluntary “Early Bird Tour” started at 5:15am for the particularly caffeinated members of the group, and while I am not a big fan of getting up early if I can help it, the idea of a unique experience to see the morning sun in the mountains through the windshield of my 911 was too tempting. Nevertheless, I worried about how I would survive the rest of the day and secretly bought myself a larger than usual Red Bull at the gas station—when in Austria, right?
It was still dark, but almost everyone showed up for the early leg of the day before breakfast. Just a quick coffee or three and out the door. At the toll station for the Großglockner Road we gathered again briefly into a peloton and then headed up through the twilight to the Fuscher Törl at 2428m. We parked in a row, enjoyed the silence for a moment, and waited for the sun to poke its nose out from behind the peaks. From the Edelweißspitze we had an even better view (this spot is located a little bit higher up (2571m) and offers a view of more than 30 3000-meter peaks). In the valley the clouds hang like a deep wool carpet, broken by jagged, majestic rock.
At 7:30am we were back at the hotel for breakfast, and I for one relished the additional hour to fill myself with fresh coffee and then start the day, again. However, all the cyclists seem to do the same on the best driving roads, and we didn’t get to keep the pace of the early morning jaunt when sharing with our slower two-wheeled friends.
The first destination was the Nockalmstrasse, a private road with 52 hairpin bends over 35km of nice pavement. Good old fashioned driving fun was had be all, and we also filled up our stomachs at the Karlbad, a 300-year-old property that sits 1693m above sea level and serves a mean lunch—we kept it simple but delicious with with cheese, ham, and Kaiserschmarren before taking a tour of the old bath in the basement, where the water flows into the wooden troughs heated with glowing stones.
We continued towards Gmünd next, then up to the Malta reservoir. The view was beautiful—up there it’s hard to find one that isn’t—and the break to stretch our legs was again a welcome one. From there we had two options for the return journey: a car train or the same route back via the Großglockner. We obviously chose the latter.
Going back down was bittersweet, and the highlight of the day was definitely the ascent of the pass. We followed our friends Paul and Guido in their white F-model, with Moritz and Kerstin in a ’65 in our rearview mirror. Almost exclusively in second gear, we twirled up the climb with the most momentum we dared, winding the engines up to the 7000 range, reading the fun factor on the noticeably depleting fuel gauge. Goosebumps moments one after another, every curve somehow better, smoother, faster. A perfect flow.
Saturday took us to the Dolomites. The Early Bird portion was canceled that day due to lack of demand—no doubt precipitated by having done one the day prior! Altogether we drove up the daytime route after breakfast, getting to know the lay of the land with each run. Still, it was different every time. After a quick pitstop in the supermarket back on the ground we collected the stragglers and the temporarily lost participants and crossed the Italian border. Past the “Three Peaks,” through Cortina d’Ampezzo and up to Passo Falzarego, where we had our day’s lunch. The Ristorante da Strobel had blocked off part of the parking lot for us, which proved necessary as we were far from alone that weekend. Holiday season is often a time of suffering, for Porsche drivers.
After a delicious meal (the main food groups of ham, cheese, bread, and coffee) we plopped our sweaty selves back onto the synthetic leather seats of our 911, where none other than Sir Stirling Moss once sat down to do a few laps of Goodwood (unfortunately not with me, but with the previous owner).
During the afternoon we wound up without enough time for the big Dolomite tour with Sella, Pordoi, or Grödner Joch—that would have put dinner in the hotel at risk, and while you can make a case for food not being as important as driving sports cars through the mountains, it’s not like we didn’t get our chances to do plenty of that already. Therefore we did only the small loop over the Passo di Giau. Here I would have liked to stop again and get out to enjoy the view, but with no space to park and no time anyway, we turned around and headed back to the hotel.
The rest of the story can be quickly told. We took the same route back over Großglocknerstraße, again shortly before the nighttime closure (the last admission was at 7:45 pm). We scurried through the toll station in Heiligenblut just in time. On the curve before the toll, we were greeted loudly by a group of drinking buddies making themselves comfortable on some deck chairs. “Hohoho. You honk, we’re drinking! ” was written on their sign, and of course we were happy to oblige.
The highlight of this day was again the ascent portion. This time Kerstin and Moritz were in front of me, and I did my best to attach the car to the back of theirs. I believe my partner Susana almost felt out of the window while photographing and filming—that was fun! Her words! During the final photo stop in one of the many mountain parking lots, we let our pulse return to the double digit realm as we got the rest of ourselves ready to reenter reality after escaping it for a few blissful days.