Travel: Here's Why You Buy A Porsche 911 Sight Unseen And Leave On An Epic Road Trip

Here’s Why You Buy A Porsche 911 Sight Unseen And Leave On An Epic Road Trip

By John Montesi
October 14, 2016
41 comments

Photography by Jamey Price

A few months ago, I was hit by a car on my bicycle. Which you’d think would make me hate cars like many of my fellow two-wheeling friends who believe the world would be a better place with no cars at all. The wreck could have killed me and did leave me with significant concussion-related brain damage, among lots of other frustrating soft tissue injuries and a broken rib. In short, it made getting out of bed difficult and enjoying much of anything at all even harder.

My therapist told me that she advises people in my position not to make any major decisions for at least six months after they experience brain trauma like mine. So, naturally, I broke the love of my life’s heart repeatedly and bought a 1984 Porsche Carrera on Bring a Trailer. At the root of impulses is truth. Some of them, at least…

I had never driven an aircooled Porsche before. I’d always had a crush on them, on the weird challenge of floor-hinged pedals and driving dynamics that favor keeping your foot planted when you want to lift and speeds high to keep steering effort low. The original 911s are a bizarre combination of focused and comfortable, utilitarian and sporty, classic and modern.

My first hands-on experience with one was when I walked up to the garage my car was parked in, where its hips looked so wide and its steel body so solid that I wondered how I’d ever successfully pull it out of the garage and onto the streets of the Valley north of L.A.

I sat in it and depressed the clutch. It kicked back, hard. It also smelled like leather and oil. I could see the edges of the whale tale in either mirror and the tops of the fenders along the front of the car. Beyond that, where the edges really were was a nerve-wracking mystery. Everything about engaging with a Porsche for the first time is like hearing a love song in another language you’ve only just begun learning. It is beautiful and heart-rending, and it requires your utmost attention.

After a few minutes of breeze-shooting and a rather large Chase transfer, it was time for me to pull it out and head off towards Sunset Boulevard and then the Pacific Coast Highway and then beyond, towards Utah and Colorado and Texas and the rest of America beyond that.

But first, I had to meet an old friend for coffee in West Hollywood, then another old friend for dinner and a place to stay in Venice Beach. The streets of LA will test a car’s mettle more than any others in the world. And the Porsche was right at home. I commuted across the expanse of the City of Angels, down every street and past every landmark. I called this place home for five years, a period which conspired along with everything else in life to make me forget about what I really love.

This homecoming was more life-affirming than I’d ever imagined time spent in Los Angeles could be. Creeping down Venice Boulevard with KCRW on the FM radio, arm out the window resting on the door, I remembered the glimmer of the golden dream that’d drawn me westward to begin with. A time before cynicism routinely won out over passion, when I did seemingly impractical things to follow my dreams. In a way, idling on Venice Boulevard in a 1984 Porsche Carrera was as full-circle as life could possibly come.

After two days of zig-zagging the coast, it was time to start leg one of this vague trip. Point the car east from the coast, stop by my home in Texas, then keep meandering east and north and south and west, following trout and fall foliage and friends and strangers wherever they may lead.

But first, we had to cross the Mojave Desert. My copilot for the LA to Utah leg of the trip was an old friend who still calls LA home and who doesn’t drive stick shift. But he was along and willing to suffer in solidarity with me as the mercury rose and the only way through the desert straightened out and grew faster and bumpier. Porsches aren’t really out of their element anywhere, but if there is one place they’d prefer not to be (or at least their drivers wouldn’t mind skipping), it’s the long, straight, traffic-clogged highway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, a place where modern cars are strewn along the shoulder from overheating and exits are dozens of miles apart.

The desert is so pervasive here that you see as many Joshua Trees per capita in the highway median as you do in Joshua Tree National Park itself. The temperature needle climbed as the throttle stayed pinned and the ambient temperatures hovered above 105. But dropping my speed two or three miles an hour allowed the motor to cool down, and Matt and I made it into Utah amidst a monsoon, just in time to get four hours of sleep before hiking Angel’s Landing.

From there, I continued to Colorado, then through New Mexico and home to Texas, where I spent some time cleaning spark plugs and freshening the CV boots. Minor maintenance to ensure major reliability over the next six thousand miles.

* * *

Taking a thirty-two year old Porsche on an extended road trip, especially one that involves a bicycle and camping gear and fly fishing gear and driving hard on great roads, is an exercise in self-indulgence and masochism alike. Every second on the road is spent behind the wheel of one of the great cars of all time, and as long as you remain mindful of that, every downshift and input is a blessing and a gift.

The Carrera is one of those machines that is so good at its job that it almost makes you forget that it’s doing it. Which is an astonishing feat of engineering but also requires a bit of conscientious gratitude, because at times you find yourself cursing the lack of effective AC or some other frivolous shortcoming because the basics are just so, so good. Then you get to the twisties and feel the weight hanging out behind you and everything you know about driving is subtly altered. Dig deeper into the gas to keep the car in-line. Brake early, gas early. Higher speeds make it easier to steer. The tail has a tendency to follow the laws of physics more than the nose. It is all foreign, but it is also all right. Like a luxury tailored garment with tags you can’t read. You don’t know what it’s made of, but you know it works. And then after you feel it for the first time, you want to know everything about it.

Driving the Carrera across the country creates an intimate roadmap of America. You can get your heartrate up and whiten your knuckles driving between two rural towns in Arkansas without committing felony offenses. With the windows down and every sensory input dialed to eleven, you feel the very fabric of the nation as you pass through it, smell every burning leaf pile and cattle farm and pine woods, notice through your hands which paving material each county prefers. You know whether it’s hot or cold and whether that paper bag on the road was from McDonald’s or Sonic. The 911 is the perfect travel companion, if you’re willing to submit to its packaging constraints and see the poetry in its quirks.

For one, the gas tank is in the front. Pulling up to a pump in White Plains, Missouri in early morning creates a country-slow frenzy. I have to angle the pump nearly upside down to prevent it from clicking every five seconds. And I pump nearly as much gas as the Suburban at the pump next to mine.

As I walked inside to buy a donut and some coffee, an older gentleman in overalls approached me from the stoop he’d been standing on.

“That sure is a gorgeous car. What year is it?”

“Oh, it’s an ’84.”

“Where you coming from?”

“Well, Texas, but I picked up the car in LA about three months ago and have pretty much been driving it ever since.”

“I seen you pull in and knew you wasn’t from here. That’s a gorgeous car.”

“Thank you so much! I’m loving it. The roads around here are incredible.”

“I bet it just flies, huh?”

“No comment.”

I proceeded to wash my windshield and sit in the car looking at my atlas and eating my donuts. He returned to the stoop of the gas station where his buddy was waiting.

“What year is it?”

“1984,” the man in overalls said with authority. “He bought it in California three months ago and hasn’t gotten out since.”

“Now, is that what they call a h-whayuhl, tayuhl?”

“It is,” the man in overalls said.

I still wonder how the legend of the whale tail has made its way to rural southern Missouri and how those men knew it so instinctively. They didn’t know I could hear them through my cracked window, and the conversation continued and faded in and out as I fired up the car and gave them a wave and a throttle blip as I headed back out on the open road, towards the Eleven Points River and then towards a nearly-nameless town near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.

This is Porsche country, even though everyone is surprised to see it here. The roads are open and undulating. Light traffic means the roads are less engineered and twistier and easier to hustle on.

The first leaves of fall lay on the tarmac in the morning, and I can envision the view from above, looking like a scene out of a movie as the flat six whirrs and the wind and tire noise disturb the blissful silence, leaving whirling leaves in its wake. You can make a lot of progress when every second of the drive, even all the extra ones from “taking the long way” feel this good. You arrive at your destination exhausted and invigorated, ready to catch fish or go for a bike ride or meet strangers or reunite with old friends.

And traveling with only impressionistic ideas of where you’re going opens up vast possibilities. It leads to drives on unforgettable roads with forgettable names. Roadside attractions and geographical curiosities that are best noticed in a car that says, “Go ahead, stop for a little while; we can hustle, but we ain’t in a hurry,” all in a German accent, of course. The panoramic windshield and iconic front fenders frame the world in a way that naughtily encourages adventure, that practically dare you to go hike on that unnamed trail or get a slice of pie at that diner in the middle of nowhere.

The beauty of the classic car is that it suggests, indeed almost prefers, meandering and rest stops and photo ops. Once you free yourself of Waze and Google Maps, you immediately forget how much time gets added to your ETA if you turn down the gravel road that says there’s a pumpkin patch or a gristmill or a historical marker twenty miles away. And the time seems to pass faster when you aren’t trying to beat the clock, yet the days also feel much richer.

* * *

Cars are vehicles for the imagination. We all sit on our computers dreaming about what we’d do to and with every car on our dream car bucket list.

A truly great car is so much more than steering that tells you about grit of the concrete dust or the size of the pebbles in the asphalt. It makes you want to drive it. It drags you out of the depths of the mundane, causes you to daydream about the noises it makes and makes you relish scalding your fingertips on its oil cap because it’s weird and requires the motor to be running and at temp to get an accurate reading. And then you discuss the meaning of life, or your favorite band, or the one piece of wisdom you’d like the other person to remember, until well after midnight. All because you both appreciate the gulping, whirring car.

And maybe that’s it. I sustained the type of brain injury that subdues your emotions and leads to existential crises, and I experienced both things to a terrifying degree. But the last few months of driving a Porsche around America, fishing for trout and talking to friends new and old, have instilled in me the sort of simple passion that I haven’t felt since I was a teenager. I may be more alive than ever.

Sometimes there really isn’t anything more to it than the sounds and the sensations of a special car, of holding a trout in-hand, of meeting someone at a bar and earning the trust of a lifelong friend in a matter of minutes.

There is a maniacal beauty to the way engineers decades ago decided to stick the motor out back and put the ignition on the wrong side and levers for the heater astride the parking brake. And the fact that they’ve spent the ensuing sixty years not messing that up, while the legion of people who admire their commitment to the impractical grows.

You can follow John’s travels at his website, johntesi.com and on Instagram @john_tesi

Join the Conversation
Related
0 0 votes
Article Rating
41 Comments
newest
oldest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Tomislav Vukovic
Tomislav Vukovic(@tomislav_vukovic)
2 years ago

I believe I’ve read this story 3 times…. and i so want to do the same.

And the Porsche 911 from 1984 is my dream car.

One of those days….. thank you for a great story and lovely pics.

steve rush
steve rush
3 years ago

One of my favorites is to buy one unseen…I know…yes,yes..but so far, several times..I fly in and drive. Last one charlottesberg Virginia (think that’s about right) and drive to Seattle…well Nashville, Kansas city, st Louis.. Casper wy, eat, music, drive. Easy to pack…sunglasses, old flight jacket, jeans, some soft Italian driving shoes..yes all packed. I’ve had several in 50 driving years…there ain’t no substitute…and thanks for story and pics

Mike Novakowski
Mike Novakowski
4 years ago

Well done.

Andrew Ochudzawa
Andrew Ochudzawa(@andrew-ochudzawa)
4 years ago

Reminds me of my jurney with a friend in a 964 Turbo on Australian outback. Never let me down.

Bryan Karlan
Bryan Karlan
5 years ago

My father had a ’73 RS that he bought around ’76, and it was stolen in front of our house in ’89. He bought an ’87 Cabriolet and drove that until his death in ’09. It became mine in ’10. I’ve sunk a lot of money into that car and it looks factory fresh, almost, despite 218k miles on it. I try to like it and on a pleasant day in Dallas with the top down it’s nice. But often the car just grates on me. Its loud, its trying to kill me on bad roads where it wants to rip the wheel out of my hands and throw me into a ditch or a tree. The stick is nowhere near as nice as my old e39, which was slick as butter. The bottom mounted pedals are awkward. The clutch is stiff. Its tiny and I’d be instant mush in a collision with any of the local full sized SUVs or Pickups who could care less if they hit me as it might not even scratch their bumper. The AC stinks, even when its working well unless I upgrade, for $5,000, to another condenser. And it understeers terribly.

So why do I keep it? It was my dad’s and its my last link to him, along with an IWC watch (which is also a maintenance hog). Sometimes I enjoy it, but often i hate it and when I have to drive it to get the engine up to temp so the seals keep fresh and don’t dry out, it’s like doing a chore you hate.

I read your article and I wonder if I’m doing right by the car since their might be someone who would really love it. I just don’t know. I’m glad to have read your story. Thank you.

JC in KC
JC in KC
5 years ago
Reply to  Bryan Karlan

Trust me, there are plenty of people who would enjoy the car. I understand the sentimental attachment, but life is too short to drive a car you hate or cheap whisky

John Montesi
John Montesi
5 years ago
Reply to  Bryan Karlan

Firstly, damn. I think you and everyone else wishes you still had the RS.

Secondly, I’m in Fort Worth for the holidays. Sounds like maybe we should meet up and talk! Sending you an email now.

Kerry Myers
Kerry Myers
5 years ago

Great car and article. Thank you. But it is West Plains, Missouri, in Henry County near the Eleven Point River, not White Plains. White Plains is in NY, not Missouri.

John Montesi
John Montesi
5 years ago
Reply to  Kerry Myers

Hey Kerry,

You’re so right! Some combination of a fuzzy brain and a desire to keep secret fishing spots at least a little bit secret led to that typo. Good eye!

David Paulson
David Paulson
5 years ago

GREAT Post, John,

And congratulations on a new passion. Beautiful classic 911. I also share your passion for fly fishing as well, although I rarely take my 911 on a fishing trip. But if on a real road trip, why not take the fishing gear along. And if you run out of space, you can always rent the waders and boots from a local fly shop.

I hope to read about your next road trip. The National Parks in Utah are great backdrops for Porsche pics. And their are are a lot of great fishing holes along the way, including the famous Green River downstream of Flaming Gorge Dam in Dutch John, Utah.

John Montesi
John Montesi
5 years ago
Reply to  David Paulson

Hey David,

Many thanks for the kind words. It’s been a real treat learning about how many of us seem to appreciate Porsches and fishing, among other things. I am itching to get back out west soon for more driving and fishing and photography, though I actually have a few photos of the car in Utah as I drove it back to Texas from LA.

Hope to cross paths sometime.

Cheers!

4 LAT 6
4 LAT 6(@4-lat-6)
5 years ago

That was a great read John… You’ve inspired me to put f’tip to i’pad myself.
It was 12 months ago today that I flew from Cairns to Melbourne to ‘inspect’ my dream car, and take a test drive. I too ignored all rumblings on the home front, swept away in the moment I first got behind her wheel… a test drive very quickly became a purchase. That afternoon’s return ticket became a 3000km road trip. “You missed your flight ? … what have done now, you bought it didn’t you ? I can hear the engine… I can hear you smiling” said the final wife.

When the guy told me the first transporter North would be at least a month away, that was it,… do the paperwork, I am hitting the road ! The incredulous salesmen were astounded that I was just going to jump in it and drive home, on a three day road permit, with no plates, no change of clothes and no plan… oh I had a plan, I punched my home address into the GPS while they finalised the paperwork, home was 3157kms that way… time to get on the road again !

I must have made 100 gear changes feeling my way through peak hour traffic across the city, revealing in the mechanical precision and sounds of my amazing new machine. Heading North on the Hume, speed camera senses on alert, it wasn’t long before I was instructed left and the VIC border was soon behind me. After a friendly chat with the local Sergeant, who didn’t see many Porkers out this way, I enjoyed my first cold beer at the local pub, admiring the black beast out the window, bug splattered amongst the cockies utes.

The second day took ‘us’ through outback NSW, another friendly officer couldn’t resist pulling over a black 911 without plates in the middle of no where. After some awesome range roads I crossed the QLD border that arvo and drove on until Roos started appearing at the roadside… time for a beer, a feed and bed in another small town. Up again with the breaking sun, I was so excited to get back behind the wheel… I stretched her legs on deserted outback roads, following the windiest route on the GPS, and still made it home before the sun went down.

We bonded over that trip… it would never have been the same if my lovely had just turned up on a truck four weeks after Christmas. I have driven her 333 out of the last 365 days (I was away for 3 weeks) and still look back and smile every time I park her somewhere.

She is mine, a childhood dream fulfilled… where are you driving tomorrow, or next week or next year ? I’ve got 911 reasons to drive somewhere, that somewhere in April is Targa Tasmania… “what route are you taking?” you may well ask… “the final wife of course, she let me buy this” … now that will be a road trip, and a story.

John Montesi
John Montesi
5 years ago
Reply to  4 LAT 6

This tale brought a big smile to my face. I so love seeing the joy others get from the same things that I enjoy. I actually used this tale as some inspiration for the latest writing on my website.. (www.johntesi.com) Would love to blast through the outback and do some kangaroo slalom with you someday. And also read more about this trip!

Cheers,
John

brandon
brandon
5 years ago

John- My dad had an 83′ with the Whale Tail in the same color. Only difference his car had black wheels. That car is a classic. They dont make 911s as light or air-cooled like that anymore. They are special cars. Glad you are enjoying it.

John Montesi
John Montesi
5 years ago
Reply to  brandon

Hey Brandon– so very true. It’s ruined me for life, and I’m now wondering how many analog cars I can snap up to enjoy for as long as there are roads to drive them on. I am also working on getting my wheels refinished in black. I think it works well with the impact bumper cars, especially in this color. Cheers!

rick
rick
5 years ago

John, so impressed with the writing/ poetry of your article! While 80s Porsches have always been my favourite, especially the 1982 jet black whaletail of the father of one of my first girlfriends, you really brought the sensations and quirkiness to life! If you’re ever in Kenya, come by and drive my ’72 Alfa Romeo Junior just so I can see its legacy captured on paper…

John Montesi
John Montesi
5 years ago
Reply to  rick

You hear that, Petrolicious people? Sounds like I may need to go drive an Alfa in Kenya…

Would love to shoot photos and drive your car. Cheers, Rick!!

Santi
Santi
5 years ago

I kept reading and scrolling through the pictures imagining all the time how it sounds and how it drives. Fall leaves whirling behind its spoiler as you twist and turn through winding forest roads in the heart of America. Great article, it made me emotional to know we share a common pleasure; an attainable dream that is simple to us, yet so complex to explain to “non car people.” Please upload some videos of the 911!! And, what’s her name? hahah

Lance Phillips
Lance Phillips(@lance-phillips)
5 years ago

This is excellent, John. Makes me want a 911 even more now, if that’s possible.

r89marais@gmail.com
r89marais@gmail.com
5 years ago

Dude I live in South Africa and 911’s are extremely expensive here. You have convinced me to say screw it and buy a Porsche anyway!!

John Montesi
John Montesi
5 years ago

Keep us posted!! They are worth it. There is something so zany and special about these cars, I’d write a book about it if I were in a position to do so..

Ahmed AlSayed
Ahmed AlSayed
5 years ago

Best article I’ve read in awhile…

Roland Alfonso
Roland Alfonso(@nigel67mgb)
5 years ago

Best. Petrolicious. Story. I have read.

Vic
Vic(@vic)
5 years ago

I have to ask: where does the fishing pole fit? I’m picturing a 911 going down the highway with a pole sticking out the passenger window.
Great article and I’m super envious of your car.

Lms
Lms(@lms)
5 years ago

I hope I speak for all the readers and fans of this site when I say we need a periodic “Porsche Chronicles” from Mr. Tesi. This is one of the best entries I’ve read on any blog – and I used to author a car related blog myself! Thank you, it was very well done.

Lms
Lms(@lms)
5 years ago
Reply to  Lms

Keep it up – you have a way of writing and including details that convey reality, while simultaneously not sounding pretentious or contrived. A difficult task especially when talking about nostalgic (and collectible) sports cars.

Chris Ribbe
Chris Ribbe(@cruisemulholland)
5 years ago

Glorious John’s chronicle, the journey, the cause and the car!

Mark Yarrish
Mark Yarrish(@yarrie513)
5 years ago

“Cars are vehicles for the imagination. We all sit on our computers dreaming about what we’d do to and with every car on our dream car bucket list.”

Amen… fantastic article, fantastic trip, oh an the 911 is good too!!!

Vic
Vic(@vic)
5 years ago

So wait….am I allowed to buy a 911 as a medical expense writeoff?

HitTheApex
HitTheApex(@hittheapex)
5 years ago

Bravo!

Wishing many more great journeys!

This may just be the best article I’ve read on Petrolicious to date.

Wayne Mattson
Wayne Mattson(@wemattson)
5 years ago
Reply to  HitTheApex

I just re-read this article and I have to agree with you on this being possibly the best article yet.

Bryan Dickerson
Bryan Dickerson(@pdxbryan)
5 years ago

Talk about “alternative medicine”!
Nice writing. You could have titled it ‘A Road Runs Through It’.

Wade Devers
Wade Devers(@wadeforit)
5 years ago

Words to live by.

Mark St Clair
Mark St Clair(@fb_10154261807253636)
5 years ago

I’ll take time off bagging Petrolicious for never crediting their video crew to compliment you on this great article. You nailed it. I once owned a 1989 3.2 and you bought back so many great memories. Thank you Sir.

Steven Van Loven
Steven Van Loven(@buellsteven)
5 years ago

just do it……well I just did…Also bought a 84 a few mounths ago and drove in to South of france and Italy. The car made a perfect impression and gave me a hell of a good time.

Wayne Mattson
Wayne Mattson(@wemattson)
5 years ago

John,

Great story about a great car. Excellent writing accompanied by some fine photography.

I have to admit, you are living my dream because as a fellow cyclist, auto enthusiast and someone who enjoys fly fishing, this is the kind of trip that I can really connect with and to do it in a Porsche is icing on the cake.