Featuring Tom, Woodsie, Rob, Dunc and plenty
It started with a casual post on the 968uk forum, suggesting a trip to Stuttgart to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the launch of the Porsche 968. Within a few hours, several people had expressed interest.
Time passed, a few more people came in, others dropped out, the date was set, and we ended up with four cars confirmed. Wednesday 4th April
After much anticipation and several excited email exchanges, the big day rolled around. The plan was to get into Antwerp on Wednesday night and meet first thing Thursday. For a small contingent there was considerable geographical diversity, with three different countries’ licence plates on display although just two colours: Speed Yellow and Iris Blue. In whichever order the convoy found itself, it was impossible to achieve a bad colour combination.Thursday 5th April: Antwerp to Zuffenhausen
It hadn’t been the greatest of starts on Wednesday afternoon, when Tom and Woodsie arrived in Antwerp to find their hotel surrounded by roadworks and access to the hotel car park completely blocked. Still, upper-lips don’t come stiffer than those of Englishmen abroad, and the episode was quickly forgotten as Thursday morning greeted with a cloudy but dry welcome.
With eagerness the convoy was up and on the road. A short stint on Belgium’s pockmarked motorways thankfully didn’t last too long, as we turned off near Liege for our first taste of the rural lanes. A scenic tour through some picturesque Ardennes villages, and then the cars were in their stride, making good progress at a swift but relaxed gait across the well-sighted roads. At the Belgium-Luxembourg border a superb lunch was had, and the cars were treated to a tankful of Europe’s cheapest fuel.
The highlight of this day was the gorgeous N10 to Trier that closely follows Luxembourg’s border with Germany. Offering up mile after mile of sublimely twisty, lightly-trafficked and smooth tarmac up hills, along valleys and through forests, this was a road to savour.
Into Germany, and before long the unrestricted autobahn. We naturally decided to explore the cars’ straight-line capabilities, and western Germany was treated to the rare sight of four 968s moving in close formation and full cry. Finally, our cars had returned to the country of their birth, almost 20 years after they had first left, and more than held their own against the best the autobahn had to offer.
As afternoon turned to evening, and following a random encounter with a local Porsche showroom where shiny new metal was duly ogled, we were within striking distance of Stuttgart. As the city limits loomed, the Fatherland responded with huge traffic queues and the onset of sustained, heavy rain. We were glad to have the 968s’ four wiper-speeds and granite build-quality; known for their sports and track ability, these are also superlative GT cars.
Light was receding rapidly and it felt like a very long day when we arrived in Zuffenhausen. Any hint of grumpiness was however swiftly pre-empted by the welcome sight of a covered hotel car park, a hearty Swabian dinner accompanied by free-flowing beverages and conversation, and the afterglow of just having driven more than 350 varied miles through three countries to safely arrive in Stuttgart, mecca of car enthusiasts.Friday 6th April (Good Friday): Zuffenhausen to Mulhouse
Day 2 and the German skies were cloudy but dry. It was the big morning when we were to park in front of the Porsche Museum, and we were keen for their cars to look their best.
This being Germany, a self-service jet wash was rapidly located and after a bit of an initial hiccup in getting it operating on Good Friday, a rather jolly hour passed by as we cheerfully cleaned our cars side by side. Not something one sees every day (1).
Then the half-mile drive to Porscheplatz. Two helpful staff members were quick to appear and to guide the cars to park in formation, on the concourse right in front of the Porsche Museum’s main entrance. We’d expected to get a few shots and then have to move the cars into the underground car park. To our delight, the museum staff suggested we could leave them parked there as long as we liked.
Four pristine 968s parked right on top of the sweeping, immaculate glass-and-tile entrance in front of the Porsche Museum: not something one sees every day (2).
The pilgrims had arrived.
The Porsche Museum, as one would expect, is beautifully presented, crammed full of absorbing installations and astonishing cars, and thoroughly efficient in its execution. We enjoyed a guided tour from a dapper young fellow with very precise English and an impressive knowledge of Porsche’s history.
When we had parked at the start of the morning, Porscheplatz had been all but deserted. We came back down the end of the visit to discover that the four 968s lined up outside the museum were attracting a great deal of attention. It was as if our four cars had become the museum’s exterior exhibit. On the 20th anniversary, it felt correct
. We got into our cars under the gaze of the crowd and their cameras, and drove off into the late-afternoon light.
An unrestricted blast out of Stuttgart and further moments of full-bore running. (Note to selves: Tiptronic is not to be under-estimated.) The autobahn soon gave way to the Black Forest, the scene of some of the best driving of the trip: high-speed, sweeping bends; tighter and technical turns; long climbs going up to surprisingly-high elevations with snow still on the ground and stunning visibility; picture-perfect German villages.
The 968s were in their element, showing off their fluent, confidence-inspiring handling, outstanding balance and intimate responses.
The French industrial city of Mulhouse was our stop for the night - in a charming old hotel which just happened to be located near a lively Alsatian pub serving a more than acceptable array of solid and liquid refreshments.Saturday 7th April: Mulhouse to Nancy
For the third day in a row we awoke in a different country from the day before. Mulhouse may not be the most attractive town in France, but it does benefit from being within easy reach of the Vosges, and is the site of Cité de l'Automobile, also known as the Schlumpf Collection.
Home of the largest single collection of Bugattis in the world (they were built 100 kilometres away in Molsheim), the Schlumpf Collection contains perhaps the world’s finest assortment of classic vehicles including many legendary Grand Prix and rally winners. The story behind the museum and its eccentric, secretive founder is almost as compelling as its exhibits.
After another slap-up lunch, we were ready to take on the Vosges.
A promising start gave way to disappointment when the famous Route des Crêtes was found to be closed just outside of Cernay. There was no obvious reason: it was reported open on the website, and the weather was dry with some snow on the verges but the road surface itself clear.
There was no choice but to detour and take a considerably less interesting option to our final destination of Nancy. This hadn’t been a vintage day behind the wheel, but the evening was to offer up something rather wonderful and spontaneous.
Saturday night in Nancy during the Easter holiday, and the town radiated a convivial, good-natured buzz as we mixed with local merrymakers enjoying the pleasant evening air. We treated ourselves to an al fresco meal followed by a wide-eyed glimpse of Place Stanislas, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Amidst a leisurely stroll going nowhere in particular, we turned a corner to be suddenly dazzled by the pulsating neon lights of a massive, vibrant funfair in the middle of the city. This was a fair of a scale rarely seen nowadays, with a full-size rollercoaster, log flume, and stalls stretching as far as the eye could see, offering all manner of entertainments for the eager crowd. We partook fully.Sunday 8th April (Easter Sunday): Nancy to Reims, and beyond
The final day of the trip began with a spirited run through the Lorraine Natural Park to the World War One battlefields around Verdun. The Verdun memorial, located at the epicentre of the old war zone, contains a detailed exhibit on trench warfare and the western front. Deeply sobering, a visit here isn’t soon forgotten.
We galloped westward across the rolling fields of north-eastern France to the Roman town of Reims, where our final lunch together was followed by an opportunistic photo in the beautiful old town square.
Of course, we hadn’t come to Reims for the architecture or the food, as pleasing as these were. We were here for the restored spectator stands at the old Reims Grand Prix track.
Perched either side of the long straight road from Reims to Gueux, the grandstand buildings are well on the beaten track of course, but are nonetheless a must-see as they positively drip with atmosphere. Standing next to the main straight of the old track, it wasn’t hard to imagine what it would have been like in its heyday with highly-strung engines screaming at full chat, although a highly visible police presence prevented any temptation to re-enact those scenes in the here and now.
It was time for the Channel-bound contingent to wave goodbye to Tom, who headed off to his adopted homeland with the honour of Tiptronic fully intact. A blast north on boring-but-effective French autoroutes brought the remaining cars to the Calais Eurotunnel, and final farewells before pushing home.
It had been almost exactly 1,000 miles of convoy driving, and for Woodsie the remarkable feat of traversing eight countries in 7 days. The cars had been faultless. The Stuttgart Run had served up fine roads, locations rich with history, good food and drinks, and many not-to-be-forgotten moments both planned and unplanned.