Stopping to smell the… rubber

Last May, Porsche called to ask if I wanted to transport a Boxster Spyder from San Francisco to Los Angeles for them. Obviously, I didn’t say no. And rather than brave 400 miles of cop-infested I-5, I took the Pacific Coast Highway. This way, I thought, I’d relax and enjoy the journey. I’d stop to smell the roses, maybe.

This didn’t happen. It took me eleven miserable hours to make the journey, and I was so irked at the slow pace of traffic on CA-1 that I wrote a big ol’ ranty blog about it when I got home (See Pacific Coast Hellway)

Well, thirteen months later, it happened again: Porsche called the other day to see if I wanted to take a Cayman R from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I already covered the Cayman R (here) last year in Spain, but the weather hadn’t cooperated one bit and I wound up sliding it around on pavement that felt like ice. No fun.

I gladly said yes to Porsche’s offer—but this time, I wasn’t going to do anything stupid like actually try and enjoy the ride. I’ll take I-5, I’ll speed like a maniac, I’ll be home in five and a half hours—and I’ll keep the car for a week to enjoy it on Northern California’s incredible roads.

So I picked up the flu-phlegm-green Cayman R (no, that’s not its real paint name) in LA and headed north on the dreaded I-5. As it turns out, the Cayman R is no better suited to this kind of highway slog than I am. First of all, it was hot as hell outside and this stripped-out sports car has no air conditioning. Its firm ride isn’t really bad, but I-5’s pavement just plain sucks in spots—and one section of particularly abusive pavement shook loose the wax in my ear canals. Eww!

Oh, and my trusty Valentine One was freaking out from all of the radar activity—California’s mobile tax collectors were out in full force, pulling over seemingly every car traveling at over 20 mph.

And then, of course, there are the unconscious, inconsiderate nitwits left-lane hogs. What is it about California drivers and their affinity for hanging out in the passing lane and pacing traffic in the driving lane, creating one big blob of slow-moving stupid people? If they didn’t notice the crazygreen Cayman flying up onto their bumpers, these people wouldn’t notice an H-bomb coming up in their rear-view mirrors. Much less have the common decency to move over and allow it to pass.

Eff this.

Five and a half hours of I-5 might be a shorter prison sentence than eleven hours of Pacific Coast Highway, but I’m not quite sure which one is more miserable. I got as far north as Buttonwillow and couldn’t stand it any longer. I turned off onto California route 58 and headed west in the hope that the 101, the highway halfway between CA-1 and I-5, might be just-right porridge.

58 starts out as a dead straight westward path through the desert. I settled into a 70-mph pace with the windows down, enjoying the view of the mountains in the distance—and the lack of truck traffic and associated noise. Passing zones were ample. This was much, much better.

The further I got from I-5, the thinner the traffic became, and there were stretches of 58 that are so perfectly straight that triple digit speeds seemed entirely reasonable. The Cayman’s engine settled into the 4000-rpm zone, blatting out its song for all the world to hear—punctuated only by the splat of large insects exploding on contact with the side mirrors. And occasionally, my arm. Ewww.

And then the mountains came. Oh my word, did the mountains come.

California route 58 became a twisting, undulating, perfectly smooth ribbon of pavement slithering through the mountains. In twenty miles, I didn’t see another soul, much less a police officer—and the Cayman was finally allowed to show its mettle.

If you told me you thought the Cayman R was the best sports car in the world, I wouldn’t disagree with you. Steering is perfect. Brakes are perfect. Throttle response is perfect. So is the clutch. Yup, the shifter is perfect, too. And the power delivery is perfect. And the engine note is perfect. With nary a slap on the wrist from the stability control, the Cayman R settles into perfect four-wheel drift after drift. The tires don’t make a sideways sound—only the hollow yowl of the magnificent flat-six is to be heard as you rocket through corner after magnificent corner, the big steering wheel dancing in your hands.

As I climbed higher and across the ridge through the hundreds of bends, the outside temperature dropped from the mid-90s into the low 80s. The Cayman R’s average fuel economy dropped from 27 mpg to 24. And my stress level dropped to zero.

Why aren’t Interstates like this? I was still averaging probably 60 mph, but the views were spectacular and the road was incredible and the car—oh wait, that’s right. Nobody else has a Cayman R. If they did, this is what all of our highways would be like.

After about twenty miles, just as your passenger would be about to strangle you, 58 straightens out slightly, dropping in elevation as the temperature crawls back up. The terrain changes again, and this time you’d swear you’re in Western Maryland—there’s a jump every couple thousand feet. Of course, I’d get the Cayman airborne only if there were a video camera there to capture it—so I slow for each crest making a mental note that I need to come back here with a fast car, a very fast camera, and a REALLY fast ambulance.

And scattered between the jumps and 100-mph straights were the occasional 15-mph hairpins inserted there for no reason at all.

Never staying the same for long, 58 again became twisty and hilly—and as I approached 101, I decided to take one more turn—a right turn onto Route 229. The first mile of that road might just be one of the greatest stretches of paved heaven I’ve ever encountered. Barely a lane and a half wide, the road is perfectly smooth, but it dances around the sides of crazy hills and dales. The Cayman got air four times—usually only a couple of wheels at a time. Never once did it land hard; never once did it squeal a tire; never once did it fail to be perfect.

I went back and did that section again. With a video camera by my left ear. I wanted to mount it to the hood, but it was too covered with splattered bug guts to stick. Ah well.  (The video can be found here.)

From there, I made my way to the 101 via Creston, where I passed by vineyards with signs promising wine tasting. 65 mph was enough. There’s no reason to speed when there are beautiful sights to see.

Sadly, the anti-highway part of the drive came to an end when I got to the 101. Certainly more picturesque than I-5, far less patrolled, and dramatically smoother, it is nonetheless a highway—and thus inherently less fun. And it has cell service—so my phone started ringing immediately.

It didn’t take long for it to overheat and turn off—something I didn’t even know was possible.  It was hot as hell in the cabin of that Cayman R, and my phone agreed.

The final entertainment came thanks to the drivers of a Mercedes-Benz SL65 AMG and a BMW 335i who must have thought the speed limit sign said 95 mph. I wasn’t complaining—and I’m not complaining now. The journey took eight hours, and I’m now home sitting on my couch not sore. Not tired. Not frustrated, and not miserable.

In fact, I’m glad I did the drive. I’m going to do it again soon—and this time, I’ll stay off the highways the whole time if possible.

I’m also glad that I finally got to experience the Cayman R in its natural environment: at its limits. It’s as good as the Boxster Spyder that it shares some of its chassis bits with, if not even better. And that makes it unquestionably one of the best sports cars in the world. If you order one, just do yourself a favor: get the damn air conditioning.

 

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[caption id="attachment_10707" align="aligncenter" width="169" caption="And the speed limit isn't 100?"][/caption]

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[caption id="attachment_10705" align="aligncenter" width="225" caption="2011 Porsche Cayman R"][/caption]

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[caption id="attachment_10701" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Not all roads are perfect. But the Cayman R pretty much is."][/caption]

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[caption id="attachment_10697" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="The road is flat and straight, but those mountains loom."][/caption]

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[caption id="attachment_10695" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Cayman R can't cross a cattle grate?"][/caption]

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[caption id="attachment_10699" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Cayman R looks like a happy frog after a messy insect meal, no?"][/caption]

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[caption id="attachment_10703" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Even the iPhone wants A/C!"][/caption]

Harvey
...And now that I tracked down the Boxster write up, you also noted said undead RV's among other things.
Harvey
Highway 1 is somewhat over rated to me. I took it with my father in 2006 in our then new Corolla S manual-- not the most enthusiastic vehicle,m but it was balanced enough for commuter and sport duty at the time. We started around Guadalupe, and went all the way up to the end. We cheated a little and took Highway 9 from Santa Cruz and some of 35 into the Bay Area. But the traffic was less and curves more-- many more. Highway 1 draws so much more than enthusiasts, which means campers and people stopping every three miles for a snap-shot (not always pulling off, either). Then there's the constant construction! By all means, Highway 1 can be quite beautiful. But if you have a really good car, you won't be able to use it. It's police infested and has traffic galore, making even my 433,000 mile Toyota Echo seem like a sports car compared to the rental campers. Even turbo Saab get in my way. Just catch the back roads if you are in it for the joy of rowing through gears and blipping shifts. Leave CA1 for when you just wanna cruise.
Brandmotion
Love this. Thanks for sharing your journey with us. That must be a pretty amazing vehicle, and I have to admit... I'm jealous. Even if it was a thousand degrees in there. :)
Steve Jones
The first time that I saw the Cayman, I fell in love with it. It brought me back to late 1965, when I took delivery of one of the first 911's in Northern California (then tricked it out like no one would do for years after). IMHO, the best roads in the west for Porsches, as many who own them have found out, are the off the beaten track roads in Nevada. They seem to be popular with the rice rocket crowd as well. I love Highway 50 between Fallon and Ely especially. I seem to remember that Bill Harrah leaned on the Nevada Department of Highways to make that road really nice for a two laner, so that he could take his Ferarris out on int back in the day. Try it, you'll like it.

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