I think if you asked most auto journalists about their worst nightmare, professionally speaking, you might find that being unwittingly embroiled in a car manufacturer’s PR stunt would be right near the top of the list. It usually goes like this: You get a mysterious invite to an ‘event’ of undisclosed nature. You arrive to hear of a cringeworthy plan that makes your toes curl. Then you’re plonked into a car covered in cameras to play your part, all the time wondering if you can climb out of the window and retreat to doing some real reporting. Then the manufacturer stylishly edits it into a marketing film with huge positivity all round and your professional integrity dissolves before your very eyes… It’s like a day in the life of a vlogger.
Anyway, it was with this awful narrative hanging over me that I arrived at a hotel beside the Thames on a drizzly Sunday morning in London. There were PR people looking nervous, camera operators looking nervous and even a few police officers…also looking nervous. Why? Well, as it turned out our mission was to transport over $13 million dollars of gold bullion across London in a convoy comprised of three 2018 Porsche Panamera Sport Turismo Turbo S. Suddenly I was looking nervous, too.
Why? What? How much? Are you sure? All questions I wanted to scream but being a polite Brit, I simply signed the disclaimer with the steadiest hand I could muster and said something pathetic like, “well, this sounds fun.”
By now Sergeant Mark Blake had briefed us on the four police motorcycle outriders we’d have managing the convoy and a nice man at Porsche had told us what to do in the event of an attack. We were told there would be a plain-clothes security team observing our progress.
Why the Sport Turismos? Well, they’re big enough to carry two crates each containing four 27.55lbs ‘market bars’ of gold, they have self-leveling air suspension, they’re pretty fast, and they’re a lot more discrete than an armored truck that might as well have a target emblazoned across its cargo area.
Around 30-minutes later we’re at the Baird and Co Ltd refinery and our discreet convoy isn’t looking so discrete. The three Panameras are Red, White and Blue, and although their Burmester stereos aren’t blasting ‘Self Preservation Society,’ the hat tip to “The Italian Job” is clear and present.
Leading us across London is a fourth Sport Turismo. This one wears a more subtle shade, but its rear window has been removed to allow a huge camera lens to stick out and capture every mile. The route skirts around some of the busiest roads but still winds around London City airport and Canary Wharf, passes through the Limehouse Link tunnel, nudges the Tower of London, crosses the Thames twice (south on Tower Bridge and north over Waterloo), and takes in St Paul’s Cathedral, The Strand, Fleet Street, Holborn…all iconic locations bustling with traffic and tourists.
In the car with me is MotorTrend’s International Bureau Chief, Angus MacKenzie, who has a vast knowledge of London’s history and provides a fantastic running commentary as we ease past famous Coaching Inns, monuments, and buildings. In the rear seat is a very quiet man from Brinks security. I assume he’s a deadly weapon, a pistol strapped to every limb and schooled in at least five forms of martial arts, but his slight build and meek handshake isn’t the reassurance I was looking for.
Anyway, my job is simply to stay glued to the Sport Turismo ahead. We’re the rear gunner and as such get to do all the fun stuff—run red lights, aggressively dive for gaps in traffic so our convoy isn’t split, and generally drive like we’ve got $5 million of precious cargo onboard and an empty vault deep underground waiting for us.
It’s funny. Everything looks different when you’ve got a trunk full of bullion. Pedestrians sheltering from rain and sleet behind thick coats and hoods are criminals ready to pounce. That beaten up old van belching diesel smoke is a vessel for a gang of armed men about to burst from its rear doors. That stroller hasn’t got a baby in it at all, but a huge automatic weapon. Paranoid? Yep, you bet.
Happily for us and maybe sadly for this tale, everything goes smoothly and soon we’re in the Hatton Garden jewelry district and burly blokes are unloading the crates and heading underground with their contents. We survived and drink a late morning champagne to celebrate. The Sport Turismo barely noticed the inconvenience of all that weight in the trunk, but to be honest, I was so busy focussing on the car ahead and trying to look relaxed and inconspicuous that my dynamic assessment of the car boils down to “I think it was pretty good.” Worst road test ever, folks.
Later, we take refuge in a pub as the rain and sleet still hammers down on London. While watching the football (soccer) match, we mention our bullion run to the barmaid and a few locals. Needless to say, they don’t believe us and get back to watching the match—a pretty turgid 1-1 draw.
As for that nightmare scenario I mentioned at the beginning of this piece, it is displaced by a feeling that it’s all been some sort of fantastical dream.