Speed & The Porsche Personality

For years I've held true to my conviction that I'd never own a Porsche. It's not that I don't find them suitable examples of German automotive engineering. I know Porsche as earned a certain status, if not an enigma among its small yet loyal customer base. And I'm all too aware of its rise in popularity and sales in the US during the 1980's. And I watched its demise as the economy and a slow moving corporate parent bastardized its brand with poor quality product and lackluster new design in the 1990's. A perfect example of a brand that rested on its past laurels and popularity and did nothing to maintain its promise to customers. After all, we're talking Porsche here. Even the best brand equity is as fragile as an egg at the bottom of a barrel of apples. Though the new millennium seems to have brought about a rejuvenated Porsche automobile brand. Though who would've ever thought Porsche would introduce an SUV. Judging by the number of Cayenne's and Boxster's roaming the Pacific Coast Highway between Newport and Laguna Beach, Porsche is selling quite well here in California.

And therein lies the problem. A Porsche, like a $100 bottle of Opus One, may not be the best product. But its image is certain to evoke a reaction among your friends or fellow diners. And that's good branding. And while both these products may live up to their brand image, many times its not the product itself that influences the buying decision, it's the image or those attributes that are attached to that image that the buyer really “buys into.”

So when a 24 year old successful mortgage business owner took offense to the black European Sedan that passed him while he was cruising along at 100mph east bound on the Newport Freeway in his 3 week old silver Porsche, he knew he could go faster. Because he had a Porsche. Problem is, he couldn't handle it. And minutes later he was sailing, or rather free falling in his Porsche after taking flight and landing in the Northbound lane of an entirely different freeway (405) run over and decapitated by another motorist.

And my friend Michael lived to talk about it. No, he wasn't a passenger in the Porsche. Though I wonder had he been tuned into traffic control at nearby John Wayne Airport if he would've caught wind or word of the sight that was to shake him in his sleep for days to come. Cruising home at a safe speed Southbound on the 405 (in Southern California we have a propensity to add a prefix 'the' to any of the hundreds of highways and freeways designated by both destination and numerical names; the 405 is also known as the San Diego Freeway etc.) Michael was startled when he saw for a brief moment a flash of silver and then what appeared to be an extremely short precipitable downpour. Then in a blink of an eye a car bounce and roll several times in front of him. He swerved, braked and otherwise kept control of his vehicle while the silver flash materialized as a Silver Porsche and hopped over the guardrail to the opposing lane.

Upon inspection of his vehicle shortly thereafter he found the radio antenna that was on the roof of his desert racer modified Ford Ranger Pickup truck bent at a hear 90 degree angle. On top of that gas and oil was pelted all over the bed and hood of his truck. The Porsche sailed upside down over his truck. As the adage goes, timing is everything. In Michael's case, there's nothing truer to the fact that your life is everything. And damnit, treat it as such. Unfortunately, our Porsche hero hadn't yet learned the ill affect of speed.

When Michael called and related the above story I detected the flutter and fright in his voice. I also felt for the driver who ended his life at the wheel of his luxury brand racecar.

To be sure, it's not the car. Nor is Porsche at fault. But the driver did buy into the brand image. And sometimes this image comes with a degree of confidence. Poorly understood, this ill-fitted and poorly worn confidence is best for movies and magazines. Not for the real world. It could have been a Corvette, Camero, S500 Mercedes or an Aston-Martin Vanquish. And so that's a story of speed and the boy and his Porsche.

But it actually doesn't end there.

Have you ever driven Route 1 between Monterey and San Simeon (home to William Randolph Hearst and his castle early last century)? Specifically, are you familiar with the rocky Pacific shoreline and the windy and twisty Route 1 around Big Sur (made famous by Henry Miller in the 50's and the Esalen Institute in the 60's and 70's)? If not it's some of the most rugged and dramatic coastline in the world. The surf pounds rocky shoreline and 300 foot cliffs while nestled in coves below protected by outcroppings have thrown and fallen volcanic rock tiny microcosm worlds live in tiny tide pools. And during the winter giant grey whales migrate so peacefully past the majestic coast and towering redwoods that complete the coastal scene.

If you've ever driven the road that winds along this coast chances are you've thought once, maybe twice about what would happen if you missed one of the turns and sailed to the ocean below. Sure, there are a few guardrails that alert you to the danger of some of the more precipitous curves. It's hard to drive this road without being taken back by the awe inspiring beauty of the vast pacific, and mile after mile of serene yet fierce coastline and forest that hugs its rocky cliffs. One eye on the road. One eye on the beauty. A strategy that isn't recommended. Thankfully highway one (here's one case we don't call it “the” one) offers a number of stopping places where you can feast either your eyes or the lens of your camera on the scenery I've described.

I was on this road recently. And as I was rounding a tight decreasing radius turn Northbound just north of Big Sur a gathering of 20 or so people on the side of the road broke me out of the concentrated trance of acceleration, braking and shifting I'd been in for the last 80 miles or so. I pulled over to see what the ruckus and gathering was all about.

A large and gruff man with heavy leather gloves was manning the cable from his massive tow truck. Parked just to the side of the road on the shoulder of the southbound lane his cable sailed down hundreds of feet past sage, brush and dried out wildflowers. He barked into his walkie-talkie and slowly started and stopped the winch that pulled the cable onto the spindle in the bed of his truck. Gawkers on the side of the road stood in silence and stared at the cable as it disappeared behind a rocky ledge. A group of motorcyclists gathered on the other side of the tow truck. Several leather jackets were draped over rocks. A reprieve from the 80-90 degree weather.

Then I saw the CHP (California Highway Patrol) officer. I approached him and the man he was engaged in conversation with — a reporter from the San Jose Mercury News. As the conversation turned casual I butted in and inquired about the gathering and the “situation”.

The cop with his crew cut and ubiquitous aviator glasses explained to me that 4 days before a man in his new Porsche Boxster (or is it Boxer? I never knew nor cared) came winding around the treacherous highway, its unforgiving corners and narrow and soft shoulders when he launched the Porsche and sailed high above the Pacific sending him and his passenger to a quick and tragic death.

The winch operator continued to wear his weather gloves while guiding the cable. The crowd on the side of the road continued to grow. And the police officer told me it'd be two hours before the car would emerge from the rocky ledge. He didn't know the speed the Porsche driver achieved prior to taking his car airborne. But it was fast.

That's two wrongful deaths in the last month. Speed kills. Porsche owners seem to want to go fast. Old salt Porsche owners will be sure to comment that it's the new Porsche owner, The first timer, perhaps, that is the common element in my two experiences. I don't care. Don't even care that it's the Porsche. It's merely an observation. And it's my experience. Mine. But it's all too real.

Do me a favor. Drive safely. Drive sanely.

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