I am not a “car guy.” I cannot quote specs, or identify a model year from a pair of headlights. Before this week, the closest I’d ever come to getting behind the wheel of a sports car was in a video game.
But when Sharp asked if I wanted to spend a day at a race track putting the new 2017 Porsche 911s through their paces? C’mon, it’s a Porsche 911. On a race track. Car guy or not, that’s the kind of offer you don’t refuse.
That’s the thing about an icon — whether you’re conscious of it or not, it holds a special place in our collective imagination. And the 911 is most definitely an icon, inspiring lust from both car buffs and average Joes since its debut in 1963. You can feel it the second you get behind the wheel, staring into that signature Porsche crest. The moment someone hands you a set of keys and allows you to drive something you didn’t even realize had been doing laps in your head all these years.
That’s part of the idea behind the 911 Grand Tour, a nationwide roadshow going from Halifax to Victoria, allowing potential buyers to get a chance to test drive a few of the 2017 models. You don’t attain legend status by accident. The sound of that engine firing up is pretty much all the sales pitch you need.
Speaking of engines, no, I can’t tell you much about the turbocharged 911’s – new to the Carrera this year and a point of debate among the Porsche diehards (or so I’m told). All I can tell you is that the minute I pushed down on the throttle, I instantly understood why this car has inspired a half-century of devotion. Why people covet the 911 the same way I covet an apartment with laundry and a dishwasher. It’s more than just a status symbol, or about proving something to others. It’s about proving something to yourself. That you deserve this.
I’m not going to lie. I was a little apprehensive getting behind the wheel of a car this expensive, feeling a bit like an imposter among the more seasoned auto journalists. (I’m pretty sure I was the only one who rolled up to the track in a Civic.) Before taking on the autocross course – a maze of cones designed to let us feel the difference between the all-wheel-drive-equipped models and the rear-wheel-drive – I felt the need to warn the instructor in the passenger seat that this was my first time. “In a car?” he joked. That’s right, I thought. This is still just a car. A 420-horsepower, $125K sports car, but you know, semantics. Then I hit the gas and the car took off, practically leaping out from under me. Yeah, f**k that. This is a lot more than “just a car.”
Still, if I expected to be intimidated by driving something with a price tag that’s almost 10 times my current ride, I wasn’t. After warming up on the autocross, we hit the track, a twisty, turn-filled circuit meant to test the different models’ handling (and, inadvertently, my driving partner’s stomach). And by the second or third lap, any lingering apprehension I had was gone. I was having a blast careening around the curves, trying to keep up with the caravan of more experienced drivers in front of me. A stupid grin plastered on my face. Turns out, that’s all it took to convert me: 10 minutes out on the track. Give or take.
By the end of the day, I was already starting to feel a lot more comfortable, attempting to glide through the turns as opposed to just jamming my foot from the brakes to the gas like a toddler with poor motor skills. I stopped just trying to hang on and started actually driving. (Then I decided to take a lap with one of the instructors, to see how the car handled with someone with actual racing experience behind the wheel… And promptly realized that these cars had a whole ‘nother gear. The same speeds that were pushing me to my limits were him going half-assed.)
So much about the world of sports cars can seem intimidating to a first-timer: the price tag, the horsepower, the jargon. But flying around the track simplified it, reminding me that, above all, this is supposed to be fun. So, fine, I still can’t talk specs. And I definitely can’t tell you whether the new turbocharged engines are an upgrade. But getting a chance to test out a legendary sports car like the 911 and see first-hand what the fuss is all about certainly left an impression.
I’d never really thought much about sports cars before. Sure, I wanted one, but it was more of a vague desire, the same way you’d want to date a supermodel — any one would be fine, thanks. Now I found myself driving home with a surprisingly concrete fantasy, daydreaming about that Miami Blue Carrera 4S with the Sport Chrono Package. For days afterwards, my ears would perk up at the sound of revving engines in the same car commercials I used to ignore. Residual adrenaline firing up, in some kind of Pavlovian response. That same dumb smirk creeping back over my face.
I still may not be a car guy, but for the first time, I finally get what they’re selling.