20 Aug 2016

A 911 Road Trip

I have owned my 1971 Porsche 911T for 8 years. In that time it has done quite a few day trips of a few hundred kilometres but only two really long road trips in 2009/2010- one to the Philllip Island Historics over the Snowy Mountains into Victoria and the other to compete in Speed on Tweed at Murwillumbah in northern NSW.  Since then I have not done any long 911 road trips and that's a real pity.

Back in 2009 early 911 Porsches were valuable but in the intervening time values have gone through the roof and it would be easy to think of my car now as a valuable part of my retirement superannuation and to treat it as a garage queen. Indeed that sadly is what is happening to so many early longnose pre 1974 cars. They have become collector's pieces. For me this is sacrilege. I am sad every time I see an early 911 in a museum or a pristine example on display. These cars were built to be driven hard and to cosset them or to deposit them in a museum is to miss out on one of the great driving experiences.
Yes they are a vintage car by today's standards but they are so involving. I don't get into my early 911- I put it on. I engage with it. The sports seat grips me tight. I sit close to the wheel . The steering,clutch and brakes are not assisted. They all require physical effort and input. The car feeds back to me. I can steer it at high speed on the throttle. The engine revs so easily and it keeps revving and the sound it makes is wonderful. The response from the Weber carbies is instantaneous. The car does not have a radio -I could not hear it if it did and anyway I removed it and the aerial to save weight. If I had to choose between my 911T and the latest 991 Porsche it would be a no brainer.  I would take my T in a flash.

Friend Craig Duthie,the owner of a 1973 2.4 911E, and myself have been talking about doing a backroads New South Wales road trip for months. The dates had to fit in with Craig's work roster,we needed dry weather and it had to be in the cooler months. We hit the jackpot this week. The planets aligned. Craig had a clear three days and although it is the tail end of winter the weather forecast was glorious- cold nights and warm,sunny days.

The preparation for my car was basic-a good clean and a check of the tyre pressures. I had the Porsche tool roll out of my 2.7,two microfibre cloths,some glass cleaner and a litre of Fuchs 20-50 oil and a funnel.
The T is running a 2.2 motor on Weber carbs fitted with K&N air filters and a 901 gearbox with a Rennshifter quickshifter. Despite this you could not call the gearshift smooth or quick. I don't know the full spec of the engine as it was rebuilt -but then not used-many years before I bought the car in 2007 but those who drive it say that it feels "lusty" for a 2.2. The car runs its original 14" wheels. High performance tyres are almost impossible to find in 14" locally so I run it on Michelin XM2 195x70 rubber. Nothing special but they perform well enough for me -I like the car to be a little loose and the early cars were set up for less grippy tyres. I had 911 SC front struts,rotors and calipers and a bigger master cylinder fitted soon after I acquired the car to improve the front end stability and the braking performance. It has a firm hard brake pedal which I like and the brakes are superb.
With the warm weather forecast I was able to drive in a polo shirt and shorts for the whole three days so my personal bag was pretty small. But of course I had to throw in a camera- in this case the Leica X Vario.
Craig lives in Newcastle so we met on the New England Highway west of Newcastle. The first leg was upto Morpeth where we stopped for coffee then upon glorious open roads miraculously free of traffic upto Dungog where we came across the first of a number of road repair sections.

First of quite a few road works on road to Dungog.Odd colour of sky due to tinting of windscreen
From Dungog we went onto Gloucester.  For the first few kilometres the road out of Dungog is in bad condition-full of patches-but further on there are long stretches in very good condition. The speed limits out on these country roads are high and we were scrupulous in getting straight down to the posted 50 or 60kms limits when we passed through small villages.
We had lunch in Gloucester -the locals excelled themselves in using English place names in this area - there is Gloucester, Morpeth,Stroud and a Stratford and a River Avon. Gloucester has a nice vibe about it -a relaxed prosperous country town set in beautiful country.
From Gloucester we headed on the Bucketts Way to Taree.My favourite Porsche driving roads are those with long sweeping open bends and there were plenty of them on the route we travelled and almost no traffic. Oh joy.

Relief stop on Pacific Highway north of Taree. Craig's car at the front
It was almost too good to be true. The pain started when we joined the Pacific Highway at Taree and headed north. There was a long contraflow in place north of Taree - and the road north of Port Macquarie to Kempsey is a goat track with massive road construction taking place on either side. It was a long dreary procession not made any easier by frequent plod deployments in Highway Patrol cars,radar guns ready and desperate to nab any recalcitrants who exceed the 60 kmh roadworks speed limit by a couple of kilometres per hour. Old Porsches do not enjoy chugging along at low speeds for long periods and the T needed to clear out the soot by the time we cleared Macksville.

We finally arrived at our overnight location,Nambucca Heads,late afternoon. I have driven past Nambucca Heads many times but have never ventured off the Pacific Highway and into the town. The town - although it barely qualifies as town -looks pretty scruffy but the riverside and beach areas are pretty. The hotel Craig had wisely booked in advance was very pleasant and the nearby fish restaurant,Matildas,really did serve very fresh local fish. Too often these small coastal towns have restaurants claiming to serve local fish but either it has come from the Sydney Fish Markets or they don't know how to cook and they disappoint but Matildas is a class act. Which was just as well as the eating options in Nambucca Heads otherwise looked pretty dire.
Properly fed and watered with a couple of Stone and Wood beers we headed to bed early -it had been a very long drive-471 kms.

Looking out towards Pacific through Nambucca Heads
Early morning Nambucca Heads.
On the wednesday morning we headed out early for the big drive. Up a new section of the Pacific Highway for a few kilometres and then  on the Waterfall Way to Bellingen and then up onto the plateau to Dorrigo. The drive through the World Heritage rainforest area upto Dorrigo is beautiful. Out of Dorrigo we were on our own on a fantastic driving road-128 kms on the plateau to Armidale. Up here the countryside is empty-just an occasional sheep farm and there was virtually no traffic again..

Photo op on the high country out of Dorrigo.
We stopped for coffee at Fusspots at Ebor- a tiny settlement a long way from anywhere.  The coffee was great. Here we were in a tiny place - and they had a proper coffee machine and obviously great beans. As we sat in the sun reflecting on our good fortune the Fusspots cat made him/herself comfortable in a sunny spot right next to us.
Outside Fusspots,Ebor.
The Fusspots cat.
Out of Ebor the speedo in my car started making a howling sound and the needle was swinging around. Over the next 30 mins the sound got worse and the speedo case was vibrating. We pulled the speedo out and disconnected the cable. From then on I was relying on Craig to be my speedometer.
We drove round the outskirts of Armidale and then down the New England Highway for a few kilometres and then across country to Walcha for lunch and yet another refuel.
Then it was onto what I reckon is one of Australia's greatest driver's roads - the Oxley Highway down to Wauchope and then Port Macquarie -164 kms of superb road and scenery including a downhill stretch of 45kms of amazing tight winding road through forest which makes the Nordschleife Nurburgring look like the Mulsanne Straight. Oh joy. And just three vehicles along the way. Double joy. I have never driven so hard in my life. The car just flew-I was up and down the gears and on and off the brakes. Out on the high country the speed limit is a very welcome 110 kmh even on the single lane road.There are roos about but usually not during the day although we passed a massive one dead beside the road. Hit him in a 911 and you would have a horrific accident.There are no hard shoulders on the road-the edge is the edge -and it's not a place you would want to breakdown or have an accident with so little traffic and no mobile phone signal.
I made one half hearted attempt to take a driving shot but it was way too dangerous

Waterloo (sheep) Station

Happiness is an early Porsche and the open road.

The wonderful Oxley Highway-sun and an empty rolling road-164kms of pure driving pleasure

A stop for roadworks on the Oxley.Glorious scenery and the road gang guys were friendly and giving thumbs up to the cars.I am sure that we would have got a different response in modern Porsches.
On the wonderful winding section I kept the car very tight through the bends so as to avoid the centre line in case an RV, caravan,logging truck or a motorcyclist was coming up dangling over the line but in fact we saw only one vehicle -a RV -going the other way and just one cattle truck going in our direction and we soon passed him on one of the very few straights.
By the time we pulled into the tiny settlement of Long Flat after the winding descent we were tired and the cars needed to cool off. It was late afternoon and the locals and their huge dogs had come in from their paddocks for a beer at the Travellers Arms pub. It was like arriving in the backwoods in Montana-deliverance country. Never has a beer tasted so good and the locals were chatty and friendly.

Outside the Travellers Arms, Long Flat
A thirsty local

A "friendly" local.

They like big dogs around Long Flat
The drive through Wauchope and into Port Macquarie was a drag. We were tired after the 408 km run and the cars were hot and it was rush hour and nowadays the traffic in boomtown Port Macquarie is heavy.
An evening in the pub in Port Macquarie meeting up with local,John Forcier,a fellow early 911 owner. Then down the Pacific Highway back to Terrigal the next morning-a very noisy and boring 317 km thrash using the tacho as my speedo.
The car was still running like a dream at the end of the trip. It had used just half a litre of oil but many litres of fuel. Economical it isn't but then I wasn't driving like I was on an economy run.
What a fantastic trip and what a fantastic country. Thanks Craig for being great company and thanks to Porsche for an amazing car. And a particular thanks to the weather -it's not a trip I would want to do on wet roads.
Still spinning like a top - the 2.2 motor waiting to have its oil checked after the 1600km trip.


  1. Glad you guys had such a great drive. Hopefully I'll have one of my cars right for a drive with you next time! JF

  2. What a great story - and a great drive too. Of course the cars handled it with ease. Catch up one day. BBC

  3. Wonderful story John , and pics as usual. This has now gone ont my bucket list - although I ve done a lot of these roads in other cars.

    You could probably do it every August?