22 Jul 2018

Road Trip 2018

I spent three days last week on what is now the annual Classic Porsche 911 road trip with Craig and Ash. There were supposed to be four of us but Colin was a non-starter due to car problems. Craig and I did the first road trip in 2016 and I was ready to go in 2017 but fate intervened and had to spend the time in the Royal North Shore Hospital instead.
The road trip has followed almost exactly the same route for all three years for the very simple reason that it is a superb drive.
All three of us were in our early 911s-mine a 2.2 1971 911T-and the others 2.4 1972 and 1973 911Es.

My car -rear to camera above-had its engine rebuilt to an now unknown specification before I acquired it and it performs better than it should for a 2.2 litre T and I can easily keep up with the two later bigger capacity cars.
My car is running with Weber carburettors and the difficult early 901 gearbox whereas the other two cars have the later more user friendly 915 gearbox and mechanical fuel injection.
None of the cars have servo brakes, power assisted steering or servo assisted clutches. So driving them really fast requires serious physical effort and experience. They are difficult to drive quickly and if you are not experienced they can bite you-badly. They are tiring to drive long distances although the upside is that they are so noisy that you are very unlikely to fall asleep at the wheel. The appeal of these early cars is that they superb driving machines.They are so involving. They are the total opposite to today's breed of driver isolated cars. The downside nowadays is that the cars are so valuable many owners never give them a good fast outing yet alone one over 1350 kms.

The first day, Wednesday, dawned another beautiful winter's day-cold but crystal clear. For me the first part of the drive involved driving 90 kms up the M1 to the the rendezvous point at the BP station at Beresfield. From there we set off into the beautiful farming country north of the Hunter Valley.

As soon as you are away from the main highways the traffic totally thins out, the villages are pretty and the scenery is superb. The road surfaces vary a lot. One minute you are driving on a smooth piece of tarmac and then a few kilometres further on it is so rough that you wonder if the wheels are going to fall off the car. The problem is that many of these backroads were gravel until the 1950s and even 1960s when a thin layer of tarmac was put down. Since then the traffic has increased many times, vehicles are much heavier and travelling more quickly and maintenance funds are short. Having said that we had to stop for plenty of roadworks on the trip so it is far from a hopeless situation.

Speed limits on the open roads out there are quite high and as high as we wanted to travel.
We reached Buladelah for lunch and then it was a grind up the Pacific Highway to our overnight stop in Nambuca Heads. Just out of Buladelah we took a diversion up the newly resurfaced and scenic Wootton Way. I was the tailender and on one corner despite being some distance adrift I had a spray of sharp stones pepper my car and put a few serious chips in the windscreen. None in the line of sight fortunately but some bad enough to require attention.

The Pacific Highway is now motorway right upto Nambuca Heads and beyond and it was 248 kms of very boring driving. Without cruise control my right leg developed cramps every hour or so.

We overnighted in our usual very smart "digs"-the Riverside Boutique Motel and enjoyed some great seafood at the local seafood restaurant, Matildas.

Thursday was the big day. After an early start it was fill up the fuel and then north up the Pacific Highway to the Waterfall Way exit and up onto the plateau, through Dorrigo and all the way across to Armidale.

Up on the tablelands the roads were smooth, fast and above all else empty. There is no mobile phone signal so it's best not to think how you handle a breakdown. Up there the drought is now very severe. Paddocks are bare and cattle are being grazed unrestrained on the verges along the road which tends to focus your mind as you are travelling at 100km/h.

We stopped at the tiny settlement of Ebor at "Fusspots" cafe for a cup of real coffee. Imagine that on a US road trip- finding a tiny settlement in the middle of nowhere making a really good espresso.

Through Armidale, then south on the very busy New England Highway for a few frustrating kilometres and then turn off at Uralla to Walcha for a lunch stop. A great cafe in Walcha -a  sleepy and quite pretty agricultural town-and then we set off east down the wonderful Oxley Highway back to the coast. On the first part of the Oxley there are long stretches with a 110 km/h speed limit which we took full advantage of-and hardly any traffic. It is superb driving-long fast bends and then long straights. Then it is 31 kms of surely the best driving road in Australia down the escarpment.

It has recently been resurfaced and it is downhill bend after blind bend much of the way through thick forest, sometimes on cuttings on the side of steep hillsides. And we did not encounter another vehicle going in our direction. Lady luck was smiling on us.
For me driving that road is better than going to Le Mans nowadays. We arrived at the Travellers Rest Hotel (pub) in Long Flat exhausted and exhilarated. Time for one refreshing beer and then the last 50 km drive into the overnight stop in thriving Port Macquarie and some more great seafood .

The total trip distance for the day was 439 kms of -as the BMW strapline used to say- "Pure Driving Pleasure".
Friday was not in the same fun category. Just 314 grinding kms down the Pacfic Highway back home although I did take a diversion from the highway into Karuah to an oyster shack to buy a dozen oysters for dinner.

The total trip was 1350 kms and despite being driven beyond hard the car ran beautifully. Not bad for a 47 year old car. I have yet to do a calculation on the fuel used but it was a lot. Pure driving pleasure does not come with fuel efficiency.

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