A breakfast spot had been recommended to us Friday evening, to many of the first timers. We were told it was great, but the line would be long, so get there early. We get there right around 8AM (group meetup was 9AM at a particular gas station) and the line isn't too long, looks totally managable. I am used to how a Houston breakfast spot with a big seating area, many fast cooks, and no espresso drinks moves the line. This place has very little seating, a much smaller kitchen, and makes espresso based drinks (which take some time compared with pouring your own coffee from an insulated container). I was not prepared for how long the line would take!
I was also not prepared for how cold it was. The weather this day in Torrey, Utah in mid-June is pretty close to winter weather in Houston and central Texas. It was in the mid-40s (F) if I remember correctly, with a bit of wind, and I'd only brought summer pants (which are meant to allow shedding heat, not holding it in). Thankfully I'd brought a good jacket, so my legs were cold but I was ok. But I was cold. I wanted my caffeine fix. I wanted some food. I had to remind myself, "Don't be grumpy, Equi, you have plenty of time and this is the start of a fantastic day."
The line moves at its relaxed pace, we get our coffee and pastries, and make our way to the meetup gas station. We were there maybe 10 to 15 min early, and it's 2 minutes from the breakfast place. That's how slow the line moved. Aaaaannnyway...
I wanted everyone to drive the Portofino. The two hosts, Todd and Paul, seemed quite hesitant. I wasn't sure why, and I wanted them to feel comfortable driving it any time they'd like. As Todd wasn't feeling well my attempt to communicate this to him was a quiet, "Anytime you'd like to drive the Portofino, it's there." I also love Elises and Exiges, and would have really enjoyed a stage in his Elise. But I've had the opportunity to drive many over the years. I didn't want to push and take time in the car that could have gone to someone without the good fortune I've had.
With outgoing, animated Paul my approach was different. I tried to strike a playful tone, as I asked him, "When are you driving the Portofino?" that morning. He stopped, looked at me, then looked off into the distance. He's pondering. He looked back at me, "After lunch," he said. "First stint after lunch?" I asked. "Yes," Paul says, looking happy with his answer. "Good!" I smiled.
I still didn't know what I was driving this first stint. Looking around, people are getting in cars, I swear the leader has already driven off. Ummmm... "Oh, Monica, come drive the Giulia Quadrifoglio!" Yes, yes, this sounds good. I was told I wanted it in Race mode, and then its owner went off to the Portofino. I quickly adjust things and start driving off in Dynamic mode. As I get going I put it into race mode. The dash shames me, "Best experience in manual mode" or something like that. The car is informing me I should not have the transmission in automatic mode if I'm going to select the "Race" driving profile. Who am I to question the Italians? Manual mode it is, lets catch up. This car...
Have you driven in Italy? I haven't much, but I have a distinct memory of a morning in Milan, during rush hour. I was driving a rental C3 Picasso with French plates and a big AVIS sticker on the back. The Italians immediately identified it as a French rental. Their expectations based on that were "awful, passive driver". Every Italian driver thinks they are a racing driver. If there are two lanes at the red light, they line up four wide and drag race for position on the other side of the intersection. There may be two lanes painted on the other side of the street, but it becomes at least three lanes as we drive. That lane's a turn-only lane? That only applies to the weak. And that AVIS sticker meant they assumed I was weak. I am not Italian... but maybe my heart is. That 1.3L naturally aspirated diesel in that C3 cried for mercy as I raced them to the other side of the intersection. Oh, you think you know where your car is? I know where this thing is, can you be centimeter precise? Because I can. Come at me, Italians.
This is the Quadrifoglio in race mode. My Italian heart sings as we play on the back road, catching up. I didn't even have to drive it hard, didn't have to push its grip, it just wanted confident but nuanced inputs and to dance with me. And oh, did it dance.
These roads twisted through beautiful, somewhat forested mountains. Most of our rest points this day had wonderful views.
At this stop I find my way into Mandy's Boxster GTS. This is great, I wanted to be in a convertible as we went over Hogback, and the segment with Hogback is up! We had been told (us first-timers) that Hogback is a section of road that runs on the top of a ridge between two valleys. At times the ridge is so narrow it's just the road, with a drop off right at the edge. I understood all of those words. I had a theoretical mental image. A video cannot give the full experience, either, but maybe this can give a bit of an idea. Note that is some random video I found on the internet, but it'll do. The Boxster was great through here! As we drive slowly over the ridge I look out, head turning side to side, trying to take in both valleys. The pale rock with its striations, the steep cliffs, the jagged cuts into the rock from weathering over millennia, it was absolutely beautiful.
We head down the ridge and climb up to another pulloff, viewing area, wonderful vista.
After this stop I get into the yellow 718 Cayman T. This is one of the turbocharged 4 cylinder Caymans, the ones the purists cry have lost it. The owner tells me the engine is gutless under 2,500 rpm, but once past that the turbo spools up and it's great. He is absolutely right. Keep the revs up (and not even that far up – 2,500 isn't much for a Cayman) and the throttle is responsive. The car has plenty of power for the playful, tossible coupe the Cayman is meant to be and it feels every bit the Cayman so many 6-cylinders I've driven are. In fact I used the turbo's profile to my advantage. When we were in a small town, I'd keep the car in high gear/low rpm. Under 2,500 rpm even my excited, eager throttle use produced a smooth, polite movement from the car and not too much exhaust note. When on the back roads I'd downshift and let the motor sing. I could exploit this "flaw" to give me a genuinely fun driving experience. The 718 Cayman T is everything I look for in a Cayman.
After that joyful drive, lunchtime! Our large group swarms the tiny restaurant. Mandy has planned for this and everything runs wonderfully smoothly. As we're milling about post-lunch Paul comes up to me and says he'd rather stay in his Cayman than drive the Portofino. I was a bit disappointed; I wanted to know just how inadequate the door closing sound & feel on the Portofino is. I assume it's inadequate, it is a convertible and they're not so good with doors and the like. But no one should feel pressured to drive a car they don't want to drive, to swap cars if that isn't what they want (in that moment or ever). And so we joked about other things as we moved on.
Paul's choice worked out well for me. The person who brought the C8 wanted to drive the Portofino, and I very much wanted to drive a C8! GM moved the engine to the middle this generation, yes, but what else? Traditionally, the Corvette had been a longer wheelbase car, with a feel more focused on stability and larger inputs, while I prefer twitchy, quick little inputs. Don't get me wrong, earlier Corvettes handle great. I know a lot of racers who both love them and have great success in them. But if I'm doing fun laps, I'd take an Exige with its tiny little wheelbase and it's super quick rotations instead. I wanted to know how far GM had gone on things like quickening the steering rack. I also wanted to see how they'd set up the mid-engined car. Would they choose to make it understeery, to protect their older and less aggressive customer base? Or would it rotate nicely, reasonably evenly balanced, with stability control instead of handling balance being the tool to protect those less aggressive customers? I didn't expect to fall in love, but I wondered just how close to my tastes they'd come.
Well, I didn't fall in love, but I did enjoy the C8 a lot more than I expected to. The steering rack is pleasantly fast. The transmissions are all automatic, but the paddles have a quick, precise movement that feels much nicer than the long throw of the manual Corvettes I'd driven before. While there aren't opportunities to truly push handling balance on the street, I did get to feel a bit of it. The car rotates well when off the throttle; it seems GM did choose to make a reasonably balanced chassis and rely on stability control to protect those who weren't interested in rotation. That's a decision I'm very happy with! But I felt so very cocooned in the car, I felt closed into a shower stall, not even as open as a bathtub. I dislike the way the car treats the passenger as cargo, baggage, just an added thing in that seat instead of a companion there with you. There's that Porsche marketing line, "Sportscar Together". This felt like the opposite of that. It's still not a car made for my particular demands, but it remains a car whose handling I respect and is a car I enjoy more than prior generations. I have odd and unusual demands; if you think a C8 might be the car for you, go drive one. They're great.
Another car I was hoping to drive was the 5th generation Supra. In this second after lunch stint I had the chance to drive one of the Supras. Opinions about this car abound on the Internet, and there are plenty of resources with plenty of opinions about how it does as a GT car. My question was how will a Miata extremist like it in the turns? It leaves me wanting more. I was surprised to find I enjoyed the curvy bits more in the F-type than in the Supra; I was expecting the opposite! Both cars were Turo rentals with unknown setup, so it's possible this was down to setup issues. Still, the F-type could go from comfortable to a twitchy dance partner in a way the Supra didn't.
This afternoon we were backtracking, going back to the motel by the same roads we'd taken to lunch. With roads like these, that's great. We were about to go over Hogback again, and what car was I in for this? An NB Miata. A low sides, super open convertible? Absolutely perfect. Yeah, it doesn't have much power and at altitude it's even less. But the engine is so happy to be shoved to the limits of its rev-range, full throttle, hard on it (and the owner was good with this – I asked). By this time in the afternoon tourists had swarmed Hogback, parking everywhere, so we had to go slowly through it anyway. My second trip through Hogback was again an open, wonderful convertible. What a wonderful way to spend a road trip.
At the next stop we didn't have a taker for driving the Portofino. I ended up riding with Paul, who was sweeper for this stint. I go on a lot of local Miata drives, but I'm just... some random person in the group. I'd like to do more to help the club. I'm not up for leading a run, but maybe I can be sweeper? I asked Paul about the role. We also talked about some of the nuances of setting up and maintaining Porsches. It was good to not drive for a stint, to just sit and chat with another car nerd and watch the scenery go by.
We stop, again. "Monica, drive the Portofino," the GR86 owner's son wanted a ride. Wonderful! By this time, Saturday afternoon, I was fatigued. The Portofino is a powerful car with high cornering limits, but it's also a super twitchy car, extremely quick steering rack and quick to slide. I was worried I'd be too worn out to do much in it. As we pulled away, though, I settled in. Yeah, it's fast, yeah, it's twitchy, but it's comfortable and I know it. The young man didn't seem eager to talk, so though we said a few things, we mostly just swept through turns with ease and grace. I could relax and flow. It felt good. I understood why Paul hadn't wanted to leave his Cayman.
In the group was a Camaro ZL1 Track Pack. Another person had driven it, and as I stepped out of the Portofino this time, they grabbed me and told me I had to drive that Camaro. Rejuvenated, I hopped in. This car is fast. Powerful, brakes that can haul it down from speed, massively high cornering limits, it is simply fast. But as I drove it I felt... there are computers managing grip, making sure the car does what the driver means, regardless of what the driver says. It's extremely fast and extremely flattering, much like a GTR (R35). Both of these cars are engineering marvels and incredible to drive in their way. I'm impressed, GM/Chevy, with both the C8 and this Camaro. But you haven't sold me a car, GM. Like the C8, the Camaro felt so closed off. And unlike the C8, it didn't feel like it wanted to rotate or play in corners. It wanted to be fast and serious, and nothing else. I want playful, twisting, dancing, maybe we're slower but we're giggling and look insane! Still, the Camaro is incredibly capable. I'd wager I could be faster in a hot lap in it than I could in the Portofino, despite the Portofino's lofty badge.
This has been a very long writeup of a long day, and it's not over yet. Maybe Saturday should have been broken into two posts. Regardless, for the last stint before dinner I was back in the Portofino, with Nugget as my passenger, just like on Friday. And like on Friday, I took it easy. Again, both of us were tired and hungry. We cooled and calmed, parked the car at the motel, then walked across the street to dinner. This restaurant had managed to internally communicate that we were coming, and did manage to have their menu items available. It was a great final dinner. After dinner came the podcast recording. Everyday Driver Car Debate, Episode 809: Cars that Surprise, Rediscovering Your Car, Checking Your Back Account Again. I hope this is a good link to listen, if you'd like. After the recording, many went and hung around the motel's fire pits, continuing to talk. I was exhausted, though, so went back to the room to crash.