Friday, February 9, 2018

Photo Essay: How to Drive Through LA Like Steve McQueen

One of the first things I noticed right after moving to LA was how many people drove Porsches here. I'd never seen so many Porsches. In fact, I'm not sure I'd ever seen any Porsche at all before coming to California.



And now, the (recently renovated) Petersen Automotive Museum has launched an entire exhibit devoted to "The Porsche Effect" and how a Czech engineer began to build a career for himself with German automakers in the 1930s...



...while the United States was still in the thick of the Great Depression...



...and just a few years before the U.S, would go to war with Germany, yet again, in the sequel to what was supposed to be "The War To End All Wars."



It's amazing that Porsche—the man and the car—ever achieved any stateside success at all.



But the exhibit at the Petersen argues that the war contributed to the success of Porsche, which embraced a certain "post-war modernity" that turned out to be the right thing at the right time in the right place. And that turned out to be in 1950, amidst "car-starved" Americans.



It also helps that Hollywood welcomed Porsche with open arms (and pocketbooks) and broadly supported the cars both on screen and off. Steve McQueen famously acquired and raced a 1958 Porsche Speedster and later drove a 1970 racer for his starring role in Le Mans.



In the decades that followed, Porsche had enough creativity, power, and influence to create a prototype of a "21st Century Supercar" (at the turn of the millennium)...



...an "Image-Maker" 911 Turbo model from 1970 that could go 160 mph...



...a 1966 Grand Prix de Paris winner...



...the maker's first winning entry in The 24 Hours of Le Mans race in France, hitting speeds of as much as 220 mph...



...and a desert racer that won the Pharaoh Rally in Egypt in 1985 and the Paris-Dakar Rally in 1986.



But it's always kind of a funny thing to see cars like this trapped inside a museum and watch them spinning on a dais. Don't we want to see what these puppies can do?



That's why I found it much more enlightening and engaging to head down to Carson and spend some time at the Porsche Experience Center, one of two such facilities in the country (the other being in Atlanta).



In addition to a showroom—which acts as kind of its own Porsche Museum—there's the "53-Acre Playground" out back, otherwise known as "The Track."



Yes, you can go there and drive a Porsche.



And you don't have to be a current Porsche owner. You don't have to have ever driven a Porsche before. You can still get behind the wheel—and you'll have your own personal "drive coach" guiding you through the experience.



Isn't it nuts that this exists right across the 405 Freeway from the Goodyear Blimp Base Airport and a stone's throw from the local community Walmart, IKEA, and go-kart racing track?



When you sign up for a "Driving Experience," you get to choose which Porsche model to pilot and which course to navigate your way through...



...whether it's the "Handling Circuit" (meant to mimic a challenging country road), an off-roading course, a racing-style straightaway...



...or one of the several low-friction courses meant to induce skids, spins, and oversteering.



My budget didn't allow me to get behind the wheel when I last visited. After all, the affordable experiences range from $235 to $385, and the Steve McQueen-style experiences run upwards of $1000.



I settled for dinner at the Restaurant 917, where I enjoyed butter molded in the shape of Porsche cars...



...and snacked on dessert chocolates molded in the shape of the Porsche insignia.

I promised myself I would go back and drive one day—but not because I want to "fit in" with all those other Angelenos who are rolling up in their Porsche Carrera GTs (the car, by the way, that took actor Paul Walker's life in a fiery crash).

I quite prefer having my day-to-day set of wheels be something unimpressive and unremarkable. Nobody will want to break into it or steal it. And cops won't target me for random traffic stops.

I just want to see what those puppies can do.

Related Posts:
Life Is a Highway
Unfinished Business
The Need for Speed
Off to the Races, Part One
Off to the Races, Part Two
Another Missed Calling