Driving changes lives: A touring experience

Photos and text by Tara Hurlin

The 1984 Porsche 911’s exhaust crackled with each downshift and then rumbled whirring echoes through the desolate woods as it accelerated up mountainous inclines. It took on tight twisties with ease and happily gulped the generous offerings of fuel supplied by Peter Zawadzki’s heavy right foot. The North Carolina road was the perfect combination of elevations, bank variations and esses, and driving on such a road creates a memorable bonding experience between human and machine.

Peter Zawadzki’s 1984 Porsche 911

Enthusiasts who join rallies such as the Hagerty Touring Series know that seeing the world one mile at a time can be a life-changing experience, but it’s the people who make such driving tours so unforgettable. Driving with a group of like-minded car nuts is uplifting and therapeutic – a vacation on steroids. Everyone around you simply “gets it” because they have the same passion for the driving experience. It grounds you and allows you to forget the day-to-day hustle and bustle to focus on one thing: cruising with friends.

Most organized rallies equip participants with a route book built to guide drivers and co-drivers through desolate backroads to daily destinations, typically lunch and dinner stops, or as a special treat, museums and automotive-related sight-seeing. Dave Hord of Classic Car Adventures organized the incredible five-day, 1,500-mile long Amelia or Bust Tour as part of the Hagerty Touring Series. The 35 vehicle entries included several Porsches, a Rolls-Royce, an MGB, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, two Sunbeam Tigers, a Dodge Challenger, Ford Mustang, and even a Marcos GT, Buick Roadmaster and a Subaru WRX STI. The roads were just as magnificent as the cars.

Friends new and old immediately fall into excited chatter about the day’s experiences as participants trickle into each destination. In the heat of the conversation, Peter openly admitted to rounding a clumsily pre-meditated hairpin turn that revealed a quick 35-degree incline. The side-sweeping sensation of rear tires barely gripping the cold asphalt caused uncontrollable bursts of laughter. His memory jogged a chain reaction from the circle as a driver remembered it as the corner where the brakes locked up, and his co-driver joked about the baked brake smell that was still stuck in her nose. Another driver laughed and said his poor four-cylinder barely had the momentum to make it up the hill. 

The tour began on Sunday, March 3rd in Allendale, Pennsylvania, and the final destination was Amelia Island, Florida, in time for the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. The northern part of the drive began with spots of snow, occasional patches of ice and residual sand which was thrown down for traction, particularly in the higher elevations, but the landscape was indescribably beautiful.

Scenery and road conditions changed with the rising temperatures as we traveled south. Virginia displayed velvet-white blankets of snow over contrasting creeks, forests, and rock formations. The Carolinas brought ice-infused mountain treetops and dramatic waterfalls, with temperatures just cold enough to form cascading ice sculptures. As the tour continued through Georgia, the clouds cleared for the bright burning globe in the sky. Soundings became greener with flowering bulbs and budding bushes and trees. The last few hours of mostly straight roads seemed to last a lifetime after being spoiled by the twisties, but on Thursday we were finally welcomed to Florida by sunbaked palms.

Hagerty’s Brad Phillips, eager to see the southern sunshine, dropped the top of his 1967 Sunbeam Tiger on the second day of the tour, just a tad too early. The constant gush of frigid air appeared to keep him energized, and the bomber hat, with its “ears” flopping in the wind, kept him just warm enough.  Over the five-day tour, the once crisp, 19-degree (sometimes less) mountain air gradually transitioned to the aroma of fresh cut lawn and rich farmer’s cologne, a double-edged sword for the brave souls who drove convertibles.

I spent a half-day co-driving in David Geisinger‘s Limited Edition 1974 Porsche 914. We passed forgotten villages and vast fields home to cows who would pause as we cruised past, their large brown eyes following the line of cars down the road. Our feet and hands were a tad cold, but the car couldn’t have been happier. “The little four-cylinder that could” earned its bragging rights after tackling a round of elevating, hill-climbing esses. One incline was so steep that David and I rocked forward in unison in hopes for extra momentum. We were acting silly, of course. After seven days straight of driving from his Boston, Massachusetts home to the Amelia Island Concours d’ Elegance, David’s 914 won the Werks Reunion Porsche Corporate Award held by the Porsche Club of America.

Michael’s Motor Cars’ Michael Rowen drove his 1962 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II, also known as “Nigel,” from Lancaster, PA., down to Amelia Island, FL in elegance and comfort. The car took every tight turn with a graceful stride. Michael was kind enough to offer me my first right-hand-drive experience, which was a bright highlight of my trip. My nervousness melted away as I focused on following the solid line on the right side of the road. It took less than 10-minutes to adjust to driving on the “wrong” side of the car, given the road’s dramatic loop-de-loos, which tested, but then refined my confidence.  Nigel has an automatic transmission, so I didn’t have to focus on shifting with my left hand. At a stop sign, I quickly learned the power window switches were installed backward to American car standards when I awkwardly opened and closed each one before the driver’s side rolled down to a passerby patiently awaiting to know the year of the car. While we were stopped, I admired the stunning wood dash, pull-out table, and the original antique knobs that completed Nigel’s high-class demeanor. I was riding in pure luxury.

1962 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud II

Dave Hord piloted a borrowed 1987 Porsche 911 Carrera the entire trip, and by the end, he had found his new dream car. “It was a great all-weather car with heat and safety, but also a corner-carving race car that thrilled on the mountain roads,” he reminisced. “It took three adults to dinner, shuttled around Amelia without problems, and cruised on the interstate at speed when I had to catch a flight. I will add one to my collection at some point.”

At one point during the drive, Dave and Peter swapped Porsches, a common occurrence between tour-goers. The duo walked away with a love for both cars, but each still favoring their own.

If you don’t have the time for a long tour, go your own route and experience your next dream car on DriveShare.

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