Ton introduces PetrolBlog Motoring Travels

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Ton Dumans is recently back from a European adventure in a Porsche 968. Here he recounts his experience for PetrolBlog.

PetrolBlog's Dutch correspondent Ton Dumans, is recently back from a European adventure in a Porsche 968. Here, for the benefit of PetrolBlog readers, he recounts the experience in all its glory. If you're not tempted to buy a 968 or drive to the Alps by the end of it, you're on the wrong website! Read on...

As PetrolBlog's success reaches nearly immeasurable dimensions, we are of course constantly looking at ways to expand our activities to all things car related. Hence, we've decided to open the virtual doors to what we will call PetrolBlog Motoring Travels Inc. Not at all inspired by the great website DrivingForPleasure.co.uk, nor by Top Gear's 'greatest driving roads' episode, let us present our first itinerary.

Day 1: Drive to Düsseldorf, which apparently is a little town somewhere in Germany. Don't arrive too early, because there isn't a whole lot to see here. After arriving in Düsseldorf, you will of course wonder why you came here. The answer, luckily, is rather simple. It's because from this very city, there are various options to put your car on a train and wake up in another, more interesting, part of Europe. Don't forget to get yourself on the train too and grab a couple of hours sleep before arriving in...

Day 2: Innsbruck, which I'm told is in Austria.

Motoring Travels: Porsche 968Now, I should probably go on for hours writing about the greatness of this city, but to be honest I wouldn't know the first thing about it. The sole reason for going to Innsbruck is to hit the loud-pedal and head straight for the Grossglockner High Alpine Road. Or, if you are lucky enough to master German: Großglockner Hochalpenstraße. This, then, is the most expensive yet most impressive toll road. In the world. Save for the Nürburgring Nordschleife, perhaps. Time to drop some facts: for 32 euros, you will be allowed to drive on a 48km mountain pass, with 36 hairpins and while doing so, ascend no less than 2,504 metres.

Naturally, you wouldn't want to do this in your #upmiicitigo but instead choose something a little more exciting. Yours truly took his Porsche 968 along for the trip. Which coped rather well, as you will find out soon. If you manage to get through with the waffle and bunk up ahead.

After an absolutely thrilling yet exhaustive drive up (and down) the Grossglockner, you will head back towards base camp, which for today will be Innsbruck. A perfect night's sleep will bring us to...

Day 3: This will be a big one. Lots of miles to cover, many gorgeous sights to admire. Now that we've basically seen all that Austria has to offer, it's time to get out of here. Off to Italy, via Switzerland. From here on, things might get slightly complicated, as we change countries more often than Cristiano Ronaldo changes haircuts..

Leaving Innsbruck, we set off towards the ski resort of Davos, Switzerland. Not entirely coincidental, to get to Davos, one has to conquer the marvellous Flüela pass; the 23rd highest paved road in Europe.

Passo del StelvioAfter arriving in Davos and having spent lunch there, you will realise there isn’t a whole lot to see or do. Don’t despair though, because the route will head back over the Flüela pass once more, towards another ski resort. This time the Italian town of Bormio with its famous thermal baths is our destination. Before we can spend a lot of money to be pampered in either Bagni Nuovi, Bagni Vecchi or Bormio Terme, we have a lot of great road to cover.

At this moment we are still in Switzerland, but this is about to change. Immediately after leaving the Flüela pass, not to return this time, the route leads us to the partially unpaved yet rather excellent Umbrail pass. At 2,501 metres above sea level, we enjoy driving on the 16th highest (mostly) paved road of Europe. Unlike most other passes, on Umbrail you won’t be stuck behind caravans or other experience-ruining vehicles. In fact, this has to be the most serene and calm way of entering Italy. The level of serenity and calmness of course depending on the position of your car’s loud-pedal.

After surviving Umbrail, the only way is down. Down the famous Stelvio pass, that is. Please do take a moment to get out of your car and enjoy the view of that ridiculous looking snake of tarmac draped on that mountain, as once you start the decent, all you see at any give time are eight metres of tarmac ahead of you, a big rock on the left and a sometimes terrifyingly close stone wall on your right. Such is the view before the hairpin, of course, after exiting the hairpin, you have a circa 2,500 metre drop on your left, and a rock on the right. Good stuff.

Stelvio Pass

To bring this long day to an end, we still have to cover a lot of awesome miles. We head towards Livigno, a extremely remote area that, basically because of that fact, has a different tax system to the rest of Italy. Stack up on fuel and booze as much as you can, you won’t see anything quite as cheap for the rest of the trip.

Our destination for the next days is the quiet and peaceful Lago Maggiore, or freely translated, giant lake. But to get there, we’ll have to conquer one more pass. And what a pass it is. San Bernardino, as we approach the pass from Italy. Now it has to be said, I have no clue why the famous dogs from this region look so darn sad, because, well.. you’ll understand me once you arrive there! Let’s just say that if you can’t smile there, you can’t smile anywhere.

Day 4-6 - Lago Maggiore

The Porsche 968Unlike yours truly, you won’t go to Verbania, because quite frankly, it’s the most dull place in the world. Except Nieuwegein (NL) perhaps, the city where I just so happen to work. If you do cock up on town and hotel selection, be sure to be following @tjp_stelvio and @FlappyPaddles on twitter and follow their priceless tips. Not that enjoying yourself is at all hard near Lago Maggiore, just don’t go to Verbania, okay? What you should do, however, is go to Monza, visit the Borromean islands, take the cable car... I was lucky enough to be able to visit the fabulous 60th Coppa Intereuropa Storica at Monza, and see some great classic cars on display and in action.

Another tip I got from a friend was the town of Orta san Giulio at the nearby Lago Orta. Fabulous. Try to find the smallest wine bar in town and have dinner there. No clue what it was that I had, but its taste was absolutely fantastic.

Day 7: Maranello 

At this time I started to hope that cars, in fact, don’t have feelings. What might be the reason for that, you wonder? Well, last January, I went to Stuttgart to visit the (absolutely, massively and insanely awesome) Porsche museum. I made this trip in my daily driver, however. And now, I’m treating the Porsche to a visit to the gates of hell, er, Ferrari’s factory. Not very nice of me, eh?

Ferrari’s museum is a bit of laugh, having the Porsche equivalent still fresh in one's memory. But then again, they just haven’t made that many interesting cars to display, such is my understanding of motoring history. If it wasn’t for the very impressive, almost sacred, room displaying no less than eight Formula One World Championship winning Ferraris. All but one of them from this very century. Impressive stuff.

Right, off to Sant’Agata Bolognese. Which is of course, Lamborghini’s home. You wouldn’t necessarily think so though. Upon arrival I was greeted by a parking lot with no less than 14 Audis with registration plates from Ingolstadt. Of course we all know that Lamborghini won’t ever be the same now that it’s been effectively German for years, but I had hoped at least in their hometown they would still deny this fact and pretend to be thoroughbred Italians. No such luck.

Lamborghini, again, has a quite humble and small museum, so don’t expect to spend a day here. Some good stuff, though.

Day 8: Time to head home.

With one more stop to make, at the picturesque village of Le Grazie at the mediterranean coast, it’s time to slowly start thinking about the trip back home. Tomorrow morning, we head for Alessandria, where you surely don’t want to arrive too early, and jump on the train towards Düsseldorf. By far the highlight of Alessandria is a ‘Pirelli shop’, selling all kinds of products ever produced by the Italian rubber firm, but no tyres. Bummer, because by the time I had driven 2,800km, some of which slightly sideways, I was in need of new ones.

Ton's Porsche 968 and snow in the AlpsThis trip turned out to be an excellent test for various upgrades I’ve subjected my 968 to throughout the past year. It all started with the thicker, stiffer anti-roll bars. Quickly followed by new Koni Sport dampers and 20mm lowered ‘Club Sport’ springs. To get as near as possible to the ‘sport suspension’ package, originally termed ‘M030’ by Porsche, I decided I needed the bigger brakes as well. Not sure for what, but I wanted them ever since seeing them on a car. So I did get them. These brakes turned out to be extremely confidence-inspiring when outbraking lessers cars into hairpins on Stelvio, knowing that a small brick wall probably isn’t going to prevent you from tumbling down thousands of metres if they should fail.

With these upgrades, together with a brand new original Club Sport steering wheel, I hoped the 968 would turn slightly more into a sports car, and slightly less a GT. Did I succeed? Well, let’s subject the car to the PetrolBlog scoring system, shall we?

Review of 968 acording to The PetrolBlog Score:

The ‘Pint of Milk’ test:

Once you get to know the car, knowing what it can and can’t do, you will soon figure out this is a very capable and addictive car to play with. Whether it is cruising on the highway or twisting and turning along B-roads, a properly sorted 968 will get under your skin. One day, you might go buy that pint of milk on the other end of the country. Or go across a big pond to visit the Pentillie Festival of Speed, for that matter. I’d rate the 968 a hefty 9 out of 10.

The ‘Filling Station Forecourt’ test:

Once again a very subjective test, but judging by the responses I and other 968 owners get, I’d say it’s generally well received in the looks department. Having left behind most of the '70s styling from its predecessor’s predecessor (the 924), instead sharing quite a lot of design characteristics with the popular 964 and 993 generation 911s, it has aged well. Hence I rate it 8 out of 10.

The ‘You Don’t See Many of Those’ test:

Contrary to some of the more subjective tests, this one is quite simple test. According to howmanyleft.co.uk, there are 637 968s on British roads. Or rather, registered, not all of them currently being on the road. This includes all types, convertibles, coupés, Sports, Club Sports, the lot. Pretty rare and hence a respectable 7 out of 10.

The ‘Bangernomics’ test:

Like with any other car, prices vary wildly, depending on condition, mileage, options etc. In general, a 968 will set you back between £7 and £15k. I will err on the side of caution and award the 968 a middle of the road 5 out of 10 points.

The ‘PetrolBloggyness’ test:

Yes, it’s not Italian. And yes, it might lack a roaring V8 or mind-boggling acceleration, but with its near-perfect weight distribution it can be very rewarding if treated right, and very forgiving if treated wrong.

With some subtle upgrades, the 968 can be two cars in one. It’s a very comfortable and fast GT as well as a B-road warrior. With the Koni dampers on medium hardness, the car is stiffened up considerably but still plenty comfortable on all but the worst of all road surfaces.

Despite being German, it does get under your skin. I’d say a proper 968 deserves a solid 8 in the PetrolBloggyness test.

For a total of: 74 / 100.

You can also view a compilation of Ton's European adventure in a Porsche 968 in the video above.

Brilliant stuff, Ton! If you've been inspired to submit your own PetrolBlog Motoring Travels adventure, write to us at the usual address. Don't forget to follow Ton on twitter too @Tonsty.