I like to plan and I like a plan for the plan… just in case. So when you get a call from the chief editor of Total 911 asking you to work with no plan, what do you do? This is the crazy story of how we photographed 4 rare Porsches in Germany before we were locked down in Europe with no way home… This is no sleep till Folkestone.
Wednesday 21st of October
Whilst in a meeting I received a phone call from Lee Sibley, Chief Editor of Total 911. Currently busy I called him back straight after my meeting…
“Damian, can I throw a spanner in your works?
I have 4 of the rarest Porsches that need to be photographed and they are located in Porsche’s secret facility which is located in Germany.
We must be there by the 23rd or we miss our slot.
If we stop between England or Germany, we must quarantine for 14 days.
When we get there, we might not have a hotel for the night.
We leave tomorrow at 9am.. are you in?”
"… Yeah, I am in!"
After re-arranging my clients for the next few days it became a mad dash to find my passport, book the hotels and get all the camera equipment I might need charged, packed and ready to go!
Thursday 22nd of October
Come 9ish Lee was outside waiting with “Little Irish” his Irish green 996 911. After a little bit of Tetris we managed to pack:
2 over night bags
2 back packs
1 studio lighting kit
1 large camera case
1 large camera accessories container
And all the tripods and modifiers which might be needed.
Around 30 minutes later, we were off!
Halfway through our journey Lee informed me we would be stopping off at Porsche Reading and swapping cars… to the brand new Porsche 992 Turbo S and on the Autobahn we would be attempting 200mph!
We landed at Porsche Reading 2 hours before our train was due for departure. Giving us around 30mins leeway before we needed to be on the train and gone. With quick steps we emptied out Little Irish and began Tetris again in our new chariot. Thanks to 911’s getting bigger over the years, this was relatively easy and left us with more space. On the road to Folkestone we made great time, only having to stop once to fuel the Turbo S. We needed to make sure that we would not need to stop for fuel during our journey.
At the Euro tunnel terminal building we stopped for a quick rest before the long journey ahead. Officially we were still governed by the rule of 6, at the terminal you could feel the impact of COVID-19 with closed or abandoned booths. Even the likes of Starbucks were closed! It was hardly the high street, but seeing this was quite sad, showing the state of affairs. W H Smiths sandwich in hand we headed back to the Turbo S, which had now gained admirers, we joined the queue for passport control and awaited our journey into the unknown.
Taking only 40 mins or so, we entered France in good time and started our approach to Aachen, our safety point. Driving through France and Belgium was relatively stress free, however it didn’t feel like COVID-19 was even an issue here. Everyone still going about their days and the streets full of people. Here we were watching life go by and we were effectively imprisoned, as stepping out of the car would have meant quarantine.
4 and half hours later we arrived on the German border of Aachen, sweet relief… literally. Lee was a bit desperate. Now in Germany we could relax a bit, but we were still not out of the clear yet. Driving for another hour and half we headed to our first over night stay in Cologne. Now pitch black, the Leonardo hotel shone like a neon beacon. Without hesitation we disembarked the Turbo S and headed for the front desk, feeling reassured we had a room… or did we?
Greeted by the clerk he asked for our details, promptly proceeded by where we were from and what we were staying for, work or pleasure? “Work” we answered.. OK, can I have proof of employment or a COVID-19 clear test result… ah, we were not told we needed any of that. All three of us became panicked. The clerk not knowing what to do and us worried about the situation. Thankfully Lee had a titled email saying about our intentions, but would this be enough? The clerk went and spoke to his manager. Moments passed and tensions rising, the desk clerk came back with the all clear. We could have a room for the night.
After a quick refresh, we head out to the nearest restaurant for some food and reflection on the days events and the up coming ones. Going for an authentic German Pizza, chips and bier we spent the rest of the night discussing life, as you do, before heading back to the hotel ready for our drive down to Stuttgart and the home of Porsche.
Friday 23rd of October
Overnight the news had changed, essentially, we had until Saturday end of day to get out of Germany otherwise we would have to quarantine for 2 weeks in Europe and in the UK. With a shift on we head to Stuttgart where we were to meet our representative, Dianne. After a quick hello she took us to the secret storage centre (which isn’t so secret) and the start of our day.
From 11am til 4pm we photographed non-stop in Porsche’s photo studio, only taking a slight break to view the storage cars and have a wee. For our first three photo shoots, Porsche lent us the 996 bullet proof car, Panamerica and the 993 speedster, all super rare and unique. Part way through the day Lee had to leave to grab Paul, Paul owns a Porsche 959 which was having work done down at Porsche classic and his pick up day nicely tied into our drive home and became the fourth car.
With the storage unit’s day coming to an end around 4pm, Dianne and Bruno (her boss) invited us to a guided tour around the Porsche museum. Over the and hour and half, Bruno took us to all the most iconic cars and provided us with unique insights and information. Along our tour we managed to pick up a few stragglers who were engrossed in Bruno’s comments.
We left the museum around 6pm, now in convoy with Paul and his 959 we headed to our new overnight stay in Stuttgart. Much less stress this time, all checked in we sat in the lobby with a bier and discussed the day before heading up for a quick refresh and off to dinner. After failing to find true German cuisine the night before, we made it our goal to have schnitzel this time! Thankfully there was a Schnitzel house only a stones throw from the hotel.
With eyes bigger than our bellies, we sat down to 2 massive schnitzels each, washed down with a stein of Germany's finest bier! Once again discussing life it was not long before we discussed the events of tomorrow and our 200mph run. With both cars capable of doing it, Paul decided to sit it out but would keep pace with us. Closing the restaurant out, we headed back to the hotel to be ready for our non-stop journey.
Saturday 24th of October
With only a few hours till we were trapped in Germany for 2 weeks, we left at around 8am. Driving out of Stuttgart and now on the motorway the “go faster symbol” appeared, Welcome to the Autobahn. Now hitting 100-120mph in a car is easy. Yes, it is quick, however objects arrive at you at a relatively smooth pace. Providing you have your eyes on the road, doing 100-120mph around 70-80mph cars is straight forward.
What about when you are doing 150+mph? At these speeds, someone at 70pmh is essentially sitting still. If you were to hit them it would be like hitting a brick wall. At 200mph, they are not just sitting still any more, they are almost travelling backwards by 30mph.
Before hitting 200mph:
Can you see miles in the distance?
Are the roads empty?
Is the car warm?
Is the road dry?
Are you focused?
If you can answer no to just one of them, then you don’t do it. Waiting for the opportunity to hit the 200mph club, we pushed upwards of 150mph to stretch the car and to get a feel for it on the road. Finally all the boxes ticked yes, we were good to go.
Lee initiated the kick down for the Turbo’s and off we went, 120, 140, 160 still climbing 180… and brakes. A down hill bend was coming up.
Attempt 2… the power kicked, 179, 180, 181… car pulled out on us.
Attempt 3… 180, 182, 184, 186, 188…. And a car pulled out again. I would like to say we hit 200mph, regrettably this is where our story ends. We never got another chance to hit 200. Feeling defeated, we regaled in our time away and memories we could dine out for a fair while.
Stopping at the second to last point before we couldn’t leave the car, we were talking to Paul about our runs and the issues we had, sensing Lee’s disappointment he handed him the keys to the 959 and said enjoy her on the autobahn. Face lit, Lee jumped in the 959 and headed off with Paul and I following in the Turbo S.
Stopping on the out skirts of Aachen we swapped cars, brimmed the tank with fuel and headed for home. Now back on UK soil and great memories in our wake, we can look back on how against all odds we achieved what we had set out to do.
Thanks to Lee and Total 911 for bringing us a long.