The idea of a motoring tour is oddly foreign these days, it might seem. The words almost imply frilly flapper dresses and firing up the Packard. These days, most of us get in our car and drive many places, sure. Some of us like driving so much we do it for fun on occasion. Certain crazier ones drive on race tracks. The real nuts go racing. I’m lucky to say I’ve done all these things but I recently tried something new. I went on my first motoring tour with a group from the Larz Anderson Auto Museum, located in Brookline, Massachusetts. This was their 2019 Larz Anderson MotoTour and it would bring us from Peabody, MA up into New Hampshire’s White Mountains for an overnight stay.
Why is a motoring tour a bit foreign to us now? My guess is that fewer folks hop into the car during vacations and summer breaks just to drive and explore. Maybe it’s because the internet has successfully delivered everyone’s Yelp review of just about everything to our fingertips. With a few keystrokes, you can choose to not be subject to surprises anymore. We can see that Annie G and Robert Y have already done whatever you’re thinking of doing and they only gave it three stars. You can pick only the things rated 4.6 stars and up now and skip over everything else. You can always pick a sure winner, as verified by the hive mind connected to the collective wisdom access device that is omnipresent in our pockets and handbags. But has the concept of surprise lost it’s luster? Do we still like to “discover” if only to have seen things with our own eyes? Is there value still in going and seeing things in person and having that direct experience, maybe without even verifying whether it will be Instagram-worthy? This is our current struggle. How to be in the moment. And to decide which moment to be in. What value will it provide back to us to make us feel it was worth it? I’ll take you through my journey and you can decide for yourself whether a driving tour might be in your future. I’ll leave the saving of souls to those eminently more qualified than me, but maybe my journey will resonate with you.
As a person who is increasingly and admittedly obsessed with spending time in the “best” way possible, I’ll confess that my impressions of a motoring tour didn’t really incite strong emotions. I love the adrenaline of driving on track. I do not enjoy traffic. Who does? Having never done a driving tour before, I had to start with the fact that some clubs like my very own Northeast Region Porsche Club have been doing motoring tours (“Rambles”) for about 40 years now. There must be some appeal to it or why would it continue? Is the spectacle of seeing a bunch of cool cars on the road the appeal? Is it seeing new things? Is it the people you get a chance to talk to in a less time-constrained format? Or is it the new people you meet? Is it the feeling of being on a road trip? What would be the reason this activity could have the longevity that it seems to enjoy? It was my time to find out.
What was interesting about this tour, for me, was that I had a good crowd of friends going on the tour. From that basis alone, I knew I would have a solid foundation. Not everyone is lucky enough to start here, I realize. Let’s file away the people factor as a potentially important factor. Factor two: this tour was being organized by an iconic Boston car-person’s institution – the Larz Anderson Auto Museum. I don’t think you can be a car person in New England without having visited at least one of their events in the past few years. Between the lawn events throughout the year, the newer cars and coffee events, the speaker series, the exhibits, and the social events…there seems to be something for just about everyone. Motor touring is a fairly recent addition to their lineup of events. And, finally, the tour was being arranged by two people with a strong motor touring resume already – Dave and Susana Weber. Dave and Susana have been a huge part of my regional Porsche Club for so many years. They know their car events like few others. Factor five, the x-factor this year, was the sponsorship of the event by Bill Keeney and his group at Merrill Lynch. If you know Bill, you know he’s a bundle of positive energy. A true extrovert like Bill really helps a large group of people who aren’t all too familiar with each other. He adds tangible benefit by making connections and encouraging tons of interaction. Bill is a real joy to be around. With all of these positive forces pulling in the same direction, I think you’re starting to see why going on this tour was a bit of a no-brainer.
We had an early start. I had to wake up to an overly loud and wife-annoying alarm at an unpleasant hour in order to make the hour-plus drive from RI up to our meeting spot in Peabody for breakfast. I’ve come to accept this as the fate of a car person. We often have to practice our passions from early hours to make the most of the daylight. The parking lot at the hotel meet up point was already filling with interesting cars when I arrived, offsetting the typical hotel-lot fare. When you’re meeting car folks, they usually end up in the back corner of the lot far from the entrance and that, of course, is where we were congregating. Inside the hotel, we enjoyed a nice buffet breakfast and got our route briefing. Our first stop would be Club Motorsports – the new race track in Tamworth, New Hampshire. It’s been open for a couple of years now but I hadn’t had a chance to visit it yet. I was looking forward to getting in some half-speed laps to learn the line and survey the turns. We set off in a fairly disorganized jumble of vehicles and drove north, mostly on the interstate, directions in hand. It was fairly banal as driving goes but it was fun to see some of our group’s cars out there on the way. The variety of cars – from the 1960’s up to 2019 – meant that we were often keeping different paces on the highway. There were some disparate cars paired up together like a newer Corvette with an old, lovely Morgan, but it was largely transport for the rest of us. The route got more interesting as we got deeper into NH. We saw a good crew of British iron headed the other way at one point – MG’s, Lotus (Loti?) – and all of them still running, it would seem!
We pulled into the inconspicuous Club Motorsports track entrance and finally enjoyed a parking lot where it was solely our group. I could finally get a good look at the impressive cars that turned up. I brought my Brumos-liveried 997 Targa and was in good company with a potent and shiny 996 Turbo, other 997’s, a second-owner 1969 911S, a jaw-dropping 356 Carrera 2 (its value gives Singers a run for their money), a stately Panamera 4S, a 964 Turbo with serious presence, and perennially nice Boxsters. Beyond that we had a wide range of marques and ages. A “pagoda” 450SL Mercedes, a cool early 60’s 220 SE Merc saloon, Maserati 4500GT, Alfa Romeo 1600 Z (1 of 401. Zagato translates to “awesome” and…it was yellow!), a Fiesta ST, Z06 Corvette, the gorgeous Morgan, a Buick Grand National, a Jag XKR and an E-Type, a jaw-dropping Dino (you can decide Ferrari yes/no), and many more. I love my Porsche club, but it’s also cool to see such a varied lineup.
Almost immediately, we hopped onto the track in groups of ten cars. For those of you who have never driven on a race track, you should. I’ve not yet met a person who hasn’t enjoyed it, even at fairly reasonable speeds. For those of you who haven’t driven at Club Motorsports yet, get up there. I’ve driven most of the tracks in the Northeast and a few beyond. This one is a good one. I found it to be very similar to Palmer in many ways – lots of great turns and elevation – but with a definite flavor of it’s own in the complexity of a few groups of turns that can catch you out and on the wrong line if you don’t pay close attention. We weren’t going terribly fast, clearly, but it was great fun to see the Maserati in front of me pitching hard into the turns. It was joy to hear the sounds and see the clear proclivity toward sport driving in some of these older cars. I’ve ruined my street car in favor of attempting to make it more of a track weapon and it was really nice to see it back on the surface where it can really shine. And I must say that my factory sport exhaust past 4,000 RPM in fourth gear makes a loud howl that is intoxicating.
We tucked into some nice boxed lunches under a tent at the base of the track (as with all new tracks, the buildings come later in the development plan) and then went out for yet another round of laps. I found myself joining the each run group whenever it appeared they didn’t have a full ten cars just so I could get in a little more track recon!
A big surprise was the access road around the right side of the track. It’s a narrow, twisty bit of tarmac that winds up the side of the track. With some blind crests, great on-camber turns, and a serious elevation change, it could be it’s own whole track! There is a lookout area up at the top with a great view of the peaks to the south. We parked up many of the cars in formation for a fun group shot with epic scenery. With the NH state bird, the black fly, starting to make it’s appearance, we urged Josh Sweeney, our consummate artisanal photog to capture our good sides quickly so we could get on the road to the hotel to eat dinner before we became dinner.
The route from the track to the hotel would prove to be a very enjoyable drive. We again left in a somewhat disorganized jumble of groupings, but I fell in behind our fearless 450SL lead car with the 964 Turbo and ‘69 911S in procession before I brought up the rear in my “new” car. We had a good pace, but as I put down my windows and opened my targa roof for taking photos, what struck me was the aroma therapy afforded by such close proximity to a ‘70’s 4.5L V8 and a pair of flat-six Porsche motors – that oil/fuel smell that made me fall in love with a Porsche 911 as a kid all came flooding back. That moment….that moment…was the part of the trip that made me finally understand it all. I finally got the motor tour concept. Winding our way through the notches and passes of the White Mountains with a great four-pack of engine noises from a forty-odd-year span of classic cars – and that smell – just perfection! That is something you just can’t get any other way.
Our next stop would be the site of the main social portion of the trip. We headed to the Mountain View Grand hotel in Whitefield, NH. As one of the “grand hotels” built after the railroad lines started to attract major tourism to the mountains from the urban areas in the mid-1800’s, the hotel is an imposing presence set atop a hill with the type of view it’s name implies. The hotel also has a working barn with all manner of livestock, a well-stocked wine cellar (with a dining area in it), and the charming, spacious feel that seems to be economically unfeasible to replicate ever again. We were greeted with a Champagne reception and enjoyed a relaxing unwind on the large front porch. The next best thing to seeing and driving great cars is talking to fun car people in a comfy spot with a great view. And we had a great crew of them. Discussions of old car challenges, the track, driving, great architecture, wine, old car challenges…
We changed for yet another cocktail hour and then dinner. There was a bespoke car-themed cake displayed proudly as we entered the dining room and enjoyed more conversation. A friend regaled me with tales of how his father barely passed on a deal to represent a small manufacturer who was trying to break into the motorcycle business in the Middle East back in the day and how another family that got the deal did pretty well with it instead – the small outfit was Honda. Fun stories from a group of folks who clearly have petrol flowing constantly through their veins.
After a very nice dinner, we settled into the expansive main hotel lobby with close proximity to the bar to finish off the wine from dinner and enjoy a few more options, courtesy of our event sponsor. Two large groups convened right next to each other and we amusedly watched as Bill made a valiant effort to unite the two camps into one massive group. As the night marched on, we lost a good number of people to slumber and the groups did finally achieve Bill’s vision of unity. We had a fun round of “if price is no object, what five cars would you own.” As we went around the group, it was interesting to see how focused on a single car some folks were (1969 Camaro), how design-influenced others could be (anything from Delahaye), and how hard it was for all of us to really choose among so many great options. For the record, my five picks were F40, BAC Mono, Bugatti Type 37A, 962 Strassenversion, and a Ferrari 330 P3/4. Finally, it was time to call it quits for the night. The rain was coming down hard that night and kept up a relentless pace until 7am the next morning.
The morning was a very casual affair as we all packed up and lingered a bit over breakfast before grudgingly heading back into the Monday-morning fray of life. The older crowd was up early and done early while the younger folks came in toward the end but still looked quite lively. The glow of a great driving trip had set itself upon all of our faces. Going back to the idea that it can feel important to have friends on the tour with you for a moment – on this trip I reflected on how important it is to engage other car people in conversation and make friends within a crowd to get the most joy from experiences like this. The car world is full of great people and if we all keep up our efforts to reach out to others and befriend them and invite them to come enjoy things like this, we all win. Keep up the outreach folks and bring more friends into this hobby. Be like Bill!
I can now say that I’ve attended just about every major type of car event on offer, even ones like this that I didn’t set out to do, per se. The commonality I can find among them is the ability to surround yourself with like-minded people who are all looking to enjoy the cars, the people, their life – the moment. Enjoying these moments and doing so surrounded by others doing the same – that is both the goal and the reward. If you don’t believe me, you can always go check my Yelp review instead. Maybe that will convince you. Five stars.