Road Rush

Who needs a roof on a Porsche? Not this guy. (His wife wouldn't mind)

The Globe and Mail

“Normal people don’t do this,” declared the brains of the operation (Peter Cheney/The Globe and Mail)

There are probably sound, sensible reasons for making a 1,400-kilometre winter drive in a convertible with the top down – so if you come up with any, please let me know so I can try them on my wife.

With this in mind, let us rewind to last week, and my latest automotive scheme – driving from Toronto to Georgia in a Porsche Boxster convertible with the top stowed in the trunk.

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I saw it as an adventure that would take us back to the days when the world was not yet tamed, when thrilling new horizons called the daring few – like settlers who rode across North America on open buckboards, or Charles Lindbergh, who flew across the Atlantic in his unheated monoplane.

While others rode in sybaritic luxury, my wife and I would rediscover the spirit of the open road and connect with the elements, riding beneath the grand cathedral of the winter sky. At least this was my take – my wife thought I was insane.

“This is one of those stupid competitions you have with yourself,” she declared. “Except I have to be in it, too.”

I’d spent the previous week trying to warm her up to the idea of the topless southern mission by demonstrating the Boxster’s excellent comfort features, which included heated seats, a heater that could broil a steak, and a wind-blocker panel that minimizes the air that rushes down the back of your neck.

Around town, our top-down practice drives went well, even when it rained and snowed (the airflow blew the precipitation over our heads, and the heater kept our feet warm). Now it was time for the big test – a drive from Ontario to northern Georgia. We loaded the baggage, turned on the seat heaters, and dropped the top.

As we headed west out of Toronto on Highway 401, the temperature hovered around the freezing mark, and the fields were flecked with snow. We dialled the heater up to its highest setting, blowing warm air around our feet and chests. But nature’s vast, icy malevolence was just millimetres away – above our heads was an arctic wind tunnel and, even with a knitted ski hat on, I could feel the cold penetrating the top of my skull like a frozen drill bit.

We were in a race against the forces of hypothermia. As we headed south, the air temperature would rise. Hopefully, this would happen at a rate greater than the decline of our body’s core temperature. I looked at the Porsche’s digital thermometer – it was stuck at zero.

An hour into the trip, I knew we were in trouble. We could feel the heat being sucked out of us, and we had discovered a cruel aerodynamic quirk – a finger of cold air that worked its way down behind the seats to coil around our feet like a frozen cobra.

My wife looked longingly at the little button that would raise the Boxster’s top. If we pressed it, our woes would be over. But so would the adventure.

What if Lindbergh had turned back an hour into his flight? (I had to admit there were some key differences – Lindbergh’s trip was one for the history books, and he didn’t have his wife with him.)

Like a fool, I did not bring our winter parkas – I thought they’d be unnecessary, and would take up too much room. Now my wife was giving me icy stares. We pulled into a Walmart, looking for equipment to deal with the cold. After the open car, the store felt like a sauna, and I could tell that my wife wanted to stay.

The camping department yielded a thick sleeping bag rated for winter camping. Back at the car, I layered up with a sweater and two jackets, and pulled my socks over the bottom of my jeans to create windproof seal. I’d brought along two hoser-style winter hats with ear flaps. We slipped them on. Now it was time to zip my wife into the sleeping bag – she had to take off her boots and worm her way down inside while I worked the bag up to her neck.

“Normal people don’t do this,” she announced.

As I’ve always told my wife, good sense only takes you so far.

If Sir Edmund Hilary had been sensible, he would never have gone to the Himalayas. And if a sensible designer had constructed the Sistine Chapel, it would have eight-foot ceilings and a white drywall finish instead of all those hard-to-make murals with the angels and cherubs.

I can trace my love for top-down driving to a winter day in the 1970s, when a girl gave me a ride to university in her MG Midget. The temperature was well below freezing, and snow crystals hung in the air, but we were in a world of our own, riding in an open car with ski hats and gloves on.

I have loved convertibles ever since. And now, out on the highway with my wife in the new Boxster, I realized my long-held dream: I was piloting one of the world’s finest convertibles, and I was with the woman I love.

At this precise moment, however, there was no guarantee that she loved me back.

People in passing cars stared at us as if we were insane. The ludicrousness of the scene suddenly struck me: we were wearing fur-lined hats, and my wife was wrapped in a thick, quilted sleeping bag, giving her the look of a pupating insect. (I suddenly imagined her as a praying mantis, but the kind that kills off its husband without mating with it first.)

Somewhere south of Detroit, the sun fell. As we sped down I-75, the temperature on the Boxster’s thermometer dropped below zero. Surprisingly, I didn’t feel cold. The Boxster’s heater created a bubble of warm air that reached to my chest, and the layered jackets, sealed pant legs and fur-lined hat did the rest.

My wife was doing okay. The sleeping bag was keeping her top half warm, and she was enjoying the adventure of being in an open car while the rest of the world rolled through the night in dull, heated boxes. (Or at least that’s what I allowed myself to think, since she wasn’t actually speaking to me.)

As I have told my wife countless times, the modern convertible is a miracle of creature comfort. Back in the days of the Model T, when every car on the road was a convertible, there were no heated seats or wind blocker panels – if you were cold, you wrapped yourself in a blanket, gritted your teeth, and carried on.

Compared to that, the Boxster was a delight. The aerodynamicists had done a great job of minimizing turbulence, and the heater was a veritable blast furnace, creating a bubble of warm air that filled the lower part of the interior. I checked the outside thermometer again – it had dropped to minus three.

When we rolled up to a hotel for the night, it took us several minutes to unwrap my wife from her sleeping bag cocoon, and the desk clerk stared at us as if we were a pair of escapees from a lunatic asylum. In our room, we cranked the thermostat to the top and slept like hibernating bears.

The next day was a climactic respite. By the time we got to Cincinnati, the temperature was in the high teens, and there were motorcycles on the road.

We crossed into Tennessee, and my wife was actually too hot in the sleeping bag – we stopped and wedged it into the trunk.

My wife was speaking to me again, and we did the last part of the drive in a rush of speed, zooming through the turns that lead up the side of Lookout Mountain. The Porsche’s engine crooned behind us, and sweet southern air whooshed over the top of our open cockpit.

Was this how Lindbergh felt as he spiralled down toward his landing in France? Maybe. But this was even better, because I had my wife with me. Why she’s with me, I don’t know. My wife doesn’t like the cold, and I had subjected her to a high-speed version of the Shackleton expedition. And yet here she was, still beside me, still smiling (or maybe her lips were frozen into that position). Either way, she is guaranteed a prominent position in The Trooper’s Hall of Fame.

For more from Peter Cheney, go to facebook.com/cheneydrive (No login required!)

Twitter: Peter Cheney@cheneydrive

E-mail: pcheney@globeandmail.com

Globe and Mail Road Rush archive: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-drive/car-life/cheney/