A trip of a lifetime in shiny red machines
For Canada 150, Porsche expanded its 'customer experience' tours to the East Coast, taking customers on an unforgettable drive that culminated with the curves of the Cabot Trail
Porsche doesn't claim its guided tours are cheap, but it does promise they'll be unforgettable – and it will be difficult to forget this year's Canada 150 Tour.
There weren't many takers for the 10-day fall drive from Toronto to Halifax, but the two couples and two single drivers who signed up were enthusiastic fans of the brand. They needed to be: It cost $12,000 per person, plus airfares, to sign up.
"We dithered a lot on this because of the price," said Paz Fernando, a podiatrist from Winnipeg and admitted Porsche Snob who flew in with his wife Lisa. "We thought of going on the Provence Porsche tour, or maybe Morocco until it was cancelled – I think the mountain roads wrecked the Cayennes – but we wanted to see the East Coast. We've never been."
And if you can, it's good to drive there in a Porsche 911. The culmination of the tour was at the Cabot Trail, 300 kilometres of Cape Breton curves. Along the way, the four cars with separate guides and hosts visited Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City, before heading through New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island to Nova Scotia.
As Porsche's website said, Canada's "world-class cities, rich history, vibrant coastlines, rugged terrain, and lush, understated wilderness offer new sights and sounds with every turn. And throughout each new experience, you'll rely on one thing and one thing only to get you there – a Porsche."
The idea appealed to JoAnn Van Engelen, a twice-widowed Boxster and Macan owner from southwestern Ontario; she's making the most of her independence now that the family farm has been sold and the kids have left home. She's still frugal, though. "I saw it and thought, well, this is great, until I got to the price, and I thought, 'Oh,'" Van Engelen said.
"And then I thought, well, what about just knowing where they start and following along? But then I've got to do hotels, and I had no idea how they're filling in the rest of the hours. I talked to my kids about it and they said: 'Oh mom, just go.'"
The hotels are top-notch (the Andaz in Ottawa, the Queen Elizabeth in Montreal, that sort of thing) and the food is high-end, but the participants saw these as distractions from the driving. "We would rather skip lunch, we're here for the cars," said Paz Fernando. "Let's get out of bed early and get on it while we have access to the road."
This was the couple's fifth Porsche tour in as many years, after trips to Italy for the Stelvio Pass and Romania for the Transfagasaran highway, among others. "These tours work best when everybody gets along and nobody takes themselves too seriously," said Lisa Fernando, before dissing on a prima donna in Romania who ticked off everyone.
Here in Canada, everybody did get along. The tour was rounded out by a Chinese property developer from Seattle and a wealthy Australian couple who participate in several such trips each year, and everyone agreed they'd like more driving, with fewer city tours.
The cars, after all, were terrific: Porsche 911 Carrera 4Ss, the same $150,000 cars used for Porsche's performance driving school. Porsche offers a number of different "customer experience" events every year, including performance driving schools at racetracks and short tours that end at racetracks. Internationally, Porsche offers many tours and events. This 3,000-kilometre drive to the East Coast to commemorate Canada's 150th birthday, however, was a first.
"It's more of a branding exercise, building the brand and building the relationship these attendees have with Porsche, and giving them a lifelong memory," said Daniel Ponzini of Porsche Cars Canada. "There is a business case for these events, like all drive experience events, but it does more – it exposes customers to different styles of vehicle and shows them newer vehicles. It builds the brand in a different light."
There were originally 20 available spots for the one-off Canada 150 Tour but only six were sold. There was some grumbling during the drive when the cars were in procession on the Trans-Canada Highway, sticking to the speed limit, but whenever possible, the guides would leave the multi-lane highway and find a country road with smooth asphalt and tight corners.
At the end of it all, there was the promise of the Cabot Trail, Canada's crown jewel of driving roads. "The deeper we got into the Maritimes, the better the roads and the attitudes got," recalled Paz Fernando later in an e-mail, after the trip was complete and everyone returned home.
"Of course, the Holy [Cabot] Trail was the highlight and save for two obstinate black SUVs that blocked us for some time out of the Keltic Inn on the second day, the drive was the best. And lobsters and oysters were shown no mercy."
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.