Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Gonzo Porsche Journalism. Thanks Hunter.

I don't actually recall where or when in all that is time consuming on the internet that I stumbled across a mention of a Porsche review by Hunter S. Thompson. But I did. And I wanted to find it, especially after having enjoyed HST's review of the same Ducati 900SS that I owned once.

I tracked it down to a 1999 review done for the now defunct SF Examiner. Ah, yes. The paper version of this venerable paper is no more but its archives live on.

Here we find our now dead (ashes since shot out of canon in Aspen) hero drives a new 1999 911 C4. Some good, classic Hunter stuff in here. Not his best by far. But when he talks about the Arena red car as being 'perfect for night driving.' You get a bit into what he was thinking. Too bad no pictures with the article. But from his choice of big convertibles, the 911 no doubt impressed.

Linked here and pasted in full:


"When you loan a factory-fresh Porsche to Hunter S. Thompson you question your motives, if not your sanity. But we figured that if Porsche was willing to loan a new 911 Carrera 4 to the famed gonzo journalist, we weren't about to argue. So, we extended the offer. The next morning, we were welcomed by a message from Hunter threatening to slit our throats if we didn't have the car delivered to him immediately. Being fond of our throats, we held up our end of the bargain and arranged for the car to be delivered from Los Angeles. And Thompson, who has field-tested everything from Ducati motorcycles to Ferrari sports cars, held up his. At press time we discovered he had failed to return the Porsche. But that's a legal matter. In the meantime, know that he's somewhere out there blowing loose stones off dark highways. Consider yourself warned.

JC: We hear you just got back from a midnight test run. How was it?

HST: That's a fine little machine, a luxury car for sure. That f----r's fast. It gets up to 100 real quick. There aren't a lot wide open straightaways here in Woody Creek, Colo., so I went to this primitive old sports car race track at The Aspen Automobile Club, which was a huge learning experience. The stability and confidence that this car gives you is amazing. It tracks like a slot car except the rear end doesn't come loose. It's definitely fun to drive, but you really have to pay attention. My temptation is always to push it and get the adrenaline going. And I did that. Jesus, this car was easy to get used to. When you get it up to 4,000 rpm and the engine starts to hum, it's a whole new feeling. It's like a plane taking off. It makes you wonder, HmmmmGod damn. What makes this car so special? And it's hard to say. But this Carrera 4 has all the power you need up here in the mountains. More, really. This is what you call a competitive sports car.

It's an uplifter for sure. You can't go out to your driveway every morning and feel any better.

JC: Did you like the Porsche's aesthetics?

HST: Arena Red is a sexy color. I was thinking it was more in the area of Chinese red. Arena Red is a deep red. It's very sexy. It's a wonderful night driving car. It's almost invisible. This is a stealth car. This is a magic color. I was prepared for a bright red. I found myself thinking, What color is that? Ferrari and Jaguar have never done a car this color. Today, I drove the car right up to the front window of the Woody Creek Tavern and had my boys go over it. I thought I'd show it off a bit. Boy, that Arena Red is beyond sexy. It's a deeply seductive and compelling red. I've never seen anything like it. I heard some thugs sort of admiring the car and I heard the lead thug say,

"Hey we should buy one of these." I was just inside waiting for my hot dog, trying to be very inconspicuous.

But it was impossible. And then here come these freaks admiring the car jutting out in this weird angle in front of the window. Boy, I wish I had a photo of that scene. This car catches the eye. But it keeps it, too. It's a second-look kind of car.

JC: How does the 911 Carrera 4 compare to other 911s?

HST: The Carrera 4 has the steroid look of the '90s. The older 911 almost has a kind of concealable muscle. The Carrera 4 is more billowy. It's still extremely sleek. But the interior is not as lean and spare as the 911. I've driven Porsches where you have to look over the windshield with a lower seat, where you could almost feel the gravel scraping your ass. This car keeps you very busy, in terms of driving. It's quieter, the gear box couldn't be better.

The 911 is like a finely tuned middle-weight fighter. The Carrera 4 is on a whole different level. There's a clear difference between these two cars. This car looks bigger and more powerful. This is a good car to take to the polo club. That's it in a nut. This Porsche is a different ball game.

Allen Ginsberg once described the difference between acid and yage, a kind of vine that grows in the Amazon and Africa. Leading dope fiends like Ginsberg and William Burroughs arranged to take a boat up the Amazon River to experience the yage. It was extremely impressive. Maybe the most powerful hallucinogen ever produced. Anyway, Ginsberg said there was a difference between acid and yage. With acid you see the snake and with yage you are the snake. This is the essential difference between the two cars. With the Carrera 4, you are the snake.

JC: That's a wise analogy. Moving on, how did the all-wheel drive system work?

HST: This is the first time I've sort of shaken loose. The main gates of the racetrack were locked so I used the other gates inside the gravel pit. Of course it was so much fun to drive on loose gravel. This is not your everyday city car. Once you get the engine up on a plane, as it were, Jesus, it's a pleasure to drive. You can drive it around on gravel and it handles very well. And it was great on the racetrack too, once you get it up on the jam as they say. I had it on all kinds of surfaces. It was kind of extreme driving from the gravel pit interior roads in order to sneak in the back door of the race track. Those were Jeep conditions. And it handled just as well there as it did anywhere. Then I hit the racetrack and gripped around.

JC: What's the first lesson in the Hunter S. Thompson School of Driving?

HST: Drive very carefully. Always.

JC: You just got back from Cuba on assignment from Rolling Stone. This must have relieved some deadline angst?

HST: It was a great distraction, a wonderful pleasure, an ice breaker. It was a great feeling to get loose with and figure f--- it. Forget about the story for a while. I couldn't ask for a better present from a friend. I had a lot of fun. No doubt.

JC: Did you listen to any music while driving?

HST: Well, I did listen to my own album, Where Were You When The Fun Stopped (a collection of songs handpicked by Thompson by the likes of Lyle Lovett and Warren Zevon).

But, if you close the car up it's like being inside a sound chamber. It could be dangerous for me to drive the car with the speakers up because you can get into a different reality. Egads! A man just walked in with a really fine red parrot. But it's no Arena Red.

JC: Here's the scenario: Your Carrera 4 against the Aspen police Saab 9000. Care to comment?

HST: I think this Porsche would leave him at the top end. Cops have too much money here, like they do anywhere.

Anyway, this is a racing car. If there is a Saab that could stay with the Carrera 4, I'd be surprised. But you'd have to go to Utah and get out on the salt flats to really test the thing.

JC: Some sports cars tend to feel unsafe at high speeds. How did the Carrera 4 do in that aspect?

HST: It didn't take me long to feel safe with it. It has a very seductive look that says, "Come into me and let's get going." Sometimes you can feel every nickel and dime you run over on the freeway. The Carrera 4 has none of that. I've never driven anything with this kind of suspension and lock-down stability on corners. I can see why Mario Andretti has said he likes this car. I drove a Ferrari in Hawaii and cut a land speed record. And that might have been tighter and faster. But it was uncomfortable at times. This is high-speed comfort.

JC: Does the Carrera 4 have any drawbacks?

HST: I had some quarrels with the seats not going back far enough. But that's a common complaint about Porsche and Ferrari. I had trouble fitting. I'll tell you, this car is no family vehicle. If I designed it, I'd just dispense with those seats and make it a two-seater. Just rip the back seats out. But I haven't done any serious experiments yet. I did push it to the limits where I had that feeling, Egads, here we go. But it would be hard to find the limits to this car. They'd be very high. Its tolerance for various stress factors on the road would put most cars into loops and emergency braking. This thing behaves and digs right in.

JC: Alright, last question: What's the maximum speed you reached?

HST: I haven't taken it to warp speed, but it won't be hard. I'm willing to sacrifice one speeding violation. I think I'm going to take it out at night to I-70 between Glennwood Springs and Grand Junction. That's the best place to really go straight. And with Arena Red, this car is so smooth-looking and invisible. There wouldn't be a cop in the world that world that would be able to catch up to something like this. If you had the right escape plan it would be very easy to get it up to warp speed. Tomorrow we'll push it to warp speed. Yes, tomorrow is a good day to do that.

John Clarke Jr. is a New York- and Colorado-based freelance writer. Hunter S. Thompson is a former Examiner columnist, among his other sins."