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Great Escapes: The Pamir Highway

Great Escapes: The Pamir Highway

It’s three years since I bought my BMW R1150 GS Adventure: the machine made famous by Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman in the original “Long Way Round” documentary. While this behemoth of a bike is too big for everyday riding and would probably not be my first choice as round-the-world transport, I love it. Long Way Round and the big GS added another dimension to a lifelong love affair with wheeled exploration: adventure motorcycling.

As you go about your daily routine, thousands of people are exploring the planet on two wheels and four. Leaving the rigid western structures behind, most are chasing answers to age-old questions that all of us ponder: why am I here, how much stuff do I actually need and can I conquer the worst that the world can throw at me? Answers may never arrive, but sensing some sort of progress along the path to enlightenment is usually enough to help us wake up and do it again the following day.

One man whose two-wheeled journeys continue to inspire the idea of what tomorrow may bring is Cristian Predoi of the Youtube channel, DriveMag Riders. His latest adventure took a new dual-clutch (PDK) Honda TransAlp across Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, along one of the ancient Silk Roads and the legendary Pamir Highway. I watched the second episode of his trip last night and the whole thing just blew me away: such great stories and so much landspace to lose oneself in. I sent it to a few people with the note that “we must take rally cars here”. Scroll down to watch the video.

I was still dreaming about rally cars on the Pamir Highway this morning when I rocked up at Total Car Care in Daventry to MOT one of my other BMW bikes. Owner Julian (a.k.a. Burt) also looks after some rally cars, so it was not a huge surprise to see a 1954 Jaguar XK120 rally car on the lift. Chatting away while Burt did the checks, I suddenly realised that the rally stickers on the XK said “Pamir Highway 2019”. This car had been living my dream.

Former Safari Rally mechanic Burt helps to maintain several cars for the XK’s owners and Pamir was their latest event. Organised by ROARR in the UK, the rally ran from July 4th to 29th this year. The route took in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan and the photos are epic. ROARR Director, Adrian Epps, gave me the OK to share a few.

The Pamir Highway ticks a great many boxes from an adventure perspective. It is remote, unspoilt, steeped in history and literally at the top of the world: some sections rise to more than 4,000 metres. The route is extremely challenging and the terrain changes daily. Fuel is not easy to come by and, even in high summer, overnight temperatures can fall below freezing.

Starting in Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan, the Pamir Highway goes all the way to the city of Osh in Kyrgyzstan. Running through soaring mountains, wide open desert and often following the Obikhingu River – the natural border separating Afghanistan and Tajikistan – the route includes the world’s second-highest border crossing.

Cristian’s Pamir Highway travelog also includes a visit to the market in Khorog. Afghan traders pour into the town every Saturday when the frontier is opened for a few hours. “The vibe is amazing,” says the Romanian adventurer, and it looks it. This region has had its fair share of troubles down through the ages, but blue skies, great views and zero mechanical failures on this adventure makes a road trip here pretty irresistible.

My ten days in East Africa following the 2015 Safari Classic Rally felt adventurous at the time, but the bar has since been raised. Pamir Highway is the new high water mark: one hopes that this does not ultimately become just another well-worn tourist route.

Photos ©ROARR and original contributors

For anyone interested in learning more about the origins of the Silk Road, I recommend Colin Thubron’s brilliant book, Shadow of the Silk Road.

Ferdinand blogs my freelance adventure with Porsche at the centre. To engage with the blog, or to support me in other ways, you can:

Classic Retrofit at Techno Classica Essen

Classic Retrofit at Techno Classica Essen

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve attended the amazing classic car show that is Techno Classica Essen, but it’s been one of my favourites for almost two decades. After reading about Techno Classica for several years in the vintage car press, I first visited the show in 2002 and have returned most years since.

This year marks a nice development, as my youngest daughter is coming with me for the first time. We’re on a mini road trip that involves staying in my regular haunt in Dusseldorf, two doors up from the excellent Schumacher brewery, trains back and forth to Essen and a return leg taking in some of the many WW2 sites across northern Europe. My 14 year-old is an ardent German speaker, keen photographer and a budding historian who is fascinated by the second World War, so it should be an interesting weekend.

No trip to Essen would be complete without a Porsche friend in tow. Jonny Hart from Classic Retrofit is exhibiting at Techno Classica Essen, sharing a stand in Hall 8 with QuickFit Seat Belt Specialists. Jonny is at the show Thursday and Friday, so make sure to catch up with him in Hall 8 if you want to talk fuse panels, CDI upgrades and electric air conditioning.

Jonny has learned from my experience and is also staying in Dusseldorf, so no doubt there’ll be some noisy English chatter at the Schumacher brewery on Thursday night. Hope to see some of you at the show: I’m looking forward to checking out what Porsche has assembled for the 914’s 50th anniversary and to seeing what else is on other manufacturers’ stands. I’ve just started contributing to a BMW magazine so will be harvesting ideas for that also.

Ruf Automobile and the Return of the Tyre Kicker

Ruf Automobile and the Return of the Tyre Kicker

I went back to doing some magazine work earlier this year, with my friend Simon Jackson at GT Porsche magazine. Having run a few of my features through 2017, Simon asked if I fancied writing another regular column and I was happy to say yes, so the January 2018 issue has at least one page written by me.

Elsewhere in the latest issue is the story of my road trip to Ruf Automobile Gmbh last July. I made the trip as a passenger in Jonny Hart’s Delphi Green 911 SC, to demo the Classic Retrofit air conditioning system and give Alois and team a tour of the other Classic Retrofit products. The visit was a great success: so much so that the stop-off at the Porsche Museum the following day was a slight anticlimax. When a genuine Porsche hero takes you to lunch, the experience is hard to beat.

Ruf CTR versus Singer/Williams

After our trip, Jonny became part of the project team on the new Ruf CTR and has been working away on the development of the heating and ventilation system for this incredible car. I’ve seen lots of progress photos and they are pretty exciting – such a brave project from Ruf. No chance to share anything for the minute, but they will all come out eventually.

Jonny is also working on the new Singer, as are a few more of my friends, and that is another quite interesting project. Comparing the two from a static driver’s seat is interesting. The Ruf is built on a completely new body shell, all in carbon and with slightly bigger dimensions from the original, while the Singer retains much of the 964 floorpan with additional composite elements. Having seen both up close and sat in the Ruf, the slight shifts in scale give a different feeling from one driver’s seat to the other and that will be interesting to compare on the road. I probably won’t get to drive either of them, but no doubt the big boys will have much to discuss.

GT Porsche: my Tyre Kicker column

I first started working with GT Porsche editor, Simon Jackson, back in 2009. At the time, Simon was running Retro Cars magazine and my creative partner of the time, James Lipman, had already done a few features with him. The three of us went on to do a few bits together and I really enjoyed being in that magazine.

Like all good editors, Simon is easy to work for: he is not shy about speaking his mind on certain contradictions in the world of classic Porsche and is happy to let his contributors just go and get on with it. I like what he is doing at GT Porsche, especially given the operational pressures all magazines face nowadays. Check out the latest issue if you run across it.

Ferdinand blogs my freelance adventure with Porsche at the centre. To support the blog or engage with me in other ways, you can:

Driving the Ruf RT12

Driving the Ruf RT12

On our road trip to Germany with Classic Retrofit last month, I had the chance to try my first water-cooled Ruf Porsche, with a test drive of a Ruf RT-12 currently for sale on behalf of a customer. It was an interesting experience.

My most recent run in a tuned 911 Turbo was in a Manthey M600 997 GT2. Fitted with a series of engine upgrades including Manthey’s high quality intercoolers and a reworked exhaust, this was a ballistic machine, with no shortage of torque to stick through the 2wd transmission. The car has been sold several times in recent years and a passenger ride never fails to impress, or to mildly terrify.

The Ruf RT12 is a different experience. At first glance, this 911 seems almost demure. The smooth Guards Red/Indian Red paint and those five-spoke Ruf wheels sit sweetly together, and the red-stitched interior is a nice place to be. But look a bit closer – where are the Turbo’s side intakes? They’re gone: one part of a Ruf aero package that lifts intakes to above and behind the rear arches, where they work rather better than factory items.

Other bits changed include the suspension, which goes from PASM to Ohlins. The airbox is also changed to a carbon airbox of Ruf design. Spec on this car is fairly simple, with extended leather, Bose, carbon centre console and Ruf’s green-numbered gauges a subtle little tweak. This car has the old dash (pre-PCM3), but it’s not that offensive and you won’t be looking down much in any case.

Built on a 4wd 997 Turbo rather than a 2wd GT2, the RT12 perfectly embodies this company’s user-friendly philosophy. The engine is taken to 3.8-litres and mapped to be docile at shopping speeds. But open the throttle and the beast is unleashed: 650 PS equals 641 bhp at your instant disposal. That shoots this car from 0-60 in 2.8 seconds. Other versions make even more power, and gearing changes can take the top speed from 219mph/350km/h on this car to almost 230mph. But of course, we don’t chase from 0-60 all the time, nor do we drive flat-out all day: what we generally do for an entertaining drive is to travel cross-country at speed. So how does the car deal with that?

Ruf RT12 Test Drive

Ruf’s Pfaffenhausen base is centred in farmland, with the smooth local roads set slightly above the fields and giving a great all-round view, way into the distance. For unsuspecting potential buyers to try this car on b-roads, this location is perfect, as visibility is great and the surfaces are generally excellent. I was very excited to have a drive.

Pulling away, the clutch action is solid and shift is well defined – already a step up from standard. Steering feel is excellent and the damping is beautiful: just enough front end bounce to feel like a Porsche, but not too stiff like so many tuned 997s. No tramlining to speak of either: the car just felt ready to go.

No doubt the 997 Turbo is a quick car out of the box, but Ruf’s RT12 is entirely different. My first few overtakes were fairly clumsy as I got my head around the new boost and shift points, but as we clocked up a few more kilometres, things began to gel and the joy of effortless boost was as addictive as ever. This would certainly cost me a licence if it came to live here in speed camera-land.

The chances of this happening with me are fairly remote. Price for this 55,700-kilometre beauty is ten grand shy of €200k: a big saving on the original cost of over €300k, but some way beyond my humble means. Rufs remain exclusive because sharing this incredible passion for Porsche through ownership requires considerable investment. But, if you have that to spend, you could do far worse.

Road Trip to Ruf & the Porsche Museum

Road Trip to Ruf & the Porsche Museum

Working full-time creating content for several independent Porsche specialists has sort of drained my blogging brainpower in recent years. I began the year hoping to get out and about to meet more people and see their cars during 2017, but this has been one of the busiest work years yet, so blogging is running slightly behind schedule. I am working on it…

Anyway, the last few weeks have been pretty good for Porsche travel. I got out to Ireland following the Tuthill RGT Porsche on the Donegal Rally, then cruised down to my home town of Limerick, where another visit to Jon Miller at Classic Carreras was in order (love Jon’s approach to the life and a blog is overdue).

I came home from Ireland through Wales then and instantly headed back into Wales, again with Tuthills, to meet Federico and Lucia on the Nicky Grist Rally. The couple have been rallying air-cooled 911s this year, to earn enough signatures for their International Rally Licences and take on some marathon rallying from next year in something like a Safari car or similar. Their rally journey is super interesting and they are lovely people. That story is coming to a website near you.

These client trips are great for me, as I get to do them on two wheels: my 1150RT for the Donegal trip and the 1150 GS Adventure to Wales. Coming back from Wales, I had enough time to put the bike in the garage, pack a bag and then fire up the Polo for a run down to East Sussex. I stayed the night at Classic Retrofit Jonny’s and we set off early the next morning to catch the Eurotunnel to France and drive on to Germany. I’d planned a three-day road trip to celebrate Jonny’s three-year anniversary in business and the first stop was Bebenhausen, just south of Stuttgart.

The trip down was fantastic, hotel was amazing and that left us with two hours to cover the next morning to get to Pfaffenhausen, for a day at Ruf Automobile GmbH. The godfather of Porsche tuning has tracked Jonny’s work for many months and Alois even visited the Classic Retrofit workshops to see the research and development process for himself. He extended an invitation for Herr Hart (below with Yellowbird) to visit and discuss engineering collaboration on their new CTR project, so Jonny took me along for the ride.

Many Porsche-owning friends have experienced Ruf as part of Porsche club visits, but I don’t know how many people have ever sat in engineering meetings with Ruf and his technical team: the guys who built the original Yellowbird and who now assemble the spectacular CTR3. Well, thanks to my clever friend, Mr Hart, and his excellent electronic skills, I am delighted to say that I have now sat in one of those meetings and even made a contribution or two. That was pretty cool.

We had a great day at Ruf. I lost count of how many times Jonny and I shot each other a look that said “is this really happening?” but it was a super successful day out. Alois is the perfect gentleman and was very giving of his time. Son Marcel is also great company and a highly trained engineer in his own right. The family business is in good hands and I will share some more stories from our visit.

Once we had finished at Ruf, we had a two-hour drive back to Stuttgart, where we stayed in a nice little hotel around the corner from the Porsche Museum. Next morning, we enjoyed a short visit to the museum and shop before heading home to consider our findings. All in all, it was an excellent trip which left me with plenty of work to do – the vicious circle of non-blog activity continues!

Arrow Blue Porsche 911 SC Drive

Arrow Blue Porsche 911 SC Drive

So I’ve done a couple of blogs on the new 991 GT3 up to now. That car is an interesting piece of news for 911 fans, but you know I’m not big into new stuff. Air-cooled is my thing, specifically 3-litre 911s and, more specifically, LHD 3-litres where possible. But, when my friend Simon invited me to come get his sweet RHD 1979 Porsche 911 SC for a day and help him move it up country, what kind of snob would say no to that? I was booking a train ticket faster than you can say “pedal offset”.

The destination was Tower Porsche: south of the river off Tower Bridge Road. I’d not been south of the river for a couple of months and I do miss my old stomping ground after a while, so I caught an early train, got to London at 7 and walked along the Thames for an hour or so, stopping to get some breakfast en route. All those people heading for work in the City and me heading for a day in a 911 SC – what a joy it is to be alive.

My quarry was parked just inside the workshop doors. I had a good chat with John the boss, sharing experiences from our recent trip to Techno Classica Essen, but eventually made a move to let him get on with things as they’re not short of work down in that there London. The SC sprang into life first turn of the key and we headed off into the morning traffic.

LHD vs RHD: Classic Porsche

My first 911 was LHD by choice and I have never looked back. The brake and clutch pedals in the RHD cars are offset well to the left of the column, and that 915 shift is a bit of a pain on the 1-2 plane when sitting on the wrong-hand side of the car. If you’ve never driven a LHD SC/impact bumper and only ever driven righties, you won’t give the RHD setup a second thought, but all my SCs and my current C3 have steered from the left. To me it is how they should be, and it is no great hardship to use here in England. That said, one soon adjusts to new surroundings and attention is drawn toward other issues.

One of the most common complaints with pre-G50 impact bumper cars is the weight of the clutch when in traffic. Later 3.2 Carrera G50s bring the hydraulic clutch and it’s obviously a nice thing to have, but when it has to be paired with a 3.2 engine, I think I’ll stick with the weight and the shorter stroke 3-litre, thanks. No problem with 3.2 Carreras, the 3-litre is just my personal preference.

Simon’s SC has comfort seats trimmed in cool Black Watch Tartan and that makes the cabin a nice place to be. Sunroof open and windows down a touch, the SC’s reduced ventilation compared to post-’86 3.2s is less of an issue – on a dry day, at least – and the Arrow Blue paint turns heads almost better than Orange. This is a very pretty car with no shortage of period details, including the chrome brightwork, cookie cutter forged wheels and periscope headlight washers.

Classic Porsche 911 SC Daily Driver

Lots of us once used our SCs as daily drivers, and the niggles had to be worked around, including those weedy wipers and eccentric heating controls. Not much else grates on the nerves: these are great cars to use every day. The lack of power steering was never an issue and remains a delight. I don’t use the radio in any of my cars (apart from the Cayenne since I stuck in a DAB radio), so the noise in the cabin has always suited me fine. The floor-mounted pedals are proper, the super-plasticky column levers for wipers and indicators/turn signals maybe less so, but they feel right nevertheless.

“We used to think that 3.0 and 3.2s were quick,” laughed John as I prepared to set off. “Now you go on track in one of these alongside GT3s and they just disappear into the distance.” Not much point mentioning a little group of IB hot rods that regularly push the GT3 boys along and I suppose the hot rods are kind of cheating anyway. But as outright lap times are not my priority, SC speed suits me just fine.

These light little cars with their superb traction and torque pull away beautifully, whatever the speed. Third gear in a 915 ‘box is such a flexible ratio: perfect for town or on the highway. This SC had the familiar issue of a sticky fuel tank sender due to lack of use for a while and could have done with the front end tracking sorting, but, all in all, it was a joy to drive. I averaged 25 mpg through London, around the M25 and up to the A5 and beyond. Everything in the car worked, without exception.

Towards the end of my day with the SC, I was parked outside my youngest daughter’s school, waiting for her to emerge. A chap in his 50s walked past, turned around, walked onto the road along my side and gave me a big thumbs-up, saying “love it mate, rock on.” Having spent a few hours in the driver’s seat, I was happy to share his enthusiasm. Perhaps SC fans are all in their fifties these days, but it doesn’t bother me much: youth is wasted on the young, as they say. I’m content to be older now, with kids all growing up, a few good friends to relax with and a few quid to spend on old stuff like this. The SC has also settled nicely into seniority, so we made a good pair on the day.

Old 1970s 911 SCs may not be the newest, fastest or prettiest Porsches (albeit they have long been the prettiest to my eyes) but, as solid all-rounders, nothing comes close. I have a big soft spot for the LHD 964RS, but would otherwise take an SC every time, if a certain stripped-out C3 was not available. This SC is now off to a new home: I hope they enjoy it as much as I did.

Read more like this: Porsche 911 SC vs 3.2 Carrera

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