El Mirage – A Mein12 story.

A 912, a dry lakebed at sunrise, a DSLR camera and three slightly sleep-deprived people. Curious? Read on! 

There are times in life, when you think back to a particular event and wonder if it really happened the way you remember it. Things seemed to move so fast that beginning to end takes a couple minutes, and then we’re thrown back into our ordinary lives, with just these memories. Something of this nature took place a few weeks ago, and I would be remiss in not sharing them with you.

There are multiple reasons that explain how and why these events came to be. When I chose the name for this very blog, I picked the “Bandit” for one reason, among others. I wanted it to represent a certain degree of mischief, a pinch of spontaneity bordering on impulsiveness and a good helping of “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it”. I also wanted to convey a sense of adventure. This story has all of these attributes in equal measure.

I met John Benton in April 2017, on a visit to Los Angeles, that was well catalogued here. I’ve already introduced Benton Performance here, so I won’t go back into it. The truth is, over the last year, I’ve visited the shop time and again, learning about the vintage Porsche world and all that goes with it. I’ve also grown close to John and the team, who have come to see me as family, a sentiment that is mutual.

Fast forward to a Sunday barbeque with the Bentons a few weeks ago, I broached an idea to John and it was thus – why not take his 912 for a photoshoot at dawn on the dry lakebed at El Mirage? I would have watched the blood drain from most vintage Porsche owners’ faces as they grasped the concept of dust infiltrating every corner of their beautiful air-cooled machines.

(For the uninitiated, El Mirage is a dry lakebed about an hour and a half north of Los Angeles, where Californian speed enthusiasts go to shakedown their cars before taking them to the Salt Flats at Bonneville, in Utah. )

John is not most vintage Porsche owners. In fact, John is as different as they come, which is why the mischievious gleam in his eyes and the smile on his face told me everything I needed to know. Within half an hour, logistics were settled and the plan was set in motion.

At 4 a.m. the next day, occupants of the northbound freeway would have seen a curious sight. They would have been quickly passed by a white 912 at a brisk pace, quickly followed by a massive Chevy double-cab pickup truck doing its best to keep up (and succeeding). John was at the wheel of his 912, with yours truly riding shotgun. The truck was being piloted by Tim Rivera, an integral part of our three-man team. The mission was simple, get to El Mirage by sunrise.

As the clock struck six, we made it to the lakebed. A cool breeze was blowing across the flat surface, as the sky went through its daily morning routine. Taking a few seconds to marvel at the scenery, we snapped a few shots of Mein12 with the sun rising in the background, before putting our plan in action.

For this segment of the shoot, I’d lie on the bed of the Chevy, taking photos of Mein12 while we drove across the lakebed. While it sounded relatively simple in my head, the reality was rather different. Factor in a slightly bumpy surface, loose surface sand, trying to coordinate John and the truck and trying to get half-decent photographs was a lot more difficult than I had imagined. Five minutes later, we stopped for a break. After the dust had settled John took one look at me and immediately burst into a laughing fit. A quick glance at the truck’s side mirrors and I understood why – my hair had turned white from all the dust being blown around!

Nonetheless, we persevered and once again I had an opportunity to take advantage of the best, albeit, very dusty seat in the house. Watching the nimble 912 dart across the lakebed surface was a sight for sore eyes, partly because it was beautiful and partly because my eyes were sore!

As the sun rose properly, we managed to get the shots we wanted and then let John get a quick high-speed run in before we called it a day. Just as he was heading back to us, a gentleman in a SUV stopped and asked if we wanted some drone footage of the car. He explained that he had planned on meeting a client at El Mirage and they had backed out at the last minute, leaving him at a loose end. Drone footage of a 912 at El Mirage? Is that even a question?

The next half an hour was spent watching the DJI Phanton flit around, chasing John’s dustcloud around El Mirage, occasionally guiding him on the radio. As the clock struck ten and the temperatures soared, we packed up and made the longish trek back to Los Angeles.

Since then, I’ve often looked back to a vision of a small white machine tracing its way across the lakebed, being chased by its own dust cloud. Sound effects are provided by the hot-rodded flat four that sounds like a bee has taken residence inside your skull. The icing on the cake? The wide grin on the face of the gent driving said 912 as he pushes the car deeper and deeper into triple-digit territory.

The car, the Chevy, my hair, our clothes and our cameras have since been cleaned and returned to our normal, boring selves. Those memories however, are all that is left of that morning that we spent at El Mirage.

I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Special thanks to John Benton, Tim Rivera and Josh Kidder for their invaluable assistance in bringing this idea to life. You guys are rockstars! 

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