As an automotive brand, Porsche is best known for being a sportscar manufacturer, while going against some of the basic rules of automotive engineering. What they have become is a global brand that builds performance cars that have a 50-year-old ethos embedded in them. Even the Cayenne and the Panamera are imbued with large traces of the firm’s core principles. The fact that they draw on their motorsport heritage and the presence of an active fanbase that still drives and covets classic aircooled machines necessitated that the brand itself do something to support and encourage this movement. After all, a Porsche owner has their car to derive happiness from the driving experience, if we ignore all the other stereotypes associated with the brand.
So what did Porsche do? They built the Porsche Experience Center, in Atlanta no less. They later figured out that a large portion of the Porsche movement also existed in Los Angeles, which is why they also built one there. That’s why, after leaving from DV Mechanics and Fifteen52, I headed southwest, to Carson – home of the PEC Los Angeles.
While I had seen a number of photos of the place, I was still slightly in awe of the amount of the space the Center took up. With offices, a museum, a workshop, a restaurant, a café and a track with a skid pad, it took up 53 acres. Massive? You bet!
After parking, I was heading toward the main entrance, when something blue caught my eye. Upon closer inspection, it turned out to be a 991 GT3 RS, fitted with gold BBS RS wheels, built by GMG Motorsports. Somehow, the BBSs set the car off beautifully. If this was a sign of things to come, I was excited to see what was inside.
After getting a Visitor’s pass and lanyard from the front desk, I wandered around. A large space with Porsches took up the centre of the building, with a workshop to the right, filled with the brand’s motorsport victors. Directly ahead, through a set of glass doors was the track. I started with my left.
A gleaming Porsche 911R sat there, basking in the glow of the showroom lights. The legendary Gulf 917 sat behind it, its iconic shape dispelling any doubts as to what won the form vs. function debate in this particular case. To my right was a matte white 959 with white wheels, flanked by a silver 918 Spyder and a very convincing 991 RSR mock-up. In the middle however, were two of the rarest cars from Porsche’s motorsport collection.
First up was Joachim Bonnier’s Porsche 718/2 racecar. The second was a green Quaker State Indy Car. Both of these took a bit of research, since I had little idea that Porsche had competed in this branch of motorsport. I supposed you live and learn, and what better place to learn than the West Coast home of the famous brand?
After examining and appreciating the cars with vigilant security keeping a close watch on me, I walked to the glass partition that looked into the workshop. I must have looked like a child gazing into a sweet shop to the mechanics inside.
All the familiar Porsche liveries were on display. Jagermeister, Rothmans, Brumos, DHL and Lowenbrau were all represented by the wide array of Porsche racecars, a visual history of Porsche’s success in the motorsports arena.
Peeling my face off the glass, I headed into the Porsche Design shop. T-shirts, models, cuff links and all the assorted memorabilia were for sale. I looked at the prices of a few items, did a double take, and decided to continue into the Speedster café, which provided a lovely view of Porsche driving experiences taking place on the track. It was slightly comical to watch, as a strong jet of water would cause new 991s to spin out, with their drivers battling the car all the way.
Climbing to the floor above, I found myself in the ‘917’ restaurant, which had even better views of the track. As 911s sped around the laid out course, my gaze travelled to the slow-moving traffic on the nearby highway, forming a perfect contrast.
Looking around the restaurant, I saw as the staff scurried around placing cutlery and glasses on the tables. Everything was spotless and cleaned to within an inch of its life. It got me thinking.
While it may be German precision or a reputation to uphold, but everything at the Porsche Experience Center was perfect. I would be genuinely surprised if any of those glasses that had been placed on those tables was a millimetre out of place. The lighting was perfect; the glass was free of any fingerprints and any metal shone.
Maybe that is what the average Porsche customer is looking for, I told myself, walking back to the parking lot. I still couldn’t shake this feeling that things were too clean. The irony of this wasn’t lost on me and I chuckled to myself. I guess this is what happens after spending time at two great workshops and then ending up at a showroom.
I was backing out when I heard the sound of an aircooled flat four engine. Turning my head, a faded yellow Porsche 912E came into view. It was clear that the car had been driven hard and the owner took pride in that. It lifted my spirits to the extent that I actually stopped to compliment the owner on his car and snap a few photographs.
The thing is, I’ve seen a number of 912s, but only one yellow one came to mind, which I remember seeing on the Drive. Putting two and two together, I mentioned it and the owner’s face lit up. It turned out to be the same 912E, driven by Bradley Brownell, who affectionately calls his car Project Mello Yellow and was now standing in front of me. After chatting for a bit, we went our separate ways. It certainly is a small world.
I don’t know whether it was chance or something else, but seeing that 912E at that very moment, in the parking lot of the Porsche Experience Center had been just what I needed and I am thankful for it.
The Porsche Experience Center is a great experience for fans of the brand, especially to see their motorsport victors in person. However, in my opinion, true Porsche culture will be found on the roads, on the track and in the workshops where men get their hands dirty, ensuring that a flat six or a flat four sings its lungs out the next time you’re on your favourite canyon road.