At first glance the Devonshire Inn may seem like any other motel panning for business along California’s SR14, but when the track at Willow goes cold, the hotel’s once-quiet parking lot quickly becomes overrun by the Porsche Owner’s Club. It was here among a sea of modern water-cooled Porsches that Mike Carlson’s rendition of an IROC Carrera first caught my attention.
Standing before it, I deconstructed my long-standing bias toward the DOT-compliant impact bumper and succumbed to its brutal-if-not handsome lines. My intense gaze was broken by the sound of my own name: “Bermudez, what are you doing out here?” said Carlson with a perplexed tone.
“Is this your car?” I inquired; he nodded with a wide grin as we shook hands. That evening, we discussed the Porsche at length, after which I confessed barreling through the countryside in a vintage racecar had long been a childhood fantasy. His enthusiasm spiked at the thought of such absurdity and Carlson insisted I use this car to satisfy my youthful dream.
Two weeks later, I found myself climbing through a web of chromoly tubing into Carlson’s low-slung cockpit. Once inside, I struggled to find the lap belts wedged deep within the bolsters of the Sparco race seat. Eventually, I managed to piece together the five-point harness and settled into the fixed driving position. In the absence of air conditioning, I reached for the window crank, but the roll cage’s forward down tube obstructed the crank’s rotation, making it unworkable. Irritated, I unlatched the door in order to clear the tube and open the window. In a perfect world, I may have done the same on the passenger side, but decoupling myself from the harness at this juncture was simply too inconvenient.
Its engine ignites and settles into a gruff idle. It takes both hands and all my strength to muscle the Prototipo steering wheel out of the tight parking spot.
We soon break free and head north toward the 210. The distinct whine of straight cut gears accompany the deafening percussion of the engine. This, in conjunction with the rigid action of the WEVO shifter, make it clear that both were engineered for the severity of the track, not Pasadena’s fashionable “Old Town” shopping district. That said, slamming through its close ratio gears as I merged onto the freeway did add color to an already vivid palette of automotive exuberance. If only I had a pair of earplugs…
Although the fuel gage implied the tank was more than half full, I thought it prudent to stop, once the reserve light suggested otherwise. The sign for California’s famed Angeles Crest Highway rapidly approached, and while the road to Newcomb’s Ranch certainly has its allure, the Shell station at its base was my destination.
I carefully negotiated the station’s steep driveway apron, but winced as the low front clip scraped the coarse concrete pavement. The second attempt—this time at a shallower angle—still failed to spare the fiberglass bumper from distress. On my third attempt, however, now almost parallel to the sidewalk the car managed to clear the gradient. The front bumper appeared unscathed; the impracticality of my youthful imagination of driving a race car on the street was starting to dampen my enthusiasm.
On a positive note, its 3.2-liter flat six feels exceptionally well-balanced, with almost no vibration resonating through the solid engine mounts. Its non-linear torque curve, coupled with the cars’ short gears and low curb weight seem to beg for hoonish behavior that only a child (like myself) could truly appreciate.
At full tilt, the car is fast, loud, and very conspicuous; all attributes not appreciated by the Police Interceptor now following close behind.
Admitting to nothing other than the folly of my circumstance, I scribbled “Bermudez” defiantly across the citation and merged back into traffic. Soon, the beauty of the Grapevine’s surrounding landscape enveloped the car, and I grew restless with excitement at the prospect of exploring this vast wilderness.
Shortly after passing the summit of the Tejon Pass, I exited the freeway and continued along Frazier Mountain Park Road. Within a few miles, the arid landscape transformed into a lush pine forest, interrupted on occasion by the charm of rustic architecture.
A quick right onto Mil Potrero Highway tests the car’s chassis; the wide Hoosiers claw to the asphalt as the car makes the corner. Sunlight fragments through the dense trees, as second gear launches us at an alarming rate. I carry third into the following right, and engage forth shortly after exit. The car feels like it’s on rails, a tell-tale sign that I’m simply not pushing hard enough. I briefly touch fifth before heel-toeing back to fourth for the left hander. On entry, I drill down on the accelerator pedal and fully commit to the corner; the exhaust wails as the car traces the road’s arc.
It’s back to fifth as we charge the deep valley below.
Two points of interest await my arrival at the bottom; first is Pine Mountain Club, a rustic residential community centered around a private PGA-rated golf course, and then there is the infamous San Andreas Fault that lies directly beneath it. Nevertheless, I submit to the 35 mph speed limit and make my way through the picturesque setting without even the slightest of tremors.
The road, now called Cerro Noroeste, continues west through the mountainous topography of the Los Padres National Forest. It’s time to play. The Porsche awakens from its slumber as I downshift to second. The forest grows dense before us and the road serves an impressive array of corners. Again, the Hoosiers nail themselves to the pavement; I incrementally add fuel until—finally—the car starts to rotate through the corners. A ballet ensues, as the car and I test each other’s limits.
Soon, the forest yields to golden pastoral hills, and the road meanders north through the rolling contours of Bitter Creek. This setting transcended my imagination, sending frigid chills down my spine. Cerro Noroeste Road had just become number one on my list of favorite California roads. Glendora Mountain Road may be more engaging in terms of pure driving pleasure, but nothing comes close to the majestic beauty of Cerro Noroeste. After thirty miles, the road finally runs its course; I pull over just shy of the California State Route 33 and reminisce over my passage across the San Emigdio Mountains.
Heading south on SR33, the Porsche feels brutish, especially within a mild rural landscape. The sun sits low now, casting a silhouette of the car deep into the adjacent fields. Much like the agricultural lands surrounding it, he road is straight and honest; the scene is compelling and I find myself in no rush to lean on the gas. After a few miles of leisurely sightseeing, we turn left onto Lockwood Valley Road and head back towards Frazier Park. The sun setting at my back illuminates the arid mountains ahead. The day may have been coming to an end but by no means was the adventure.
I pick up the pace as the sun moves below the horizon and darkness encroaches. Now, with no distractions, the road require my full attention. Near redline yet again, I hand the car a taller gear and a healthy dose of gas—then predictably heavy braking as the high beams outline a sharp corner up ahead. Second and third gears jockey each other as the car traverses a series of twists and turns in quick succession. The engine howls vehemently into the night, like some wild animal in search of its pack.
Faint glimmers of incandescent light appear out of the darkness. We had reached civilization once again, and it was time to drive accordingly. The intersection of Lockwood Valley Road and Frazier Mountain Park Road marked the completion of a hundred mile loop that constitutes some of the finest back roads Southern California has to offer. I briefly considered making the loop a second time before coming to my senses and heading east towards I5.
Once on the freeway, the buffeting of the cold mountain air becomes tiresome. Without slowing down, I force the door open, using my forearm to combat the heavy airflow. Once the window crank clears the obstructing down tube, I wind the glass up and let the wind slam the door shut behind me.
I laugh out loud for a moment and say, “Man, this car is awesome!”