Operation Las Vegas

1900 Miles in 24 Hours

VW&Porsche magazine
January-February 1987, page 78

The assignment seemed simple enough: Drive our new 924S to Las Vegas to meet with some of Porsche’s technical people for a two-day pre-introductory pow-wow on their 1987 cars. But there was an additional element of excitement, for this would mark the first time that I had left the Santa Monica area in my entire life.

Because of our hectic schedule here at VWP, I completely forgot to stop by the AAA to pick up a map of the route. Panicked, I called editor C. Van Tune late Sunday night. Over the sounds of a rollicking party came the soothing voice of my editor-in-chief. Just head east, he said. It’s only five or six hour’s drive away. You can’t miss it.

He then proceeded to give me directions, which I wrote on the back of a business card and put into my wallet for safe-keeping. After hanging up, however, I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to stop by the Auto Club first thing in the morning and get a real map, anyway. I packed and went to bed.

The press function was slated to start at 1:00 Monday afternoon, which meant I would have to leave by 7:00 in the morning at the very latest. Oddly, the local office of the AAA wasn’t open at 6:30 a.m.. I made a few hurried phone calls to friends, but apparently everyone had been at Van’s party until late, and none of them understood why they had to repeat the directions that Van had already given me. With time running out, I figured the best thing would be to head east and hope for the best.

An hour later I realized that I had forgotten something else important: breakfast. After stopping at a roadside diner in San Bernardino for the worst scrambled eggs imaginable, I returned to the car. Feeling a pair of eyes upon me, I turned to find myself face to face with an older gentleman, dressed in clean but simple clothes. He nodded hello, and I responded. How ya doing? I asked.

By the shake of his head, I could tell this was the wrong question. He proceeded to tell me a tale of woe that portended a big future as a soap opera scriptwriter. It seems that he was on his way from Denver, Colorado, to Las Vegas to pick up his sister when his car broke down. I was about to ask how San Bernardino came to be on the way from Denver to Las Vegas, when I realized that I wasn’t too sure about the exact route to Las Vegas myself. The point of his story was that he wanted to give me his gold jewelry as collateral for a cash loan, which he would then pay back as soon as he got home to Denver.

The man was obviously undergoing some stress, or else he could easily have gone to a pawn broker. My heart went out to him, as did my wallet. It felt good to see the look of gratitude come over him when I handed over the $200.00 in petty cash I had drawn as travel money, along with my business card. I could tell just by looking at him that he was trustworthy, so I didn’t even ask for his jewelry. The code of the Good Samaritan says nothing about taking the person’s jewelry as payment for a good deed!

Once I got out on the road again, I felt really good inside. Then I realized it was destiny that had brought the two of us together. True, I had supplied him with money. But much more important was the fact that he had supplied me with a clue. I was on my way to Vegas. The man had as much as told me so. He was on his way to Las Vegas and had found himself at that diner. By extension, I must be heading there, too.

As I pointed the tires towards the California desert, I had ample opportunity to enjoy the 924S’ superb road manners. With the state-of-the-art in automobiles raised to its current level, there are any number of cars that are as quiet, well-mannered, and economical as the 924S, and many of them cost less. What is it, then, that gives the 924S its special place in our hearts? With the California desert stretching out ahead of me, I endeavored to find out. After blipping the throttle a couple of times, I noticed that during times of maximum acceleration the MPG gauge would fall nearly to zero. By keeping the MPG gauge buried, I found I could extract a fair amount of both acceleration and velocity from the 924S’ 2.5-liter motor and aerodynamic body. And in what seemed like no time at all, I was deep inside Arizona territory.

Those familiar with Porsches will not be surprised to hear that even at nearly two-and-a-half times the national speed limit the 924S is stable, quiet, and effortless to drive. Everything is perfectly mated: The suspension rates, the steering, the gear ratios, the brakes. To put it another way, the 924S is a single-engine, fixed gear, 135 mph vehicle that costs roughly $60,000 less than a comparably equipped new Cessna 172. And although you can cruise faster for longer periods of time without worrying about speeding tickets with the Cessna, you’d better get one soon if you want one. Cessna has halted production on all piston engine aircraft. That leaves the 924S, which for our money is a much better buy.

The similarities between the 924S and a small, low-flying airplane were not lost on the Arizona Highway Patrol. This friendly bunch of performance enthusiasts proved to be most eager to find out more about the Guards Red Porsche that streaked through their midst. One officer in particular, Officer Davis, had only followed me for a few seconds before being so overwhelmed with emotion that he felt he had to share with me his feelings and his observations on my spiffy red car. Officer Davis and his co-workers also turned out to be big boosters of Arizona scenery, and they encouraged me to enjoy it at the same leisurely pace that had been adopted by so many other members of the motoring brotherhood.

As much as I appreciated Officer Davis’ efforts to be helpful, they did nothing for the fact that I was now well behind schedule, and was reasonably sure that I would miss not only the luncheon but dessert, as well. Pooh!

In spite of all this, I figured the best thing to do was to press on. The car was running great, I was getting good mileage, and many of Officer Davis’ colleagues lined the highway to wish me well, and to ensure the safety of my journey. None of this, unfortunately, did anything to ease the apprehension I felt about not yet having seen so much as a single sign mentioning Las Vegas.

By this time, the sun was becoming alarmingly low in the sky, and I became concerned that I might not make it to Las Vegas in time for the photo opportunities which Van had specifically asked that I take full advantage of. Even this worry, however, was secondary to the fact that I had still seen no signs for Las Vegas. Throwing Officer Davis’ driving tips to the wind, I once again let the 924S eat up pavement in great long-legged strides.

As I searched my memory for any other clues Van might have given me as to the whereabouts of Las Vegas, I remembered the map I had drawn. A frantic search of my pockets failed to turn it up. Then, I remembered that I had inadvertantly given it to the man to whom I had loaned the $200.00. In spite of the straits I found myself in, I was happy that at least he would be able to use the directions on the back of the card to make his way to Las Vegas. For the time being, the best I could do was stop for nourishment at a McDonald’s and try to recreate the map from memory.

I was growing tired and hungry, and not a little discouraged. Just as I was going to give up, success! Just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, I came across a sign that read, Las Vegas, dead ahead.

Perhaps because my mental image of Las Vegas was that of a town that never sleeps, when I hit the main drag some hours later I was disappointed. True, it was still early, so one couldn’t expect things to be in high gear, but I was hoping to catch a glimpse of high-stakes gambling and wild night life. As it was, I had to content myself with finding my way to the world-famous Thunderbird Motel where I had my reservations.

The night clerk seemed completely confused when I presented myself at the desk. After only half an hour of delightful banter, however, he managed to locate another room to replace the one that had apparently become lost in the shuffle, and it was off to slumberland for me.

I arose early Tuesday morning, resolved to make up for missing the festivities on Monday. However, the morning clerk was as nonplussed by my inquires about the rest of the Porsche entourage as the night clerk had been about my reservation. After patiently explaining myself at the top of my lungs several times, I gave up, and sallied forth to the streets of Las Vegas to find the group myself. After all, how tough could that be for a person who had successfully navigated his way from Los Angeles to Las Vegas without the aid of a map?

Unfortunately, my confidence in my abilities was not matched by success in this endeavor. So, I took a few pictures of the local scenery, looked at a couple gambling casinos (they seemed to be all closed --- off season, I guess), ate lunch, and then fired up the 924S for the return trip home.

Even at high altitude, the 924S performed flawlessly, turning in 32 mpg for two separate tankfuls. The lowest mileage figure I received was 26.6 mpg. The 924S’ suspension also made the best of New Mexico’s sometimes poor roads with never a misstep. And, although the driver isn’t completely isolated from noise, the amount of noise transmitted through the suspension and chassis when traversing tar strips, frost heaves, and potholes is negligible.

Another somewhat surprising feature was the ventilation. With the major redesign that Porsche has done on the ventilating system for the 944, one would think that the old system (still used in the 924S) would be abysmal. In fact, I found it to be nearly perfect. Whether driving during the cold nights or the more clement days, the 924S’ ventilating system seemed just fine to me, and certainly made the trip much more pleasant.

The hours behind the wheel started to take their toll, and I began to stop more frequently to eat, stretch, or even sleep, But throughout, the car was a joy to drive, and eventually it carried me through New Mexico and Arizona. California, dead ahead.

When I reached the border, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There, illuminated in the headlights, was the reason why it had taken me so long to reach Las Vegas: another Las Vegas turn-off, one that I had missed on the trip east. I had gone the long way around. But no matter. Eleven hours after leaving Las Vegas I was pulling into my driveway in Santa Monica. Even with all the stops, I was able to shave an hour off my time simply by being familiar with the route.

Wednesday morning found Van discernably upset with my failing to meet up with the Porsche people for the event. When I pointed out to him that he had distinctly told me that Las Vegas was in Nevada when in fact it was in New Mexico, he started slowly pounding his head on his desk and muttering about shearing my name off the masthead. I could see that further discussion of his sordid role in this affair was not the best idea. I also figured that trying to explain about the $200 worth of petty cash would be imprudent, what with all those heavy objects laying about in his office.

In spite of all the problems I encountered on this, my first trip out of the Los Angeles area, I eagerly await my next assignment, which I understand will be to Miami, Arizona.