October 20, 2016
ATLANTA — BUYING a new car is special. Buying a new sports car is very, very special. Buying a new sports car together with your adult son and then driving on a racetrack is an experience that lacks enough adjectives.
My son Sam and I recently traveled to this city, home of the American headquarters of our love object: Porsche.
The company has a new-car delivery program in which buyers can have their cars shipped from Germany for pickup here, with a special bonus: New owners can spend time on the company’s track with driving instructors to learn the vehicle’s capabilities, and try various sports car maneuvers that would be frowned upon on public roads.
Sam and I had combined resources to lease a 2016 Porsche Cayman S, the little brother of the formidable 911 and a car that reviewers have praised for its driving dynamics.
The Cayman, with its flat-6 engine, has long been my dream car. When Porsche announced it was changing over to a turbo 4 for 2017, I figured that getting a new 6-cylinder Cayman was now or never.
With the car listed at about $65,000, my checking account pointed to never. But when my gearhead son mentioned he was also in the market for a new car, I realized I could afford the Porsche if he went in with me — and if we leased the vehicle, rather than bought it.
So I suggested we go halfsies, splitting the $1,200-a-month lease, and the insurance, while agreeing to joint custody between our homes in Connecticut and Michigan. For his 25th birthday, I told him I’d pay his expenses if he joined me at the track.
I would get my aspirational car in my 60s; Sam in his 20s. How cool was that?
Sam and I have always been joined at the fender. I have often given him my hand-me-downs, including a 1974 Jensen-Healey and a 1985 Mercedes-Benz 230E that actually had a stick shift (it was from Spain). We call each other just to talk about cars and email photos of alluring ones we’ve seen on the street.
The Cayman ownership felt like a natural evolution. And so far, at least, it has indeed been a satisfying father-son experience, including when we sat in the dealership debating which options to add. (He insisted on the macho Sport Exhaust. Being reverse-gear challenged, I opted for the backup radar.)
Porsche, like BMW, has long had a European delivery program, allowing buyers to pick up their cars from the factory in Germany. But in 1999, BMW added the American version, enabling buyers to pick up their vehicles at the company’s complex in Spartanburg, S.C. Porsche added its program here in April.
“The European delivery has been popular over the years, and we wanted to expand the program with an offering based at our new and unique Porsche driving experience centers,” said Andre Oosthuizen, a Porsche vice president for marketing.
He said the company planned to eventually extend the program to Los Angeles.
Neither company lets you put your actual new car on the track. Instead, they lend you a similar model to put through its paces.
Porsche’s 1.6-mile track is next to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. In fact, it’s next to Runway 8L-26R, and planes fly low right over the track as you drive. Being surrounded by all that engine noise is exhilarating.
Taking delivery of your car is very white glove. The delivery center manager, Ray Shaffer, leads you into the delivery room, where the keys are on a table and the car is under wraps. Then it’s onto the track for about 90 minutes of instruction.
The track has six modules, including a handling course, kick plate and off-road course.
Porsche put me in a 2016 Cayman GTS, and it was thrilling to take what was, in essence, my car through the handling course and, after a few tries, to get the car to hug the curves at high speed.
Later, I got to experience the car’s acceleration when the instructor taught me how to use its launch control. Think popping the clutch and burning rubber, but with a high-tech automatic transmission.
My day began to deflate, though, when the instructor directed me to the kick plate for skid instruction — and what turned out to be many rounds of humiliation.
I’ve never been adept on skid pads, and this exercise was particularly tricky. As I drove onto the plate, it hydraulically shoved me and the car into a skid. You do not know in advance whether you will slide to the right or to the left. As in real life, you have to react instantly, steering aggressively into the skid, then bringing the wheel back to the center position.
Time and again I reacted instantly in the wrong direction and spun out, providing lots of entertainment for visitors who were watching on a balcony overlooking the track. (You can watch the accompanying video, but please keep your comments to yourself.)
Finally, on my eighth attempt, I nailed it. I will point out that my instructor, Trevor Andrusko, said it was more difficult in a midengine car like the Cayman than in other types of vehicles. Not that I’m using that as an excuse or anything.
I learned later that Sam, in the midengine 718 Boxster, got it on his first try — and was happy to tell me about it. There are limits to father and son harmony.
Mr. Shaffer told me that I was not the first parent to participate in the program with an offspring. A father and son from New Jersey picked up a 2016 Cayman GT4 in July. And in August, a father and daughter came from Detroit to get a Cayman GT4.
I see why BMW and Porsche offer these delivery experiences. Buying a new car, no matter the model, is exciting enough. But actually going to the headquarters of the brand and putting a car on the track is unbeatable.
For those who have the time, money and passion for the brand, these trips are an option that go way beyond heated seats.
And if you can, bring your child.