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27 Mar 2020

Photos by Mark Haswell

Club Life - tour de force

Every summer, R3 member Mark Haswell and pal Lawrence Lowden embark on an epic road trip in their 986s  

Lawrence and I used to work together. He had a 924 and 968 and I liked old-style Minis. I moved on to a Mazda MX-5 when I spread out a bit, and about three years ago I saw a 986 in AutoTrader and bought it.
I used to own a turbo-charged Mini in need of repair and was advised to buy a manual and a toolkit and do it myself as it would be too expensive in a garage, so I’m used to working on my cars. As the 986 was a bit of a patchwork, I resprayed it Speed Yellow, which I hadn’t done for about 20 years. But the more time you put into it, the better the results. A couple of years ago, the engine seized on the Stelvio Pass. Once I got the car home I rebuilt it then after 5000 miles the con rod snapped, so I bought a donor car and put its engine in mine.

Lawrence and I have been going on European driving trips for about seven years now. You don’t see many Porsches in the places we visit. People want their photo taken with us and always ask ‘Where are you going?’ and ‘Where are you from? In 2017 we drove to Corfu, in 2018 to Istanbul and in 2019 we zig-zagged across Europe. It was a memorable trip in more ways than one…
We wanted to avoid Tirana, cross the mountains and overnight somewhere in south-east Albania, near the Greek border. But it turned out to be the day we nearly lost everything…
After letting the satnav guide us from our hotel to the main road, we ended up on a derelict pot-holed single-track lane, which we followed until we reached a big pile of overgrown rubble.

We stopped and climbed it to see the lane continuing but with no way to reach it. We turned and were sent on a wild goose chase down muddy tracks and dead ends. With no phone signal and a useless satnav, we followed our noses, eventually crossing a single-track wooden bridge on to the main-ish road. Taking an hour to travel five miles should have been a wake-up call but, like idiots, we continued to follow the satnav’s instructions.
After passing some rundown villages, we turned up a mountain road – smooth new tarmac, twists, turns, hairpins and a brilliant view down to the valley below and out to sea. We crested the summit, rounded the next corner on our way down… and bang! We were back on an unmade, rock-covered lane with big ruts and boulders – proper 4x4 country.
The satnav said we’d turn right in a mile, so we carried on, with rocks and boulders bashing off the underside. We were in first gear 95 per cent of the time, getting stuck on the slightest hill with dust flying everywhere.

The right turn was into a river, so stupidly we continued on our original route. We were now totally lost: no signal, no satnav and no way of locating where we were on the map.
It was 35C, we hadn’t seen anyone for ages and when we reached crossroads and forks we had no idea which way to go. Leaving an abandoned village, we came to a hill with a huge rut in it. We had to roll back down, fill the hole with rocks and rubble then go at it one at a time without losing momentum. Wheels spinning, throwing rocks out the back, with more bashing off the underside, we made it.
On we went, praying it would end. At last, we met three locals in an ancient Peugeot 205. No one spoke English, so we used hand signals to try to explain that we needed the nearest flat road. They seemed to understand. Beckoning us to follow they set off at 30mph but almost immediately realised we couldn’t do more than 10mph.

We slowly drove back the way we’d come until we all stopped at a crossing and I was handed a mobile phone. In broken English, a woman told me one of the men was her husband and this was the only place he could get a signal. She explained that if we went two miles in the direction the men were pointing to we’d find a tarmac road. Following another almost impassable road, we had to guess at a couple of forks. As two miles turned into five we started to worry, but finally we came to a tarmac road.
Eventually, we found a village with a name, located it on the map and worked out where we were. We’d taken five hours to travel 20 miles, five of them in the right direction. The state of the cars was pretty bad: Lawrence’s roof was down, so his interior was thick with brown dust. But given what might have happened – punctures, ripped off pipes, snapped suspension – both cars were still going!
Queuing for our ferry to North Shields, we met some Germans heading to Scotland for the North Coast 500. Our trip made theirs seem like a little run out! As for this year, we’d like to go to Baku, Azerbaijan, via Amsterdam, Moscow and Georgia, taking in Turkey too.

Door-to-door distance: 5144 miles

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