CLASSIC DRIVE: Joburg to Cape Town in a Porsche 911E Targa

Porsche 911E

We join an owner and her freshly restored 1969 Porsche 911E Targa as the car is handed to her in Johannesburg, South Africa, before we settle into the seat for a 1 600 km journey back to Cape Town. 

Words Wilhelm Lutjeharms

It looks fresh, clean and neat – in fact, it looks new! This 1969 Porsche 911E Targa has been with its restorers for just over two years. I’ve pestered the owner since the car went up to Johannesburg that we should really do a road trip with the car back to Cape Town when the car was finished. 

Porsche 911E

With flights booked, the photographer briefed and suitcases packed, things started to fall into place. Like Hannibal from the American 80’s TV show The A-Team always said, “I love it when a plan comes together”.  

Expectation – Day 1 – Johannesburg to Bloemfontein – 420 km

Porsche 911E

My first meeting with the Targa is at our overnight spot in Johannesburg before the trip starts, but it is only brief, as we go for dinner before a good night’s rest. I’ll have plenty of time in the coming 72 hours to appreciate the car on all levels.
The next morning we pack the car and it surprises me again just how much space there is in a 911, even these smaller, classic ones. The mat that spans the entire luggage compartment allows you to put anything anywhere without scratching or damaging any part of the load compartment. We make sure nothing sticks out that might press against the lid as we close it.

Porsche 911E
As we head through traffic and start making our way south it is evident, firstly, how much cars have grown over the decades. The Porsche looks dainty compared to almost any other car on the road. I do feel rather exposed in a sense, but the thought of the couple of mountain passes that await us towards the very end of our journey is rather enticing.

Porsche 911E Targa
We settle into a comfortable cruise and the Porsche sits contently at the national speed limit. I’m impressed by this restoration done by Tim Abbot. Even though we’ve only really driven it in a straight line there are no rattles to speak of, except for maybe one squeak that surfaces now and then – quite an achievement taking into account this is a Targa and not a fixed-roof coupé. The cabin is marginally noisy, but with slightly raised voices we can keep our conversation going. After a few hours we approach the capital city of the Free State, Bloemfontein.

Porsche 911E
The highlight of the day occurs shortly before we arrive, as the sky turns into a combination of warm colours with deep purple. Even though we’ decided to keep the roof on for the day, the view through the windows is something to behold and so much more special from the seat of a car that has run faultlessly during its first proper, long distance drive since its restoration.

Vastness – Day 2 – Bloemfontein to Beaufort West via Koffiefontein – 660 km

Porsche 911E Targa

Although the 911E was driven for more than 200 km before it was handed to the owner, there is also an amount of trepidation when a freshly restored car is taken on such a long drive directly after a restoration. Furthermore, between Bloemfontein and Cape Town stretches a solid 1 000 km of tarmac. Although there are plenty of towing services along this stretch, should something happen to a classic car as this one, you know that your plans will be severely ruined – more so than with a modern car.

Porsche 911E Targa

Even so, spirits are high was we leave our overnight accommodation just before sunrise and we decide to not head immediately south on the busy national highway, but rather take a bit of a detour. Firstly because this is a road trip and should not be rushed, but secondly we should also encounter fewer trucks if we stay away from the N1. Now, and in the coming two days, I’m often surprised by the 911E’s straight-line performance. There are times when I doubt if it will be a safe move to pull into the oncoming lane and overtake slower trucks before the oncoming traffic arrives, but then I’m reminded again to not underestimate the E’s performance.

Porsche 911E Targa

As we make our way to Koffiefontein (sadly not a very well-run and -maintained town) the overall comfort of the 911 starts to impress. After all, the E is fitted with 15-inch Fuchs as well as rather plumb 195/65 R15 tyres, clearly contributing to the comfortable ride. The seats are another highlight. If you spend hours on end in seats and you never think about them, then you know they are doing a fine job.

Porsche 911E Targa

It is in De Aar that we decide to take a break, fill up the cars and also have an early lunch. The modest Porsche receives a healthy amount of attention in these rural towns as cars such as these are as rare as hens’ teeth. Run-of-the-mill cars and pick-up trucks are the staple diet in these parts of the world and a classic car stands out like the proverbial rose in the desert. Pedestrians, petrol attendants and fellow enthusiasts are eager to ask questions about the Tangerine Targa, even more so when I point them in the direction of the lady owner.

Porsche 911E Targa

Soon the road surface improves on certain sections and before long we are back on the highway. Although it matters little with the windows open, the engine revs to 4 000 rpm while doing 130kph as we overtake traffic. This also helps when you need to further accelerate, as there is still plenty of power in reserve when the revs climb past this mark.

In the evening we have dinner at a typical Karoo guest farm (Skietkuil) whose owners are some of the most warm-hearted people we’ve met. Questions are exchanged about our trip, about the Porsche and cars in general.

Porsche 911E Targa

We leave the farm at 21:30 and head to our overnight accommodation 100 km south in Beaufort West. Given their age, the headlights of the Porsche do a fine job, while any modern car we follow up ahead offers a perfect safety net. Large cattle, but even hares, can become extremely dangerous objects at night as they often freeze in their tracks if they see the lights of an approaching vehicle.

After close to 1 150 km, we retire to our rooms. The largest chunk of the trip is behind us and more importantly, the highest mileage we will cover in a day is completed. The Porsche didn’t miss a beat and my appreciation for these cars has climbed a notch… again.

The twisties – Day 3 – Beaufort West to Cape Town via Du Toitskloof Pass – 500 km

Porsche 911E Targa

We rise early for our last and final day of this trip. Personally it comes with mixed emotions from my side. It is the end to a great trip which started as a thought a couple of years ago and will be done in a few hours, but then at the same time I’ll finally have the chance to drive the car with some enthusiasm through a mountain pass – any 911’s natural environment. We leave the iconic Donkin Guesthouse and head to the nearest fuel station to grab a coffee and some rusks.

Porsche 911E Targa

The N1 continues cutting a black line through the landscape paving our way South West towards Cape Town. A stop which one cannot miss is the (very) small town of Matjiesfontein. Founded in 1884 by the Scottish railway man James Douglas Logan, the town’s Lord Milner Hotel is a favourite stop.

We park close to the double-decker bus that has somehow found its way here, positioned outside the Marie Rawdon Museum (there is also a Transport Museum around the corner).

Porsche 911E Targa

As we leave this stop we continue for another hour before we are ready to finally leave the dry Karoo behind and dive down the Hexriver Pass. There is one important matter to attend to first though, we pull over before the pass to take the Targa top off. With two people on hand it only takes around 20 seconds and we easily drop the top behind the seats. 

The corners of the pass twist down as we head closer to being at sea level, snaking between the rock faces as we head to the Winelands. The vineyards of South Africa’s wine region quickly come into view. We continue past the town of Worcester and pull off the highway to the Ou Meul restaurant. 

Porsche 911E Targa

With less than two hours of driving left we wrap up our thoughts on the trip and for the final time I slide in behind the wheel. The N1, now double lanes, curves with long bends between the cliffs of the surrounding mountains and you feel even smaller with these high mountains around you. Instead of saving time and heading through the Du Toitskloof tunnel, we turn off before the tunnel and head over the Du Toitskloof Pass. It is this moment I’ve been waiting for.

Porsche 911E Targa

Within the first few turns the lightweight and compact nature of the 911 presents itself. You can’t rush the five-speed gearbox, but then you also don’t want to, as you can spend more time appreciating the steering feedback, the balanced suspension and the willing engine. Even from 3 000 rpm the engine is eager to rev and past 4 000 rpm even more so. Although there is still around 2 000 rpm left, I change shortly after 5 000 rpm. Although the engine should now be fully run-in, I’ll leave the red line for the owner to chase in the coming weeks. 

Porsche 911E Targa

It is during the changes of direction that the 911 excel. In these moments the 911 shrinks around you and climbs this mountain with utter zest. With the roof off, all the other sensations are elevated – be it the sun basking down on me or the mechanical sound from the little 2.0-litre flat-six engine. Apply the brakes and it easily scrubs off speed, giving you even more confidence to drive the car in the way it was intended to. 1969 also signaled the start of the B-Series production, when these cars’ wheelbases were increased by 57mm, improving on-the-limit handling. 

Porsche 911E Targa
We stop at one of the look-out points before we head into Cape Town. I share my thoughts with the owner about the car and how solid and wonderful it felt up this pass. She climbs onboard for the final stretch into the city. We make our way to Signal Hill, one of Cape Town’s iconic stops above the city. The road runs around the hill, allowing you to see the city in its entirety, the ocean as well as the natural wonder that is Table Mountain. Having driven with the top off for a number of hours, we decide to put it back on.

What a trip and what a car! We often pamper our classic cars (as we should), but we should never forget to build memories with them and do extraordinary experiences that we will remember for a lifetime.

1969 Porsche 911E Targa
Engine: 1991 cc, flat-six cylinder, mechanical fuel injection
Power: 104 kW @ 6 600 rpm
Torque: 176 Nm @ 4 500 rpm
Transmission: five-speed manual, RWD
Weight: 1 020 kg
Top speed: 210 km/h
0-100 km/h: 8.2 seconds

1 comment

  • Well done Wilhelm!! Another great driving experience.

    Brian Bruce

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