I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my dad.
I know, I know: in a literal sense of course that’s true—the same goes with my mom. I’m instead talking about this field, more particularly this unyielding craving for all things automotive. That is, without a doubt, a product of my father’s doing. As an embarrassingly small token of my appreciation for this fact, and to celebrate Father’s Day, I took him on a drive in the quickest car either of us have ever experienced: a 2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S.
The second-youngest of seven children, dad’s early life was essentially car-less. My grandfather, a WWII veteran, made an honest living as a garbage man, and saw no reason to own a car in the bustling steel town of Hamilton. For a teenage Kevin, cars were a sign of freedom—and something else.
“Chicks.” He explains that it was a different time, that a car was a central fixture of a teenager’s social life. Before he started at the local steel mill at age 18, he spent a lot of time riding shotgun in friends’ muscle cars.
Time marches on.
Dad’s pre-family rides were typical of the time. A 1973 Malibu with a short-shifter and a Holley 650 double-pump carb. A ’68 Firebird, a pretty dark blue coupe he still misses. More than the cars themselves though, it was a tennis instructor that truly left a mark. “She was also an instructor at the Oakville Skid School,” Dad reminisces over the iconic burble of the flat-six. “She taught me how to take the car sideways, up on two wheels—she was an amazing driver, and it got me right into the idea. But she was also very good about doing it in a safe place.”
Straight-line speed was king then, but even the widest of ’70s-era drag slicks can’t compete with a half-century of technological advancement. Dad’s first taste of the Turbo’s launch control—brutal, vicious, “scary fast”—pins him against the passenger seat. One of his favorite stories involves the owner of a built-up drag car sticking a $20 bill to the windshield and challenging passengers to grab it off the launch. Neither of us have cash on us, and neither of us think we could snatch it anyway.
What’s so shocking about the 911’s performance is how accessible it is. Never has 640 horsepower felt so friendly. With standard all-wheel drive, the Turbo S simply squats slightly before shooting horizon-bound. Some may decry the lack of a manual gearbox, but the human would always be the weakest link in something this searingly quick. The PDK gearbox fires off shifts without pause, the only hint being the change in pitch from the rear-mounted engine. Dial things down to the normal drive mode and the Turbo S has a plusher, forgiving ride. There’s no more edge than an M5, and this is one of the few cars quicker than one, too.
Time marches on.
When I came into the picture, my parents had already moved, out of the city and out of muscle cars. The road beside our house was a hilly one. My younger sister and I would beg Dad to speed up at the “roller coaster,” a sharp yump mid-way through. He’d often happily oblige, his smile mirroring our own as we’d get that brief taste of weightlessness. For Dad, giving gifts has always been better than receiving.
I try to follow his example. There is no “roller coaster” near his house when I bring the Turbo S by. Even if there was, I wouldn’t be launching the 911 off it. There are on-ramps, though. This is where the Turbo S can showcase the massive grip of its 315-width rear tires. As we round the first, with the Turbo S barely trying, Dad instinctively goes for the non-existent roof-mounted grab handle. There’s a stifled laugh, and the insistence that I don’t have to try to impress him. He might be wearing a mask, but Dad’s eyes betray the smile underneath.
The driving position makes it that much easier to extract performance out of the 911’s vast reserves. The steering wheel is just the right size, with consistent weighting and detailed feedback. Out front sit the 911’s iconic front fenders, framing the road ahead. It’s a bigger car than it used to be, especially in width, but the 911 has excellent visibility, with minimal blind spots.
Dad is a natural co-pilot. He points us towards his favorite backroad, the one he’d take into the city time and again when we still lived in the sticks. It’s a gnarly, twisted stretch of tarmac, refusing to surrender to the greenery creeping along its edges. The 911 shrugs it all off, tracking true through every bend and remaining utterly composed.
Still, time marches on.
A string of unreliable American econo-boxes pushed Dad towards an import, a little-known brand called Hyundai. We teased him mercilessly over that pinkish-red Accent, a base model notchback with no power steering or airbags. Dad took it all in stride: he was confident he made the right choice, an early adopter of a brand he still drives today. I don’t need to tell you how Hyundai’s story panned out.
I learned to drive in that car. Dad doesn’t believe in half-measures, so he’d pick us up from my Mom’s on a Friday night, toss me the keys, and task me with getting us back home, up Hamilton’s snaking escarpment access.
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The 911 Turbo S is a sensible vehicle, too, insomuch as any vehicle clocking in at a quarter-mil can be. It’s stealthy, or at least in comparison to the other options in this heady space. In this conservative Chalk-on-black color scheme, only those in the know will clock it as the ultimate neunelfer. In contrast to neon Lamborghinis and the week’s latest McLaren, the 911 flies under the radar. Dad doesn’t like its lack of golf club storage space, though.
We pull over for him to explore from the driver’s seat. He checks every control, pokes away at the touchscreen, plays some Michael Jackson (he saw him live, don’t you know). Dad thinks the steering-mounted drive mode selector is cool (he’s right), and that the touchscreen controls for different audio sources is tough to navigate (also right). He moves the wheel back and forth, impressed with the weight and size of it. Not that he could anyway, but he doesn’t want to drive it. He’s happier as a passenger here, just like those early muscle car days.
I remember when time stopped.
In 2007, Dad found a lump on his neck. The day before my birthday, he had the results. In that selfless dad way, he wanted to wait until after to tell me what the plan was, not wanting to spoil my day—and in doing so, making the results clear.
That summer was both a flash and an eternity. Memories blur into each other, a fog of uncertainty draped over them all. Our drives into the steel mill, where I worked during the months between university, were now solo trips. There he is, standing thin and gaunt in the living room, reduced to sharing his thoughts via wipe board. There’s his now-wife, never leaving his side, the voice of support when he’d want to throw in the towel against the chemo and radiation. Sometimes I’d just stand on the blast furnace floor, the all-encompassing heat pushing down the worst what-ifs.
Dad beat throat cancer, and he’s been clear of it for 13 years now. It took much of his natural saliva production with it. When you meet Mr. Patrick, he’ll likely apologize for any bouts of dry cough. How Canadian.
Once again, time marches on.
We don’t have many old pictures, my dad and I. A divorce saw most of them disappear—not out of malice, but the confusion of moving house. There are no rose-tinted glasses when he looks back at what was; it’s easy to avoid being sentimental without the reminders.
In contrast, the modern 911 is inextricably tied to the past. The relentless advance of technology has gifted the Turbo S superlative performance, but that iconic rear-engine silhouette remains. There’s been an attitude adjustment though. The original 911 Turbo had a reputation as the Widowmaker; the latest model is a friendly, continent-crushing super-GT.
We’ve seen each other less the last 16 months. Dad and I talk on the phone more, and we still butt heads from time to time. I come by it honestly. As you get older, you see your parents not as infallible, but as flawed humans—and realize you’re more like them than you wanted to admit in your 20s. In my case, I’m grateful that our relationship has evolved, and now I can be the one to put a smile on his face. Long may we continue to learn from each other, and long may cars like the 2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S exist to strengthen those bonds.
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