Originally published in the Winter 2014 quattro quarterly
MY FRIEND, SEAN, AND I BEGAN dreaming of the ultimate road trip in the ultimate car. We had spoken a long time ago about going on a trip with our wives, a trip that would be about the road, the car and the journey. The idea was born out of two very different paths. In 1982, my Uncle John married a Hawaiian hula dancer named Kanoelehua, who had never been off the Islands. For their honeymoon, they bought a 1972 Corvette (Ol’ Blue) and drove across the United States for three months only on the back roads with one suitcase. I always thought it was the coolest idea to go across the United States in a two-seater, experiencing “Americana” one road at a time. In 2010, Sean and Melanie rode to Carmel, California on their motorcycle, ultimately scouting the path of the perfect and timeless road trip.
In August of 2011, the dream became a reality. We both ordered a car that legends are made of, a car that was born and bred from Audi rally car racing history, the Audi TT RS. We picked them up in early January of 2012, mine a brilliant Sepang blue TT RS named Heidi, after Heidi “the body” Klum and Sean’s a classic Suzuka Gray TT RS named Fiona, a princess on the outside, and an angry ogre under the hood. During the winter we planned the trip and drove the cars on the sunny days, trying to get past the 1,000 mile break-in period before the trip.
The expedition would be all about the cars, the road, the journey, the friends and the food, and not necessarily about the destination. We decided to travel from our hometown of Fort Collins, CO to Carmel Valley, CA for the 2012 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, the ultimate car show.
The trip had few rules, but we followed them strictly:
1. Only drive on scenic two-lane highways
and avoid four-lane interstate systems
2. Only dine at local, non-chain restaurants
and no fast food
3. Must be a car wash to hand wash the cars
every night near the hotel
4. Must be able to buy high quality, premium
gas on the route
The route was from Fort Collins, CO to Provo, UT, to Mammoth Lakes, CA and finally to Carmel, CA. We spent a week in Carmel, on to San Francisco, and back to Lake Tahoe, Provo and then returned home to CO. The trip was around 3,500 miles, and we only were forced to take 30 miles of four-lane interstate highway. The changing landscape was amazing—from the peaks of the Rocky Mountains to the glacier carved lakes to the salt flats and desert rising up to canyons and then falling back down to the ocean. The diversity of landscape in America is simply breathtaking.
We stopped at a small “mom and pop” style diner in Craig, CO for lunch and chatted with a waitress, about the anticipation of our trip, and the surprise of it being just underway. We had just crossed the continental divide in the Rocky Mountains, with the TT RS eating up all 10,300 feet of Cameron Pass and 9,500 feet of Rabbit Ears pass. We parked both cars in back of the diner. During lunch, the cook ran out of the kitchen, with one of the waiters and said, “Are those your cars?” We said yes, and explained to him we were just underway for a great road trip to California. He told us that he and the waiter went out to smoke and “saw the coolest cars they have ever seen!” Needless to say it was going to be a fun drive!
I think we underestimated the driving fun to be had in Nevada. I thought it was going to be all straight desert roads. We stopped for gas on the Utah/Nevada border. The gas station was normal looking on the Utah side, but then had slot machines and a bar on the Nevada side…we won 20 bucks! Nevada did not disappoint. It had pristine, straight desert roads that allowed us to test the 360 horsepower, turbocharged inline five monster that Audi engineers placed in a sleek looking package. It also had curvy, high speed, cambered roads that dipped and darted like a rollercoaster through the rolling hills and canyons. As with most things in Nevada—aliens, military operations, Las Vegas and Area 51—we cannot confirm nor deny the top speeds on these roads, but would like to thank Audi and its engineers for allowing us to manually shift through all six gears of this all-wheel drive go-kart on track.
The route that Sean selected felt like it was made for the Audi enthusiast. The marriage of turbocharged horsepower and quattro all-wheel drive made every road a racetrack. Several stretches of roadway are a must-drive for all four-ringed owners.
Highway 4, Ebbetts Pass, CA
This is a one lane scenic byway with an elevation of 8,700 feet. The curves and cliffs get your heart pounding while the scenery takes your breath away. At the beginning of the Highway is Angels camp, a great place to stop and eat.
County Road 132, UT
This is a stretch of roadway that will forever stick in my mind. It twists and rolls in and out of canyons, up and down, as if you were in a car commercial. We drove this road in the late afternoon with the sun setting and the views were so breathtaking it was hard to concentrate on the road. Even though it was not snowing, and Ahab the tow truck driver was nowhere in sight, we would yell “quattro” over the radios because of the pure performance of these cars.
Tioga Road, Yosemite National Park, CA elevation 9500 feet
The sheer beauty of this drive, from pristine lakes to towering peaks takes your breath away, or was it the 3,000 foot drop of the side of the mountain?
Benton Crossing Road, off Hwy 120 to Mammoth Lakes, CA
This road was designed by a budding rally car driver. It was a roller coaster with twists and turns, humps, hills and straights. Julie and I were literally yelling, “woo” around the turns and over the humps. If they were to charge 100 bucks to drive this road, I’d pay it, turn around and do it again!
State highway 191 in UT
A beautiful scenic highway, that rolls in and out of the hills. Along this highway is a small cemetery called “Castle Gate Cemetery” where coal miners are buried. It is a great place to stop and reflect.
Highway 1, Big Sur to San Fran
This is an iconic highway, but needs to be mentioned because of the scenic beauty of the CA coastline. Any bucket list (that includes an Audi) should include these roads!
Carmel, CA is a magical place, and combined with rare cars, both old and new, it becomes a dreamlike wonderland. It is not unusual to see over two million dollars worth of cars parallel parked on streets. The best part about this was driving the TT RS. People took pictures of Fiona and Heidi like they were part of the car show, asking about our cars, saying they always wanted to see one. It was amazing.
One day we were driving on 17- Mile Drive in Carmel, and the paparazzi was out in full force taking pictures of the cars driving by the Pebble Beach Golf Course during the Concours event. I will never forget this because they did not bother to take a picture of the Ferrari in front of us, but raised their lenses for our two cars. During this same drive, we went around the corner and saw Alex Welch’s number 08 Audi R8 race car parked on the side of the road. I think they were as surprised to see two TT RS’s as we were to see his race car!
We also went to the Legends of the Autobahn event sponsored by the AudiClub Golden Gate. When they saw our cars, they invited us to park up with the new releases and the dealer cars. What an honor to be parked by the brand new RS5, and to talk to all of the Audi enthusiasts about the cars and the legend of Audi.
On the drive back we were at a gas station in Vernal, UT. A young man ran out of the gas station and yelled, “Hey, that is the car I always play on Gran Turismo, I never thought I would see one in real life!” It was fun to see his enthusiasm and talk to him about the cars.
The food did not disappoint. We made a point to stop at the smallest places that looked like they were family owned. We loved talking to the shop owners about their town, and having a slice of their homemade pie or grilled cheese or whatever was on the menu. This was a good reminder that America was built on these small towns that now are all but forgotten.
It is hard to put into words what it means to experience a timeless road trip. It has to be a combination of the route, road, car, food and friends. This TTRS is amazing—the 3,500 mile ride was comfortable with impeccable performance. These cars make you think about all of the points in between when you have it in sport mode—turbo at full boost, left and right foot in harmony, right hand ripping through gears at full speed, all while yelling “QUATTRO”! In the storied tradition of Audi Racing and “Red Sonja”, Fiona and Heidi did not disappoint. The production run of Audi TT RS may be over, but the memories are just beginning. The engineering and ferocity of this car will provide limitless possibpossibilities for future timeless journeys.