On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff
IN THE COMPANY of Paul Frère, European automotive journalist extraordinaire, I was passenger on a memorable drive from Modena, Italy, to Frankfurt, Germany. I recently came across some scrubbled notations from this adventure. We were on our way to the Frankfurt Motor Show, in September sometime in the 1990s. Three towns along the route were Verona, Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Stuttgart. And our elapsed time was 4 hours 18 minutes.
Paul was the consummate old world European: charming, knowledgable and articulate. I never knew quite how many languages he spoke fluently, though I recall being among journalists when Paul switched comfortably from French to German to English to facilitate his colleagues’ communications.
His contributions to R&T as the magazine’s European Editor were always in precisely rendered English. I once asked him which language he used when composing an article, what language “he thought in.” Paul, being Belgian, told me that French was his natural language. However, he said, the more technical matters became, the more likely his thoughts were in German. And, of course, his final product, be it journalistic or automotive consultant-directed, would be in a language appropriate for his intended audience.
For instance, Paul recognized early on that Japanese automakers were not merely producers of cheap imitations. (Back in the 1970s, this pejorative was not an uncommon opinion among the Big 3 in Detroit.) Paul became involved with Honda and Mazda as a consultant. And I suspect he might have spoken some Japanese as well.
With regard to the Modena-to-Frankfurt adventure, our conversations were all in English. Both Paul and I were visiting Maranello for something or other, and both of us needed to be in Frankfurt for the Motor Show. Paul invited me to ride in his Porsche, rather than fly to Frankfurt. Of course, I accepted.
My notations for the trip show gasoline stops in Verona and near Stuttgart. In researching this now, I analyzed the route using Google Maps—and gained an insight into the wisdom and spirit of Paul Frère.
Modena is in north-central Italy, at the junction of Autostrade E35 and E45. Google Map identifies the “Fastest route, the usual traffic” starting northwesterly on E35 with an itinerary of Modena/Milan/Como/Lucerne, Basel/Freiburg/Karlsruhe/Frankfurt. This is a distance of 841 km (522 miles), roughly Tijuana to San Francisco, with a Google Maps travel time of 8 hours 32 minutes at an average 61.2 mph.
By contrast, our route was Modena/Verona/Bolzano/Innsbruck/Garmisch-Partenkirchen/Stuttgart/Karlsruhe/Frankfurt. Google Maps calculates this itinerary at 879 km (546 miles)—24 miles greater distance than the “Fastest route” and more than an hour longer, 9:33 versus 8:32.
Google Maps failed to consider two aspects of the trip: Paul’s artistry at the wheel of his Porsche and the implications of travel through Switzerland. Google’s optimal route includes 296 km (184 miles) of Swiss autoroutes, notorious in those days for speed limits and enforced adherence thereto. By contrast, Paul’s route involved only Italy, Austria and Germany, where the left lanes of autoroutes were dedicated to practiced high-speed motoring.
I recall Paul maintaining the Porsche just a deft touch south of initiating drifts on long sweepers through the Italian Alps near Bolzano. And I suspect that two fuel stops in a 546-mile trip were not inappropriate for our pace.
We had a nice lunch in the Fini Hotel restaurant in Modena. And, less than four and a half hours later, we had plenty of time to prepare for our evening engagements in Frankfurt. The average speed, a completely comfortable one for me in the passenger seat, worked out to 127 mph. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017