The Drive to Helen Back

The 356 Southern Drive has been every other year event now since 2007. It is a gathering of 356 owners in the North Georgia mountains for a couple of days of driving, eating, drinking, and talking about our cars. There is no car show (more about that later), no tech sessions, and no dress-up dinners. It’s just the best laid-back group of early Porsche owners to be found anywhere.

A few of us from the North have been joining the crowd since about 2011 on the 2400-mile trip down and back. I had promised brother Bill to take my Speedster this year, so I reconfigured it to install the convertible top that had been stored in the garage loft since 2001. He’s been taking his every time, but I always found a reason to leave Blackie at home. Something about not wanting to get wet again. I also had a new tonneau cover just made by my daughter-in-law, Marie, and it looked great.

We start the journey usually in a Mass Pike rest area and collect others along the way. The first stop this year was near Hershey, PA, where the Hampton Inn folks offered us covered parking to add some style to the property.

Brother Bill joined the pack in northern Virginia where Rt 66 meets I 81, and we rode on to Wytheville, Va to have dinner at the Log House 1776 Restaurant, a local landmark. We were at a Hampton Inn there too but didn’t get covered parking, and sure enough, it rained during the night. I can attest to the tonneau cover holding water because I forgot to check the forecast and didn’t put the top up. I’m still learning.

We normally pick up two more drivers in Wytheville, but they were a day ahead of us, so it was just the three Tubs going down the road waving at folks taking pictures from their SUVs. Great fun.

 Arriving at the lodge on the third day, we found many old friends and some new folks that we had only talked to on the phone. Dinner in Helen the first night found us at the Hofbrauhaus along with 356 Registry Trustee Cliff Murray and wife Jean, along with Tom Olson all the way from Wash state in his blue ’65 356 and racer Tim Baker and his wife, Shonney.  

Friday was a great ride for half the attending cars and a luncheon visit at the Wolf Winery owned by a fellow Porsche enthusiast who owns 6 P cars, including a Speedster, a 356 Notchback, and a black 912. That garages (there were four that I counted) had more photos and stuff than most museums.

There were 25 cars in our caravan to the winery, and it seemed that folks in the small towns we passed through had all come out to see the parade. We rolled back through the woods in time for a BBQ dinner at the lodge and lots of 356 talk, well into the night. It came with some live country music but no banjos.

We spent the next day with a smaller group driving the mountain roads and played tourist in Dahlonega, GA site of the first US gold rush in 1829. Of course, we had a pig roast on Saturday night with more music.

Sunday was the final day, and what else but another scenic drive to another winery. We lined up at the lodge, ready to make our final group drive.

 Arriving at Glen Ella Winery, we were asked to line up on the grass so that the owner could view all the cars. Not being a Porsche owner, she had been asked to select her favorite Tub. That is as close to a car show that we get on the Helen drive.

The lunch was great as always, and after recognizing the staff for all their planning and hard work on the Southern Drive, the owner was asked to announce her pick and award a bottle of their best wine. It was Blackie.   After all that, I guess I’ll be keeping that car for a few more years. Blackie never missed a beat, nor did any of the other Tubs (one hit a bear, but both the bear and the car kept going) and got 30 mpg.   It may not be as fancy as a 911 C4S or as fast as a Turbo S, but it sure made the trip more fun than the title suggests.