As so famously exclaimed by Tom Cruise’ character, Joel Goodsen, in Risky Business, “Porsche… there is no substitute…” The same could be said of the the level of immersion at the new Porsche Experience Center in Los Angeles. It does not matter if you are a racer, owner, collector, casual observer — or just a fan — this place is Disneyland and all are welcome!
Opened in mid-November 2016, the Porsche Experience Center (PEC) has become a phenomenon in branding for Porsche North America, who also has a facility near their US headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. The idea of such a facility is to give a fully immersive and interactive escapade to the interested, who will witness the history, provenance, glories and triumphs of Porsche all under on roof — with a driver development track thrown in for good measure.
“It isn’t just about sales,” said PEC PR Director Christina Cheever. Despite massive Porsche sales increases in 2016, Cheever admits, “It is our way of having anyone who is interested to be able to experience Porsche in a personal way.” Needless to say, Porsche elicits thoughts of speed, race wins, beauty, engineering and romance. It can all be found here in several particular areas of the 53 acre complex and 50,000 square foot building — culminated by a $60 Million investment by Porsche NA.
Located on the 405 Freeway near the 110 Freeway in Carson, the PEC has a notable landmark identifying the property: the 20 foot high “Golf Man” as he was called for many years, welcoming guests to the Dominguez Golf Course formerly on the landfill property, is now dressed in a genuine hand-made Stand 21 driver fire suit — his golf club replaced by a checkered flag. He now welcomes Porsche-philes and curiosity from passers by on the San Diego Freeway.
Once in the beautifully designed facility there are many things to do. Stunning and historic cars pepper the main Atrium including a Weyer Gulf-liveried 917 endurance racer, the newest 911 GT3 race car, a 1960 787 Formula Two, a 959 Komfort, and the LeMans-winning 919mHybrid. To the right is Porsche Motorsport NA, the official racing headquarters of Porsche in the United States — a beautiful glassed-in shop for maintenance and restoration of so many iconic racecars. The road car classic center is similarly based in the Atlanta location. The cars sitting in the shop could write a road-racing and rally history book including a Lowenbrau-liveried 962, a Rothmans liveried 953, with the big lights on the front, an ex-Penske RS Spyder and several other beautiful examples.
The shop rebuilds an estimated 90 motors for current Porsche racecars per year with dyno testing. Historic racecars can get complete factory service on-site for motors, trans and bodywork. Fully outfitted, no job is too small in a ‘clean room’ environment. I would have eaten my lunch of the floor!
To the left is a retail store for die-cast, apparel and many Porsche-Design products and the Speedster Cafe gourmet coffee shop. But straight ahead, through the glass that covers the rear of the building, is the track! Purposely designed for driver development — not for competition as the road is too narrow — has numerous nuances of skill-building exercises to help any driver to react better to both spirited and normal driving situations. There are several ways to learn on the course using the Center’s fleet of 911, Panamera, 718 Boxster, 718 Cayman, Macan and Cayenne vehicles. Anyone can book a driving experience online at porschedriving.com. The center has a rotating fleet of 77 cars from the factory.
There are eight driving modules on the PEC’s combined 4.1 miles of circuits according to Dave Engelman at Porsche: “The Acceleration Straight provides a safe and controlled environment to fully explore how a Porsche accelerates using launch control with an added twist. Near the end of the nearly 3/4 mile straight, a replica of the Karussell (Carousel), the famous banked curve on the Nordschleife (North Loop) of the Nürburgring.”
Tricky technology awaits the driver as sudden emergency situations are literally sprung. “The Kick Plate is a computer-controlled hydraulic plate, set flush to the road surface, designed to induce loss of rear wheel traction, putting the car into a skid or spin. The driver will be taught the correct technique to ‘catch’ the slide and bring the car under control.”
Want to drive your Porsche in inclement weather? The PEC will teach you extreme car control. “The Ice Hill simulates an icy mountain road where a driver is likely to lose control up or down the hill. Ice Hill has a 7 percent slope, computer-controlled water jets and a low friction surface. This combination provides a unique and challenging scenario to test even the most experienced of drivers.”
Want to practice your racing lines? “A 1.3 mile handling course, combining the Eastern and Western Loop, is designed to mimic a country road with a number of corners and undulations. Here, a driver will learn the finer points on choosing the correct line when negotiating the curves and proper braking technique. The Handling Circuits have been designed not as a race track but as a challenging country road. Using the contours of the land we have created a flowing series of corners and undulations that all offer very different challenges for both car and driver. Visitors will learn the correct lines and braking points.”
There is even a high tech skid pad. “The Low Friction Circle consists of highly polished concrete on a wet surface that in turn creates an ideal environment to provoke, correct and hold oversteer at all speeds. This module is 300 feet in diameter.”
Own a Macan or Cayenne? You can learn how to truly handle the great outdoors. “The Off Road course is designed to show how the technical systems on the Porsche Cayenne or Macan work in off-road conditions. With 45 percent declines and ascents, rough terrain and unfeasible side slopes that challenge even the most focused 4x4s, the Cayenne and Macan are more than capable of conquering the toughest obstacles. After ascending to the top of a 25-foot hill, drivers are rewarded with a spectacular vantage point of the entire facility.”
Once you have mastered the skid pad, you can put those skills to work in a more practical way. “The Low friction handling course consists of a polished concrete surface with many curves to provide a situation where a vehicle can be placed in a oversteer condition. The polished concrete, demonstrates a low traction but dry surface condition.”
Once you have mastered Porsche driving — all under the supervision of expert instructors including factory race drivers — if you don’t already have a Porsche, you are going to want one. Consider that every Porsche is essentially a custom machine, with several options available, there is an Exclusive Design Studio on-site. It is here that you can observe all the options available to make your car your own. While the final delivery of the car will be at a dealer of your choice, the Design Studio will allow your choice of different packages including trims, wheels, and color combinations. Want a black on black 911 Targa with red piping, custom exhaust, and carbon fiber trim? Put the package together with a specialist while sipping a coffee from the Speedster Cafe, and the PEC sends the order directly to your dealer. The partnership with the dealers is exquisite and the PEC lends support to the dealers in attracting customers to the brand — but allowing the sales to be done locally to the buyer.
A very special room in the center is a Simulator Laboratory where before, after or alone, would-be Porsche drivers can learn techniques in a safe environment that replicates some of the world’s greatest racing circuits. Naturally, it was hard to resist getting some seat time. I ran a couple laps of Road America in a race prepped 911 GT3. The physics were very real as my overcooking the car in both the 90-degree turn 5 and the fast “kink,” taught some valuable lessons in straight line and trail braking that would have been very expensive — and possibly very painful in real life. The 10-plus machines in the room are all connected, so a group could have a virtual race.
Speaking of groups, there is a substantial conference center within the facilities that are regularly hired out for meetings, events —and considering the driving experience — a great team-building or award environment. Several companies have booked annual meetings at the PEC and a very regular rotation of driving experience participants keep the calendar very full. Because there are several private events regularly scheduled, if you are planning a visit, it would be prudent and logical to call ahead to check on availability for a visit, drive, dining, gawking…
Beyond the track and the romance of drifting a Porsche over an icy hill, the LeMans provenance of the marque is celebrated in the facility’s Five-Star restaurant, “917.” Located on the second floor, with a view of all the on track activities. Executive Chef Matt Lee, formerly of the Getty’s restaurant, prepares regional French cuisine, reminding the diner of being in the town of LeMans, along with numerous seasonal favorites. The wine selection is top-notch and selected by wine expert and General Manager Jerry Perez. The 2015 LeMans overall winner’s trophy is on display, while the vibe and ambiance recalls Porsche’s first overall victory with the mighty 917s. Even if you wanted to just dine at 917 within the PEC, without the rest of the experience, the restaurant is open Tuesday-Saturday for lunch and dinner to the public — because it has already become a popular dining spot, reservations are highly recommended.
Undoubtedly no other motoring brand has invested so much in reaching the public in such an intuitive and immersive way. Other marques have made solid attempts with success that are only a fraction of the experience here. This makes track days and European delivery very small in comparison. The Porsche Experience Center is a very complete adventure for the attendee that can be as simple or as filled with activity as they want.
Because Porsche is essentially an aspirational vehicle, a luxury that reflects personal success and status, by bringing the brand — and its cars — closer to the people, the overall enthusiasm will naturally grow amongst the faithful — and would be faithful. Certainly it adds to the mystique of Ferdinand and Ferry Porsche’s original dreams of beautifully designed and engineered cars.
It’s really like Disneyland!