Rigs, Jeeps, expedition vehicles and especially #VanLife is everywhere right now, and for good reason. Modern-day Magellans have made it their mission to use their vehicles as a tool for optimal experience elevating the road trip to a right of passage.
After all, sometimes the whole point of heading outside is to get away from everything – and everyone. But you need to be a special breed to not only overcome the obstacles along the way but to navigate through breathtaking landscapes practically devoid of services, and then land yourself safely back on the pavement.
Oftentimes, well-traveled two-track eventually turns into rough and unimproved forest roads in a tangled web of backcountry discovery routes. Tree stumps replace road signs and detours can be common, leaving enthusiasts rethinking their recovery systems when they get stuck or manage extraction in the event of a broken axle or other unfortunate breakdown.
If overlanding wasn’t already challenging enough, there are people like Matt Hummel whose roots are not only firmly planted in the tradition of going the distance in a vintage vehicle, but also doing it completely unsupported.
The inspiration to do it in a classic Porsche is steeped in decades of rally racing and an affinity for romanticizing classic sportsman culture. In fact, he fully embraces the idiosyncratic difficulties that come with each shift of the stick. Like a Telemark skier, fixed-gear cyclist or finless surfer, antiquated instruments marry man to technology – or lack thereof – and allow Hummel to travel to a time where every spine shattering bump puts one closer to the process.
Here he talks about what led him down the road less traveled.
What was the journey that led to you owning a classic Porsche in the first place?
I was born loving all “car everything” but one day at about 12 years old I was introduced to a 356 Porsche … and that was everything. It was my first girlfriend’s mom’s 356 and I just couldn’t pull myself away from their garage and wanting to sit in the car. Her parents joked about how I was only interested in their daughter because of the 356.
Have you ever seen something so beautiful you’re compelled to seek it out? An image you’re drawn to? The 356 did something for me visually and that led me into surrounding myself with them, and best of all, driving them.
Does she have a name?
I didn’t name her. I actually don’t name my cars at all. But this 1956 356 has created a name for herself. Because of the old California black license plates issued to her long ago, people have referred to her as, “The Don.”
Many people don’t know that Porsche is steeped in a long history of off-road rally racing. How closely have you followed that lineage and are there any stand out stories that inspired your journey?
Today, people have become accustomed to seeing these old cars restored to a meticulous state – so pretty and perfect you couldn’t imagine driving one in a seemingly damaging mannerism. But if you look back through history you’ll discover an entirely different type of owner. One that, today, would be deemed as solely reckless.
A lot of these 356’s were bought new intentionally for the sport of racing and a lot of that racing was in off-road rallies. Because of their agility, their fate was a popular choice for these demanding sports and the time period photos tell a wild past. I cherish this history, I get lost in those forgotten images and often find myself trying to recreate a glimpse of that experience in my own 356.
Is there anything particular about the 356 that makes it more ideal for off-road travel?
Not really. Under normal circumstances, it’s not an ideal off-road vehicle. Although one thing that I’ve found ideal is the smaller wheel-base. That has allowed me to find alternative paths through rugged dirt roads, which has been necessary only to reach a secluded section of dirt road to get to those ideal driving locations.
Even driving a modern car on a rutted-out fire road can be pretty brutal. How do you prepare a 60-year-old vehicle for the road less traveled?
That’s a great question because I’m still trying to figure it out too. Usually, a quick inspection to make sure mechanical functions are functioning. Sometimes, if I start noticing how much work it really needs I would never go anywhere. I’ll throw a few spare parts in the car and start driving and see what happens.
If it breaks, I’ll fix it; I accept this as part of the adventure. I like working on my 356 while traveling. It creates more of an interesting experience and possibly meet more people. I prepare myself mentally so it’s not a surprise. It’s inevitable to break down no matter how prepared you are.
In 2015, you got to live one of your dreams by driving in the La Carrera Panamericana race. What was that like?
The best time ever! Think about crawling out of bed every morning and into a vintage race car, driving as fast as you can all day and then be greeted in a historic city in Mexico with streets lined of fans cheering, and then a huge party that night. Wait, and then you wake up the next day driving closed back roads through the interior of Mexico again finishing in another historic city. And then wait again, you do that for a week!
So you ask what’s that like? It’s like being alive and loving every exhilarating demanding moment of it. Take me back, let’s do this again. And again. And again. It becomes your life. Everything else fades away and it’s just you and that race. Frank Oliveto with son Tony, built the monster 1940 Cadillac LaSalle and generously allowed me to have the time of my life.
What is your favorite route to date and how far have you taken the 356?
Oh man, I can’t tell you and everyone else that. My favorite routes are those that I’ve found without expectations, just simple exploring and discovering an empty old remote road full of curves and fun. Then it’s a different accomplishment and it becomes more rewarding. And best of all, no people. But I have taken the 356 from the desert to the mountains on dirt roads intended for four-wheel-drive purposes. That’s a different type of far … like far from normal.
Your community really seems to love what you do. Has your passion for Porsches led to meeting a number of people who share similar interests?
For sure, it’s led me to making new friends around the world. People that share and support my journey, and are out there creating their own too. The cool part of this is connecting with these like-minded people in my travels. It’s what helps broaden the dynamic and keeps my motivation fueled up.
We’ve talked a little bit about the satisfaction of the “barn find.” What else have you discovered on your hunt for classic cars?
Yeah, the world of “barn finds” has been a total addiction. I had my first big find when I was 18. I’ve been a seeker of the lost ever since and unintentionally was before, too. So what have I found? I found a way of life. Some people think it’s about scoring a deal and making money, but it’s not always and that’s a sad way to look at it.
It’s about appreciation for things lost, stories untold and an education of the past. I’ve discovered the people who created their barn of treasures by default. They are (sometimes) the true treasures! Their stories are gold. A barn can be a fascinating world full of cool junk, respect it. Oh, and I did recently find a barn with a bunch of old Porsche 4-cam engine parts, that was pretty cool.
What’s in store for 2019? Any ambitious plans for you and the 356?
I had a wild 2018 with another 356 that I bought while in Tennessee, and then I shipped it to France to road trip around Europe. That was fun. So 2019 I need to catch up on projects and this winter treat the 1956 356 some much needed chassis love, connect with my friends and take shorter distance trips, probably exploring some new back road in Northern California.
Also, I’m gearing up for another vintage Porsche road trip in Europe next summer in 2020. So If you’re living in Europe and reading this, lets meet up and can I sleep on your couch?
You can follow all of Matt’s adventures on his Instagram.
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