When Porsche revealed its all-new Cayenne to the media in 2002, little could it have imagined that its very first UK press car would meet with an ignominious, ruinous end, barely a week after it entered the country, putting a halt to other important media coverage – much needed, since the Cayenne was to be Porsche’s saviour – and giving an unexpected exclusive to this magazine. I’m telling this story, which has been much embellished over the years, because I was the driver of said car.
Porsche GB had, in fact, two Cayennes available for key British media to appraise: a naturally aspirated S version, and a 450bhp Turbo model, which Autocar had access to for a full week. But the crowning glory was to be a group test between the Cayenne and its rivals. And if I told you that the working title for the cover story was to be ‘CAYENNE LEAPS ABOVE ITS RIVALS’, you can probably start to guess where this all started to go so horribly wrong.
Fortunately, by the end of our week with the German-registered, left-hand-drive Cayenne Turbo, we’d pulled all the figures from it and photographed seemingly every square inch of the car. Which just left the money shot, to be photographed at the notorious tank ramps at Chobham test facility in Surrey.
This was a big production. The editor, art editor and road test editor were all in attendance, and the brief was simple: snapper Pete Gibson, positioned 10m back from the top of the ramps, was to shoot the Cayenne as it pinged into view, with around two feet of ‘air’ beneath it. Rivals were to be photoshopped in on either side later to frame it and fit with the headline.
Former staffer Steve Sutcliffe was tasked with the jump, but after three attempts, the only air you could see beneath the mighty SUV’s giant wheels amounted to around five inches. "Nowhere near good enough," proclaimed art ed Steve Hopkins, as I stood on the side lines, smirking at Sutters – which, I now realise, was a mistake.
He handed me the keys: "You try it, then..."
It must have been at this point that Sutcliffe uttered the immortal words: "‘Go back about 10m - that should do it." So I did, and it did. With a longer run-up, by the time I was halfway up the ramp, both of the Porker’s turbos were wide awake and ready to transform the landlubber SUV into a machine of flight. Assembled onlookers reckoned the Cayenne reached its zenith at seven feet.
All I know is that I was staring into the face of a petrified photographer as my two-and-a-half tonne steed shot towards him like a search and destroy missile. Fortunately, Pete survived – God knows, he must have ran fast – but the Cayenne didn’t: three broken rims, four burst tyres, exploded dampers all round, catastrophic destruction of all under-body systems.
I did keep my job afterwards (thanks, Autocar!) but the epic image you see here was never shown on the cover. After all, would you believe that it was real?