L3Iw7f9e 8 Flowing the 911
8 Flowing the 911
Flowing the 911 into yet another bend.

A 911, top down and the Swiss version of heaven

Car: Porsche 911 Turbo S cabriolet

Drive: Susten, Furka and Grimsel passes, Switzerland

Pix: Dawn Green


Think the Swiss Alps and expect an avalanche of awesome.

The Big Three deliver, as in the Holy Trinity of mountain passes – Susten, Furka and Grimsel.

To enjoy this  twisting, climbing and descending stretch of high-octane hot mix to the max you need an appropriate set of wheels.

As luck would have it, I had such a thing – a Porsche 911 Turbo S Cabriolet.

Luck? You better believe it.

The model 991.1 was a free upgrade for a Porsche Boxster S I had booked earlier for a day through Edel & Stark, prestige car hire specialists in Zurich.

Me, a bloke who couldn’t normally win a chook raffle.

I was still shaking my head in amazement as we headed south on a blue-sky morning from home base at Horw, outside Lake Luzern.

Already, just skirting the shimmering lake, the 911 and I are bonding nicely.

I love sitting low in a sports car, especially roof down. Some might find it feels vulnerable, but to me the closer my backside is to the bitumen, the more car and I are connected.

This is how you roll in a range-topper 911, snug in a well-sculpted, leather sports seat with 18-way electric memory adjustment, steering wheel a perfect diameter and thickness, hands at the optimum nine-and-three position, gear-shift within easy fall-to-hand.

We’re in contented cruise mode, adaptive dampers set to ‘Comfort’ and the 3.8-litre twin-turbocharged flat-six, all 412kW and 750Nm of it, muzzled for the moment.

Soon, it will be let off leash.


Susten Pass (46km, 2260m)   

The 120km loop that connects all three passes can be driven in either direction, but I had done my homework and opted for clockwise – Susten, Furka and Grimsel in that order – it seemed to be the way to go.

So, at Innertkirchen, we hang a left onto Highway 11, the Sustenstrasse. A former mule track and important trade route back in the Middle Ages, the name is derived from Sust, which roughly translates as warehouse or store.

Built between 1938 and 1945, the Sustenstrasse is considered the most modern mountain road of the entire Alpine region.

It plots a long, winding course through a broad expanse of lush, green meadows, with the odd tighter bend here and there as a pointer to what lays ahead.

A cluster of houses appear and we pass an elderly woman tending a flowerbox under a roadside sign that reads ‘Fuhren’.

I wave, but she appears not to notice ‘just’ another Porsche passing by.

Next up is Gadmen, a larger village in an equally delightful, stereotypical setting.

Then, leaving the valley and ascending the mountain, things ramp up technically.

Corners, linked by short straights, tighten into hairpins, many at about 180 degrees. The 911 relishes the challenge.

Compared with their coupe siblings, convertibles, by nature lack the ‘nth’ degree of torsional rigidity and the handling prowess and composure that brings.

The 911, it would appear, defies the template. Under hard cornering, I’m finding the fabric-top 991.1 gripping resolutely and powering on in ultimate all-paw proficiency without hint of lateral sway.

There’s no kick-back through the steering, no scuttle shake. Impressive. 

Approaching the  summit, the Sustenstrasse relaxes its tautness, inviting a quick-fire probe into 3rd and 4th gears. The road arcs left around a glistening lake then begins to simulate what could pass for one great, big, fat theme park ride.

Tunnelling into the mountain, we get spat out the other side, into a sharp left turn onto a tarmac ledge perched vertiginously above the valley below.

Time, now, to pull over and drink in the views of the 3500m-tall glaciated colossus, the Sustenhorn.

Making a gradual descent from the pass, the road clings to the side of the valley and settles into a rhythm of sweeping bends and kinks as it wends its way to the village of Meien.

It’s here where the carbon brakes secure our rapid progress.

A succession of tunnels takes us on to Wassen, complete with church and antique spire towards (but not into) Andermatt.

We then turn onto Route 19, the Furkastrasse.


Furka Pass (40km, 2431m) 

The Furkastrasse runs straight and true towards Hospental and onto and past Realp – but beware, I’ve been advised, that this makes it a hotbed of speed limit enforcement.

Best treat it as a ‘transport stage’. The reason we’re here, the climb to the clouds, will begin soon enough.

And then, it’s game on. Long, winding curves through lush greenness sprinkled with colourful wild flowers lead into steeper grades. The road narrows and contorts and the plethora of switchbacks seem stitched together.

There’s little in the way of guard rail, just mere, small stone bollards, and the whole scene is pretty much as per that memorable 007 movie scene of nearly 60 years ago where Tilly Masterson takes a pot shot at Auric Goldfinger from high up.

You know the one – Bond, James Bond, after inadvertently caught in the line of fire catches up with the femme fatale and forces her Mustang convertible off the road in his tyre-slashing DB5.

The 911 applauds our progress with a guttural howl from the flat-six as we cut into the meat of its mid-range.

Getting on and off the throttle fails to provoke any discernible shunt from the twin-turbos, rather, far from it. Instead, there’s a surging, near-linear response in delivery.

In this type of going, 2nd gear among the tightly-stacked 7-speed dual-clutch box is all we need, but on the occasion when 1st or 3rd are called for, the (paddle) shifts down or up are super-quick on the draw.

The introduction of active anti-roll control on the 91.1 has taken the 911’s ability to carve a corner up another notch to stellar. Rear-wheel steering, new also, adds to the overall agility. 

This a one helluva stonking drive. On reaching the summit, we park and take in the stunning views down the western side of the Furka and up the southern side of the Grimsel; the road an asphalt zigzag etched against a colossal background of green, backgrounded by the snowy caps of the distant Bernese Alps framed against a brilliant blue sky.

Built in 1882, right beside the road and on a perfectly-profiled hairpin, the Belvedere Hotel once hosted travellers and visitors in ultimate style and comfort.

The list of luminaries even included Pope John XXIII. But no more. Today, the Belvedere is closed, but it remains a man-made landmark among the wonder of nature that defines the Swiss Alps.

Literally across the road is the Rhone Glacier, the origins of which can be traced back more than 11,000 years.

Like the Belvedere, it’s seen better days. Global warming is claimed to be contributing to melting, on average per year, a 40m front of its expanse a year, but it defiantly retains a mighty presence.

Best thing is, you can pay a small admission charge and step 100m inside an ice grotto that has been carved out the glacier annually since the late 1800s.

If the thought of entering a hotel-sized block of ice sounds surreal, then the actual reality is way, way more so. With each metre of the boardwalk, the light fades and the ice glows an increasingly deeper hue of blue.  

From here, Belvedere Bend, the downhill spiral to Gletsch could not be more different to the eastern ascent.

After descending a series of tightly-stacked hairpins, where the 911’s carbon brakes impress yet again their excellent feel and stopping power, the road broadens into smooth, beautifully-radii-ed sweepers that would do justice to the best of racing circuits, as it curves and carves its way down to the village.


Grimsel Pass (38km, 2164m) 

Together with the descent from Furka, the ascent to Grimsel is one of the best, damn bits of blacktop you could drive anywhere.

At Gletsch, we turn right onto Route 6 and confront a series of high-stepped hairpins before the road again uncoils. With such width and long lines of sight, opportunities to overtake safely abound. 

The 911 revels in the free-flow and we’re immediately into that very special rhythm when driver, car and road connect viscerally: braking just hard enough to turn the nose in, down-shifting at exactly the right revs, flowing the 911 into the corner, and squeezing the power on early but progressively to fast-forward to the next bend.

The beauty of this place is, a few seconds later, you get to do it all over again. And again . . .

Marking the top of the ascent is a rusty motorcycle/rider/pillion sculpture alongside a sign proclaiming ‘Grimsel 2164m 7100ft’.

As is the way of mountain passes everywhere, nearby sits a conveniently (and strategically)-placed cafe/restaurant.

From the Grimsel, we continue north, through Guttannen, and on to Innertkirchen and complete the loop.

But, our attack of the bends is not done. Not yet. More hairpins and corners trace the mountainside first-up before the road flattens along the Totensee and (larger) Grimselsee lake shorelines, then climbs steeply through alpine forest.

The beat goes on, and so could this narrative, but I’m running out of superlatives in attempting to do this great drive justice. 


Porsche 911 Turbo S cabriolet

Basic price: $502,500

Engine: 3.8-litre twin-turbo DOHC 24v flat 6-cyl

Power: 412kW @ 6500-6750 rpm

Torque: 750Nm @ 2200-4250 rpm

Transmission: 7-spd PDK auto

Weight: 1670kg

Drive: All-wheel drive

0-60km/h: 3.0 secs


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