Road trip to Bonneville in a Porsche 356 Outlaw

Road trip to Bonneville in a Porsche 356 Outlaw

A road trip to Bonneville in a 356 Outlaw — does it get much better? Well, yes, as we discovered when encountering two brothers at the end of their pilgrimage to the historic salt flats of Utah… Words Dan Furr and Bryn Musselwhite. Photography Andy Tipping.


Driving a 356 to the Bonneville Salt Flats.

Bonneville. It’s a destination which has inspired a thousand dreams. The Salt is a mighty powerful catalyst — covering a huge area northeast of Wendover, Utah, it’s the venue for the annual Speed Week, World of Speed and World Finals racing events, the type of which have been hosted at the historic motorsport site since 1912, though it wasn’t until Sir Malcolm Campbell smashed the 300mph barrier in the Blue Bird prototype in 1935 that Bonneville really began to register on the radar of those whose blood has its own octane rating. Since that time, numerous land speed records have been set and broken on the salt flats of what was once the largest Late Pleistocene paleolake in the Great Basin of western North America, and thousands flock to the site each year. Even so, it is a desolate, isolated location and takes no prisoners.

Road trip to Bonneville in a Porsche 356 Outlaw

We’ve stood on its magnificence and listened to echoes of speed, from high-speed Harleys to super-EVs, the latest eye-popper being the Venturi Buckeye Bullet 3, pushed by Roger Schroer to an amazing 341mph, though even this achievement pales when compared to the efforts of the late Gary Gabelich, who set the FIA’s land speed record with his Blue Flame rocket car in October 1970, achieving an astonishing 622.407mph in the flying mile and 630.388mph in the flying kilometre. Peak speed was 650mph.

Needless to say, it’s abundantly clear why so many petrolheads make the pilgrimage to Bonneville. Brothers, Matthew and Michael Schumacher (no, not that one), are two such enthusiasts, driving their 356 A from their home in Minnesota to the bright white American landscape via the Pacific coastline following the car’s recent resurrection. “Back in 2001, I was looking for a project 356,” says Matthew. “Prices back then were bearable, even for a doer-upper like this one, which was a non-runner and had been in storage for eight years.”

Road trip to Bonneville in a Porsche 356 Outlaw

The previous owner had sorted various bodywork complaints prior to leaving the air-cooled classic in a state of suspended animation. This head start eliminated much toil for the Schumachers, who reasoned the car’s refreshed metalwork would need little more than a coat of colour. So far, so good. The deal was done and the car was carted to the Schumacher family residence.

When the Porsche landed at its new home, the boys began to strip the new arrival to its component parts in readiness for a full rebuild. “What we bought was essentially a ‘Frankenstein’ 356,” laughs Matthew. “The 356 A body was paired with a 356 B Super engine, B doors and a matching deck lid. The car must have benefited from a B-series donor at some point in its life. We did get a spare Type 741 transmission with our purchase, but with what became an increasingly mismatched pile of parts, we took a step back and reasoned we had the freedom to put our own stamp on a classic Porsche without fear of losing originality — there really wasn’t any originality to lose!” The car moved even further away from factory specification when a local hot-rodder offered up a tuned flat-four lifted out of a much later 356. “We got hold of the engine, bolted up the 741 gearbox, bought a short shifter, custom air cleaners, new Weber carburettors and looked forward to quick stirring,” Matthew smiles.

Road trip to Bonneville in a Porsche 356 Outlaw

With Outlaw influence in their minds, the brothers commissioned custom caliper brackets to carry Wilwood four-piston anchors with drilled discs. They also purchased Lexan lightweight polycarbonate windows and acquired carbon- Kevlar door panels in the interests of making the car lighter, thereby promoting more economical motoring as well as quicker pace. In fact, this gorgeous 356 tips the scales at little more than 800kg. Ideal for track work, yes? If that’s the case, why do we find it sitting atop the one place on earth with no corners?!

“The idea for an ambitious road trip came about when I jokingly laughed to Michael that nobody would be stupid enough to travel thousands of miles in an untested old Porsche with no radio, no cruise control, no air-conditioning and none of the other creature comforts drivers are so used to taking advantage of these days,” Michael remembers. Cutting the laughter short, the boys stared at each other and, without saying a word, knew what the other was thinking. A pregnant pause later, the silence was broken with three simple-but-life-changing words: let’s do it.


The car’s electrics were swiftly reworked, while the suspension was reinforced with boxed trailing arms, strengthened support members, reinforced C-links and a Skirtmants Racing rear camber regulator, bought direct from 356 Enterprises. Unlike the Super 90 camber compensator, which by itself does nothing to improve the host Porsche’s handling, the Skirtmants part improves cornering by working like a Z-bar, decreasing rear wheel lift during cornering. The Super 90 part was installed at the factory at the same time as softer torsion bars, enabling the 356 to boast the same load-carrying capabilities as before, while helping the front end to take more cornering loads. The softer torsion bars, however, resulted in more body roll at the rear, increasing understeer and making it impossible to prevent the back wheels from ‘jacking up’ around bends at high speed. Much to Michael’s delight, the Skirtmants Racing replacement part cures this complaint and is a direct bolt-on, with adjustable links to ensure proper pre-loading.

Replica Fuchs five-leaves were painted black and fitted, while a mountain of masking tape was used to protect vulnerable areas of the 356’s body, such as its nose, sills and wheel arch lips, areas likely to be susceptible to stone chips and other damage across many thousands of miles. That said, we’re not going to pretend Matthew and Michael simply hopped into their classic Porsche and set the controls for the salt flats of Bonneville. Both Schumachers were desperate to create memories, and though travelling fast and light is a great idea, they were sensible enough to hope for the best and plan for the worst, enlisting their father to fabricate a custom luggage rack capable of holding two bulging backpacks (which, at first glance, look like rocket launchers atop the 356’s engine lid) stuffed full of camping equipment. The ‘frunk’ was filled with tools, fluids, gasket paper and a spare wheel, leaving the Porsche’s less than generous CocoMat-lined cabin to accommodate both occupants, their clothes, toiletries, towels a portable stereo and, er, a football. Sensibly, the car was kitted-out with a rear roll cage, further stiffening the chassis and offering protection in case of accident. Leaving their family home in Minneapolis early morning, the brothers made their way into mid-Nebraska by nightfall. It’s a wide, open state, with the east-west Interstate 80 transcontinental freeway — running from Teaneck, New Jersey, all the way to downtown San Francisco, California — appearing to holding the surrounding arable farmland together, acting much like a giant zip. Finding somewhere to set up camp for the night was no problem, leading the Schumachers and their plucky Porsche to head on to Colorado at daybreak. “As soon as we approached the Rocky Mountains, we needed to re-jet the engine’s carburettors,” Matthew tells us. “We then set our sights on Mount Evans, the highest peak of the Mount Evans Wilderness in the Front Range of the Rockies.” With an elevation of 4,350 metres dominating the western skyline of the Great Plains, it wasn’t easy to miss, and soon found itself being climbed by a classic German sports car. “We started at the base and worked our Porsche all the way up to the top,” Matthew continues. “It’s the highest paved road in the whole of the USA. We really enjoyed the drive and had a great time travelling back down again, stopping halfway to camp for the night.” Pretty awesome stuff, but it gets better. “We then took ourselves onto a dirt road for about twenty-five miles, following a fast-flowing stream. This led us to Colorado Springs and in the direction of our next stopover: Pikes Peak.”


Another of North America’s loftiest summits, Pikes Peak is the highest point of the southern Front Range of the Rockies with what’s described an “ultra-prominent” fourteener, higher than any point in the USA east of its longitude. The site is also world famous for the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb, otherwise known as Race to the Clouds, a motorsport event held since 1916, covering almost thirteen miles, 156 turns and climbing to more than 4,302 metres. The track formerly comprised both asphalt and gravel surfaces, but in the interests of driver and passenger safety, the entire track was resurfaced in 2011, making it fully paved. Much like the salt flats of Bonneville, it’s a venue with legend and history at its core, irresistible to the brothers Schumacher and their modified Porsche. “We made it all the way up to the top and back down again without any drama,” reports Matthew, proud of the Porsche’s reliability, but stressing there were still many more miles to kill.


This sense of adventure is exactly what owning a classic Porsche is all about. “After the Pikes Peak detour, we ventured through Four Corners, where Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah meet, before heading into the Painted Desert, running from the east end of the Grand Canyon National Park and famous for its stripy red rocks,” Matthew recalls. He’s certainly amassed an amazing collection of photos from the trip, though both he and Michael began to worry about how well the Porsche would perform across long distances in temperatures touching forty degrees centigrade. They needn’t have worried — the air-cooled powerplant performed admirably, encouraging the boys to make their way to the Grand Canyon itself, where their 356 seemed to attract more admiration than the mile-deep hole.

The same was true when the car rolled into view at the nearby Hoover Dam. There was, however, trouble in paradise. “After leaving the Grand Canyon, we realised the clutch was slipping,” sighs Matthew. “We were very nervous. Perhaps our dream drive was about to turn into something hellish?” To put this into perspective, it’s important to note the drive from the Grand Canyon to, well, anywhere, is devoid of comfort. The landscape is huge, miles are measured in their hundreds and assistance isn’t exactly easy to come by. Unless you can limp your complaining old Porsche to Las Vegas, that is, where network television sensation and marque specialist, The 900 Series (formerly Carl’s Place), is on hand to help. And if you’re really lucky, shop proprietor, Tony ‘Professor Porsche’ Mazzagatti, might even have a new clutch in stock for your ailing 356!

During the five hours it took to repair the car, the boys walked the Las Vegas Strip, and as if their trip wasn’t already punctuated by a wealth of amazing sights and bucket list destinations, they ticked yet another petrolhead dream off their wish list by spending the night under the starry skies of the Mojave desert. Wait. What? Desert crossings in a 356? “That’s what we did, at 3am, in order to take advantage of lower ambient temperature,” Matthew confirms. We’d take any hour of this story and be quite happy, thank you very much, but every step of Matthew and Michael’s journey is amazing, not least their decision to hit the coast north of Los Angeles, before heading along the legendary Pacific highway. Flicking between hills and dunes, the sun shining and the sea glistening, it didn’t take much for the boys to decide it was time to dip a toe or ten, after which, they ventured further north in pursuit of the Pacific Grove Concours Auto Rally and a little family reunion.

“Our parents and our little sister, Jane, flew in to meet us. As a unit, we also travelled to Laguna Seca to watch the Monterey Historic Races.” Nice choice, but it gets better. “The next day saw the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, which we all went to, before driving along the coast to Stinson Beach, just north of the Bay area.” A few days giving the Porsche a break, learning to surf and generally having fun followed. Home, however, was calling. Two thousand miles lay between San Francisco and Minneapolis. The route back east would take the 356 straight back to Nevada, Utah and on. Bonneville is near the halfway mark and is where we met the Schumachers after their 717-mile drive from California.


A trip of this magnitude, taking in so many different landscapes and covering so many miles, may be difficult to comprehend if you’re reading this magazine in Europe, especially if you live as part of an island nation. On the vast expanse of Bonneville’s salt flats, however, the concept is easy to get to grips with — the space and sheer sense of freedom you get from this place makes you want to wander without concern. It certainly makes us want to plan a road trip, stat. Let’s not look through rose-tinted spectacles, though. Shortly after we said our goodbyes, the Schumachers had a sharp wake-up call from the American Dream. “About thirty miles east of Salt Lake City, we experienced an almighty bang from the back end of the car,” grimaces Michael. “The oil pressure light came on. Immediately, we pulled onto the hard shoulder and inspected the engine, only to discover an exhaust valve retainer had busted free.” Not good, and after a detailed examination at Volkswagen and Porsche repair specialist, RSR Motorsports in Layton, the worst was confirmed. “The engine was pronounced dead. With the sump off and the oil draining, pieces of metal were falling into the pan.”

Gutted but ever resourceful, the brothers Schumacher flew home and had the Porsche shipped back thereafter. The old B-motor was installed upon the impotent 356’s arrival, but only as a means to get the car up and running in quick order. “We’ve actually got our sights set on a tuned flat-four originally fitted to a 912,” Matthew reveals. And as he and Michael discovered, once you’ve got the road under your wheels, it’s hard to shake it off. “We’re going to head back to Salt Lake City and complete the last leg of our trip as intended,” he says, defiantly. We believe him, and we can’t wait to find out what unexpected adventure awaits along the way.

Above The brothers taking time out to admire the view before hopping back in their Porsche and continuing the epic road trip.

Above Masking tape around the wheel arches and rear bodywork protected the car from the ills of stone chips. Top right Donor flat-four gave up the ghost on the way back to Minnesota after enduring extremes of temperature, altitude and terrain. Below Anybody who tells you potato chips, a football and a portable stereo aren’t essentials for a road trip should be incarcerated. Above The car’s cabin had a definite ‘lived in’ feel about it when we caught up with the Schumachers in Utah.

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