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February 27, 2024

Sheer Pleasure – One Family’s European Journey in a Classic - Part 2

The next road trip on the Leonards’ list, to the Italian Dolomiti later that summer, would offer ample opportunity (Part I).

With school out, it was time once again to encounter the freedom of the road. And what better way than plot your destination 400 miles south, into the heart of the Italian Dolomites and the picturesque alpine town of Cortina d’Ampezzo. It was summer at last.

Taking advantage their tax-free gas coupons by filling up at the ESSO station enroute from Wiesbaden, they set off towards the Bavarian Alps and the popular alpine town of Garmisch- Partenkirchen, nicknamed Ga-Pa. As the 356A ascended to new heights through the glorious Wetterstein mountain range, it was an opportunity for the family to catch their breath and shift down in every sense of the word. Max Leonard, easy on the throttle, patiently embraced each steep gradient, the Porsche holding steady as it crested over each new ascent.

Before long, they feasted their eyes on Germany’s highest peak, the Zugspitze, (9,718 feet), and enjoyed Ga-Pa and its heavenly neighbouring villages of Grainau and Mittenwald that sat nestled at the foot of the massif. It was the perfect place to stop and pull up the handbrake. Find a charming hotel and indulge in a little sweet apfelkuchen. And why not also a photo op for one sleek red car and summit behind it? As a popular destination, the striking Porsche 356A, parked on a slope, frequently stole the limelight.

“Wherever we stopped, people were endlessly drawn to that red sportscar” reminisces Mark. What started as a stretch of the legs soon stretched imaginations, such was the fascination about the car. “The Porsche was a conversation piece for sure,” he adds.

Leaving Bavaria, they crossed into Austria at Scharnitz to then traverse through the lush countryside of the Austrian Tyrol into Innsbruck. From there, taking what was then a sparsely populated two-lane road, the spectacular Brenner Pass from Steinach to Sterzing gave way to an unforgettable ride. Taking them through the Alps that form the border between Austria and Italy, the Porsche was master of the road, as it climbed through switchbacks that opened up to spectacular 6000 ft valleys.

“You felt like you were the only one on the road,” says Mark.

Eventually crossing into northern Italy and the Province of Bulluno, jagged rock spires and jaw- dropping terrain quickly gave way to Monte Cristallo, one of four peaks part of the Cristallo Mountain group. Standing at over 10,000 ft, it was a majestic sight. The Leonards switched off the ignition and settled into the ambience of Cortina D’Ampezzo cradled in the valley below. Home to the 1956 winter Olympics, it was already a hugely popular spot for Europeans and in these summer months, offered the Leonard family a rest stop to kick back and enjoy their alpine sojourn before heading home.

Of course, as he knew all too well, for Max Leonard and his intrepid family, it would be just that, a rest stop, a pause, a chance to reflect. Until the next time. He couldn’t help but ponder it. Another map. Another place. That anticipation of the next quest for adventure, when the twists and turns of the wide, open road incessantly called, and the sensual delights on 4 wheels beckoned.

Sixty years on, Mark Leonard of Grand Prix Classics in La Jolla, CA, and his own son, Max, found themselves on a quest of their own. After a tireless search to locate his father’s actual Porsche 356A in Ruby Red, he was sadly unable to find it. He did, however, take great pride in adding one very honest survivor to his collection – the exact same model in Ivory with a red interior. In tribute to his parents and their passion for the open road, Leonard lovingly restored it, entering it into various car shows and rallies.

All worth it. All sheer pleasures of a very beautiful life – and a very special Porsche.