Meet David Zu Elfe, a modern-day Odysseus who took his trusty Porsche daily driver on a mammoth adventure trip into the beautiful snow-covered wilderness of northern Europe
“When people say to me ‘You can’t’,” says David Zu Elfe, “my ears hear it as ‘You should probably do it’.” Call it foolhardy, call it reckless, call it romantic, but David's philosophy in life certainly doesn’t make things easy for him. Especially when it comes to his passion for cars, travel and adventure. It’s why he found himself, brother-in-law Jonas at his side, on the start line of a unique rally in Hamburg in February 2020. Ahead of them lay a 16-day, 7,500km journey around the Baltic states, across the top of frozen Scandinavia and on into Russia. In a 42-year-old Porsche 924 that they slept in, ate in and did their best to shelter in as temperatures plunged to -22 degrees Celsius. You’re probably thinking, ‘Why?’.
It's how you get there that counts
“I like doing things that you're not supposed to do,” explains David, a photographer who details his exploits on his Instagram account. To David, life is less about the destination itself, more about how you get there. Making things difficult for yourself? Even better.
Which is why, late in 2019, David and Jonas found themselves in the workshop of the motorhome dealership that Jonas’ father owns near Mannheim. Before them was David’s daily driver, his Porsche 924 (the third he has owned). The deadline? To be ready for the Baltic Sea Circle Rally, an event for vehicles over 15 years old, the following February. The task? Turn this ageing 924 into one capable of driving thousands of kilometres on snow, negotiating temperatures that would hamper most cars – and one to sleep in.
Feeling the force
Despite concerns about a lack of testing on the 924, David and Jonas reached the start line with the nine countries bordering the Baltic – plus Norway – ahead. But things started inauspiciously.
“We had a map for every country,” says David, explaining that using a GPS was against rally rules. “But not Hamburg. We had no clue where to go. We lost two hours on that first day because we ended up on the wrong Autobahn in the wrong direction.”
Finally heading into Denmark, over the Øresund bridge to Sweden, it wasn’t until the third day that the duo experienced snow. At this point, it’s a case of easy on the throttle, says David (against his true instincts). Through central Sweden they drove, eating up the kilometres, before crossing over into Norway and up, up, up towards Nordkapp – North Cape – Europe’s most northerly navigable point. As they crossed the Polar Circle, high up on the exposed Saltfjellet plain, David experienced a ‘moment’.
“It’s beautiful in daylight. But we did it in the night with light snowfall on perfect packed snow, with these poles on either side of the road,” he recalls. “Full beam on, lighting ahead – I felt like I was driving the Millennium Falcon! 120km/h on packed snow in that car feels twice as fast.”
There was a near miss with an elk, but one of the biggest challenges was mealtimes. Chopping garlic outside was a case of tag teaming, as your hands lose all feeling in seconds in the Arctic chill and biting wind. They lived on pasta, and quickly discovered that at these temperatures and in these conditions, pots on the stove struggle to boil. Thanks to their ingenious sleeping arrangements, they at least got decent rest, turning in under a canopy of stars and the aurora borealis’ dancing natural lightshow.
There’s no such word as "impossible"
On reaching Nordkapp, David experienced an epiphany. “I was there with a beer, at the northernmost drivable point on the European mainland, and realised that anything is possible,” he says. “If you’re determined enough you can make things happen that 99 per cent of people tell you isn’t possible. Nearly all the great achievements that I’ve read about are by people who ignored that.”
Back on the road, they headed into Finland. Here, says David, the mountains go away, the lakes – in this part of Finland, at least – disappear. Driving along roads that never seem to deviate from dead straight, lined with trees, trees and more trees.
“It is still beautiful, but it doesn’t captivate you,” he says. “The drama goes away. And if you have to drive ten hours a day, you really want to have something captivating you to get you through it.”
Due to distinct musical preferences – David is a fan of indie music, Vivaldi and Sinatra while Jonas is a hard rock man – they drove with only the song of the engine and their conversation for company as the temperature continued to drop.
“We’d talk a lot about the technical aspects of driving in the cold and the dynamics of the car – which is actually quite an interesting topic that you can drag on for quite a while,” he says, convincingly.
The weather worsened even further after passing into Russia (their favourite country – Norway apart – on the entire rally). Here, David recounts tales of locals roaring past in 45-year-old Ladas through thick snow, bemused by his car (few had seen a 924, let alone one as individual as this). Such was the car’s reliability, they were happy when the timing belt snapped in Estonia – it meant something to repair.
Going one step further
By the time David, Jonas and the 924 arrived back in Hamburg in one piece, just over a fortnight after setting off, thoughts had already turned to the next challenge – although the pandemic means that it’s currently on hold. It will involve another Porsche, another country, another set of skills to learn.
“What's even more stupid that I could do?” says David with a smile. “What would take me one step further? Make me learn new things. Make me see new places in a way people don’t usually see them. I don't care about the touristy stuff, I'm there for the experience, to prove to myself that I can do it. And do it in exactly the way that I envisioned it from the very beginning.”