U.S. Highway 129, cutting through the foothills of the Appalachian mountains, is a ribbon of tarmac that spans the gap from Tennesee to North Carolina. The section of the road that cuts through Deal’s Gap is known as the Tail of the Dragon, and it is regarded as one of the best driving roads in the world. With 318 turns in a span of only 11 miles, it is easy to see the appeal. Still, with so many sharp hairpin turns and sheer drop-offs on one side, the Dragon is not to be trifled with. Since 1995, nearly 40 people have lost their lives on this tiny strip of asphalt.
Despite being only an hour from my house, I have never tackled the Tail of the Dragon. Sitting in my driveway is one of the latest and most advanced toys from the house of Porsche, a 2014 Panamera S e-Hybrid . What better vehicle to tame the Dragon with than a plug-in hybrid that is over 16-feet long and costs more than my house? Best yet, I got news that a plug-in charging station had just been installed at the top of the mountain and nobody had used it yet.
I took it as a sign that I needed to be the first. I pointed the big Porsche south and went hunting for Dragons.
Read on to see how my first trip to U.S. 129 went.
Tackling Deal’s Gap didn’t seem like it would be a 100-percent walk in the park, and since I was driving someone else’s $130k car, I wanted to go with someone who knew the area. Thankfully, this weekend was the 18th annual Miatas at the Gap and the Knox Area Roadsters group that I met during my time with the 2014 Miata would be going. They were kind enough to let me tag along with their group as they blasted up the mountain.
It was a cool Saturday morning and the sun was just beginning to rise as I headed toward the meeting point to begin our run. I arrived to find more than a dozen KAR cars and members enjoying the crisp morning air. After a gentle ribbing about bringing a hybrid that is large enough you could almost park a Miata inside of it, we lined up and headed towards the mountain.
As we made our way down the long and winding road that leads to the Tail of the Dragon, I was feeling confident in my big Porsche. With Sport Plus engaged and the engine revving freely, it felt nimble and aggressive. Never once did I have issues keeping up with the convoy of modified roadsters .
At the base of the road we stopped one final time to get cameras sorted and make a game plan if we got separated or detained by one of the many fine employees of the state police that had been frequenting the road. With all preparations set, we began our 11-mile journey.
And less than a quarter-mile in, we stopped.
It seems that we had already been traveling too fast, and the State trooper that completely blocked the road was informing our convoy lead that he would be ticketing every car in our group if we didn’t find a safer speed. Oops.
With that sorted, we made our way at a more leisurely pace. At least it started leisurely.
Thanks to the terrain and the cut of the road, nearly every turn is banked allowing a car to carry tremendous speed. As you travel farther and farther up the mountain you just keep gaining momentum until you are on the ragged edge of what your car is capable of.
It was at this point I realized that what my Panamera was capable of, was far less than that of the modified Miatas. I was able to keep pace easily in the longer, windy roads leading to the Dragon, but after about six miles of blasting hairpins the Porsche started to suffer. The tires began to overheat and I was beginning to lose grip in every turn. Then the oil temp began to slowly climb farther up the gauge. I was pushing this car as hard as it could take, but it just didn’t seem to be enough.
Thankfully we found ourselves slowed by a few tourists meandering up the mountain and I was able to let the Panamera take a rest. It may be a Porsche, but it doesn’t have the same abilities or stamina as other cars in the family.
Upon reaching the top of the mountain, we pulled into the Tail of the Dragon store for a quick rest and beverage. I backed the car into the spot near the charging station, plugged in and took a few minutes to look back on my journey.
The Tail of the Dragon is not the most demanding road I have ever driven, but it is pretty easily in the top ten. Despite its shortcomings at the limit, I found myself strangely proud of the Panamera, too. Everyone agreed that I had done well to keep up with the group. As I sat there seeing it plugged-in, silently collecting enough electrons to waft me silently back down the mountain in unmatched comfort and luxury, I couldn’t help but be impressed.
Not only had I slain the dragon, but I did it in what seemed like the most unlikely of cars. It has its faults, and it could never be as sharp as its two-door siblings, but the Porsche Panamera S e-Hybrid is beyond capable of having a good time.
Just for fun, I decided to film a timelapse of the trip back down the mountain. I took a photo every second, and you can get a really good sense of chaotic the road can feel at speed.
I’d like to extend a personal Thank You to David Allison of US129Photos.com for providing the action shots in this piece.