Damn! Cameras flashing at us again! Must be the 50th time today so far. No surprise, really, as a 2010 Porsche Panamera Turbo is still rare enough to catch the attention of anyone with a camera or cell phone.
Only this time, it's the color of this Panamera that is catching everyone's attention. It's called "Hellelfenbeinweiss" and translates roughly as "light ivory white." It's the particular shade of beige that you'll find on every taxi in Germany. And it transforms this impossible dream of 500 horsepower and 188 mph into a realistic ride for anyone with a handful of Euros — from the backseat, of course.
So how did this $132,000 super sedan become the fastest taxi in the world? All it took was about 25 yards of contact paper, a yellow roof sign, a meter, a writing pad stuck to the windscreen, a few no-smoking and credit-card stickers and a rooftop communications aerial.
Two final touches bring true authenticity to this Porsche Panamera taxi, however: a beaded cover for the driver seat and a furry wrap for the rim of the steering wheel.
Never before have we been the subject of so much attention. In fact, by the time we'd driven through Hamburg, Germany, just once, we found that we were already starring in photos and films on the Internet! Is this a sign that some of the 22,000 taxi companies in Germany are missing a trick? "I had to send the photo to my boss immediately," says local taxi driver Herr Frank. "Otherwise he would never believe that there's a better option than a VW Touran minivan."
Other professional drivers are very keen to swap — rather too keen, in fact. "I'll give you my car, my house; heck, have my wife too!!" says Oliver Gulin as he's waiting at a rank outside the main train station in his Mercedes E200 CDI — the quintessential German cab. He's justifiably fearful that the next customer might not respect the "first-in-line" taxi selection once he catches sight of our Porsche. He's also concerned about our state of mind: "How on earth will you ever pay off the cost of a Panamera taxi!?" Other drivers don't seem so concerned by these economic details and simply consider doubling the average loan repayment for a taxi purchase to 40 years. It could work, particularly when you consider the added number of customers that will be attracted.
Just then three Slovenians appear and want to hire the Porsche Panamera taxi for their journey home, preferring the low-flying Porsche to a high life of a Lufthansa flight. "Straight to the autobahn! Let's see what it can do!" orders Popa Custian. Sadly, we must inform him that German law restricts taxis to a top speed of 120 km/h (75 mph) and we, too, have to stick to the rules.
Sebastian Bruckmann is our next fare, and we find him standing outside the Four Seasons hotel. Spontaneously, Bruckmann abandons his Volkswagen Eos at the curb and blows off his date with his girlfriend. He gets into the back of the car and says, "She will just have to understand." The Panamera taxi is a small economic miracle, creating demand where none existed before.
"I'm in seventh heaven," says Okan Uyma from Duisburg, when we pick him up later with his father at the train station. "This ride is worth every cent!"
A Three-Hour Tour
Other taxi drivers are stunned at the sight of a Porsche Panamera taxi in their midst. How is this possible, they ask? Is it official? We finally tell them that we actually only have a temporary permit to do this, and the rest is down to the miracle of contact paper and the right signage. And we're not allowed to actually take money from our passengers.
"You might as well have painted an Airbus A380 as a taxi," says taxi driver Herr Lutz, shaking his head. He drives an old Mercedes 190D and asks some probing and insightful questions about our prospects as a real taxi. "Does it cost 15 cents per kilometer?" he says. "This is how much it needs to cost to actually make money in this game."
But apparently it's not all about money for every taxi chauffeur. The completely flabbergasted driver of a Toyota Prius taxi rolls down his window and calls out, "I am definitely sitting in the wrong car. I might seem like a politically correct driver of an eco-hybrid, but I would exchange for the Panamera at once."
But in the long run, a Panamera taxi might not be a happy situation because there are so many problems with passenger-friendly utility, as the professionals in the cab rank in front of the central rail station are only too eager to tell us: "Three passenger seats are not enough. The luggage area is far too small for large suitcases. And the many switches in the rear will get broken so quickly!"
So we'll have to accept that the classic notchback sedan is still the answer for the average taxi fare. But for biology student Max Siemers, such real-world concerns are of no matter. He says, "I was going to go into medical research, but now I'm pretty sure I'll want to become a taxi driver when I finish my studies."
Life at the Cab Stand
Dorte Spannuth hops in at Messe Strasse and barks "Quickly, to the train station!"
OK, let's see what we can do. We've got the Sport button engaged and we execute the launch control and WRRRROOOOOAAAAHHH, we rocket off. Once we get her to her destination, the food-technology consultant is shocked and stutters something about "extreme sports" as she comes to the driver window to pay. Appropriately, just at this point, a police car is blocking our way. Smells like trouble.
"Give me your number," the policeman says. What number, what does he mean? Passenger receipt? License number? "No, your telephone number!" he explains. "Tonight I'm leaving my car at home when I go out and calling you instead! Go on, get on your way," he says with a broad smile. Even in this relatively down-at-heel area of the city there's a small ripple of applause from onlookers.
We won't go so far as to say this is the "Panamera effect," but it does have to be said that painting a large, powerful status symbol in beige does seem to have a miraculous effect on people. All the envy and resentment that might have been displayed by the general public is dissolved utterly, as if a simple coat of paint has suddenly rendered this plutocratic monster classless. Wherever the beige giant appears it is joyfully welcomed and its driver overwhelmed with questions: "How much? Why only two rear seats? Diesel or petrol?"
Back to Reality
When we're stopped in traffic we spot another Porsche Panamera. We give the driver a friendly wave. No response. And then he does the mother of all double-takes, has a better look and then stares stubbornly straight ahead. Well, he's been the first person all day who has not been delighted at the sight of the Taxi-mera. We're soon back to business as usual, though, as camera phones are brandished everywhere.
So what are the chances that a taxi company might have the courage to run a fleet of high-end luxury cabs? After all, it didn't take more than a little chutzpah to make this conversion. Fat chance, probably. But then a young boy dashes over to the car while we're stopped at a traffic light to look on with genuine delight. Flash goes his cell phone.
Another flash to add to the many.
Portions of this content have appeared in foreign print media and are reproduced with permission.