This summer, a mass migration occurred on levels not seen for half a decade. Several hundred humans climbed aboard their various-shaped Porsches [Air-Coolus Porscheus] and plotted a course to a remote field in the Oregon countryside. They hailed from the continent’s far-flung reaches, some from as far away as Florida. To observe their behavior during this pilgrimage, my 1976 Porsche 912E and I infiltrated their ranks and befriended the travellers to see what could possibly be worth the trouble. The courses were plotted and several smaller packs traveled together to the ceremonial fields, the grounds of the Parts Obsolete campus in McMinnville, Oregon.
Emory’s Porsche Campout is a longstanding tradition in the vintage air-cooled community. The Emory clan is held in high esteem, in large part because of this event. For 18 straight years, they hosted the Campout until in 2012 when they stopped. For 2017, the event returned with a bang, a five-year reunion of sorts. More than 750 people participated, bringing hundreds of Porsches from Jeff Zwart’s 1953 Pre-A on up to a smattering of brand-new Porsche models. The Porsche-centric event even welcomed a few Volkswagen folk.
To understand Emory Porsche Campout, you first have to understand the Emory family. I made it my duty to track down Gary Emory, who founded the event. He held court throughout the weekend, spinning his Porsche yarns. When a Porsche pioneer like Gary is around, people pay attention. When prompted, Gary was more than happy to discuss Emory Porsche Campout’s origins.
Neil Emory, Gary’s father, was an influential player at the dawn of Southern California’s rod and custom craze. As Porsche cars started being imported to the U.S., very few body shops in the area were willing to work on them. The Emorys had metal-shaping experience and soon became the go-to source for Porsche (and other small European jobs of the day) repair. With his youth spent in the Emory shops, Gary gained an appreciation for the Porsche brand. In 1962, he found himself working the counters at Chick Iverson’s famed Newport Beach Porsche dealership after his father was recruited by the dealer to be a body repairman.
Gary, being an enthusiast for the cars the dealer sold, cringed at the idea of unsold Porsche parts being destroyed by the distributor, which was standard procedure. Because of this, Gary convinced Porsche to sell him its overstocked and unsold inventory at a deep discount, rather than binning the stuff. With that, he started his own Porsche parts store called Parts Obsolete in 1974. Gary enjoyed hosting swap meets in the parking lot of the shop, inviting friends and regular customers.
Gary and his wife soon expanded their Southern California operations from Porsche parts to a simple country store in the small Trabuco Canyon community. Soon after, Gary came up with the idea of hosting a pancake breakfast for the community. He also invited all of his Porsche parts customers, hot rod friends, and biker friends to come enjoy food and camaraderie. With an invite list like that, the parking lot of these breakfast hangouts was soon populated by the rarest Porsches, including the 550 Spyder, Abarth GTL, and 904 Carrera GTS.
As Gary aged, he decided to leave the hustle and bustle of Orange County. They moved their entire business, in several truckloads, to a combination warehouse and barn in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. For years, things continued on as they had with rare strasse and rennen parts flowing through Parts Obsolete to some of the most significant vintage Porsches in the world. The Porsche-friendly atmosphere of the large property caught on quickly with the local Porsche Club of America region. They asked Gary if they could use the property for their annual get-together event called “The Bull Session.” The event was an immediate success, with a number of members asking if they could camp on the property overnight since they were coming from far away.
That Bull Session inspired Gary to revive his traditional pancake breakfast in a way, but this time with a much larger plot of land. He would also offer much more than just breakfast and carve out plenty of space to camp. With the promise of a place to stay, he reckoned he could even get his Los Angeles-based customers to make the trek up to Oregon. All these years later, it’s safe to say he wasn’t wrong. The first Emory Porsche Campout was a small affair with some of the Emory clan’s more central circle of friends. Word soon got out and the event grew with every passing year.
For 18 years, the Emory Porsche Campout ran every summer like clockwork. Porsche folk and Volkswageners road-tripped from across the land to celebrate the brands and their shared camaraderie. Campout was the kind of event true enthusiasts always want to attend: no pretensions, no prejudices, and no uptight judgments—just a group of car fanatics hanging out and sharing a good time.
In the time Campout ran, however, Gary’s son Rod moved his metalwork and restoration shop south back to Southern California. The family got exceptionally busy living life. They didn’t owe the community an explanation when they decided not to return for year 19 in 2013, and they didn’t need the stress of hosting a few hundred people. They were still heavily involved in the Porsche community, supported several other community events, and continued the family tradition of excellence.
A Roving Gang of Air-Cooled Enthusiasts
Being that this was my first Campout, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, aside from a good time. I had, of course, heard of the event and was intimately familiar with the “Outlaw” hot rod Porsches Rod and Gary built together since Rod was just a youngster. In the fall of 2016, Emory Motorsports announced the event’s return and I marked my calendar for the ticket release date to make sure I wouldn’t miss out.
As has become the norm with any Porsche enthusiast meet-up, half the fun of the weekend is the journey. A group of air-cooled enthusiasts, primarily 912 owners from Southern California, let me know they’d be coming through my area on their way north. They asked if I’d be interested in tagging along in my 912E on the extra-long, extra-convoluted route they’d planned. Of course I did!
Tuesday evening before the Campout, the SoCal crew came through en masse. At least a dozen vintage Porsche people met up. Once joined together, we all pointed our 7-inch sealed-beam headlamps northward. While it would be easy to make McMinnville within just a day of highway slogging, we decided on a couple days of adventure instead.
We arose bright and early on Wednesday in Susanville, California, with a full day of driving ahead. My 912E’s muffler leaks in a way that provided a baritone blat drumbeat against the highway K-rail. The occasional passing six-cylinder “proper” Porsche broke up the monotony with its high-pitched excitement. Highway 139 to Alturas, the long way, skirted the Lassen National Forest with vistas that made me whisper quietly to myself as we trundled along as a group. Without even thinking about it, we had popped into Oregon for a stop in Lakeview, then on to lunch in Chiloquin.
The highlight of the trip, Crater Lake, took up much of the day. It first entailed getting up the mountain to the lake before winding our way back down the other side. It was quite possibly the most gorgeous deep blue lake I’ve ever seen. The mind swims when you contemplate the lake’s size and the circumstances of its formation. It formed nearly 8,000 years ago; do cars really matter? Does anything? Why am I here? I continued my contemplation as we pulled into Bend for the night. Our little party bedded down at a local hotel, but I was more emphatic about this being a camping trip and continued on to the local KOA to set up a tent.
Thursday began with an early start and a hot cup of coffee. I packed up my tent and met the crew for our run across Oregon to McMinnville. This began with a short transit up highway 20 and an abrupt left turn onto Highway 242 across the Willamette National Forest directly between Mount Washington and “The Sisters.” This route is worth a special trip in a sports car simply for the engaging roads and the exquisite views across the park’s lava fields. There were myriad cyclists out enjoying the weather with us, so trepidatious driving was necessary. The twists and curves helped keep speeds low anyhow, so we were more than happy to share the road.
I spent all of Wednesday poking around at the back of the pack enjoying a cruise with my arm out the window. Thursday, I decided to harass the 911 owners by keeping the throttle down and holding on to their back bumpers. Through some particularly tight and technical corner carving, one 911 driver commented that they saw my 912E picking up the passenger-side front tire through a hard right-hand curve “like a real 911 does.” That section of road had me smiling for the remainder of the journey to McMinnville.
Porsche Campout Down on the Farm
Pulling into the Emory family farm on Friday morning elicited a surreal feeling. The property holds buildings of Porsche paraphernalia, buildings for storing old race cars, a handful of houses, garages, an outdoor dining hall, and even small makeshift buildings holding four self-contained heated showers. The Emory family literally opened their doors to the community, and we cannot be anything but thankful for such exceptional hospitality.
The entire weekend was marred by unseasonably hot days with finger-numbing cold nights. The weather didn’t prevent me from sticking around and camping, but some of those less inclined to tolerate inclement weather retreated to climate-controlled nearby hotel rooms for the overnight sections. Considering that many of these types were more than twice my age, I’ll be happy to give them a pass.
Friday was an uneventful kind of day, meant for loading in and getting settled more than anything. If you’ve been in the Porsche community for any length of time, you will see at least a dozen familiar faces. Once we made camp, we opened up the coolers of ice-cold recreational beverages. After a few days on the road, a drink was hard fought and well earned.
The Emory clan had planned for 750 arrivals in something like 350 cars. That alone sounds daunting, but everything was perfectly in place. They’d rolled out the red carpet for us, too; they hired a half dozen food trucks to stay for the weekend and even planned activities for each night. The Campout was multiple events all rolled into one: a Porsche film festival, a people’s choice car show, a swap meet, and a road trip.
At the end of Friday’s storytelling session, one barn hosted Porsche-related films. I grabbed a camping chair and popped some stovetop popcorn for the occasion. Friday’s lineup was a combination of shorts from the Der Faszination YouTube channel, the beautiful film about Jeff Zwart’s snow-driven 356, and the Steve McQueen classic Le Mans. Saturday’s films included a pair of premieres. The first was Randy Wells’ new mini-doc following the pair of 964 rally cars built for the NORRA Mexican 1000 off-road race. The second was Rennfilms’ gorgeous new addition to their oeuvre that documents Emory Motorsports’ restoration efforts of the first Porsche to ever win at Le Mans, a 1951 356 SL. Both videos should now be publicly available, and both are well worth watching.
Saturday morning started bright and early with each car getting a careful wipe down with various products from various spray bottles. We all know how particular Porsche owners can be with awards on the line. After a thorough once-over, we drove our now concours-ready cars a few dozen feet to the “show field” for display. This was mostly an elaborate ruse to get all of our Porsches lined up for a group photograph, but we were happy to oblige. Rod Emory handed out the awards for the show Saturday afternoon. Among those were an award for farthest driven—some glorious maniac drove his 356 from central Florida—and other subjective awards.
Sunday’s plan, sadly for me, involved packing up and heading back home. The morning activities held a small swap meet, and I managed to find a 924 Turbo four-hole front nose panel for a friend’s 944 project car. Once everything was packed away, I made the long trek home. I left at noon and managed to pull home at about 10 p.m.
In a whirlwind week of camping, partying, and film debuts, after a few thousand miles of driving, after long nights and early mornings, it was suddenly over. For Porsche fans who are making a note to attend this event “next year,” Rod Emory confirmed that there will be no 2018 Campout. We may not see another Porsche Campout until the 10-year reunion in 2022. No matter the date, make sure you’re there for the next one. It’s worth the trip. In fact, half the fun is the trip.