"You are the snake!"

Hunter S. Thompson test drives a new Porsche, returns it in one piece.

By Sean Elder

Published November 17, 1999 11:00AM (EST)

Hunter S. Thompson doesn't shill for just anybody. In fact, he doesn't really shill for much of anything and he'd probably shoot me for saying he did. (OK, there was a Levi's ad and some pro bono work for the Mitchell Brothers.)

But when Porsche offered to let him test drive the new 911 Carrera 4, they must have figured they couldn't lose. If after the test (which was written up by John Clarke Jr. in the San Francisco Examiner) the good doctor raved, the car manufacturer would have the sort of endorsement money can't buy. And if he wiped out on the windy backroads of Woody Creek, Colo., the new Carrera would forever have an epic stature undreamed of on Madison Avenue. Think James Dean and the Spider.

Fortunately for all concerned, Thompson went gonzo. "That's a fine little machine, a luxury car for sure," he enthused. "When you get it up to 4,000 rpm and the engine starts to hum, it's a whole new feeling. It's like a plane taking off."

As crazy as the author of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" was for the Carrera's Arena Red ("it's very sexy"), he really hit his stride when asked to compare this model with earlier 911's:

"Allen Ginsberg once described the difference between acid and yage, a kind of vine that grows in the Amazon and Africa," he said (invoking that bedtime classic "The Yage Letters"). "Leading dope fiends like Ginsberg and William Burroughs arranged to take a boat up the Amazon River to experience the yage. It was extremely impressive. Maybe the most powerful hallucinogen ever produced. Anyway, Ginsberg said there was a difference between acid and yage. With acid you see the snake and with yage you are the snake. This is the essential difference between the two cars. With the Carrera 4, you are the snake."

Let's see the boys over at BBDO top that. Or better yet, give them some yage and have them take a ride with Thompson. It would be enough to make them drop their cell phones.

Sean Elder

Sean Elder is a frequent contributor to Salon.

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