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Local exotic car travel company turns 50

Mark Parker

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Peter Sontag, founder of Fast Lane Travel, advertises trips on Germany's Autobahn with no speed limits from the windshield of his unique Porsche Panamera at the Festivals of Speed at St. Petersburg. Photos provided.

Amid the various vehicles showcased Sunday in Vinoy Park for the 20th Annual Festivals of Speed at St. Petersburg was a Porsche Panamera – designed by Dr. Wolfgang Porsche.

Wolfgang is the youngest son of Ferdinand (Ferry) Porsche, who launched the eponymous luxury vehicle manufacturer. The Panamera belonged to Peter Sontag, the founder of Oldsmar-based Fast Lane Travel, who once served as Ferry’s translator.

Industry connections have propelled Sontag’s company for five decades. Fast Lane Travel (FLT) takes Porsche buyers and other local and global clients on unique European driving tours, focusing on Stuttgart, Germany, and trips around the country’s Autobahn.

“One of the things you don’t want to do is pick up a quarter-million-dollar car and then try to figure out where the hell am I going in Europe,” Sontag said. “We have an expertise that you can’t find anywhere else.”

A Fast Lane Travel group parked at Tuscany’s Piazza Grande, which is typically off-limits to vehicles.

Sontag, 80, launched FLT in 1974 after his late brother-in-law noted that he and other Porsche owners wanted to visit the company’s manufacturing headquarters in Stuttgart. They also hoped to drive their vehicles on the Autobahn, Germany’s highway system that famously lacks speed limits in most areas.

Sontag previously founded USTravel, Inc. According to his biography, it became North America’s third-largest travel distribution business, with $2.4 billion in sales.

He and his investors sold the company in 1994, and Sontag decided to utilize his industry expertise to grow FLT. “I tried golf for 20 minutes and said, ‘I don’t think so,'” he added. “I’d rather do Porsche trips.”

FLT is now the official travel company for the 140,000-member Porsche Club of America. Sontag, an Austrian immigrant, recently completed his 232nd trip to the automaker’s facilities in nearby Germany.

He has also meticulously planned hundreds of other global excursions. Those have included driving tours through China with lunch on the Great Wall.

Peter Sontag, 80, is celebrating his local company’s 50th anniversary.

Sontag noted his groups have also received police escorts through Italian streets that are typically off-limits to vehicles. “We do stuff that is unique; our customers feel very special,” he said.

The trips are not cheap. Sontag said FLT offers a “menu” of tours with prices ranging from $6,000 to $19,000 per person. While the local company books the one-way flights, the cost excludes airfare.

However, FLT’s longevity underscores a market demand. Sontag called it “incredibly rewarding” to reach the 50-year milestone and said the company embodies its “our business to do pleasure” motto.

Sontag said customers from places like South Africa, Australia and Singapore fly to the U.S. to then travel with his company to Europe. While “quite a bit” of FLT’s clients hail from around Tampa Bay, he said most live in other states and Canada.

A row of Porsches at Vinoy Park for Sunday’s festival.

Porsche Clearwater hosted Sunday’s Festivals of Speed, and Sontag said he has a “very good relationship” with the dealership’s owners. He estimated that about 6,000 people viewed at least 100 cars at Vinoy Park.

Sontag said his 1964 Porsche 356 B garnered “incredible attention.” He called his hunter green with tan leather Panamera, Ferry Porsche’s favorite color combination, “one of a kind. There’s no other one like that in the world.”

While Sontag is 80 – he prefers “30, with 50 years of experience” – he eagerly anticipates expanding his business. That includes additional trips to Ferrari and Bentley’s headquarters.

“We know Europe like the proverbial back of our hand,” he said. “We also have, sometimes, local dignitaries join us for dinner or participate. We expose them to local culture. We have some folks on the trip who are World War II historians. So, we take them to places they never would have thought they would see.

 

 

 

 

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