Life of a jobless car lover
I’m still not sure as to whether I should take credit for a well thought out plan or just be thankful that I got lucky on this occasion. I am, of course, talking about my Honeymoon. My wife (then fiance) had one of those looks on her face that told me she wasn’t sure whether to throw something heavy at me or just walk out of this discussion and pray that she wasn’t about to marry a man this annoying. We were planning our wedding and I was either having too much input that was clashing with her ideas or I was just nodding and staring blankly not really offering anything at all. To try change the subject I shifted the conversation to the topic of the Honeymoon, this didn’t help the situation but a minute later she had a light bulb moment. The idea was simple, she said “You take care of the Honeymoon and I’ll deal with the wedding.” We both let this sentence sink in for a few moments and processed the ramifications of allowing me this much responsibility. “This might work” we both thought. So I set about planning the most balanced month in Europe I could possibly conceive.
First thing was first, vehicle selection was key for 2 reasons, A) We wanted to get away from the crowds, see and do stuff that you couldn’t get to on a train/bus with every other American/Australian touring Europe. Don’t get me wrong, we still hit some pretty big tourist areas but tried to find the long way between them. B) I love driving, we love road trips, so it had to be just as comfortable on the Autobahn as the twists and turns of the Swiss/French/Italian Alps. So I started where any normal red blooded Hoon would start. Porsche. A 911 or even a Boxster with manual box would do the trick. At about €400/day and the realization that my Wife (Angie) was taking a bag that Hercules himself would struggle with, the Porsche was quickly nixed. I contemplated just a couple of days with a Ferrari/Lambo/R8 and just getting a run of the mill Insignia/Passat/C Class type deal for the rest of the trip but knew I would kick myself as soon as I found a good road to play on with only a C200 diesel to play with. So the search continued. Lucky for me, my buddy in Germany has a similar mindset to mine and knew exactly where to find the deal I needed. He sent me a link to Sixt Luxury rentals that had an offer that I just could not pass up. BMW M3 Coupe for €99/day and M3 Cabrio for €120/day!!!! Wow!! Angels sang, champagne rained down from the sky and scantly clad women carried me to the promised land. Yep, it was that kind of moment. They also offered M5/M6’s, Aston Martins, SLK’s and a host of other Hoon friendly vehicles, but the M3 E92 at that price seemed like the ultimate Bang for buck car fitting my criterion. When I pleaded my case to the “Minister of Finance” she demanded the topless one! Click! “it’s locked in, no backsies” I said the very next instant.
Ok, just renting the car took care of 2 of the 4 weeks we had in Europe. We figured that while we had the car there was no real need for a plan other than direction. Each night over dinner and a few vino’s (bottles not glasses) we would figure out what we wanted to do the next day or where we wanted to go and just book that nights accommodation whilst on the road. A very liberating way to travel I must say, I highly recommend it. Our only parameters were that we picked up the M3 in Hamburg, Germany and had to return it there 2 weeks later after having seen Monaco and Cique Terre, Italy.
Now I had to account for the balanced part of the trip, which was the week before I had the M3 (the final week was spent with Friends in Germany that included an unexpected Hoonworthy treat, but I digress). This included a quick stop in London followed by a few days in Paris being complete tourists. Museums, Galleries and Landmarks a plenty, which I enjoyed waaaaaay more than I thought I would. That town Rocks! Then it was off to Amsterdam for a few more days and some more Galleries and Museums whilst immersing ourselves in the local culture. Those silent assassins (cyclists) took a little getting used to but man, another amazing town. Then it was on to a train bound for Hamburg and a date with a stocky little Bavarian we named Helga.
The morning finally arrived that I could lay my hands on the M3. Hamburg was nice, especially with a local to show you around, but in reality I was just counting down the hours till I got to experience a European sports car on the Autobahn. I walk in and just let the guy behind the counter know that I have a car to pick up. When I give him my name he punches it in to the computer and immediately calls his manager over, who upon reading the screen, greets me with the line “ah yes, we tried contacting you yesterday” My heart sank, I knew this had all gone way to smoothly. “the vehicle that you have reserved was unfortunately involved in an accident and will not be ready for a few more days.” I’m sure that the blank look on my face conveyed to him that I was curious as to how he intended to fix the problem. He suggested that we can move the reservation back a few days and everything will be fine. I jumped in with a very polite “no dice.” I then explained that I was on my honeymoon and we had a string of accommodations already booked over the next 2 weeks so I will be leaving here with a vehicle today and hinted at the list of gorgeous cars on their website that I had booked from. I asked about other convertibles as Angie had her heart set on a drop top. His only suggestion was the BMW 320i diesel that was available. I think it was the very noticeable slump of my shoulders that told him I really had my heart set on an M car, to which he responded with “We do actually have a hard top M3 available if that would do? cocking an eyebrow in anticipation of my sigh of relief. “yes, that will do just fine.” This also meant that it was going to be €20/day cheaper plus the delightful discount he threw on top of that for not being able to upgrade me to anything else. Like the two Aston Martins sitting next to the M3 that were waiting to be trucked back to the dealership with electrical faults (or so he told me). This part was going to be crucial in my explanation to Angie when she discovered that the roof in fact did not come off this car.
After fitting our bags perfectly into the boot/trunk of the M3 we aimed the SATNAV at Stuttgart and excitedly hit the road. An empty on ramp provided me the opportunity to give it my first real squirt. The noise inside the cabin was absolutely delicious with the smooth shove eliciting a surprising little giggle from Angie that was promptly followed by “but I still want you to be careful.”
Getting out of Hamburg was like driving on any other Freeway here or in the US. I was still very cautious of the left lane. As a first timer I had heard all sorts of stories about how traffic moved through Germany so I decided to sit and observe till I not only felt a bit more comfortable in the M3 but had seen a few people actually using the left lane. After 45mins of soaking in the M3 and watching Angie play with nearly every button and knob that could be pushed, pulled or turned I finally got a taste of what I had been waiting for. A nondescript Mercedes E-class (All Merc’s, BMW’s and Audi’s have their badges removed so you can’t tell the difference between a 2 liter diesel and a V8, well, a true car guy can.) passing me at a good 20-30kph faster. Ok, cool. There were a few more over the next few minutes, so when I saw what appeared to be a Cayenne GTS (and it was) coming past. I figured that it was a nice car to follow and learn the ropes of the left lane. I moved out and pushed the M3 to about 150kph and sat a ways back from the Porsche. No big deal so far. Was awesome to see traffic pull out to pass then get straight out of the passing lane, something that is completely lost on Australians and Americans. As Traffic thinned out and it seemed we ventured further in to the countryside we played at all sorts of speeds between construction zones and slow moving vans struggling to pass other slow moving vans. The first thing you realize is how far up the road you need to be focused. You’re going a lot faster than some of the traffic, and one person not checking their mirror properly makes for some interesting decision making on your behalf as you learn that braking from these speeds is nothing like you thought it would be, even with the M3’s stopping power its still an eye opening experience, takes some recalibration of your senses.
As the Porsche exited the Autobahn the driver gave me a wave and a smile, I assumed that meant he had fun, cool! I settled in to comfy 100mph and enjoyed the scenery, BING! “Why is the car beeping at me?” Low fuel. “I guess we had better find a…………..wait a minute, we’ve only been driving for about 2.5hrs!” Hmmm I guess enjoying the symphony that is a 4.0L V8 up to 8,000rpm’s comes with a price. After arguing with the SATNAV about how to get to a fuel station that we could see, Angie decided that she needed a name. It hit me as I walked back to the car from paying €90 for a tank of fuel that had evaporated in under 3 hrs. Sitting there it reminded me of a stocky little East German gymnast, small, muscular, nimble and a “take no shit attitude”. Helga seemed appropriate. Angie concurred and we both thanked Helga as she passed us our seat belts when we shut the doors.
We spent a few nights in the stupidly beautiful town of Lucerne, Switzerland so we could go and check out a few of the best roads that Europe has to offer. The websites and forums that I researched before the trip all argued about which of these roads was best. Don’t listen to all the nit picking, they are all absolutely mind blowing roads. But keep in mind that the Swiss don’t tolerate speeding. That was quite clear the minute we crossed the border. Everyone sat on the speed limit and no one passed, well, on the major roads anyway. Apart from the occasional bit of tourist traffic on the winding roads near the cafe’s, it was 2 days of twisty road nirvana combined with some of the most gorgeous scenery on earth.
The Lotus Crew
By chance I had just found out that a Friend of mine was also terrorizing the twisty roads around that area and we decided to meet up in the little French town of Borge-Saint Maurice. This crew of Lotus owners was on their annual trip to find the most fun roads to enjoy their cars that they could. And what an awesome crew they were, after dinner and drinks they invited us to tag along for the next days trip in to Italy.
It was a great way to start the day, watching and listening to 12 amazing little sports cars tick over as they came up to temperature. As with most groups this size, not everyone was ready at exactly the same time so we agreed to meet up at the top of the first pass. Angie was surprised to see the wife of one of the guys in the drivers seat and keen to get moving, so we jumped in behind her and with my friend following me and headed for the top of San Bernadino Pass. “Wow! She’s not messing around huh” said Angie as I was really having to push Helga to keep up. I didn’t say much as I was really focused and having the time of my life.
As we waited for everyone at the top a few of the guys were keen to catch some of the sweet V8 sound on tape, so they mounted a GoPro to the boot lid of Helga facing backwards and ran an external microphone down and clipped it right between the exhaust pipes. Check out the footage here TOAD Summer Tour Day 2 (turn up the volume)
No car enthusiasts trip to Europe would be complete with out a visit to the “Ring”. This was the one part of the trip that I had left off the plan as I wasn’t sure how Angie would take the news that I wanted to have a go at, what some would argue, is the most formidable track in the world. I needed a good time plus an excepting mood to test the waters. After sacrificing the Italian GP (Monza) for an extra day in the Cinque Terre area (actually quite worth it) she agreed with out even questioning it. Yay!!
After checking in to the Hotel Angie was happy to stay in the room and relax as she had a tooth ache that was driving her crazy. I made my way down to the main information center to purchase some laps and find out what I could about the upcoming Touristfahrten Session. I’d heard about the big lines and wait times to get on the track which I asked the young woman behind the counter about. She assured me that because it was a Tuesday afternoon and the weather looked a bit iffy there’s no one here, there won’t be any reason for you to be at the staging area before the opening time of 530pm.
I pulled in to an almost full parking lot at the entrance at 445pm. That’s not saying much, as the car park for such a legendary location was ridiculously small, like 30 cars small. But it was an impressive 30 odd cars. Nearly every other model of M3 was there plus an array of semi street legal track focused cars. I was sooooo nervous I could hardly stand still. I wandered over to the fence to see the various test mules finishing up their laps. A heavily “Cammo-ed” BMW i8 went quietly past followed by a bunch of F-type Jags and a few AMG Mercs. Apparently the Porsche 918 had just set its record sub 7 minute lap earlier that day, which made sense of one that I had just seen on the way there with the Martini liveries.
At about 520pm a brief rain shower passed over the area, which only added to the heavy feeling that I already had in my stomach. You see, I was already well aware of the constant tug of war raging in my brain between my common sense and the 12 year old boy that controlled my impulsive actions. Like the old cliché of the Devil on one shoulder pleading with me to have a red hot go at a lap record and the Angel on the other, calmly reminding me that both the car and track are way above my driving ability with some very, very costly implications should things exceed that ability. The rain has only intensified that battle.
My nerves get the better of me and I decide to wait out the initial line up and hope that the track dries a little (or a lot). Angel – 1, Devil – 0. I can only wait so long and finally head to Helga to set up the camera jammed under the head rest of the passenger seat, with the strap tied up tightly. I get my driving position set and lean over to push record. At this point in time my heart is pumping quite solidly with all the nerves and making my hands shake just enough that when I push the record button, I push it twice, turning it off with out knowing it.
On to the track I go, wondering for the first time just how accurate my tutor was. The Playstation game Grand Tourismo (GT5) was the tool that I used to familiarize myself with the epic 157 turns over the 20.8km lap. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until I went past another M3 going in to Hocheichen and braked a little hard on a damp part of the track. Before I could comprehend what was happening, the rear of the car was on its way past the front. I’m sure I remember letting out a whimper before quite a few no’s. After pressing the brakes to see what help they would be (none what so ever) I had only one option left and a very fast approaching guard rail. I grabbed a boot full of loud pedal and power slid out of the situation like I looked like I knew what I was doing. I didn’t. Angel – 1, Devil – 1. But the spike in adrenalin helped the Devil on my shoulder drown out the Angel and I pushed on pretty hard all the way to the Karussell where, exiting a little early brought on a large tank slapper that I was lucky to catch. The Devil graciously bowed out and left only the Angel for the rest of the session. I completed a second lap, Bridge to Gantry in an uneventful 10mins flat and ticked an item off the Bucket list.
All in all we put 5,500km on Helga in 2 weeks and we’re still happily married. It can be done guys, just requires a little balance.