Driver Experience: BMW Bank Classic Car Rallye

It’s a new era: Travel has become a necessary evil, flying is uncool... Time to get into a car with character! Because it broadens the horizon. And if everything goes well, you’ll end up enjoying a glass of good red wine.
Text Wladimir Kaminer
Photo David Breun

In the beginning was the Word, as the Bible says, and even atheists know that we live in a world that manifests itself with and through the written word. And because there are more books than people on the planet today, each of us can, theoretically, find the book of our life, our future and our past written down, carefully summarized by someone else, already printed thousands of times and read by many. The only question is how to find the right book, the right text. Nothing easier than that! After all, there aren’t that many themes available to us to choose from.

»In einem Oldtimer fährt man nicht nur durch die Landschaft, man reist gleichzeitig durch die Zeit.«

Wladimir Kaminer

The founder of magical realism, a great storyteller, the Argentinian author Jorge Luis Borges, divided the world’s literature into three main plots: Love, War and the Great Journey. In contrast to Borges’s times, today’s wars are fought without large battles; they involve cyberattacks and economic sanctions, arms contracts and space races, and most of us don’t even have to go anywhere. Love, for its part, is constantly being redefined so that no one today knows what it is anymore. The only remaining experience, therefore, is the journey, rambling carefree through the world, the odyssey of the little man. Traveling gives us the opportunity to leave our familiar surroundings, to put ourselves to the test, to experience the future and perhaps even find love, to get to know something new. It makes us understand the world out there a little better.

The most interesting personalities of the previous centuries, the explorers, knights and adventurers, were great travelers, and it hardly mattered in which direction they went. The journey was its own reward – and the decision as to which mode of transport to use could be decisive for the success of the entire undertaking.

Things aren’t any different today. It’s just that in our modern world, traveling has been degraded to a mere question of how to get from one place to another in the fastest and most affordable way. By train – or, even faster, by plane? On these kinds of journey, you don’t learn anything new, which is why most airline passengers sit there with their eyes closed, sipping their tomato juice and waiting for the plane to land. Even on the train, people spend more time looking at their smartphones than out the window, going through the daily news, and the time spent traveling is perceived as lost time, a necessary evil. Only cars can offer us an authentic travel ­experience – though it has to be the right car, of course.

»Es waren Autos mit Charakter. Man merkte, dass sie zu lange im Museum gestanden hatten. Sie wollten raus.«

For the sake of fairness, a word to all you cyclists out there: Of course, you can also have a wonderful travel experience by bike – you just don’t really get that far.

So which car should we choose for our trip? I really love classic cars. In a classic car, you don’t just drive through the landscape; you also travel through time. Which is why I was especially pleased to receive an invitation from BMW Bank to take part in a rally with the historic cars from its BMW Group Classic collection.

Cars from the 1960s to the 1980s, convertibles like those from old movies, fast cars that made our grandfathers go wild, robust vehicles in which it was easier to find the ashtray than the reverse gear. Cars from a time when the shape of the side mirror was more important than the safety of the driver, and when steering still meant real work, driving required muscle power and quick reactions. Modern cars differ mainly in price; they are tagged as sporty or casual, but in the same price range you usually know what you have and the differences are small.

Not so with a classic. During the rally I alternated between three cars that couldn’t have been any more different. The first was a four-door BMW 502 convertible – the coolest and oldest in the bunch, as far as I could tell. It was the first invitation after the war to let loose, to enjoy life, to make driving fun again. Then I drove an M3 from the eighties and a BMW 3200 CS. I think that in those days, in the last century, cars were more important to the manufacturers than the drivers. The driver was incidental; the main thing was that the car was doing well. Like a temperamental horse, each of the cars I drove had to be learned, tamed and mastered. These were cars with character. I could tell they had been in the museum too long. They wanted to get out.

Our host, BMW Bank, came up with a great program. ­We drove eighteen cars from Munich to Neuschwanstein, where I had already been a couple of months ago to shoot a film, in the middle of the pandemic, about the restoration of Bavarian King Ludwig’s favorite castle. At the time, I had the whole castle to myself: I sat in the royal study and in the reading bay, I even got to go to the royal toilet, the first in Europe with an automatic flushing system. This time around the castle was full of tourists, just like in the old days. And I must say, our eighteen cars, parked in front of the castle, attracted no fewer onlookers than the royal building behind them. Surely Ludwig, as a great fan of modern technology, would have had his fun with a BMW. A ride in the ALPINA Roadster Limited Edition would certainly have done him good.

From Neuschwanstein we drove on to the Boutique-Hotel Lartor in Unterammergau. There, in the Restaurant ­Hieronymus, a winemaker from the Rheingau region was already waiting for us. He produces Pinot noirs that are supposed to be the best red wines in Germany. As our personal sommelier, he boasted that his products had changed the way Germans experience wine. In the old days, in the hard times of reconstruction after the war, men preferred wines with a high alcohol content, while women were more into sweet varieties. The former wanted to forget themselves for a while; the latter yearned to sweeten their hard lot a little. Today, only grandmothers drink sweet, semi-dry wines, with schnapps served as a digestif. Against this background, Germany’s wine culture today is mostly French in origin. The right German wine, viewed from the outside, appears to be modest, but once it gets inside a person, it can develop amazing qualities, the winemaker said. His wines actually were quite good; the only stupid thing about wine is that you can’t drive a car anymore when you’re drunk. So we spent the night in Unterammergau. The locals marveled at our cars as if a world auto expo from the previous century had visited their village, displaying its treasures in the open air. Late at night, I sat with the winemaker at the tasting. Outside, the stars were shining bright in the night sky.

»Die Dorfbewohner bestaunten unsere Autos, als wäre die Weltautoausstellung aus dem vorigen Jahrhundert im Dorf zu Besuch und hätte ihre Schätze unter freiem Himmel ausgestellt. «

I wanted to know what he thought the next generation, all the rappers and yoga people, like to drink. Young people today are different, he said, they don’t like cars, they like to eat spinach and don’t mind getting through life on an electric scooter.

Watch out, said our winemaker, the sommelier: The young people, the rappers and the yoga crowd, they like to eat spicy food. Asian cuisine is on the advance, and when you eat spicy food, you want something sweet to go with it.

So they will probably have grandma’s taste and will drink sweet wines. Because sweet things are best at quenching your thirst. Our classic car group opted for a fine red and so we made a toast: to rappers who like spinach, to an uncertain future, and to carefree ramblings in cool cars that unlock the secrets of the world.

Also available as a podcast episode. Listen now!

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