Kurt Molzer Gets Born Again

For many years our author had sworn off sports cars. Until we called, and a McLaren 600LT Spider appeared on his doorstep. That’s all there was to it.
Text Kurt Molzer
Photo Andreas Riedmann

I have to go quite far back; otherwise the story won’t make any sense. You might wonder after a few paragraphs what this bullshit is all about and how it all ties back to the McLaren. Sorry, it’s really not my intention to bore anyone, because anyone who is a bore deserves a sound beating. But there’s no two ways about it. Suggestion: We can give the lead-in a more profound meaning by labeling it “experimental feuilleton”. That okay with you?

When I was twenty I bought a pre-owned Reynard Formula Ford 2000, which, in truth, was on its last legs. When you started the engine, it sounded like a Laotian water buffalo suffering from a horrible case of the runs. No matter. What counted was that it was a monoposto with slicks. My world literally revolved around only one thing: racing. And I would have sold my grandmother to North Korea for the chance to have a racing career. It never came to that, because my lifelong dream was over before it had really begun. While doing some test driving on the old Österreichring, my rear wing broke off just as I was entering the Jochen Rindt curve. The Reynard lost its grip on the track, and I sailed over the safety fence into the forest going 180 km/h. Since then I’ve had to go through life with a shortened and somewhat deformed left arm. I hide it under thick corduroy jackets even when it’s forty degrees in the shade, which is enough to drive me up a wall sometimes.

Racing was now over and done for me. I satisfied my longings by acquiring a stand-in: the road version of the six-time world rally champion, a bright red Lancia Delta Integrale Evoluzione. I muscled it over the Africa-sized potholes of eastern Germany, where Satan had hired me as a reporter for the German tabloid newspaper Bild after the fall of the Berlin Wall. At some point, I switched to the lifestyle genre and was in charge of having fun and writing about having fun on four wheels, among other things. I had a great time with incredible stories. One weekend I sped from Munich to Hamburg in a Ferrari 575M Maranello overnight, laying down 760 kilometers in just three hours and thirty-four minutes, the equivalent of 242 kilometers per hour on average. A few envious naysayers in the newsroom refused to believe me. When I produced the gas receipts with the corresponding time stamps, they fell silent and quietly wished for death. Behold the new Autobahn King of Germany.

I would have sold my grandmother to North Korea for the chance to have a racing career. It never came to that.

One time I was driving a right-hand drive Porsche Turbo through Australia’s Northern Territory, from Darwin to Ayers Rock. It was the most brutal, deranged, adventurous and glorious thing I had ever experienced behind the wheel. We were a motley crew of six journalists from all over the world. In a convoy, we glided over the poker-straight but narrow roads with their cursed rippled surface at 300 km/h. And on top of that, there were monster road trains constantly barreling toward us. There was practically zero daylight between the enormous wheels of the trucks, with their three or four trailers, and our side mirrors. From the very beginning our unspoken motto for this crazy event was “take no prisoners”. To this day, I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that that there were no fatalities. And yet one of us did somehow have a brush with the Great Beyond, our colleague from Hong Kong. I was driving behind him and witnessed what happened. At top speed, we’re talking 310 km/h mind you, a huge bird smashed across the windshield of his 911. Our Hong Kong friend pulled over, got out and crouched down on the red soil of Down Under. He just stared into space, totally freaked out, and I have to be honest, I’ve never seen a Chinese person go so white, as white as Mont Blanc in mid-February. Inconceivable, I thought to myself, how can an Asian turn so pale. And because I was so perplexed at the sight, I briefly lost the power of speech, although I should have at least asked him if he was all right. Anyway, I turned away from him without a word and looked at the car. The windshield was completely wrecked. The entire surface was smashed and bent beyond repair. Thousands and thousands of cracks glittered in the sunlight like Swarovski crystals. The blood of the dead bird had splattered the driver’s side, reminiscent of an abstract work of art by Austrian painter Hermann Nitsch. No wonder our colleague from Hong Kong was in a profound state of shock. He was lucky that the windshield had held together down to the very last ridge and had not shattered.

Then there’s the story with Derek Bell, the British racing driver, at Le Castellet, a must as well. Well, Derek took me out on the Paul Ricard Circuit for a few laps in the green Le Mans Bentley, the winning car from 2003. Before we sped out of the pit lane, he said, “You might start to feel very strange. If it gets too extreme, give me a sign. If so, no big deal. No need to feel ashamed.” “Is that a joke?” I asked him. Then everything happened terribly fast. A force previously unknown to me catapulted the Bentley onto the track. After just a few hundred meters, I felt that something was wrong with me. I felt I had lost my physical stability, like the perverse lateral acceleration had robbed me of my center, so to speak. I felt dizzy, and for a short time I saw a strange gray haze in front of my eyes. And because I was afraid that my cerebral fluid would come gushing out of my ears in the orgy of curves between the end of the Mistral straight and the Virage du Pont, I gathered all the courage I could muster and patted Derek on the arm.

What I’m getting at? Quite simply, I want you to understand that I have been high on speed for far too long. In extreme doses. I was really pushing the envelope with my drug of choice, breaking new ground where others never had dared to go before. From one kick to the next. I was driven. I could never get enough and was constantly in trouble with the law. I suffered from paranoia. Often enough, however, the police really were after me. One day it was too much. I said to myself, “You’ve mainlined enough velocity. Time to quit.” And I did, cold turkey. It was no picnic, believe me. Eventually I made it; finally I was clean. I was off the stressful, exhausting, sleepless fast track, never again to fall off the wagon. And I vowed never to climb into a sports car again for the rest of my life. Soon there was no reason to do so, because nowadays I’m a sixty-plus old geezer. I make my oatmeal, go to the soccer match with my son and to the pastry shop with my daughter. I teach my partner’s pygmy rabbits to jump over hurdles (rabbit agility), and make a pilgrimage to Niki Lauda’s grave once a month. Once in a blue moon I write a book. A framed art postcard hangs in my bathroom. On it, two action artists hold a banner up to the camera with the following saying: “We’re always very happy when there’s nothing going on at our house except getting up in the morning and going to bed at night.” It’s my new motto in life.

Until recently, when my peace was stolen from me, practically overnight.

In early December, my cellphone rang. It was Michael, the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of this magazine. “Kurt! I’ve been looking for you everywhere. Where are you, what are you doing?” – “I’m taking deep breaths, in and out.” – “Great, because you absolutely must write for me again. Listen, I’ll have them bring a McLaren to Vienna for you, let’s say for a week.” – “No, I . . .” – “Hey, I’m in a rush. You’ll have the car the day after tomorrow. Bye.” I called him right back. But I couldn’t get through, not even after ten tries. I thought he might have blocked my number right away so I couldn’t back out. I was holding Heidi, the pygmy rabbit, in my arms, and I didn’t know what hit me. Heidi hopped up on the dining room table and nibbled on the Advent wreath. I envied her easy life. She would never get a call from someone out of the blue, threatening with the more or less immediate delivery of a McLaren.

Lost in thought, I looked at the Advent wreath with the still-virgin candles. I was gloomy. But only very briefly. And now the story takes a really corny turn. I hatched a brilliant plan. Christmas was just around the corner. I thought of Bela, my son. I’ll take him for a spin in the McLaren. Of course, he’ll be overjoyed! Bela is nineteen and is doing his civil service in lieu of military conscription in Salzburg. Driving a Ford Transit, he delivers hot meals to the elderly and on other days takes kidney patients to the hospital to have their dialysis. The boy is kind-heartedness personified, but as soon as he clutches a steering wheel, he morphs into the devil. Half of his meager salary goes to pay off speeding tickets. The way he drives, the meals for the elderly turn to mush, and the kidney patients have to be put on dialysis for two hours longer each time due to their alarmingly elevated adrenaline levels.

I called my son and described the phone call to him. He thought I was joking.

This stroke of fate brightened my mood. I called my son and described the phone call to him. He thought I was joking. “You’re pulling my leg, Dad . . .” – “But I’m telling you . . .” – “But why, aren’t you already too . . .” – “Not another word!” He was really getting worked up. “And which McLaren? The 600, the 650, the 720, the, the . . . Senna?!” (Bela really knows every sports car currently out there.) “No idea.” – “And where are we going to drive it?” – “Hm . . . it’s overcast in Vienna. Maybe someplace where there’s sun? Baghdad? Three days there, three days back.”

I was truly torn, awaiting the arrival of the McLaren. I was happy for my son, of course, but as far as I was concerned the car remained only on the periphery of my consciousness. Then it arrived, in a transporter brought to my front door. A silver 600LT Spider. The midget car only came up to my fourth rib. The first glimpse I got of it was the back end, the rear spoiler, McLaren logo, British license plate, diffuser. And that was enough. I was stunned. Motionless. Distraught. Overwhelmed. Touched. Stunned. Shocked. Shaken. Blown away. My circuits were fried from one second to the next. I knew I was lost. Some biochemical mechanism, or whatever you want to call it, made all the wires in my body go uncomfortably taut, with a shot right to my sensitive stomach. I longed for a hit of my 40 mg pantoprazole tablets, which I’ve been taking lately to battle my gastritis. What a fantastic rear end on the McLaren! It dwarfs anything I’ve ever seen before, even the hind end of the Lamborghini Murciélago. And when I laid eyes on that one, many years ago during the international press launch in Sicily, I said to myself, “You son of a bitch! Just you wait and see what I have in store for you!” I thought I was alone at the time, but then I realized to my not insignificant horror that someone was standing behind me. When I slowly turned around, I recognized the German head of the Italian sports car manufacturer, dressed in a fancy suit and tie. To this day, I don’t know whether my raunchy talk had reached his ears, but in any case, with a glance at my name tag, he said, “It’s easy to get carried away, isn’t it, Mr. Molzer?”

The first glimpse I got of it was the back end, the rear spoiler, McLaren logo, British license plate, diffuser. And that was enough.

Just the McLaren logo alone, the quintessence of motorsport; anyone who sees a McLaren a) first thinks only of Formula 1 and then b) is amazed that they even have roadworthy versions. I stared at the lettering and thought of Bruce (for all non-motorsport freaks, Mr. McLaren, Mr. Bruce McLaren, if you please), the racing team founder from New Zealand, who had a fatal accident in his own Can-Am at Goodwood on June 2, 1970. If the 600LT Spider actually belonged to me, I would hang a cool portrait of him somewhere up front with a magnet, like Turkish cab drivers do with photos of their wives and children on the glove compartment, in Bruce’s honor. It would be the one of him sitting in the cockpit of his M2B Formula 1 with oil smeared on his face. That one, and no other.

I opened the gullwing door and climbed into the 600. It felt so familiar, as if I had been sitting in a car like this just last week. This leather–Alcantara mix, sparking a rich palette of tactile and olfactory sensations. Absolute silence. And abrupt disillusionment. What, I asked myself, do I do with a street-legal racing car in a country like Austria (speed limit 130 km/h)? To put it bluntly, this car is impressive: 3.8-liter V8 twin turbo, 600 hp, 324 km/h top speed, 0 to 200 km/h in 8.4 seconds, seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, price: €250,000. Why? The police are lurking behind every raspberry bush, and if they catch you going 200, the next day you’re picture is splashed across all the papers like a serial killer. I cast about for ideas. We were going to start the photo shoot in four hours. My son wouldn’t be here until the weekend, having only been allowed two days off. He had already worked himself up into a rage over it. We could certainly forget Baghdad. I considered the situation and spoke to myself like a therapist would. “You leave the McLaren parked right there. You’re far too agitated. Go up to the apartment and get some chamomile tea and your stomach tablet. Then you drive leisurely to the photo shoot, and from there you drive back home again. And then you park the car and leave it until your son arrives. Anything else will only spell bad luck.” But I couldn’t deny myself one tiny taste. I started the engine just briefly, pressed a little button to lower the glazed wind deflector behind my head, and stepped hard on the gas pedal three times. It was the hellhound of the Baskervilles that answered me with its guttural roar. He wanted to scare me, but I told him, “I’m not afraid of you, because when I was younger, I would have tamed someone like you in no time. You would only have whimpered and eaten out of my hand, I swear. However, I have great respect for you, because in recent years I have mainly been taking the subway. Come on, mock me, tear your wicked, bestial mouth wide open again.” Then I stepped on the gas a fourth time. The roar was terrible.

Bela arrived Saturday morning on the first train from Salzburg. I picked him up at the station. “I can’t believe it,” he said in greeting, shaking his head as if in slow motion. He was really in awe, then pulled out his cellphone and started a live video feed with three friends whose faces appeared one after the other on the display. “Well, you turkeys,” he began with a grin, “Do you believe me now? Here you see a McLaren 600LT, and I’m about to get into it. Have fun in your shriveled-up rust buckets!” – “Wicked cool!” – “Bela in the Mac!” – “Mega awesome wheels!” Then he filmed me, “And that’s my dad. He was a race car driver.” – “Don’t show off like that,” I reeled him back in, “We’re simple people, even if we don’t look like it at the moment.”

Bela was itching to get on the highway. Immediately. I had expected nothing less. I, too, could no longer stand to drive the McLaren through the city at 60 km/h at most. The worst kind of torture, the height of ridiculousness. I was already chomping at the bit, with the McLaren dominating my every thought. I had lost my appetite and was sleeping badly again. It was only a few kilometers to the A1. The first stretch was uphill through the Vienna Woods, and when we had already reached 200 km/h, my son whooped. “Whoaaaa, coooool, Whoaaaa! I’ve never seen anything like it! How awesome is that! Holy shit!” I had to agree with him. I can’t remember ever feeling such powerful forward thrust in a car registered for normal roadway driving. It felt like the McLaren was accelerating out from under us, while in the rearview mirror I saw the flames shooting upwards out through the exhaust. The outside world flew by us, as if filmed in fast motion. Sky and roads and trees were no longer really clearly visible as separate objects, but rather blurred together almost without shape. Totally mind-blowing.

Thank goodness the long three-lane straights soon came into sight, where any moron can floor it. Zero traffic, the country in the grips of the coronavirus lockdown. Effortlessly we clocked 317.

I had already regained my previous form but drove through the subsequent curves at the foothills of the Vienna Woods full of awe and awareness for the potential danger of a 600-hp super sports car. Blah-blah-blah. That, of course, was the slippery, mendacious, self-deceiving version. In all honesty, the sentence should go like this: I drove through the curves at the foothills of the Vienna Woods like the first man to ever do so, because I had lost all confidence in my driving skills due to my years of speed abstinence. Thank goodness the long three-lane straights soon came into sight, where any moron can floor it. Zero traffic, the country in the grips of the coronavirus lockdown. Effortlessly we clocked 317. My son looked at the speedometer in amazement and remarked, visibly moved, that that had been the highlight of his life. He didn’t know what life had to offer after 317. “318,” I told him to buck him up. He beamed and said something very true. “If the cops want to catch us, they’ll have to call the army to send in a Eurofighter jet.” Speaking of which, should a police officer, perhaps reading this text and feeling a bit bored in general, get the notion to officially file charges against me (which has actually already happened before), I will claim, as I did back then, “I am Baron Münchhausen VIII and have simply dreamed all of this up.”

By day and night we drove all over the map. Wherever we went in our McLaren 600LT Spider with the British plates, we were not father and son, but aliens visiting from another planet.

The tunnels, which Bela really enjoyed (“Shift down, Dad, please, one more gear, one more!”), were the main reason we drove with the top down despite the winter-like temperatures. After the umpteenth stinky tunnel, we stopped at a gas station in Styria. We gave the thirsty Englishman his firewater, bought ourselves Coke and bologna sandwiches, ate and drank standing up, supplied our pollutant-laden lungs with fresh mountain air. Bela asked me the question I had been waiting for the whole time, “Would you actually let me drive once?” It hurt me to have to tell him, “Unfortunately, I can’t do that. The rental contract I signed with McLaren specifically states that no one under twenty-five is allowed to drive it.” He took it in stride, “Okay, I’m going to buy my own McLaren someday soon anyway.” – “May I ask with whose money?” – “As an investment banker in London, I’ll be set for life upfront.” – “You don’t seriously think you’ll end up an investment banker. And among the worst sharks in London to boot.” – “Sure I do, why not?” – “Because then you wouldn’t be doing your alternative service helping the elderly right now. You’d be driving tanks for the army.” He gave me a look like I’d caught him out, but quickly got back to the discussion at hand. “And you can be certain I’m buying a McLaren. Nothing less will do.”

At the end of our tour, my skull was already buzzing from the unrelenting roar of the hellhound. My son showed no such symptoms and was ready and willing to circumnavigate the globe. Fifty kilometers outside of Vienna, he asked me to gun it hard one last time. I refused, reasoning that I didn’t want to risk another ticket so close to our destination. As far as I know, not a single speed trap managed to ensnare us. “Which car will you get next?” he asked me, as if to take comfort in a hopefully satisfying answer while going a mind-numbingly boring 130 km/h, the speed limit required by law in Austria. But I couldn’t even give him that. “Who says there’s a next one?” – “Don’t you want another one?” – “I have to write this story up first and then sleep on it and then get back to taking my stomach pills regularly.” He ignored my senile ramblings. “A Bugatti Chiron Pur Sport would be cool,” he mused. “A Ferrari SF90, too. Though a Porsche 918 Spyder would also do nicely in a pinch.”

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