A few days ago, I completed one of the longest drives I’ve ever undertaken, but this time in my 43-year-old Golf Yellow BMW 2002tiiLux. In other words, not just transport from A to B, but a proper roadtrip.
With my partner and her daughter away in Canada on a holiday of a lifetime, I had the chance to put together a trip of my own that would enable me to combine catching up with a large number of my extended family in the south of Germany (seeing as I’m half-German), fulfil a long-cherished ambition of visiting the Cite de l’Automobile in Mulhouse, and take my BMW – now officially re-christened Die Zitrone – back to its birthplace, Munich. Along the way I would discover just how capable a long-distance cruiser and swallower of country roads my little 02 is.
I set off just before 7:00 a.m. on a bright and sunny Saturday morning, with my evening destination being Wiesbaden, a town I used to know well back in the 80’s and 90’s when I worked in Frankfurt for a couple of one-year spells. I’d not been back since 1997, so was looking forward to seeing the place again.
Before that, though, I had to complete 766 km, using le Shuttle to cross the English Channel. I’d packed an oil can, water, some tools, tyre inflator, windscreen wash, breathalysers and hi-vis vest. Headlamp adjusters were stuck on. I’d got my phone hooked up to a power bar and showing me Google’s superb Maps app, and as I’d checked the weather forecast, which showed hot, hot and very hot, I acquired a small dual-fan set up from Mitchell which I plugged into the cigarette lighter. It wasn’t going to make up for the lack of air-con, but it was better than nothing, and only cost about £14. Die Zitrone’s large glasshouse meant the fans got used a lot…
This was in part because the distance, and the fact that I drove mostly between 100 – 120 km/h rather than the 180 – 200 km/h I would normally drive at in Germany, meant I had to stick to motorways and autobahns for this leg. This made for not very exciting driving and keeping the windows up, so the fans were very needed!
As on seemingly every occasion that I use the channel tunnel services, either just as a passenger or in a car, I was met with a delay, this time of an hour. No matter; once under way, the journey was a mere 30 minutes and Die Zitrone and I emerged into blinking sunlight in Calais around 12:30 local time.
The stretch along the E40 from Calais towards Bruges, Ghent, Brussels, Liege and on to Aachen is distinguished only by its flatness. Once into Germany, you start to hit more interesting landscape and road, with a fair few hills along the way, and the odd castle in the distance. Two things struck me as I drove along the autobahn at my steady cruising speed. The first was the astonishing speed at which so many cars passed me on the unrestricted stretches. This was made all the more emphatic as I was cruising at a relatively modest rate. Just under half of the German autobahn network these days is unrestricted, and I have driven many kilometres there at 180 – 200 km/h, reaching my record speed of 251 km/h in a Porsche 996 on the A7 just before the Ulm exit. The car still had some way to go, but I ran out of cojones…
The second thing that strikes me every time I drive in Germany is the superb lane discipline exercised by the vast majority of drivers. Obviously, this is very necessary when you have cars moving at speeds well over 200 km/h. But it’s impressive nevertheless, especially when compared to the complete lack of the same in the UK, with drivers trundling along in the 3rd lane of a 4-lane motorway at 100 km/h, with the two lanes inside them both empty. Why they aren’t booked by the boys in blue for driving like morons is something I’ll never understand. Anyway…
By early evening I reached my destination for the night, which was the Hotel Oranien, and very comfortable it was, too. I parked alongside a very smart white 1981 Mercedes-Benz 280E (W123), and after a shower, a cold beer and dinner were very necessary. Following that, I went for a wander around town to find that every bar and restaurant was showing the Croatia vs Russia World Cup match (I’d had to listen to the England vs Sweden game via BBC radio 5 Live on my phone). As it turned out to be a very exciting game, there was much noise and also some unhappy Russians afterwards, but they all behaved themselves, I’m pleased to say.
Day two dawned bright and sunny and very early, so I took what has become a customary early morning stroll when I travel. It always seems the best time of the day to go walking around a place – quiet, calm and with few people about. I wasn’t in a hurry that day, so opted to drive the remaining 300 km to my cousin’s house on the outstanding German country roads – again, the contrast with the pockmarked, pot-holed roads in the UK was stark. I don’t think I saw a pothole in the entire week.
I took a variety of Bundes- and Landesstrassen through wonderful countryside and picturesque villages, with my favourite stretch being the B290 either side of Crailsheim. Along the way, I stumbled across a slightly odd-looking dealership in Mörfelden-Walldorf calling itself American Vans, selling a mixed bag of US classics. I didn’t see too many classics actually being driven, except for a well-preserved Mercedes W114 that pulled out of a road behind me, an Opel GT, a couple of Mercedes W107 Coupes, and an Alfa Spider.
Another highlight was a chance stop at Schloss Kapfenburg, 130m above the town of Lauchheim. The history of Kapfenburg dates back to 1190, and of the castle itself to 1311, with the current buildings going back mostly to the early 18thCentury. Nowadays it’s a centre for classical music, attracting musicians the world over, and organising a major international music festival during the summer. It also makes a dramatic backdrop for a couple of photos my 02..!
8 hours after leaving Wiesbaden, I pulled into my cousin’s driveway in the small village of Rammingen, after a day’s driving which perfectly summed up the classic motoring experience for me – a dawdle along country roads in glorious summer sunshine, air conditioning on (ok, window wound down), a relaxing lunch on the terrace of a lovely Wirtschaft… a perfect day.
In the same way that Claus Ebberfeld and his Alpine A310 were acknowledged with waves and shouts of recognition in France,die Zitrone attracted quite a few waves and toots of horns in its homeland. But I guess that wasn’t surprising, as a RHD one in vivid Golf Yellow must be a rare sight indeed.
After a few days of family visits in the Baden-Württemberg villages of Rammingen and Langenau, themselves surrounded by superb driving roads, I picked up another cousin in Neu Ulm just over the border into Bavaria for a day trip to Munich – more specifically, to BMW. On the way there, we were passed and enthusiastically greeted by a heavily-modded 2002, also in Golf Yellow, with Belgian plates, which really impressed my cousin.
First stop was the recently opened new headquarters of BMW Group Classic. I had originally hoped to be able to book a tour, but it transpired that these are only available on Mondays, which was a little frustrating. Nevertheless, we parked in the surprisingly small facility and were able to spend a few minutes checking out the customer cars that were being worked on, among them a 2002 Turbo and a stunning 2800 CS. However, in the absence of a tour, there wasn’t much else to do there so we headed to BMW Welt and the BMW Museum, where there was plenty to see and do.
Those of you that have been recently will know that the original museum, based in the upturned cup building which represents a cylinder head and stands alongside the iconic Vier-Zylinder, was much extended and re-opened ten years ago to create a very impressive record of BMW’s proud history. In my view, it’s not quite up to the standard of Mercedes Benz’s fabulous collection, but it compares well with the Porsche Museum. The exhibits cover engines, bikes and cars, with displays including a row of Neue Klasse cars, the stunning 507, a 315 and 328, and more. It’s a superlative display of German – no, Bavarian – engineering history.
BMW Welt, in contrast, is a modern shrine to the BMW of today, a very impressive facility showcasing the full range of BMW’s models and also acting as a collection centre for those customers who want to pick their cars up from the factory.
This was the penultimate day of my round of family visits, and on Saturday at 8:00 I set off on the 223 miles to Mulhouse, to fulfil a long-held ambition to visit the Cite de l’Automobile and it’s famed Schlumpf Collection. I shall make this the basis of another piece, but for now, let me say that it’s by far the most glamorous, as well as largest, collection of historic cars I’ve ever seen. It’s a monument to both the passion (and the money) of the Schlumpf Brothers, and to the motor car, primarily – but not exclusively – the French motor car and in particular, to Bugatti. There are two Bugatti Royales there, out of a grand total of only seven ever made, and another 120 Bugatti’s besides these. There are a couple photos accompanying this piece which will give you some idea of the incredible – not a word I use lightly – motoring riches within.
My initial plan to take a detour through the Black Forest, a region I haven’t visited for 45 years, was unfortunately disrupted by heavy traffic, so it was motorway all the way to Mulhouse again. Just south of Baden Baden I came across a metallic brown Porsche 911 SC, and while parked alongside it, had a brief chat with the returning owner, who was en route to celebrating his mother’s 80th birthday party. Apparently, there was a major classic car event happening in Baden Baden the next day…but I couldn’t go back that way, tempting as it was.
Die Zitrone coped easily with the hills along the way on the A8 and A5, especially the Aichelberg and Drackenstein heading towards Stuttgart. On the descent, I was passed by a BMW 635CSi, whose occupants offered a fanfare of horn tooting as they drove by, which I of course reciprocated. I remember on family trips back in the 1960s and ‘70s that we used to stop at the end of these two hills to allow the car to cool down; not necessary this time!
After an evening in the pleasant market square in Mulhouse and an overnight stay at the thoroughly charming and elegant Peonia at Home B&B, where I was presented with one of the best breakfast spreads ever, it was time to set off on “the long way home”, to quote Supertramp.
Once more, distance and time required I stick to the superb French toll roads, on which there was almost no traffic and – even better – absolutely no trucks, as they are banned on Sundays, a very sensible idea which should be implemented everywhere! Imagine how much more relaxed a Sunday drive would be without the noise and traffic generated by heavy goods vehicles – bliss!
Driving on these superb roads was in no way a hardship, as I crossed seemingly endless fields of wheat, corn and grapes, and France is anything but flat and featureless. I had also taken the precaution of subscribing to the SANEF electronic toll sensor, which, placed behind my interior rear view mirror, saved me the hassle of having to climb out of the car and walk around to the pay machine every time. It’s not the cheapest thing, but if you’re travelling solo in a RHD car, definitely worth it. Note to self – must remember to now cancel the subscription!
My route took me around Strasbourg, via Metz, Reims, Laon (or L-A-O-N, as Ms. Google would amusingly pronounce it) and on up to Calais. Reactions to the 02 were less frequent in France than in Germany – unsurprising, of course, though it did generate some waves and toots. Disappointingly, I didn’t see a single French classic being driven all day – could this have been purely because I was on toll-roads?
My Shuttle was scheduled for 19:25 but was of course delayed by about 45 minutes – amazingly, there didn’t seem to be a single TV showing the World Cup Final. Considering les Bleus were playing – and winning – I thought this remarkable.
In any case, I emerged back in Blighty to be greeted by the pitted surface of the M20, and more traffic than I’d seen all day. Welcome home.
As darkness began to fall, I motored around a very busy M25 and up to the M40, by which time headlights were necessary and as die Zitrone’s beams are, if we’re being charitable, just about sufficient, I was pleased to be able to trundle into the garage at just before 22:00.
Although I was tired, I had no aches or pains from spending so many hours in the car. That day alone we had covered 923 km, and 2,893 km in total over the trip. 2,400 of these were done in 4 days. All of them were swallowed up by the little 02 with minimum fuss or bother, even on the hottest days.
The trip was a success on every level – a chance to catch up with many members of my extended family, visit a couple of outstanding museums, drive through beautiful French and German countryside in summer sunshine, and most of all, bond with my little 02 in a way that short drives to classic events would never do. Would I do it again? Definitely!