How to Go 262 km/h on the Autobahn While Risking Only Your Life and That of Your Friend

“Unsere Lust ist ganz einfach: So schnell wie möglich zu fahren,” I ask the junger Mann manning the rental desk at Munich’s BMW Welt, indicating our desire — a very simple desire, I emphasize — to go as fast as possible.

“Ich glaube, mein geehrter Herr, dass wir ihnen damit gerne helfen können,” he affirms, his knowing, slightly mischievous smile underscoring his eagerness to help us as he pulls up a menu of the latest models to roll off the nearby assembly line.

BMW Welt is not for everyone. Maybe you’d rather spend your time in the Alte or Neue Pinakothek, wandering the vast Englischer Garten, or perusing the Viktualienmarkt. Perhaps Munich is simply a base for day-trips to Neuschwanstein, Dachau or Berchtesgaden, with its emerald-green Königsee and troubling yet breathtaking Kehlsteinhaus (Hitler’s “Eagle’s Nest” lodge). On which note, maybe you’re conflicted about BMW’s founding family, the Quandts, and their alleged ties to the Third Reich. In short, BMW Welt isn’t necessarily “essential” to a Munich visit, yet it does thrill many visitors, not all of whom are committed car nuts. Brody, for example, is a dentist and does drive — but does not worship — a 3-series as pearly as his whites, and so for him there may be something pilgrimagey to our visit, yet his steady demeanor hides whatever real zeal may or may not be percolating beneath the surface. For me, it isn’t so much about the Ultimate Driving Mythos as it is about a change of pace.

Our attentive attendant offers us several options, each one having certain potential yet coming  with some drawbacks (because it is “a very busy time” and not all the models are available), drawbacks whose technical descriptions test the limits of my rusty German, but it’s understood that these aren’t the BMers we’re looking for.

Then he pauses at something on the screen, makes a brief phone call, and, sighing relief through a set of alpine-ivories outshone only by Brody’s own, tells us that the car best suited to our endeavor has just been returned by another client. He hopes that it won’t be too great an inconvenience for us if they take perhaps fifteen minutes to fully prepare the new M6 Coupé twin-turbo for our drive.

After the pledge of my entire estate as collateral and other administrative details are settled, there remains just one question, that of the ideal route: Whereas the A8 westward to Stuttgart, we’re advised, is very straight and will allow us to maintain top speed for long periods, the A95 southward to Garmisch-Partenkirchen is more curvaceous, allowing for shorter top-speed intervals but a more scenic and engaging driving experience, as well as a much, much schöner destination than — this last word snippity-snipped so as to leave no ambiguity about our advisor’s feelings for the home of Porsche and Mercedes — Stuttgart.

Down in the parking garage, the technical chief walks us around the car, pointing at this, that and the other, with a litany of sternly Teutonic reminders translated roughly as, “Failure to do any one of these 27 things with absolute precision means certain death. Please initial here.”

“Garmisch, ja?” he asks as he tinkers with the navigation. “Garmisch, ja,” Brody ventures, haltingly but successfully. As the keys tumble into my hand, time grinds to a Pinto’s pace and we become Ferris Büller and his friend Cameron in the very moment when they yield themselves to dad’s beloved ‘61 Ferrari GT 250, our ears catching something about the Regler (governor) at zweihundertsechzig (260) as 560 horses prepare for duty and we head up the ramp toward daylight and the Bavarian Alps.

I hate to overdo it with the movie allusions — especially two John Hughes classics in a single post — but these best describe all you need to know about the drive:

1. At 262 km/h (turns out the governor was a couple of clicks generous), the windshield resembled the view from the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon as it jumped to hyperspace. In terms closer to home, consider that we passed VWs that were going, say, 60 mph, as if they were standing still and we were doing 103. That, combined with the immediate, lane-changing deference that slower drivers showed when they saw our headlights storming into their rear-view mirrors, helped me to appreciate both the quintessentially German concept of Überholprestige (which designates a vehicle’s position in the hierarchy of belch-fumes-in-your-faceability) and the claim that there are relatively few accidents on the Autobahn, but when they do occur, they don’t end well.

2. Of course we took turns at the wheel, each passenger having the opportunity, as Neal (Steve Martin) looking in horror at Del/Lucifer (John Candy) howling behind the wheel, to wonder, “Why have I entrusted the continuation of my very existence to this guy?” In fact, when the speedometer hit and halted at 262 — the engine’s gentle purr indicating that there was still room to run, if allowed — I burst into what must have sounded like a mildly maniacal fit of laughter. I’m not quite sure why; probably disbelief that I was actually doing this. But it reminds me that I still need to get the video from Brody.

And Garmisch was, as advertised, sehr schön.



Brody and our trusty chariot