All it took was three stoplights. Three ill-timed stoplights to lose the entire group of cars we were following, in a strange city in a different country on another continent, and on the first day of a six-day drive. So far, this BMW M European Tour is not boding well for us.
But it’s difficult to complain when you’re behind the wheel of the M760Li xDrive, BMW’s largest and most luxurious car. Oh, this isn’t our car, but six other BMW M cars we’re travelling with are already spoken for – and that’s the point of this whole 1,100-kilometre drive through five European countries, over some of the most thrilling and picturesque roads on the Old Continent.
Buying a new car is already an exciting experience; the thrill of getting the keys, sitting inside for the first time, sniffing in that ‘new car smell’ and realizing that, yes, this baby is yours. But this adventure is for those who decide that taking delivery of their cars in Canada is just a little boring. The company already offers the option of picking up any new BMW at its showcase delivery centre, BMW Welt, in Munich, right across the street from its factory and museum, but this M Tour adds an extra layer of adventure on to your new-car experience.
This is the fifth annual M European Tour, a driving holiday available only to Canadian M buyers. The tour adds about $8,000 for two people on top of the cost of the car, but it includes BMW support vehicles, the planned route, decadent meals in high-end restaurants and some very luxurious hotel stays. The cars get shipped to Canada after the tour is finished.
On this trip, six cars were being delivered to Canadians – five M2s and one M6 Coupe. Here at the Welt, BMW officials spend time with new owners with a presentation on their car, its features and highlights, before walking them down a grand concrete staircase where they see their car for the first time, on display in the huge glass-and-steel showroom. More direction and features, then they get behind the wheel and drive a short loop through the building before getting outside.
Presentations over and a lineup outside for an obligatory photo, you can feel the anticipation among this group of 12 customers to get going. And from the drive out of the city towards our first destination of Tyrol, Austria, that’s right where we got lost; we haven’t even hit the Autobahn yet.
No worries; with a destination set in our navigation for the Interalpen-Hotel, we meander our way to meet up with the group again after a few hours. And once there, parked, unpacked and in the lounge with everyone else, you find the appeal of this trip isn’t just confined to the drive itself.
“At the start of the tour,” says Michael Ferreira, “I told everyone that one of my biggest hopes is not just that they enjoy their cars, but that they’ve made 12 new friends.”
Ferreira is the national sales director of BMW Canada, and along for the ride on this trip to spend some time with these new buyers. And he says the past tours, which all have had slightly different destinations and routes, have been successes from the perspective of both BMW and its travellers. “The only feedback we’ve had is positive. We’ve had return customers, we’ve had people – so they’ve told me – buy cars just to come on this trip.”
The drive continues the next day through the mountains and the exciting Albula Pass; travel is, let’s say, spirited, considering the high-horsepower performance of these cars and the twisty, switchback roads. The tour is led by Walter Haupt, a BMW engineer who has worked on many an M vehicle in the 35 years he’s been with the company. But we soon aren’t fooled by Haupt’s laid-back, casual demeanour; his quirky and witty humour belies a real driving skill, honed as a Nürburgring ‘taxi’ driver and a professional racer for BMW decades ago, and who is now also a BMW driving instructor. Many in the group are determined to stay on the bumper of his X6 M through the mountains, just as much for fun as for the challenge.
We arrive in the small ski-tourist town of Andermatt, Switzerland, and the surprise of the modern and opulent Chedi Andermatt hotel. But we’re here for only for one night; each day is a different destination, and the next morning we’re off down the Alps to Italy for the old-school luxury of the Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees in Lake Maggiore for a night’s stay. From here, the roads get flatter on towards Santa Margherita and the Grand Hotel Miramare, where the group enjoys a boat ride on the Mediterranean into the nearby port of Portofino, full of towering luxury yachts and smaller power speedboats. Giorgio Armani, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana have holiday homes here, not a surprising fact considering the perfectly sheltered seaside setting with both quaint shops and grand hillside stone houses. It’s like a setting from a Marcello Mastroianni movie.
But again, we’re off on the final leg, and the tight hillside roads lead us again down to the Mediterranean Sea to the lavish, over-the-top setting of Monte Carlo and the Fairmont, right at the tip of the hairpin curve famous in the Monaco Grand Prix. The tour is finally over, save for a jovial celebration dinner that evening complete with a tongue-in-cheek ‘awards show’. The conversation is friendly and light, and there is more than the end of the tour for us to celebrate: one is an unexpected marriage proposal that happened along the trip, while the other is Haupt’s upcoming retirement from his engineering job – so he can now focus on driver training, “the fun things,” as he puts it. Overall, it’s a relaxed atmosphere.
It’s here that Alan Chan, a Vancouverite in the software industry – who had picked up his brand new M2 in Long Beach Blue Metallic – looks back on his time here, which will also extend beyond the official tour as he and his partner Janelle spend a few more days roaming around Europe. One thing he likes about the trip is the unexpected destinations.
“You get to see a whole bunch of things you would never normally experience,” he says. “Andermatt was amazing, and I never would have thought of that. Lake Maggiore, I never heard of it, I never would have discovered it on my own.
“This is my annual vacation, so I got to see a lot, meet some amazing people and share stories with car people. It’s the whole package.”
Wesley Mah, a lawyer based in Calgary, had also picked up his M2 (again in Long Beach blue) at the Welt. He was on the trip with his father, and describes his drive as “supremely awesome, a fantastic experience.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to drive in Europe, to experience the weather, different locales, the food, it’s really an ideal experience,” says the junior Mah. “I’ve seen this trip advertised for a few years, and I’ve always thought ‘one day’. And now, it’s in my own car!”
Around the tables, email addresses are exchanged and Facebook friends made, and Chan, 28, sums up the draw of coming together on such an epic trip with these other M car fans.
“It gives you a whole lot to talk about. I was chatting with someone about watches, a lot of car guys tend to like watches. Another one is in the software business, like myself, so we had a lot to talk about. Talking with Walter about car stuff; I plan to go to the Nürburging later and he’s a huge source of knowledge there.
“I assumed I might be the youngest person here, but at the end of the day, we’re sharing a common love of cars with these people, it doesn’t matter the age.”