Written By: Chris Finlay – Vice President
About a year ago, BMW CCA National announced that Oktoberfest 2016 was going to be held on the west coast, along with a full-on BMW Centennial celebration. Having been to Oktoberfest in Monterey in 2013, I was excited that the event would be returning to one of my favorite places in the country. This year, Monterey Car Week, Legends of the Autobahn, Monterey Historics, and Oktoberfest were all being held in the same place at the same time; it was just too good to be true. So, I needed a plan to convince my wife that this would be an exciting event to attend. Lets face it, it’s a big ask when your vacation time is limited and resources are not infinite.
Back in 2013, on our previous visit to Monterey, we did not have the opportunity to see the historic races at Laguna Seca. However, it has always been on my bucket list and this was the year to do it. With the 100 year birthday, BMW would be the featured marque of the event. This would mean that many historic BMW race cars would be coming out to play. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I want to fully disclose, if I am a car nut, I am also a race car lunatic. Legends of the Autobahn is a dedicated car show for BMW, Audi, and Mercedes. This event allows both BMW and collectors to bring out special cars that did not make it out to most car shows. The event promised to be a very special gathering, and it did not disappoint.
Car week in Monterey has multiple events that include parties, car shows, auctions, and a finale with the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance on Sunday. It is considered by car collectors, the most prestigious car show in the world. With so many things to see and do, I decided to prioritize this trip around track events. Oktoberfest would be later the following week, which would allow time to explore the local wine region and many of the famous back roads. Unfortunately, we did not have time to attend Quail or Pebble Beach, so that will have to remain on my bucket list for another time.
I must say that the BMW CCA National organization did a great job putting together so many events for this celebration. They arranged all of the local accommodations, events, and logistics. This was crucial because car week frequently sees a very high lodging premium and attendance. So, with a rough plan in place, lodging reserved, and lots of excitement planned, we anxiously awaited for the month of August.
It is August 17th, and we are on our way to Monterey. We decided to avoid Los Angeles and head north to stay a night at Big Bear. Unfortunately, the fires were burning in the San Bernardino Mountains, and you could see the cloud of smoke from 50 miles away. As we drove north into California’s central valley, it was amazing how much smoke was in the area. Even with the fires somewhat close to Big Sur, the Monterey Bay area had clear blue skies.
As we drove into Monterey, I could tell we were getting close to the ocean. I watched the outside temperature drop to what seemed like an impossible 63°F. The first few nights we stayed at the Monterey Tides, which was right on the ocean. The nights were cool and windy, and you could hear waves crashing onto the shore. This was such a pleasant change to the heat of the Arizona summer.
The next morning, my plan was to visit the Porsche Werks show, and then spend the main part of the day at Legends of the Autobahn. The Porsche show was interesting but fairly small. There were several great 356’s and many modern cars; but to my surprise, there were very few race cars. This seemed odd, given that the historic races were to start the following day at Laguna Seca. Anyway, onto the show that we really came to see, which was Legends of the Autobahn. As is the case for car week, the traffic was terrible. We got stuck on a highway that was inching its way forward like we were in L.A. rush hour. After some drama at the gate, we finally arrived at the expansive gathering of cars on the rolling hills of the Nicklaus Club golf course. If you have a passion for German cars, then this is a must see event.
Legends of the Autobahn had a good selection of classic Mercedes Sedans and AMG’s, all in mint condition, on display from every era. There was a fantastic example of the original Audi Quattro, which is much smaller than I remember, and a great lineage of RS models on display. However, the BMW’s literally took over the show. It was an amazing collection of every make and model. Michelin had a display of every Modern M car, including the new M2 dressed in an incredible Long Beach Blue. There were Pre-war 328’s brought by BMW Classic’s, that looked as if they were built last week. A classic red 507 won Best BMW and Best in Show.
As for the race cars, did I mention that I like race cars, they did not disappoint. The only thing better than getting to see your heroes, is getting to see them on a historic track going full tilt. This was a prelude to tomorrow’s historic races.
What a track! How can I describe Laguna Seca? It’s a natural bowl on a hillside that someone had the incredible foresight to drape a track around the edges. I love this place. The track is always covered in cloud or fog in the morning, only to later reveal its full glory in the bright noon sunshine. We arrived early that morning, to get an amazing parking spot at the corral. Uncle Satch guided me into my spot in the line of beautiful M3’s. I said to myself “Wow! This is going to be a great day.” However, I must say, the day started off slow. Literally slow because the first groups of cars at the Rolex Historics are Pre World War II classics. These cars can barely break 90 miles per hour on the bending straight between turn 4 and 5. In that class, there were a number of traditional 328’s of Mille Miglia fame. But, alas, not the beautiful “pleated trouser” version, that was streamlined for the 1940 event and looked like a car 20 years ahead of its period. The car was displayed by BMW classics in the pits, but did not race.
Later that day, was the parade of the “Batmobiles”. At one point, there were six of them together bombing out of turn 4. However, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. The racing version of the E9, “New Class Coupe”, is the car that put BMW on the map for America in 1975, after winning the 12 hours of Sebring. It went on to win the European Touring Car Championship six times between 1973 and 1979. The model was also a research laboratory for all kinds of new technical advances. It was the first car to use an inline-six engine with four valves per cylinder. It was also the first time that our beloved M division displayed the emblematic blue, purple, and red on a white back ground. It was the first ///M car. The rest is history, with ///M touring cars at times dominating the field in their respective classes.
The Second day at the Historics also promised to showcase two legendary cars for BMW Motorsport. The first was the BMW-powered McLaren F1 that won its division at Le Mans in 1995, and cemented its legend in the upper stratosphere of supercars of all time. The BMW S70 6.1L V12 engine is the star of the show, and there is no sound on the planet that can capture the soul like a V12 when its on-song. The second car to share the same engine, and go on to overall victory at Le Mans, is the 1999 BMW Williams LMR. This car would mark the end of an era in endurance racing as BMW moved its focus to its Formula 1 Partnership with Williams.
The following day was to be a non-car day, but it did not work out that way. The plan was to tour wine country and take in the beautiful sights and rolling hills of the region. We started in the Santa Lucia Highlands, and the plan was to take a scenic back road into Carmel Valley. The road that I mapped out was not at all what we expected to drive; it was a grueling road. That being said, the wines of the region were fantastic. We tasted some great Pinots and Chardonnays, and ended the evening with a great seafood dinner at Fisherman’s Wharf with fellow Roadrunners, John Wilcox and Steve and Carlette Harris.
It is now registration day at Oktoberfest. When you arrive at the guest hotel, you feel as if the place got invaded by BMW enthusiasts. There are so many people striking up conversations. I was able to connect with a few people that I met three years ago at Oktoberfest. The vendors at the reception hall were very helpful with hands on questions about aftermarket products. And, that night, we attended the first of many club dinners with members getting excited about the days to come.
The very next day was the Concours event. This event included a very special entry, the King of Rocks’ BMW. The 1957 BMW 507 was fully restored to its former glory by BMW Classics in Germany. In 1958, Presley originally purchased the car while stationed in Germany with the US Army. This car looked absolutely new in its feather white paint.
Another car that stood out was a 328. A few days earlier this car was racing at Laguna Seca. It’s amazing that BMW of North America can track this car; the car looks like it was never driven. There was also a collection of Alpina’s that were lined up in distinction. That evening’s dinner was held at the beautiful Holmann Ranch in Carmel Valley. This was originally a working cattle ranch in the 1940’s that since has been converted to a Vineyard and Stables.
The next two days would be track days at Laguna Seca. In an attempt to make up for my selfishness, I purchased for my wife three charity rides in new M cars. The first ride along was in the limited production M4 GTS. With only 300 available in North America, I also decided to take a spin since it would most likely to be my only chance to feel its power. It did not disappoint, this is a very fast car.
Next up was my wife’s drifting session, with Mike Renner, in an M3. Mike is the Chief instructor at BMW’s Performance Center in North Carolina. Judging from the smile on my wife’s face, his reputation of providing entertaining runs was justified. Finally, her last session was with Alex Schmuck in the new M2, but I have to admit there was an ulterior motive. My wife loves small performance BMW’s like the 1M. Since the 1M’s are already a collectors car, and can be hard to find, I was hoping that she would fall in love with BMW’s new offspring the M2. Due to an unforeseen technical issue, she was unable to ride in the M2. This allowed laps in a M4 pace car, a rare and unplanned opportunity. This was a highly amped M4, fire breathing dragon, with the best sound of any of the current M cars. As she got out of the car, it was clear from her smile, that it delivered great performance.
This was my second High Performance Drivers Education at Laguna Seca, and I was looking forward to applying the skills, that I hoped I had gained over the last 3 years, to this wonderful track. On track days, I try to learn at least one thing new and then apply it going forward. One of my goals for this session was to get a better handle on braking zones and brake management. One of my instructors was great in pushing me to delay my braking into the corner. He would ask me after the corner, how close I thought the car was to the braking limit. Then he would give me feed back on what the brakes were really doing. When I was last at the track in 2013, the corner I had the most difficulty with was turn 9, the corner immediately after the corkscrew. On the second last lap of the last day, I had that ah-ha moment and felt the fastest way through the corner. What a way to end a great day at the track, feeling that small step forward is the stuff that puts a smile on your face every time.
I must say, that track days are a time warp, but they are also a lot of fun. But the next thing I knew, we were at the final dinner of this week’s long celebration. At the final dinner, I realized just how much we crammed into to this vacation. We were so tired and ready to go home. Of course, the thought of an 800 mile journey back to Phoenix played a major role. Thankfully, the last night’s dinner speaker was thoroughly entertaining with Boris Said sharing war stories about his racing career. He is a very colorful character, and now owns a BMW dealership in the San Diego area. He became the first and only American to win the 24 Hours Nürburgring, driving a BMW Motorsport-entered M3 GTR in 2005 with co-drivers Pedro Lamy, Duncan Huisman, and Andy Priaulx. In the stories told, you could tell he had a passion to compete, the same passion that our beloved brand has in competition. What a great way to celebrate that passion, and the 100th birthday of BMW, than to connect with your club at Oktoberfest.