I’m sure that most people who live in and around Germany don’t necessary think of the Autobahn as a Temple of Speed. It’s just a highway system that interconnects German cities. But for people who live further afield, a chance to drive flat out on the world’s only unrestricted freeways sounds like an impossible fantasy. And having recently spent a day driving on these famous roads, I thought I’d commit a few of these experiences to paper (as it were) before the experience completely fades from memory.
For our day of driving, we met up with Germany-based photographer Alok Paleri and local drifter Patrick Ritzman. Alok was going to help us shoot the driving sequences as Dino and I had our hands full piloting our two BMW press cars.
For Patrick and Alok, driving along in a tuned up Mini with your speedometer pegged past the 240 kph marking is just another day on the road. For the rest of us it sounds like a slice of heaven!
That said, they did get badly stuck in traffic and took many extra hours to reach Munich from nearby Stuttgart. The Autobahn is kept in tip top condition, but it means that there is always a fair amount of repair work happening.
This was my ride for the day: a 306 horsepower 135i. With so much engine stuffed into such a little car, it was a real hoot to blast down the autobahn.
Dino managed to figure out what sequences of buttons he needed to press to unleash all 500 horses from his M5’s V10… but I’m not sure he had as much fun as I did!
So yes you can drive as fast as you like on the unrestricted sections on the Autobahn… But in order for this to work, it requires a great deal of discipline, respect and courtesy from every single car on the road.
The discipline bit means that everyone has to follow the rules of the road. This means no passing on the right, only using the left lane to pass other cars, getting out of the way of faster cars, and continually watching your mirrors for incoming Autobahn rockets. This is very serious stuff and you really have to concentrate, both if you are going to be one of the faster cars on the road, or if you are pulling out into the fast lane while driving a slower car.
It requires constant vigilance from all parties, and isn’t something that would work particularly well in other parts of the world.
See all of these cars in front of Dino’s M5? All he has to do is close up on them, or flash his lights and one by one they are going to jump out of his way. Can you imagine this scenario in North America? It would never happen! I like to jokingly tell people that the right lane is the passing lane in America, as this is sometimes the only way to get past people in this country!
One other observation from the Autobahn I’ve noticed is the importance of grill design on the front of German cars. If you are driving a standard car in Germany and you see this big 5 series sedan pull up behind you at a closing speed of 100 kph, of course you are going to fly out of the passing lane and let it by.
Conversely, I found that most cars took a while longer to get out of the way of my little 1 series coupe. From the front it could be an economy car, and was treated as such by some of the Germans in their big saloons. They all did eventually yield though.
I do have to say that it’s a true joy to have the freedom to accelerate HARD up through the gears right up to the top speed limiter as soon are you see those “no speed limit” signs.
But you have to be prepared to get on the brakes HARD too. Your closing speeds to the lorries/semi-trailers is sometimes over 100 kph, so you have to be careful not to go so fast that you can’t slow down should a slower car or truck pull into the passing lane. Alok was my passenger for part of the day and he told me that it’s
sometimes better not to slow too much as you pass other cars. Coming in
hard into their mirrors is often the best way to get them out of your
way and is safer to those doing runs behind you.
It’s no wonder that German cars are so well engineered. Their stability, acceleration and handling capabilties really get a big workout on the local roads. Unless you’ve driven a German car on the Autobahn you likely are not going to be 100% aware of this engineering, especially as the specs of the cars are sometimes different in other countries.
Interestingly, during the 300 or so kilometers that we drove on the Autobahn, very few sections were unrestricted that day. These overheard signs change the limit dependant on traffic so we spent most of the way crawling along to 120 kph limits.
You will often see many nice high end Euro machines on the Autobahn. And you’ll know these cars aren’t just for showing off. They’re definitely driven hard on these roads by proper drivers.
You sometimes feel a little bit of ego-play on the Autobahn, but for the most part its populated by people who take the art of driving very seriously and have a healthy of respect for the rules of the road. This is in marked contrast to some of the idiotic and unsafe driving I’ve seen both in the UK and in North America where many so-called “street racers” have little regard for anything but their own thrills.
Mind you, I’m sure that Alok and Patrick did enjoy a thrill or two on their way back to Stuttgart from Munich! This photo Alok sent to us seems to indicate so!