Air travel sucks at the best of times, regardless of what class you’re flying. In this case, flying sucks twice as hard. For one, the airport bus we were trapped in during pre-departure was as humid as a boxer’s arm pit after 12 rounds. And two, we’d spent the weekend in Wörthersee, Austria and now it was home time.
Here’s how the weekend played out…
It may as well be a cliché: The small hours of the morning, filling up with fuel and caffeine. In this case my chariot is my newly-acquired Renault Clio RS F1, the fuel is Shell V-Power, and the beverage of choice is whatever the clerk can be bothered to get me from the fridge.
I’m relying on 30 minutes of sleep and a Ministry of Sound ‘90s Anthems playlist to get me to Heathrow where I’ll meet Saj to catch our flight. Deserted roads and the Clio’s induction roar encourage swift progress.
Cars parked for the weekend, Saj and I catch the terminal shuttle in the hopes of breakfast before our flight. For those of you who’ve never tried to take camera equipment through an airport, you are 800% more likely to be taken aside and have a disgruntled airport employee violate your gear with the same ‘hygienic gloves’ they’ve touched 100 other bags with.
We pay far too much for some very average breakfast, do some people-watching (second only to Speedhunting for entertainment) and walk what feels like 12 miles to our gate, just in time for boarding.
Realising that the new Kendrick Lamar album had released an hour earlier, Saj and I enter a crazed frenzy to download the album before take off to have something to listen to on the flight.
I fall asleep, but not before browsing the SkyMall magazine in disgust at the nonsense some people buy. What is it about being on a plane that encourages people to buy watches? Especially £200 of pseudo-Maserati-branded nastiness for your wrist?
9:00am (Austrian time)
Our Austrian Airlines flight lands safely in Vienna and we rush to baggage reclaim to get Saj’s clothes. I suggest we leave the clothes so as not to wait at the conveyor belt of misery, but Saj isn’t as keen on the idea.
We make our way to the car rental desk to pick up the mighty Skoda Superb Estate that I’d booked for us. Josef, the lovely man behind the counter, offers us an upgrade. We find ourselves in a brand new Audi A6 Avant for the weekend.
It takes mere seconds for me to realise that:
1. Cars have become far too big for their own good.
2. Audi has taken the Pimp My Ride approach of screen placement and put them on almost every conceivable surface of the car.
3. The seats in a new A6 are some of the best I’ve ever sat in.
Hitting the road, the Audi decides to engage its ‘Lane Assist’ mode with the cruise control. Saj still maintains that I was being difficult, but hand-on-heart I can say the lane-keeping function is one of the most irritating things I’ve ever experienced behind the wheel. The next three and a half hours are spent battling the car for control as it violently decides that I’m 0.3mm too far to the right, and jerks itself back in line. I have had more gentle arm wrestles than this.
Snacks are acquired en route, giving me a chance to look at the car and swear at it profusely from the outside; thus it can see me and and knows how much I hate it.
That being said, as a tool for munching miles the A6 really is fantastic. We turn off the Autobahn to hit some lovely mountain roads for the last part of the journey.
Saj goes full Time magazine and climbs the nearest hill to get some shots of the Audi in amongst nature. Looks straight out of a press brochure, doesn’t it?
Searching for some shops to grab some last-minute supplies, we pull into a retail park where the first surprise of our trip awaits. An unassuming garage on the corner has its doors slightly propped open. Inside, two gorgeous Italian rear ends are visible.
I perform a WRC-esque u-turn and park up at what we learn is Duller Motorsport, a racing team with heritage dating at least as far back as the 1993 DTM championship.
The two rear ends belong to a Ferrari F355 and 348TS pairing, some of the prettiest cars to ever come out of Maranello. In front of them is something just as special in my eyes: an absolutely immaculate E24 BMW 635CSi on TRX radial wheels and with an Alpina steering wheel.
The real action is in the main garage building though. There are a pair of BMW race cars tucked away in the corner of the workshop – an E36 M3 ‘tin-top’ race car, and an E46 M3 ProCar wide body, modified S54 and two sets of amazing Alpina-style BBS Motorsport split rims. Duller is clearly not the sleepy little outfit it appears to be from the outside.
Checked in to our hotel and hungry, we meet up with some friends of mine who have driven over to Wörthersee and have some pizza. This is where we’re introduced to Luka, owner of one of the coolest Mk1 VW Caddys around. It’s so cool, in fact, that you can expect a spotlight on it in the coming days.
Saj was anxious to go and see what cars were swarming the town of Velden-am-Wörthersee, the place to be at this time of year. As was I, but in truth there wasn’t really any need to. Our outdoor seats had a direct view of both a car park packed with modified machinery and the main Wörthersee strip where cars were parading up and down all evening.
The rest of the night is full of modified cars, humid weather and rather cross-looking polizei giving everybody a screw-face and side-eye. Engines are revved, egos are flexed and cars spend the evening cruising up and down the strip. We call it a night, ready to shoot the next day.
Hotel breakfasts can be a bit disappointing so we go to a spot recommended by a friend. An enormous plate of cold meats and cheeses is thrust onto the table in front of me. Saj has ordered the same, the Weinerroither Special, and we feast on the most continental spread imaginable. When in Austria, after all…
The next few hours are spent location scouting around the lake and in the mountains. The trick is to find somewhere secluded enough that there aren’t houses in the background, yet just built up enough that low cars can make it to the spot. Saj and I are still 50/50 on whether we looked like drug dealers or undercover polizei, slowly driving around quiet roads in a black Audi Avant.
The perfect location has been found and Luka’s Caddy is almost shot. It may be a slightly cheeky spot, but it is 100% worth it once the photos are shown to everyone. It’s not always the best way to go, but sometimes you have no choice but to ask for forgiveness instead of asking for permission.
The rest of the day is spent doing thousands of steps around the halls of Messe Klagenfurt at XS CarNight Wörthersee 4.0. You can read up on our show experience here.
It’s safe to say we’re impressed.
What we’re not impressed by, however, is the polizei’s decision to close the entire town of Velden off to anyone who isn’t a local or staying in a hotel there. Hungry and tired after a day of shooting, we’d driven 20 minutes to get some food only to be turned back around. I understand that some irresponsible owners can be a nuisance, but to close the town off to everyone? Absurd.
We’re running behind schedule on our last day in Austria, so we skip breakfast in favour of some cinnamon buns from a petrol station. This turned out to be an excellent idea as the pastries are out of this world. Adnan – who we’d met the night before – arrives in his Lexus LS 400 and we immediately head to another location we found the day before. It is 25º outside (Celsius, of course. Real numbers.) and I’m happy that I’ve packed shorts.
Saj did not pack shorts, and he exacts his bitter jealousy by flooring the Audi from a standstill while I’m taking rolling video out of the boot. It nearly sends me flying, but Saj still insists it was the Audi’s poor throttle feel. I have my doubts…
Luka joins us in his Caddy and we all make our way to a secret XS CarNight meet high in the mountains that Andy – XS’s main man – has invited us to. The winding roads are sublime, if a little narrow for the A6 and the LS 400. Both of these cars were designed for the motorway, not little ribbons of tarmac snaking through hills. I seize the opportunity to photograph the amazing views.
Everything is going perfectly smoothly. That is until Saj bounces our poor, poor Audi so violently off a kerb he throws the wheel alignment out. But it’s fine because I promised I wouldn’t tell anyone. Liability-waiving insurance is a fantastic thing.
Arriving at the meet we are greeted by one of the most incredible views of the whole trip. There is a mountainside of modified cars of various shapes and sizes. There is also curry wurst and beer. The sun is shining, and although we only have an hour until we make our way back to Vienna, we scramble to take a few photos, have some good food and chill with our newly-made friends.
I don’t mean to be all deep here, but the people you meet along the way really are the most important part of any trip. Add to that a selection of Europe’s finest modified cars and sunny weather, and you have a weekend that will be remembered for a lifetime.
Also, Saj hit that kerb really hard.
Additional Photos by Saj Selva