Ultimate Fantasy 2: Driving Your Car on the Autobahn

Mark Bramley
volkswagen-scirocco

ENDURANCE RACING

It doesn't take long before slower traffic forces me to slow down, a topspeedus interruptus that happens regularly over the next few hours. The best part about encountering other traffic is that it provides an opportunity to find like-minded drivers with whom you can engage in impromptu rolling-start drag races. Long-distance autobahn driving is like endurance racing -- it's most fun when you find other cars that are evenly matched in speed. Strategy and nerve come into play. Who's downshifted and is ready to accelerate at the end of a 60-kph construction zone? Who's willing to probe the cornering limits at 135 mph? (Uh, not me -- not in a car named after a desert wind but designed to act like an airplane wing.) I would no sooner arm-wrestle Vin Diesel than I would race my old VW against a modern Porsche, so the Scirocco's first two speed partners aren't exactly exotic. The Mercedes-Benz R-class and the BMW X5, both diesel-powered, are fun to engage with, but my third playmate proves to be the perfect foe. With 1.4 liters of supercharged and turbocharged direct-injected gasoline anger under the hood, it's a much newer Volkswagen, and yet it can't pull so much as a car length away from me. Uphill, downhill, low speed, high speed, we are evenly matched. That my Scirocco's new best friend also wears a Scirocco badge is especially cool.

THE FAMILY REUNION

If you were going back to the old country, you'd probably visit your birthplace, and that's exactly what the Scirocco does. Although the big Osnabrueck facility where the car was built is still known as the Karmann factory and is still located on Karmannstrasse, the only Karmann badge in the parking lot is the one on the B-pillar of my Scirocco. VW took over the factory in 2009 after the coachbuilder went bankrupt, and the building now churns out Golf cabriolets and Porsche Boxsters. That new Scirocco on the autobahn, it turns out, was built in Portugal, so the plan to take a photo of my car in a crowd of new Sciroccos is thwarted.

A photo in a crowd of old Sciroccos will certainly do, though. Our next stop is in a little town called Dorfmark, where an annual classic-Scirocco get-together is underway. As I drive onto the field, a fellow Scirocco owner notices my car's California license plates. Before I can even get out of the car, he's standing at the driver's-side door.

"You must be joking with that plate," he accuses.

"Nope, I brought the car here from California."

"When?"

"I picked it up from the port about five hours ago and drove straight here."

My Scirocco easily wins the award for the farthest-traveled attendee, and the other Scirocco owners spend an hour poring over differences between the U.S. and German-specification cars, differences so minute -- like the small strip of chrome on my door panels or the hook inexplicably welded to the underside of the hood -- that I hadn't noticed them in fifteen years of ownership. The entire experience is a Scirocco-centric deja vu of the time my family went to Italy to meet distant relatives. These distant relatives instantly welcome, feed, and entertain me as if I were family, and they offer to send parts that aren't available in the United States. We discuss the differences between VW dorks in Germany and VW dorks at home. (Same Scheisse, different language.) I want nothing more than to stay for the entire weekend, but I can't. When I get ready to leave, a dozen Germans flock to the front of my car like moths to a blinding blue flame. "Xenons!" they cry.

"Those are so illegal here," the event organizer exclaims, "but so cool!"

"Oh, aftermarket HIDs are illegal in the States, too," I admit.

A few minutes later, I'm preparing a confession to two German police officers who follow me to my hotel parking lot. To my surprise, they don't notice the xenons. Instead, they want to see my import papers -- apparently they, too, think I'm joking with the California plates. When they find out that the car is heading back to California after only a couple of days, they tell me I'm crazy, compliment the Scirocco, and pose for pictures with it. Germany is so cool.

TOP-SPEED FATIGUE

At 24 mpg, the first three tanks of 102-octane German unleaded yield the worst fuel economy I've ever seen in the Scirocco. That's a huge win for me, though, since two-thirds of that fuel was consumed at full throttle. As I continue on my top-speed-athon to visit friends in Cologne, it occurs to me that my biggest wish likely won't be granted: a photo of the Scirocco's speedometer with the needle buried. I expected more than enough speedo error to get the needle past 140 mph, but the GPS verifies that the quarter-century-old gauge is accurate to within 1 mph at top speed. Go figure.

I've hit velocities over 135 mph (in much faster cars) in America, but in Germany it's different. The roads are built for high speeds, and because it's all legal, you can keep your foot down for miles and miles, allowing the adrenaline rush to fade and for it all to seem, well, normal. Even the car's (twenty-five-year-old) cooling system is nonplussed by the hours of running at full load near maximum rpm. In fact, the water temp is normal (probably because there's a spare radiator in the trunk). After an hour or three with your foot in the carpet, you relax enough to think about what's really going on under the hood, which makes you want to do the unthinkable: slow down.

I can't help but worry about this engine that makes roughly 40 percent more power than it was designed to. What if a rod fails under the increased loads? What if that leads to sudden and catastrophic engine seizure, locking the front wheels and sending me skidding to my death, splattered against an old oak tree? I relax the pace and find a new cruising speed -- right at the point where the long intake's secondary throttle opens. The Scirocco settles into a happy 115-mph cruise, below the speeds where wind gets under the front end and all the noise becomes tedious. The engine is spinning at five grand -- a relatively relaxed pace made possible by the long fifth gear that I swapped in years ago, never dreaming it would pay such tremendous dividends on an autobahn.

the_roadrunner
Ah, your mention of rings brought up sweet memories of driving the autobahn! My wife and I went on our honeymoon to Bavaria and Austria, landing in Munich and driving the first day to Innsbruck. A cross country jaunt to Vienna followed, with stops at Castle Durnstein in the Austrian countryside, where Richard the Lionhearted was supposedly held captive while returning from the Crusades (it is now a bed and breakfast). A trip to Salzburg was next; nothing like Mozart at 110 mph. Our car was a VW wagon, painted in a crazy purple color with Bon Jovi name decals discretely applied. My wife and I kept wondering if this had some deeper meaning in German, until our questions were answered on the final day when we returned to Munich and saw the same weird purple color on a VW with Pink Floyd decals. Apparently VW did some rock band special editions for the German market. If you ever want to get a group together to go back, my wife and I and our trusty Pontiac G8 GT are ready!
Boyracer36
Another way to indulge your high speed driving needs is to take European delivery. I got my 2011 Audi S4 on May 19 at 2:00PM...Remember, the Germans ARE punctual! European delivery is fantastic! Audi took care of everything, insurance, licensing and registration...and a full tank of gas, which costs $ 9.00/gallon there. After 1,500 miles and 2 laps of the Ring, I dropped my car off at Munich Airport and flew home. Several weeks later, thank you, U.S. Customs drones, who sat on my car for 3 weeks, I got a call from my dealer, "come get your car". The German export plates were still on it. My fastest speed? 145 mph. The difference between 145 here and there? You STAY at 145 there! I only got passed twice, once by a Lambo and once as I was slowing down for a tunnel...No shame. I stayed under the rev limits the factory gave me, but still had fun. If you chose to do this, KNOW THE RULES AND OBEY THEM! The Germans hate bad drivers and Americans and the Swiss have very bad driving reputations.

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