Speeding toward Stromberg, I was less than a kilometer from my exit when a car ahead blew its engine, eclipsing the foreground behind an opaque cloud of dense white smoke. I hit the flashers and braked gently before entering the cloud and losing all visibility. Fortunately, I emerged unscathed to find that the driver, a young woman, had pulled well off the road and was already standing clear of her disabled vehicle-textbook good behavior. One reason grand touring is more fun on the Continent than in the States is that German drivers, each having invested more than a thousand dollars and twenty-five to forty-five hours of professional instruction plus twelve hours of classroom instruction to obtain a driver's license good for life, tend to be a lot more skilled than your average American laboring to keep his SUV off the rumble strips. Accelerating into the exit, I noted that the Bentley's air filters had done an admirable job of excluding the smell of burning oil from the cockpit.
I repaired to the little inn in Stromberg run by Johann Lafer, one of Winkler's competitors for the top of the German culinary totem pole. The place seemed claustrophobic at first, with access via a narrow stone bridge (more sonar protests), cramped parking among fleets of SL500s and BMWs, and an airless little room with flawed plumbing, but its front garden opened out onto an expansive view over the Rhineland, and its kitchen was a marvel. The headwaiter approached me in the bar and went over the menu with about the same degree of attention one might pay to selecting the options for a new Bentley. Speaking of which, I'd go with the metallic paint and monochrome interior-the dark ones with their multicolor upholstery look antique-and the rear console, adding a personalizing touch such as a small refrigerator or a cigar humidor.
At dawn of the final day of my miniature grand tour, feeling I now knew the Bentley well enough to stretch it out properly, I took a long river road full-blast. Some thirty miles in-to it, passing a tour bus trailed by a half-dozen cars, I found myself in a decreasing-radius turn closing on a roundabout at speed. OK, baby, let's see what happens if I'm as good as you are. Modulate the braking to carry nine-tenths speed into the roundabout, squeeze onto full throttle by the apex, touch the brakes to get the howling front tires to bite, catch the big car's small drift, and exit lustily, until we're doing 150 by the glittering river. Boy, she sure can dance.
At an overlook, I gazed down the Rhine, reflecting that its famous hilltop castles originally had been built, almost within sight of one another, to intimidate freight boats into paying the tolls and tariffs that kept Germany in the caboose of the industrial revolution for a century or more. Once Germany wised up and got into the free-trade game, it soon equaled and then surpassed Britain in steel production, eventually excelling in auto production as well. From those origins, a dichotomy emerged: the Brits made elegantly appointed cars with lovely suspensions and interiors but relatively frail mechanical and electrical systems, while German autos were more durable but less lovable. What we have in the Bentley is the best of both worlds: GTs with old-style English elegance, assembled in Crewe, with hearts of German steel.
I strapped in, pressed the starter button, programmed the nav for the Munich airport-five hours away, it estimated-set the dampers and transmission on high performance, checked the mirrors, and rolled back onto the open road. Redlining up through the gears, I found myself thinking of the last words of Viennese philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who was no motorist but made many long journeys of the mind. "Tell them," he said, "I've had a wonderful life."