We were fortunate this week to hook up with our friends at BMW North America for an impromptu road rally up the coast to the famed Pebble Beach week of festivities, world famous for its no-holds-barred display of utter automotive opulence. I feel especially fortunate because I’ve never actually partaken in the event. Even better, BMW decided to make just getting to Pebble an event in itself, so as we drive up the coast we’ll be making some strategic stops to enhance the experience and truly make this a week to remember.
To start, BMW Corporate Communications arranged a small fleet of six cars, four of them new models: 2011 550i equipped with an optional six-speed manual in lieu of the standard eight-speed automatic; 2011 Z4 Sdrive 35is, with its 300-hp turbocharged engine and seven-speed DCT automated manual; 2011 Alpina B7, a mechanically and cosmetically massaged factory-tuned version of the spectacular new 7 Series; and a 2011 E92 M3 equipped with the optional Competition Package. There were also two heritage cars present, shipped all the way out from the BMW facilities in Spartenburg, S.C.: an absolutely mint 1988 M5 (with just over 12,000 miles on the clock, which is dumbfounding considering the car is 22 years old), and a Z8-based 2003 Alpina Roadster V8 (!).
Our initial gathering place and departure point was the Ambrose Hotel in downtown Santa Monica. From there we drove up the coast via Highway 1, otherwise known as the famed Pacific Coast Highway. This is the quintessential California drive, offering spectacular ocean vistas and, on a cool and sunny summer day (like today) probably the best driving weather on the planet.
My ride for this first leg was the screaming red Z4, which I had not driven to this point. I was a huge fan of the previous generation, particularly the M-accoutered version, and had been sorely disappointed at news that the new edition was not slated to receive a true M makeover, or that it would be available in coupe (fixed hard top) form.
These gripes were quickly forgotten as we hit PCH. This car really scoots and feels nearly as fast as yesterday’s M Roadster/Coupe. As mentioned, it was equipped with a paddle-shift manu-matic that lets you row through the gears with lightning speed, albeit without a clutch pedal or shift lever. And it’s equipped with the M Sport package that includes pretty forged wheels, an ergonomic steering wheel, and shiny bits like polished M-liveried sill plates. Truly, this was the car to have for the first bit of our coastal drive. Red sports car convertible, the Pacific Coast… I found myself in full California driving overload, and it was euphoric.
Our midday stop was the Mullen Automotive Museum in Oxnard. Here, car collector Peter Mullen has assembled what has to be the most stunning collection of vintage 1930s and ’40s era French cars that he feels embody the essence of the automobile as functional art. Incorporating examples from companies like Hispano Suiza, Renault, Delahaye, and Bugatti, the congregation is breathtaking. It’s impossible to gauge the amount of money that’s parked inside this building. My favorite, and possibly the most amazing car I’ve ever seen in terms of sheer design audacity, was the 1939 Delahaye Type 163 Cabriolet, designed by Figoni & Falaschi coachbuilders. Note the mural of this car on the wall in the background; it’s actually a wool rug, created by a master artisan and depicting the car on the green at the 1992 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elagance, where it won Best in Class.
Another of the more notable show pieces was the 1936 Bugatti Type 57SC Atlantic Coupe parked on another dais across the room. One of just three examples known to exist, it could be that this is currently the most valuable automobile in the world, valued at an estimated $30 million. It also took top Best in Show honors at Pebble Beach in 2003.
Upstairs is the museum’s race display and displays of some of the more modern cars. One notable vintage racer was the “Million Franc” 1937 Delahaye Type 145 V12 Grand Prix, so named because it was driven to victory by Rene Dreyfus in the Grand Prix de Pau in 1938. The prize was a million francs.
Across the hall from the race display are examples of modern cars, one of which is this Bugatti EB 16/4 Veyron. On close examination it becomes clear this is not your “run-of-the-mill” Veyron (note the five-speed manual shifter with dogleg reverse). Turns out this is the pre-production prototype first shown in 1999, the very first of its kind.
After spending about an hour ogling the museum, we hit the road again, this time aiming for picturesque Solvang. My ride for this leg was the Alpina Z8. This car is a special tuned version of the limited-run BMW Z8, with a punched-out 4.8-liter naturally aspirated V8 making 375 hp and 383 lb-ft of torque. The engine was fully built by Alpina and features special internals including pistons, conn rods, cams, valves, intake manifold, and exhaust. This power unit is connected to a five-speed Switchtronic automatic transmission (also with reinforced internals), which features push buttons integrated on the Alpina steering wheel for manual control over the gears (left side for downshift, right side for upshift).
I had never even driven a “normal” Z8 before, so this was a special treat. The car has an unmistakable muscle-car bark on ignition and rumbles around at low speeds like an offshore outlaw boat. At full throttle the exhaust note is absolutely drool-inspiring.
We reached our destination, the Wine Valley Inn, in time to see the sun go down behind the quaint tourist magnet of Solvang, with its Danish-inspired architecture and row upon row of shops, eateries and bakeries. Parking was a little tight as you can see, but we made do.
Later that night, we dined on steak and red wine at the historic Santa Maria Inn in nearby Santa Maria.
Today, it’s onward to Carmel Valley and one step closer to our destination at Pebble Beach. Stick around for updates!