Yesterday evening we capped off Day 2 on our Los Angeles to Pebble Beach marathon with the guys from BMW North America. The day dawned overcast (as we sort of expected) but by the time we finished breakfast at local favorite Paula’s Pancake House a mere two hours or so later, the cloud cover had burned off and the sun was shining, promising another beautiful day of driving.
Paula’s was incredible. Seeing as how the place is famous even among locals, I had to go for Paula’s pancake special, which consists of Danish-style pancakes, which are flatter than your American buttermilk version and so big they barely fit on the plate. They come covered with powdered sugar, fruit, and whipped cream. I went for the apple-festooned versions, and fellow journo Mike Harley chose strawberries. Holy cow.
After stuffing ourselves silly—that is easily the biggest breakfast I can remember consuming in I don’t know how many years—we walked back to the hotel, loaded up, gassed up, and hit the road.
It just so happened that I jumped out of one Alpina, the V8 Roadster yesterday, and into the other, the 7 Series-based B7, for the first leg of this day’s drive. Like the Roadster, this is a pretty special car, just one of 400 to be built. Along with subtle-yet-functional aerodynamic appendages and lightweight 21-inch wheels wrapped with Michelin PS2 tires, the B7 features a specially tuned version of BMW’s 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8 that puts out peaks of 500 hp and a crushing 516 lb-ft of torque. Launching it with full force to 60 mph in a claimed four and a half seconds.
This is easily the fastest car in our caravan. While we debated among ourselves whether or not the Z4 Sdrive 35is could take it off the line (BMW claims the Z4 is two tenths slower to 60 mph), at speed the B7 would simply blow its doors off. And a lot of other cars too. This thing is a classic autobahn stormer. If you happen to look up in your rearviews and see this thing filling them up, it’ll look absolutely menacing. Your knee-jerk reaction is to dive the hell out of the way.
The massaged V8 is hooked to Alpina’s own six-speed Switch-Tronic automatic transmission that’s programmed to offer shift characteristics for any situation. The driver can take matters into his or her own hands using buttons located on the back of the tailored Alpina steering wheel, each shift taking place in a matter of just a few hundred milliseconds.
Midday found us in Morro Bay, where we rolled into town just a few minutes past noon—right on time. Our lunch stop was The Galley Seafood Grill, then it was back on the highway with no time to waste.
Our afternoon diversion was the famous Hearst Castle, the erstwhile estate of the late publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. If you look at the pic of our caravan at the park’s entrance, you can just barely make it out waaayyy the hell up there on the hill just above the gate booth.
You’ve probably heard of the place. Initially, W.R. Hearst intended it as a summer home for his family, but the project ballooned over some three decades and became much larger and more grandiose than he had initially planned. When you actually see it for yourself, standing on the grounds or in its many rooms and galleries, it simply blows the mind, time and time again. Even more impressive than the approach to the front of the house through the garden and across the main terrace are the panoramic views surrounding the property, the Pacific Ocean to the west and deep valleys and towering wooded hills on every other side.
Hearst Castle is a big house, and with a private guided tour from one of the veteran guide supervisors, who expertly wove us in and out of other ongoing tours occurring in tandem (our guide, Scot, told me there could be as many as 500 people on the grounds at any one time), we ended up spending a little more time on the grounds than we intended.
So, late for dinner, we hit the road once again. This time I got behind the wheel of the old E28 M5. It was the most “underpowered” car in the group, what with 256 hp and all. It is, however, just 3,400 pounds compared to the new 550i which weighs in at nearly a thousand pounds heavier. In fact I was second in line in our train, chasing that very car.
Compared to driving a modern BMW, driving the E28 is… well, there is no comparison. The experience is completely dissimilar. And once I settled into the 20-odd year car, I found that’s no a bad thing. The steering precision off-center is way off, but once you get the wheel cranking, it responds in a wonderfully progressive fashion. The same is true with the cable-driven throttle. The instantaneous acceleration of the newer cars isn’t there, but keep the S38 inline six on the boil and the car carries velocity like a projectile—particularly on twisty bits. Like a modern BMW, the ’88 M5 is happiest on a winding road, and you can make a direct connection with the lineage. And road feel through the suspension and chassis makes the driving experience come alive in a completely different way. Settling back into one of the newer cars made me feel, well, lonely and isolated, and I had to readjust all over again. I found myself hot on the 400-hp 550i’s heels at every turn—in a car with only about two-thirds the power output. Amazing stuff.
We arrived at the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur just in time for our dinner reservation. Originally a 160-acre homestead claimed by William Brainard Post in 1850. Post’s grandson, Bill, founded the resort and inn. The modern restaurant, the Sierra Mar Restaurant, was dedicated on its opening in 1992 to Bill’s late sister, Mary Post Fleenor. Placed literally on the edge of a steep incline that descends sharply into the Pacific, the restaurant offers a gourmet dining experience overshadowed only by the spectacular ocean views.
After dinner and wine and good conversation, we made our way to our base for the next four days, the equally scenic Carmel Valley Ranch, where we crashed forthwith to regenerate for the day’s following activities: the Concorso Italiano and The Quail car show gatherings.