Monday, July 9, 2012

BMW engines that go bump in the night

MIDNIGHT, just outside Cologne.

It's the later side of late and - having landed less than half an hour earlier at Cologne-Bonn Airport, all that's on my mind is reaching my destination as quickly as possible and catching up on some much-needed shut-eye. Luckily, I have the back seat of a BMW 5-Series Touring, a derestricted autobahn and a driver who knows how to make the best of both. The smooth, smart and devastatingly quick way to head for your German home from home.

Or rather it would have been had the Munich machine's temperature gauge not suddenly shot up and steam not started swirling out from beneath its bonnet, miles from anywhere. I don't know much German, but it doesn't take a master linguist to work out what the driver's instant analysis meant. "Auto kaput"...

As we stood in the darkness, perched on the hard shoulder of what basically is Germany's equivalent of the M1, I looked at the sorry-looking executive express and reflected on all the times my own motors had left me stranded in similar situations. The time the otherwise unremarkably reliable Rover, for instance, mysteriously cut out for no obvious reason at all. Or the one where my Mini decided to shed a wheel at 40mph. Or the one where my Mazda broke its propshaft - or rather, I sort of broke it.

In the end, it ended far more smoothly than any of us might have imagined - within half an hour the Beemer was on the back of a truck dispatched by ADAC, Germany's answer to the AA, and we were back on track, headed for our destination. What a destination it was!

The place chosen to mend the unhappy estate wasn't just any mechanic's workplace - it was an oldtimer garage, or classic car specialist in Petrolhead English. Even in the half light of the silly hours of the morning I could see it was packed with classics in near concours condition, with everything from Alfa Giulias and Giuliettas to Fiat 124 Spiders, homegrown favourites like the Volkswagen Beetle and a BMW 2002, and a right-hand-drive V12 E-Type with a curious mix of local German plates and dials still set to miles - rather than kilometres - an hour.

In the space of an hour I'd seen two very different extremes of German motoring, and finally made it to bed at about 2am shattered but surprisingly enlightened for the experience.

It just goes to show you not all of those clich├ęs about German reliability are true...

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