Since it’s getting on toward fall ’round these parts, we’d better collect the little stories and get them herded toward the railhead. So how’s this aftermath summer been?
An annual high point for the Front Range, the Pikes Peak International Hillclimb went off as scheduled on the weekend before Independence Day. Tech-inspection day, held in Colorado Springs and open to the public, gives a spectator like me more than a few seconds to view the hardware, and a chance to enjoy the open and friendly competitors and crew.
There’s something about quixotic pursuits such as climbing the peak or hammering down the salt at Bonneville that strips away some of the race-team-to-race-team tension often visible at closed-course events. The challenger isn’t the next driver over, it’s nature itself—and we’re all in that challenge together. I had a minutes-long conversation with the crew chief of a local BMW entry, and he seemed happy and engaged all the while.
With asphalt all the way to the top, the hillclimb is no longer the domain of purpose-built rear-wheel-drive Wildcats, but it is still a wing-heavy event. Splitters and diffusers are–like turbochargers–everywhere.
Something that seemed relatively new (but shouldn’t be) was supplemental oxygen bottles in the cabin to feed the drivers’ own internal-combustion systems. The peak of the mountain is over 14,000 feet above sea level; my handy partial-pressure calculator says that the air up there holds barely 60% of the oxygen molecules per breath that your breath would hold in Miami.
I called this an aftermath summer in an earlier paraagraph, but lingering material shortages and supply-chain hiccups are still raising havoc with businesses of all sizes and specialities. In some ways, then, this is more an intermath time, although hopefully a brief one.
I was idly car-shopping, more like car researching, and somehow stumbled upon the “We Wanna Buy Your Wheels” website of a national chain with several local dealerships. Idly, again, I plugged in the information about our leased JCW Mini, now 24 months into its three-year term, and I had to blink a few times at the dollar figure they quoted. Dubious, I called their Internet sales manager and pressed the manager for a commitment on the offer. I got it.
The Countryman, with its all-wheel-drive and huuuge brakes and six-speed, has been a hoot here in the hills. But as both Renée and I have been remote-working, the miles left on the lease’s allotment were only trickling away. Would she agree to disposing of it early? “It makes financial sense to—” I began, and although that phrase coming from my mouth should always give the listener pause, she finished the sentence, and we were in agreement. I think it was the Mini’s lack of a heated steering wheel, and its lack of the high-powered voice-commanded navigation system we’re enjoying in the 2018 X5 that condemned the little hooligan sled.
We set an appointment and took the car down to the dealership, more than half expecting some fine print or finagling. Nonesuch; it was the work of an hour, and we left with a check.
At home, some vehicle shuffling let even the project car come inside the garage. Then, a few days later, it occurred to me that another member of our stable might be newly valuable—or highly desired in this odd land of ain’t-no-new-cars-around. So I revisited the WannaBuy website, this time plugging in the VIN of a twenty-year old, just-okay-condition, still-on-its-original-IMS-bearing Porsche 996.
For the uninitiated, the IMS bearing has some reliability issues and has helped make the 996 series something of a pariah. If you recall BMW’s Nikasil debacle from the mid-’90s, you’ll have the right flavor of the problem. Again, however, the offer I received had me blinking with disbelief.
The Porsche’s negatives? Oh, the IMS worries, probably, and it wasn’t quite the right color, and the data showed that we simply weren’t driving it much. Weighing heavily against those was the stirring song of the flat six through its aftermarket mufflers, plus all the other P-car graces. But on balance….
“Hey, Renée; it may make financial sense to—”
This time, too, consensus was reached. We headed down to another of the national chain’s local dealerships, in two cars, this time with less expectation of tomfoolery or hassles. As with the previous visit, the sale went smoothly, and now we’ve two fewer cars in the garage. Even the little quad bike that masters the snowplow is inside.
It won’t last. Just two weeks ago, BMW brought the Ultimate Driving Experience circus to Denver, and gee, I had the afternoon off, and the current house project was in a dormant phase, and they were giving us instructed autocross runs in M440xi coupes. Lordy, I do hate to have regrets; I’d better go see how it is.
The organization, hospitality, and style of the event lived up to the brand’s reputation, which is to say it was handled professionally and at a high standard. The M440xi in dark green is lovely, although its great size–probably nice for a grand-touring car, very comfy–nixed it in terms of a Carrera 4 replacement. I wandered over to the street-drives section to see what kind of candy they proffered.
Serious candy, as it turns out.
No waiting list for the M850i? Well, I ought to at least try it….
The street-drives coordinator wisely advised against taking the programmed route, since the sweeping uphill on-ramp to the nearby freeway was at a crawl, and would have snuffed out the sugar rush promptly. Instead, I snuck down to deserted streets under the overflying freeways and motored around some large industrial blocks to get my taste. Motored, here, is a term that refers to the barely-credible sound and fury that the twin-turbo V8 delivers. In sport mode, the car seems not to leap forward but to reach and grasp,and you’re there, accompanied by trumpets and kettle drums. Let off, and the real crackles and pops from the exhaust leave no doubt that Munich employs aural engineers for the exterior of this beast and its coupe cousin.
[Photos courtesy Marinus Damm.]