BMW history lesson leaves me beaming

By David Linklater


From the upper level of BMW Welt, you can see across the street to the iconic "four cylinder" high-rise that serves as headquarters for BMW. Just below is the so-called "bowl" that has housed the BMW Museum for nearly four decades - radically transformed inside for the 21st century, but outwardly looking the same as it did when opened simultaneously with the head office in 1973.

It's a beautiful sunny Sunday in Munich, and I can see a 1960s BMW New Class parked on the forecourt at the front doors of the museum to greet visitors. Nice touch.

If the BMW Museum showcases the old, think of BMW Welt (opened in 2007) as shouting about the new. It's a massive brand-boasting facility open to the public that also contains a space-age delivery suite, where up to 15,000 cars are handed over to customers in hugely ceremonial fashion every year.

The cars don't have to come far: the factory is right across the road. Once at the Welt, they're stored in an automatic racking system before delivery, in a huge garage devoid of oxygen because people don't need to fetch them and cars don't need to breathe. Clever, these Germans.

I'm here for the BMW tourist triple-treat: Welt, Museum and a Classic City Tour.

The latter I'm especially looking forward to. Run by the BMW Museum, the tours are chauffeur-driven in classic BMWs and take in the corporate environs, as well as a gentle cruise around the city ring road. The tour takes three hours and costs €120 (about $185).

The avant garde architecture of BMW Welt and the old-school charm of the museum are linked by a walkway that arches over the top of the busy road below. I get to the desk and there's some bad news: no Classic City Tour booking.

That's followed immediately by the extremely good news: due to the obscene level of privilege that motoring writers often enjoy, I learn that the 1966 BMW 1802 outside the main entrance is parked there for me. No ride; I get to drive.

Naturally, I have a minder in the passenger seat: Angie, an American by birth who has lived in Munich since the age of nine. I'm reluctant to tell her I've been up for two days travelling. Or that the last time I drove a BMW, it was an M5 and I was at Hampton Downs going a little too fast.

As I twist the key on this beautiful museum piece, she wants to know what side of the road we drive on in New Zealand. I'm tempted to lie, lest the experience end there and then. But I don't. The wrong side, of course.

And we're off. Slowly. Any trepidation is due to the ownership and exquisite condition of the car. Put that aside (cannot do) and this 1802 is laughably easy to drive: turns out BMWs made before I was born have wonderfully direct steering, light controls and an air of simple quality.

I cannot emphasis enough how careful I was, although I did give the 1802 a cautious squirt where possible. The model got an automatic transmission option in 1966, although this one is a manual. All the better to enjoy it with. It's a glorious day and everybody seems to have their classic cars out to play: in one city block we see a Porsche 356 and a Dodge Charger.

Angie was full of Munich facts. I'm afraid I don't remember any of them. Too busy revelling in what felt like a once-in-a-lifetime driving experience. And how fantastic to deliver the car back through the gates and underneath the famous four-cylinder tower.

As a journalist, I'm expected to take my treats and run. Perhaps complain that they weren't wrapped nicely enough. But on this occasion, thank you to BMW for an afternoon I won't forget.

- Hamilton News

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