Lights! Camera! Igintion! Why Do Carmakers Pay $600 to Place Their Autos in Movies?
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True Tales: Where only limits are traffic on road, power under hood, and nerves of driver at wheel.
If I ever get an autograph card printed up, it’s going to be like one I got from Prince Leopold von Bayern. The card depicted amiable heir to throne of Bavaria in a bright red, flame-retardant Nomex racing suit, his long blonde hair curling at his collar, very picture of dashing aristocratic sportsman. To give prince his props, it’s more than image. Until a few years ago royal scion raced for BMW in German Touring Car Championship Series. Twelve times a year he would drive up to such tracks as Hockenheim, Avus, and Norisring, don his racing outfit, pull on his helmet, belt himself into a BMW M3, and go thundering around course at speeds up to 140 miles an hour.
Afterwards he would change in to a tie and jacket and climb into his own BMW M5 for drive home. It is then, royal racer explained, that things start moving really fast, because road he travels is Autobahn. “It’s different from racecourse, where you have a lot of tight turns to keep you from getting up to top speed,” he said. “The Autobahn is mostly straight, so you can.”
What’s more, he can do it legally. Unlike any other road anywhere in world, Autobahn has no prevailing speed limit to discourage you from pressing gas pedal to floor and keeping it there while tachometer nestles deep into red zone and landscape whooshes past in a blur. “In my M5, I usually drive at about 250 kilometers (155 miles) an hour,” he allowed.
Even at this speed he’ll most likely keep an eye on rear view mirror for on Autobahn, there is always something faster coming up behind you. To politically correct, of course, idea of unlimited speed is anathema. But debate is linked to something more fundamental about both sides. Like TV sitcoms, American highway system is geared to lowest common denominator, with 55 mph speed limits designed to protect motorists from each other and themselves. In Germany system is designed to accommodate competence rather than incompetence.
One of those who appreciate difference is United Airlines captain James Poste, who travels regularly to Germany to drive Ruf Turbo R – a ready-to-race Porsche conversion — he stores in Bavaria.
Actually, says Captain Poste, considering his car’s lightweight body, racing suspension, and 495 hp engine, he’s a model of restraint. “The Ruf factory has tested car at 225 mph, but I haven’t taken it above 195 mph,” he said. Even so, this is hardly dawdling, as it’s about 40 mph faster than takeoff speeds on Boeing 767’s he pilots.
According to Susanne Porsche, whose father-in-law created eponymous, rear engine sports car, such speeds are as much a matter of culture as horsepower. “There is nothing mystical about it. It’s system we’ve grown up with. But Americans think of Autobahn same way we think about Disneyland . It’s a kind of fantasy.”