Engine roaring. turbo spooling. 6000 rpms. The low mountain range blurring to my left. I shifted into third as I straightened the wheel leaving the sharp left hand corner. 70 mph, I laughed out loud. Kept it in third with my right foot pressed to the floor. I didn’t look at the speedometer anymore, it didn’t matter. So much torque, so much speed. Adrenaline rushing. Pure exhilaration. I let off the gas, touched the brakes, then blipped the gas pedal and downshifted into second. Turned the wheel right and sailed through the next corner with perfect traction.
I looked over at Niel “Let me know if you think I’m pushing’ it too hard and I’ll slow down.”
He chuckled “I trust your driving. You’re not even close to pushing it. Not to mention the traction control will keep you from over-powering through a turn.”
It was 8:00 on Friday morning, August 15’th 2014. On assignment for CarNinja, we were on our way to Monterey, Ca. for the legendary weekend finale of car week. Our weekend was to be devoted to car watching and, more importantly, putting the new BMW F80 M3 through a thorough pacing. As a car fanatic and freelance writer it was a very exciting project for me. We left Niel’s house at 3:00 in the morning with only three hours of sleep under our belts. We headed North staying on I-5 until the sun came up. Now at 8:00 in the morning with the sun cresting over the mountains behind us we were straightening out the ess curves with Legends of the Autobahn as our next destination.
We had the perfect car for the job. CarNinja’s glittering 2015 F80 M3. It’s a car engineered so well and balanced so perfectly that even someone like me with limited driving capabilities can have a life changing experience in a mountain pass without risking my life.
Since I’m not the Stig, I left the traction control mostly on. With it’s mystic artificial intelligence the car keeps you glued to the road and in your lane. Not that it really mattered, there was no one else on the road. The solitude allowed us to tune into the nuances of the car without distractions.
Leaving the grapevine covered valley floor behind us we blasted on. Still climbing.
“The torque is amazing!” I was giddy with excitement.
“406 foot pounds, my friend.”
Exiting a long smooth left turn at a comfortable 50 mph I depressed the magic pedal again. It was addicting. “I can’t believe how quickly it responds.”
“Yeah, BMW claims you get full torque output at 1850 rpms. That means you get head-snapping power at almost any point.”
“That’s what I’m saying man. Didn’t the old M3, the E90, only get like 300 foot pounds or something?”
“Yeah, that’s about right. And don’t forget it had a V8 powerplant.”
I did some research later. According to fastestlaps.com the E90 M3 had 296 foot pounds of torque. The new car although only boasting 425 bhp (an 11 hp increase over the E90) shatters the old torque output by 110 foot pounds.
Like a true car nerd, I wasn’t tired of discussing stats. “And a turbo is how they managed to get that kind of power out of an inline 6?”
“Dual Mitsubishi turbos to be precise. They made them smaller which means less spool time, nearly eliminating turbo lag.”
At this point we entered a beautiful series of reverse curves and I lost the ability to communicate with words. I focused all my attention on jockeying this wonderfully constructed race horse through all the paces I could command.
Its so easy to drive. The power is always there. Just touch the accelerator and the car leaps forwards with concentrated, smooth, mind blowing velocity. Depress the brake pedal and it stops like physics don’t apply. Physics, schmysics, who needs it? Its as if the vehicle uses witchcraft to generate unearthly friction. Stomp on the brakes and it feels like your face might come off.
Up and up on a twisting ribbon of steady climbs and sharp vertical dips. Golden brown rolling hillsides with clusters of conifers and oaks. We had the windows down to feel the fresh, dry, morning air on our faces. As we ascended, the temperature dropped steadily, and noticeably. I looked at the center dashboard screen. Outside temperature, 58 degrees.
“Does this thing have seat heaters or did those get sacrificed in the name of weight loss?”
Niel reached over and pushed the button, turning mine on. “The rear seats are heated, too.”
“Thats German technology for you. What’s the point of speed and style if you can’t enjoy it in relative luxury.”
We had been climbing for nearly half an hour when all of a sudden I realized we were at the summit. The steadily rolling hills descended on before us. Then the valley blanketed in fog and past that, the mountain ranges loomed once again beneath a cerulean blue sky. Our stream of road, all by itself, running through nature’s grandeur. It was a car enthusiast’s dream, and was all but over too soon.
Heading down the Mountain into Monterey
We rolled into our first car show at 10:00 am. Legends of the Autobahn is a German car fanatic’s delight. BMW, Audi and Mercedes are all represented – old classics and new (soon to be) classics. Our F80 stood out among them all. It received attention immediately (only one other F80 was there, and it was showcased).
While at the event I got the chance to examine the new M4 in person. It’s BMW’s first one. In the past they have always made a coupe and sedan version of the M3. This time around the coupe has been given its own name, “M4”. Creative of them right?
Niel and I stopped to critically review the styling differences between the nearly identical models. He examined it pensively. “I don’t want to come across as biased, but I prefer the stance of the M3 over the M4.”
I nodded. “I agree. While I like how the M4 looks, long and low slung, it just doesn’t look as mean as the M3.”
“Not as masculine, prehaps?” Niel suggested.
“That could be it. The M3 definitely has more muscle tone.”
If you care about cars at all and have never been to the Monterey car week you are missing out on a fantastic auto showcase experience . The town is completely full of sport and luxury cars. Old and new. Expensive and more expensive. Beautiful Italian Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Eye catching, loud. They reminded me of models. Skin tight clothes, plenty of makeup and flashy accessories. But make fun of them as much as I like, I’ll always notice when one passes by. Equally eye catching Rolls Royces and Bentleys purr around ferrying immaculate occupants to their respective events and engagements .
We lesser mortals enjoy ourselves, too, however . The spaces on the roads between super cars are filled with sporty Subarus, Toyotas, and Hondas. Every walk of the car life is represented. We enjoyed every minute of it, rolling through downtown Monterey, Pebble Beach, and Carmel.
Carmel is a small community perched on the coastal hillside just South of Pebble Beach. We stumbled on it by accident on Friday evening. We immediately realized we’d found something special. Ocean Avenue runs through the center of town . A four lane road divided by a tree filled median. Parallel parking runs up and down the edges, then the sidewalks, then rows of quaint shops and delectable restaurants. I heard that for most of the year its pretty quiet. When we pulled in, however, it was anything but. Every parking space was filled with classic muscle, import sport, and brilliant luxury. The sidewalks were thronged with comfortably dressed people sauntering along enjoying the views. I drove slowly down the main drag with all the other people who couldn’t find a parking space. I stared around me trying to take it all in. Niel leaned out the window snapping pictures of Ferrari Enzos and Shelby Cobras. The main parade area is only six or seven blocks long by as many wide. At every cross street there is a stop sign. Those of us in sports cars loved it, as it was a perfect opportunity to show off our glittering exteriors and exhaust systems.
I switched the car into M1 mode and immediately the exhaust became louder, seemed to drop an octave, and got meaner. I think it was then that I realized how special the M3 is. Even amidst that rolling sea of rare and priceless vehicles everyone else noticed it. Photographers stepped out between parked cars and squatted in the road snapping pictures as we passed.
Niel brought his head and arms back in the window and put his camera on the floor. “Dude, this place is great. Are you hungry? We should eat here.”
Night was falling. After some searching we found an underground parking lot with spaces available. The night was chilly so we put on our jackets. Before we could leave the garage to find a restaurant, however, we were stopped by a couple who wanted to look at the car. The husband had owned an E46 M3 and ours was the first F80 he had seen in person.
Niel spent 20 minutes showing him around the car explaining that “The color is alpine white on black. Yes, the electronic differential can fully lock. No, we don’t have the executive package, but I wish we did, if just for the backup camera. The torque is brilliant, and even for passing you rarely need to shift out of sixth.” They popped the hood and marveled at the polished carbon fiber engine brace. They revved the engine and tested the upgraded Harmon Kardon sound system. The fellow was delighted.
His wife and I stood on the side and watched them fawn over the car. “So will he be getting one now?”
She smiled and laughed a little. “I think it’s inevitable.”
They suggested a restaurant for us to try and we parted ways.
Our weekend passed in a blur of car shows, restaurants, late nights, and snatched naps. Everywhere we went people stopped us to talk about the car and, quite often, to take pictures.
On Sunday, our last day in town, we attended the glittering Concours d’Elegance. It’s a car show held on the famed 18th hole of the Pebble Beach golf course. An orgy of classic cars and immaculately dressed people. We spent all morning there people and car watching. Later in the afternoon, after we had had our fill, we left. The exiting traffic was bad and we came to a dead stop in front of the main lodge. All around us shuttles and taxis loaded and unloaded spectators. As we sat there, two well clothed but obviously inebriated gentlemen popped up at our window.
“Hey! Are you guys the BMW cab service?”
Niel was driving. He looked them up and down and laughed. “Depends where you’re going.”
“We’re just going to Carmel. We’ll give you 40 bucks to drop us off.”
Niel thought they were funny. “It happens we’re going that way. Hop in.”
“Alright!” They crowded in together.
One was a loud drunk and the other quiet, but they were both verbal in their praise of the car. They begged Niel to show them the speed and eventually he complied by revving the engine and darting around a series of curves. They were delighted and claimed this was the crowning experience of their Concours weekend. When we dropped them off they didn’t forget to pay.
We headed South out of town. Niel insisted that we take the Pacific Coastal Highway all the way down. I had never been on the road so Niel drove and I took in the scenery. Three o’clock in the evening, rolling down the coastal highway; it was the crowning jewel in our weekend of unforgettable experiences. Tight curves, loose curves. Always curves. Built on the hillsides of the central California coastline, highway 1 is a feat of engineering. It’s blasted and carved directly into the steeply sloping earth. On our left, the mountainside shooting up and up with scattered, projecting boulders and scrawny pines clinging on where they can. To our right a similar precipitous drop and at the bottom the clear blue water splashed with white crests and foam against the majestic rocks. The ocean extending away from us seemingly forever, paving the way for a mercurial sunset. We were high. I could see for miles and miles out to sea. The immensity and grandeur of the Pacific Ocean humbled me, while at the same time giving me a sense of peace that only nature can bring.
Occasionally there are moments in your life when you realize, while its happening, that it’s special. I realized it then. Here I was, with my best friend, in a great car, cruising down the coastal highway, watching the sun set across the Pacific. Honestly, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Words: Noah Nunamaker