I don’t have breast cancer, but lots of women do, or will. Approximately 175,000 cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2000. Not that I can’t get breast cancer, about 1,600 breast cancers will be diagnosed in men as well.
BMW sponsors a little thing called “The Ultimate Drive for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation,” a nationwide program to raise funds for the fight against breast cancer. The program features two cross-country caravans of specially marked BMW cars, a white fleet and a silver fleet, that take the Komen message to the streets of America. Guests are invited to test drive the vehicles and for each mile driven, BMW contributes $1 to the Komen Foundation.
The Silver Fleet was to be at Taylor BMW on Washington Road, Saturday, September 9th. Rudy told me about this event at the Bug Splat. He said he was going to sign up and do it, I thought, cool, I will too. That night I went home, logged on the internet, went to the BMW website to register. You had your choice of a wide variety vehicles from almost any 3 Series variation (even an M3 Coupe) to the new X5 to a 750il. I reserved a 325i convertible because of the need for four seats. Donna, her mom and her aunt were going to come along for the ride.
You had to pick a one hour block of time for your drive. I chose 11:00 AM to 12:00 noon, picturing a leisurely cruise around Clarks Hill Lake before dropping the car off and getting lunch in Augusta. Wrongo. There was a designated 15 mile loop to drive consisting of mostly Riverwatch Parkway, I guess they didn’t want you wandering around willy-nilly with their spiffy new BMWs. That’s OK, I still get to drive around stylin’ in a new BMW on a nice day with the top down.
We got there about 20 minutes early. It was a good thing too, just because you filled a form on the internet with gobs of information didn’t absolve you from filling out the official form at the desk. Plus they had to check your drivers license and have you swear on a stack of bibles that you wouldn’t try to dump the car at one of those Title/Pawn places for a wad of cash. Just kidding about that last one. They a tent setup with chairs for waiting and doughnuts and cookies to eat as well as bottled water and Pepsi to drink. We settled in for a wait, but not too long after the man with the clipboard called my name. He passed us along to Heidi who was to put us in the car. It was time to drive.
Not quite. Heidi took one look at said, “You have to lose the drinks.” “Even the water?” “Yep.” Heidi had me buckle up and start the engine. Then she went over the route and asked if I had any questions. I looked at the sky and asked, “In case it rains, how does the top go up?” “Push that button.” “Any latches?” “Nope,” she replied, “they’re magnetic.” Cool, I think to my self, off we go.
Slowly out of the lot over several speed bumps, past the Richmond County Sheriff’s Deputy (crowd control?) and on to Washington Road heading west, trying not to stall it as the clutch engagement is way different from the Miata. A right at the first light and another right and we are headed into Augusta on Riverwatch. Up go all the windows as the back seat passengers were getting mighty windblown. Man this is smooth, quiet too. At Riverwatch & 15th street you turn left at the stoplight, which was red. I go slowly left (still feeling out the clutch) as it turned green, slow enough that the other stoplight 50 feet away turns red before I get to it. I decide when I get this baby pointed straight back on Riverwatch and headed back to Martinez, we’ll see what she’ll do. The redline is 6000 RPM and it comes up quickly. Two things to note here, the shifter throw is a lot longer than the Miata’s and the plastic fake wood shift knob is snapped on, not threaded like most. You guessed it, when I slammed that shifter from 1st to 2nd the knob came flying off. Donna screamed as the knob landed in her lap and of course the transmission never actually got into second gear. I calmly reached down and placed the shifter, without knob, into second and continued to accelerate. Donna hands me the knob just in time for me to figure out how to snap it back on and make the 2-3 shift. Hmmm, remember not to do that again. The rest of the first circuit is finished without fanfare.
Wanting to get the Komen Foundation’s monies worth, we keep moving past Taylor BMW to make another lap. As I drive by the dealership I wave and honk the horn, thereby causing my passengers to try and shrink down below sight level. At Pleasant Home Road it is two lanes that turn right onto Riverwatch, so I take the leftmost lane and accelerate madly by another 325i convertible with two girls in it (to be fair it was probably their first lap and the driver was feeling out the clutch too.) We then ended up zipping down and back on Riverwatch at about 70 MPH in tandem zigging and zagging through the other slug-like non-BMWs.
Hey we have enough time for another lap. No objections from the passengers (until I beep and wave while passing the dealership again.) We lose the other convertible here as they turn in and maybe change cars. On the third lap I got the clutch and the lights at 15th Street figured out. As soon as the light changes you stomp on the gas going left then left again never slowing and you get through both lights. Unfortunately you hit the rev limiter as you are straightening out, causing a hurried shift from 1st to 2nd, and the knob comes off in your hand again. Yikes. I guess if I owned one of these I’d superglue that sucker on. $45 quick dollars to fight breast cancer.
I asked if it was OK for Donna and I to try a lap in a Z3 and there were no objections. After a short wait for a free one, off we went for another 15 mile loop. This time I ambushed an X5 at Pleasant Home entrance to the Riverwatch Parkway. They spent the next 7 miles working hard to catch me. They did, at the stoplight at 15th, hehe. When the light changes, off I go like a bat out of hell, they of course, get stopped. Big grin. The X5 spent the next 7 miles catching me again. They are now in front of me at the light where we go left to head back to the dealership. As the light turns yellow they snap a left turn, I attempt to follow…and stall the thing. Grin gone.
The Z3 interior had this reto/70’s German feel, we found it ugly, but I guess if you are a BMW person you would love it. You sit up a little higher in a Z3 than a Miata and the windshield is more upright making the header seem in the way, not unpleasantly so, but different. The car is quicker, but not as much as you would expect for something that costs 1.75 times a Miata though. There was hardly any exhaust sounds, the car was so quiet that I hit it’s rev limiter a couple of times. Would have been nice to try and drive it through some twisties, I bet it would be very competent through the Gap. But it wouldn’t be the same, I really love the 4 cylinder rasp and the feel of the extra oomph that comes at 4000 RPM in the Miata. The Z3 felt more, I hate to say refined, but that is all I can think of, and I guess that is what you get for the extra money.
With our driving done we headed back to Mom’s Honda Civic for the ride home. On the way to where we parked, we passed right by the Sheriff’s Deputy. I said to him, “You’re in the wrong spot, you should be out on the Riverwatch Parkway, there are lots of folks speeding out there.” He replied with a smile, “Bet they’re easy to spot too.”
All in all it was a great way to spend an afternoon and I plan on doing it again next year, even if I have to take a day off from work. Not only do you get to drive BMWs, but they give you a T-shirt and you get to sign your name on an X5 along with everyone else who has participated around the country (it is going to end up in the Smithsonian.) Next time I’m going to drive them all; a 3 series sedan, an X5, a 750 and one of those M3 Coupes for sure.