March 22, 2001
BMW Performance Center, Spartanburg, SC
After flying out of the cold and snow of a long Boston winter we found ourselves enjoying early spring in South Carolina. Trees and flowers were in bloom, the temps in the 60's, and a clear blue sky for delivery day. The trip was a long time in the making. The car was ordered during a snowstorm on Dec. 30, they were anxious to close the dealership (BMW Gallery, Norwood) and go home for the long holiday weekend, so negotiations were short and to the point. After a few days and reading the BMWNA web site we decided it might be fun to go down to Spartanburg to take delivery at the Performance center. This ought to be easy, right? It talks about it extensively on the organization's web site.
Call the dealer.. No, you can't do that...but it says so here... let me check
call from dealer... They only do X5's and Z3's, they make the other cars in Germany, they come into Jersey...but it says so here...let me check
call BMWNA... I'm not sure let me check...no I don't think you can
call BMWNA again... but it says so on your web site, and here's a guy on the web who says he did it, with pictures and all!...let me check... well you could have done it but now it's too late--but let me check
call from dealer... It's all set, no problem
30 min later, call from BMWNA... sorry, it's impossible
Do you guys talk to each other?? Call back to dealer and BMWNA... next day everyone agrees that it's both possible and doable--we're on our way to Spartanburg!
And now the wait, the wait, and more wait....checking production status about every hour and a half, reading all the stuff on bimmer.org, worrying about steering, trying to figure out why all those guys want to pay for clear lenses so that their cars look more like Hondas...
BMW provides "free" hotel, dinner and breakfast on delivery day. The hotel guy met us at the airport and drove us to the hotel in a nice 5-series station wagon. He allowed as to how it beat the heck out of driving the hotel mini-bus. The accommodations and dinner were nice, especially so since the children were safely at home with their sainted grandmother who kindly provided us with the opportunity for a wonderful five day weekend. After a night restless with anticipation (or perhaps the stuffiness of a room with unopenable windows), Delivery Day dawned clear and bright.
About four folks were taking that delivery that day, all 3- and 5-series. We piled into the hotel bus for the 5 minute trip to the performance center. The day was to be divided into three parts, delivery, driving, and the factory tour. We split up into groups, with half driving first and the others taking delivery. We were in the latter group. Finally the moment arrived. With some trepidation I had ordered the tanin red interior sight unseen because none of the dealers in the area had one in stock. Would it be garish, as some of the pictures on the web appeared? NO WAY! It was gorgeous, love at first sight!
Here we are in the delivery bay with our new baby! It's a 330xi, 5sp, PP, SP, Xenon in steel grey with tanin red leather. Just about the prettiest thing I've ever seen (our first bimmer, btw, though Jean has wanted a 2002tii for about 25 years now--we may yet track one down for her!)
Here's a view of the engine compartment:
After going through all of the delivery ritual I drove it out of the bay and into the parking lot. We had an extra fifteen minutes before our turn on the track so we (of course) went for a little drive. Did I say love at first sight? The affair became torrid as we headed into the first S-curve! Wow, what a car! It was clear that the clutch and I were going to have to reach some sort of rapprochement before we could have real fun (it's nothing like the clutch in our old Camry!), but it was clear that would come with a little muscle reprogramming. Did I say this car was fun?
Then it was our turn on the track. Here we are at the starting area, they managed to match us up pretty well with the kinds of cars we would take home, we had a 330xi, but with Steptronic rather than manual. Given all the other things there were to think about on the track this was probably for the best. Our instructor (shown in the pic below) was a professional rally car race driver, and she was fantastic as a teacher/coach.
We started by learning how to sit in the car (no kidding!). Actually a very helpful exercise, apparently most of us normally sit in a position that is neither ergonomically correct nor optimal for controlling the car. Then we were out to the closed track to work on handling, braking, and other accident avoidance techniques. We started just weaving a line of cones at progressively higher speeds. I found out I was moving my hands way too much as I steered, for this exercise they could just stay put.
The next segment involved playing with the ABS braking system. You accelerate down a straightaway into a lane of cones where the pavement has been wetted down. To add a little excitement the cones are set up in a curved path so that you have to steer while in a full panic stop. The picture below is Jean braking into the curve from 50 mph. Her comment afterwards-- "these brakes are really good!". The stopping distances were impressively short, and it was indeed possible to brake full-on and steer at the same time. This is really something everyone ought to try, I would never have thought such short stops with good control possible, it gave me a lot of respect for the engineering of the system.
We went from there to the water wall course. This is basically a system where a demonic person in a control tower some distance away can throw an obstacle (a line of water jets) up in front of you at a whim and you are supposed to steer to avoid it. I didn't always quite make it! The picture immediately below shows one of the walls starting to come up right in front of the car.
Hit this one square on!
Finally we were off to the skid plate, a doughnut of polished concrete. The idea was to go progressively faster around the circle until you began to experience side slippage due to over or understeer. At about 30mph I managed to put it into a four wheel drift on the slipperiest part of the pad, coming sharply back to reality when I hit a dry patch of pavement. We did this exercise first with the DSC (Dynamic Stability Control) off, and then a second time with the DSC on. The difference was like night and day. It was possible to hold the car on the track at a 20% faster speed with the DSC than without. For a non-race-trained driver like myself, or under everyday driving conditions it would be really dumb to turn this great system off.
Here we are getting ready to go with the performance center in the background.
Here's Jean coming around the turn:
At lunch I asked about E46 M3's and they said there was one on site, and we went back into the shop to have a look. Apparently it's first driver was a bit rough on it, the rims on one side had been dinged, and there was a small dent in the left front fender. The driver, some well known race driver, autographed his ding for them. I offered to swap my brand new 330 for their used, damaged M3 but they were uninterested!
After the driving we had a nice lunch and then drove to the Zentrum for the factory tour. They gave us an X5 to drive over in (we tried to talk them into letting us use one of the M3 roadsters sitting out front, but no soap. On the way back I got a 740i -- something I think I could get used to!
The factory tour was great, one of the better tours of any factory I've ever been on. They build a mix of X5's and Z3's using much more hand labor than I might have expected. We were on the factory floor with robots and welders going all around us. The tour is well worth while if you're ever driving though SC--they have public tours, though the groups were much larger than the one we were on.
After the tour, we headed off into the sunset and drove up to Asheville, NC to visit the Biltmore estate the next day. Stayed in a very nice B&B, the Albemarle Inn, then drove from there to Williamsburg, VA where we stayed in one of the colonial houses. From there it was to southern PA for a visit with friends and then home. We did manage to keep it under 4000 rpm and 100mph the whole way home, though the former was hard.
This was a great experience, and I'd recommend it to anyone without hesitation.
More pictures (Careful, they're big)
Go back home