I don’t know when it happened. Somewhere along the way over the past few years, I had slowly ventured away from going on those drives that start with no schedule or intended destination; the ones that take you off the beaten path to spend time with the car you so adore. Rather than map out the shortest most efficient route to your destination, you’d take random turns to see what interesting things you’d stumble upon. These drives had been a regular staple in my weekends and they were the perfect chance to get away and enjoy the open road, but somehow I had forgotten that. Whether it was work deadlines or busy schedules, something had slowly relegated me to the boring grind of sitting in traffic with the rest of the commuters in an attempt to simply get from point A to point B with an irrational urgency. I didn’t realize it, but I missed the freedom of the drive.
As any West -Coaster will vouch, the easiest and quickest way to make your way up or down the state of California is to hop on the 5. It’s a road that heads directly north through flat farm land with one sole purpose: to traverse the state. Tractor trailers hurry along from port to destination, keeping pace with schedules while cars fly along at 85 MPH with no interest other than arriving at their next stop. While there is some beauty to be found in the farm land and mountains that line the 5, the alternative route is one renowned for its views and scenery. The Pacific Coast Highway runs parallel to the 5 and allows the same North-South travel, but it does so at a much slower pace; one meant for taking in the sights along the way as it winds along the cliffs of California’s coast. At StanceWorks, we head north to Central California rather often for different events, photo shoots, and meetings, but we have been in too much of a rush to take the scenic route. Unfortunately, this trip was no different: I had to be at Laguna Seca by 11AM to pick up my credentials and attend the mandatory photographers’ meeting. With over 350 miles between me and my destination, I woke up before the sun rose, packed my gear into the trunk, and set out on another boring drive up Interstate 5 in a rush to get there on time.
Fortunately for me, I made the trip behind the leather sport wheel of a 2013 BMW M6. I positioned myself comfortably in a sport seat that had more electronic adjustments than I knew possible. The windows remained up as the intricate climate control regulated the cabin to a nice cool temperature. Sound deadening that I’m sure is backed by hours of careful engineering managed to hide any road noise while still allowing me to enjoy the sound of the 4.4L V8 that made the passing lane so enjoyable. At my fingertips was an endless array of music to play through an absurd 16 individual speakers. If there was any car to be in as I glided up the 5, it was this one. I was truly comfortable. Interstate boredom and lower back pains stood no chance. I was on a roll.
At this point, many will argue that these same creature comforts are harbingers of a dying driving experience. As more and more options are added to spec sheets, the drivers are whisked away from their surroundings into a capsule of new car smell and satellite radio. Parking sensors and cameras have removed the effort of tight parking spots while computers regulate everything from braking to throttle response. You’ll hear arguments that driving is no longer about pleasure and enthusiasm, but simply a means to get from one place to another in comfort. It’s these same thoughts that ran through my head when I decided I had had enough of the boring interstate. To get to the coastal town of Monterey, home of Laguna Seca, I knew that you had to cross back over the mountains towards the Pacific. As the navigation politely suggested that I make a U-turn and return to the planned route, I sped away from the flow of interstate traffic, through the fields towards the mountain. I shut the radio off, put the windows down, and set the car to Sport Mode, tightening up the steering and suspension as the engine came to life. It was time to see if this ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’ had lost its soul like so many have speculated, or if it still had BMW in its heart.
I got to the base of the mountains as the Nav screen showed a line tightly snaking its way up the terrain ahead. I left everyone to their monotonous trips up route 5 to get a taste of the empty mountain roads. The V8 let out a roar as I dove into the first curve. The seat bolsters that had once only offered comfort now held me in place as I danced back and forth with the BMW through the rolling hills. With every blip of the paddles, the M Double-Clutch transmission flawlessly rev-matched the downshifts while the ceramic brakes provided the stopping power needed for a late entry into the apexes. I let out a hearty laugh of pure enjoyment. There I was, in a car by myself, grinning from ear to ear as I blasted through the turns, unable to contain my joy. I finally remembered what I had been missing for so long. My quick jaunt through the twisted path came to an end as I descended down on the coast and continued on to the track.
After a weekend of shooting, it was time to venture south once again. With no obligations pressuring me to return home in a timely manner, the decision was simple: I would finally take the opportunity to explore the scenic roads down the Californian coast. Under the cover of a marine fog layer, I set out on the Pacific Coast Highway with a sense of wanderlust. On the left, the rolling mountains of the central coast rose high in to the sky, while on the right, the Pacific’s swells roll in from the horizon and crash into the cliffs that dictate Highway 1’s path. At that altitude, the clouds roll in off the ocean, momentarily engulf the road ahead of you, and then continue to climb over the hills with a life of their own. The M6 was at home on these cutbacks and wide sweeping turns. The twin turbos eagerly compressed the cool ocean breeze as the exhaust note provided a much better alternative to whatever music could be found on the endless list of channels. I was back at it with 560 horsepower at my beck and call and a smile on my face that I could not shed. Passing by grazing cows and over beautiful bridges, I took moments to appreciate my surroundings before diving back into the next round of curves.
Many speculate that driving enthusiasm is something reserved for the classics; that ABS, Power Steering, and computer modules, have sought to remove the “experience” from spirited drives. Comfort has taken precedence over the performance that birthed so many of the cars that we hold dear. I will admit to subscribing to these same beliefs until this drive down Highway 1: there is no denying that you fall in love with the idiosyncrasies, inconveniences, and imperfections of a classic car. The relationship you form with the car is raw and builds a close bond between you and machine. The driving experience is more direct as you work along with the vehicle to guide it down the road. While a bond such as this may not be found behind the wheel of a new sports car, the heart and soul of the driving experience still lives on. With technology garnered from thousands of laps around tracks throughout the world, companies such as BMW have provided cars that are able to take on whatever road and adventure we throw at them. The adaptive suspension allows you to stiffen it up with the flick of a switch and the complex network of sensors and computers, often a target of a ridicule for their potential interference, ensure that there’s never a shortage of traction at your disposal. With no rattles, overheating issues, or lower back pains from uncomfortable seats, you are left to enjoy a purified driving experience. There are no concerns about your drivetrain, and you aren’t left to muscle the steering wheel around every hairpin. It’s just you and the road in a playful dance as the new technology removes any other distractions from your drive. It’s a different driving experience from a classic, but it’s one equally exciting for any enthusiast out there.
I arrived at my destination under the darkness of night. I spent the whole day on the drive, stopping along the way to take in some of the sights and sounds. I had lunch in a small cabin amidst the pine trees of Big Sur, took a moment to watch the wildlife that shared the land, headed off the beaten path to explore the vineyards, and finally relished in the golden light of the sun as it set behind the mountains. This trip had opened my eyes to the world that lay just a few hours north of me and reminded me that I had lost touch with the driving experience. The BMW M6 offered me a welcome comfort and tranquility for the long road trip, but never hesitated when I encouraged it to show its performance side. BMW has always been known for this balance of business and pleasure which gives credence to their status as the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine’. While technology has advanced and the relationship between man and car has evolved, the heart and soul of the driving experience is still strong in the sports cars of today.