On my recent trip to Germany, I was quite surprised when my traveling/rally companion, Harald von Langsdorff picked me up at the Frankfurt airport in a BMW convertible. I asked Harald if this was a rental car and to my surprise, it was a rental car. Further, upon getting inside the car, I noticed that the car had a six-speed manual transmission! I just can’t imagine going into a typical rental agency in the USA and renting a BMW 118i with a six-speed transmission.
The BMW 118i Rental Car with Harald While Crossing the Rhine River on a Local Ferry
From the Frankfurt Airport we headed towards the Nurburgring race track in the Eifel Mountains of Germany. Part of our trip took us on one of Germany’s Autobahns. When we were on the autobahn we opened the BMW 118i to “see what it’ll do”. The BMW 118i has a top speed in the range of 220 kph. The car will go faster in 5th gear, as the engine just doesn’t have the power to pull the rpms in 6th gear. Sixth gear is effectively just an overdrive gear that lowers the engine rpms while cruising on the highway or autobahn.
Cruising at 180 Kph on a German Autobahn
We had planned to go to Nurburgring to do some laps at one of the world’s most famous racetracks. Harald said that he had been trying for over two weeks to book a ride in the “Ring Taxi”, but that it was completely booked up. We knew that we could purchase tickets at the track to take your street car onto the track, so this would still be a great experience.
Sunday morning, we were gassing up the BMW rental car (What a horror show! Gas is about $8.20 for a US gallon!) in preparation for our Nurburgring adventure when we noticed that a “Ring Taxi” was also filling up at the same station. Harald spoke with the driver saying how that he had been unable to book a ride in the “Ring Taxi”. The driver told Harald that sometimes people with reservations just don’t show up at the appointed time and that we should check on site for an available time. Also there can be accident on the track that will upset timing as well. While we were at Nurburgring the track was wet and earlier that morning while having breakfast in our hotel, we had seen an emergency vehicle and a roll-on flatbed truck head out onto the track, so we knew that these factors would upset the scheduled usage of the Nurgurgring track. There was a glimmer of hope!
The BMW M5 “Ring Taxi” At the Gas Station
With this glimmer of hope, we then went to the assembly point/field office for the “Ring Taxi” at Nurburgring. Harald went in to see the staff there about getting a last-minute ride. I also think that the “Ring Taxi” driver put in a good word for us. Harald said that we just might be able to get a ride. I think that Harald pleaded that we had come all the way from the USA and Canada just for this ride. We got ourselves all signed in and ready to go. The local staff seemed very determined to get us in a car. After about a half-hour, somebody must have been a few seconds late and we jumped in the “Ring Taxi” for an awesome ride. Our driver was the same driver who Harald had talked to at the gas station.
Construction of the Nurburgring track was started in 1925 and opened for racing in 1927. The prime track was the northern circuit (Nordschleife) which was just over 14 miles (22.8 kilometres) long with 174 corners and numerous hills. The original Nurburgring also had a little-used southern loop (Sudschleife) which brought the combined length of the track up to about 17.6 miles. The Sudschleife no longer exists, but the Nordschleife remains very active.
The Nurburgring: The Solid Line is the Nordschleife While the Dashed Line Was the Sudschleife
The Karussell corner on the Nordschleife might be the most distinctive corner in motor racing. The German Grand Prix was first run here in 1927 and was won by Otto Merz in a Mercedes-Benz S. In the pre-war era other winners at Nurburgring were Rudolf Caracciola, Louis Chiron, Hans Stuck, Tazio Nuvolari, Bernd Rosemeyer, and Dick Seaman.
Cover of the Program at Nurburgring in 1927
With only a couple of exceptions (1959 and 1970) the German Grand Prix was held on the Nordschleife. Grand Prix racing on the old racing circuit ended in 1976 after Niki Lauda’s terrible accident.
The BMW “Ring Taxi” Car is a Bone-Stock BMW M5
While Harald and I chose to ride in the “Ring Taxi”, there is another option. You can also get a ride around the Nordschleife in a fully race prepared Aston Martin. For that ride, customers have to put on a full fire suit and helmet.
A Young Woman Prepares For the Aston Martin Ride at Nurburgring
The Nordschleife at Nurburgring was called the “Green Hell” by Jackie Stewart. It is very hilly, lots of curves, and quite narrow with almost no run-off areas. This track is a real test of cars and drivers.
Typical Nordschleife View
The most of the Nordschleife at Nurburgring today is almost the same as the original track in 1927. The most visible change is the presence of Armco in many places.
The 1937 German Grand Prix at Nurburgring Which was won by Rudolf Caracciola in a Mercedes-Benz W125
The “Ring Taxi” ride is not cheap at a total of 216 Euros (with up to three riders), but who would travel that far and pass on the opportunity for a fast ride around Nurburgring? I did some very rough timing of our lap. I timed the ride at around 8 minutes 30 seconds, but it was not on the full old Nordschleife, as it has been modified near the old start/finish line for the new Nurgurgring Grand Prix track. But at the same time, our driver lifted off the gas pedal significantly when we entered the Dottinger Hohe straight, as it was a straight run to the end of the ride. In the pre-war days, the Mercedes-Benz W154 and W163 cars completed the circuit in just under 10 minutes. I would say that we saw the track at speeds that would be similar to the pre-war Grand Prix cars. We saw the track as Nuvolari and Caracciola saw it, which is just the way I wanted to see the track. Not bad for a bone-stock BMW M5 with three guys in it! No cage either! I just can’t say enough about that BMW M5. It is a very, very good car.
Our driver has been racing at the Nurgurgring for 15 years, so he knew the track very well. While we were on the track there were lots of “civilian” cars on the road. Passing can be tricky because you don’t know anything about the skills of the people driving the other cars, but we passed everything that we saw.
Me, the “Ring Taxi” Driver, and Harald After Our Lap at the Nordschleife
The Nordschleife at Nurburgring is a great track and I am very pleased that I was able to get a quick look at it.