Bavarian Bahnstorming

Looking for the perfect souvenir from your next European holiday? What about a car from Germany?

A car is certainly more practical than a dinner service from London that Heathrow's baggage handlers can instantly convert into a 40,000 piece jigsaw.

And back home you can bolt NSW plates over the foreign ones and your new aquisition becomes a more visible status symbol than a Persian rug. It's certainly more stylish than a Swiss cuckoo clock.

There was a time when all you had to do to bring a foreign car into Australia was find the money to pay for it and then arrange shipping.

That all ended when Australian Design Rules and compliance plates were conceived. Unless your purchase now complies with every tortuous regulation, you may bring the car into Australia only to discover that you can't register it.

So BMW had a bright idea. As they are making cars for the Australian market in their Bavarian factories anyway, why don't they give prospective purchasers the chance to collect the car in Europe, drive it around for a while then return it to BMW to ship to Australia.

The car will arrive in Australia about eight weeks after you do. And BMW arranges all the necessary details like insurance and warranty servicing.

But there is more to driving in Europe than mere money. German autobahns have no speed limits.

This will be the only chance you'll ever have to drive the car at the speeds for which it was designed. Indeed, if NSW legislators have their way it may be your only opportunity to drive the car in top gear.

Germans and NSW have divergent views on driving.

For example, I once drove a Mercedes 190E across Frankfurt to the airport and was flat out at 195 km/h just to keep up with the traffic flow . Then a BMW 750 behind me flashed his headlights to indicate he wanted to pass. A minute later he was out of sight. That's fast city traffic.

So it was with some trepidation that I picked up a BMW 325i from the factory in Munich last summer and pulled onto the autobahn aiming for the Austrian border.

At about 140 km/h I managed to keep up with family station wagons heading out for picnics. On that first day, the only vehicles I passed were hand painted Dutch Kombi vans. My only conspicuous success was setting the balance on the car cassette and mastering the trip computer.

Two weeks later I was on my way back to Munich from Italy, a veteran of the European road system and full of confidence in the 325's capabilities. I had even survived Rome.

I no longer needed a shower each time my speed exceeded 200 km/h. Yes, Virginia, there is a 200 km/h.

North of Garmisch the traffic cleared. As this was our final day in Germany I let the car have its head. At 245 km/h the car felt rock-solid but my passenger had developed a stutter.

That short motoring adventure has given me the concept for a new travel guide book: "Europe on a Dollar a Minute". At 4 km a minute, that's what it cost us in fuel.

For those interested in the technicalities, the car's computer was showing fuel consumption as 16.5 L/100 km. Unfortunately, we'd filled up in Italy where petrol was nearly $2 per litre. Still the 70 km journey to the outskirts of Munich only took 17 minutes.

If you can afford the fuel, you can see a lot of Germany in a day with your own car.

And I've fallen in love with Bavaria.

Sure, the Munich beer halls are fun, Ludwig's castles are pure fantasy, and the alps are beautiful. But have you experienced the A8 to Ulm?

As cars get better and NSW speed limits become slower, I suspect high speed cruising on Germany's 8000 km of autobahns is going to be a memory to

David McGonigal © David McGonigal Pty Ltd