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Operation: Pyrat

October 25th, 2011

Chasing a Dream

      It is 3:24 in the morning and I am sitting bolt upright in my bed, awake a whole six minutes before my alarm starts blaring. There is a 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman All4 parked in the driveway gassed up and washed with clothing and gear for four days. The reason? A Roadtrip! The culmination of a great story, not just the beginning of one.
      Our story begins back in December 2010 when BMW announced that the US would be receiving a very limted quantity of 1M Coupes. Pricing and content was yet to be announced and even the official designation of the car was not known. But a good friend of mine, a BMW owner and faithful fan, proudly walked into his local dealership and  left a check for the privilege of being number two in line for a 1M Coupe (It should be noted that Pyrat is rumored to have been the internal codename BMW M engineers used for the 1M project).
      Unfortunately, as fate would have it, BMW determined that his dealership would only be receiving a single car, but they would gladly sell him a 135i in its place. Looking like his boyhood dream of one day owning a BMW M car was going to suffer a disappointing setback he moped for only a minute before he gathered his wits and set in motion this tale. Through BMW’s own website he was able to email every BMW dealership along the eastern seaboard, Montana, North and South Dakota, and even a few in Puerto Rico. Most responses came back with a polite ‘sorry, we would like to help you out but our cars are spoken for’. However, one kind southern gentleman at a BMW dealership in South Carolina did return his query with an enthusiastic, “son, I believe I can help you out!” Money was exchanged for a vehicle order, which quickly turned into a build number, which morphed into a VIN, which necessitated  the planning of this trip.
      The 1M was to be retrieved from the BMW Performance Center in Greer, SC. From the Automotive Trends Observation Tower in Flint, MI that trip amounts to 724 miles and a left turn. Our convoy, consisting of the aforementioned 2011 Mini Cooper S Countryman All4 and a 2004 BMW 325i, left Flint heading south on US-23 / I-75 at  oh-dark:30 endeavoring to clear Detroit and Toledo before the morning rush began. All was going well until we hit the Tennessee border and Editor Gernand started complaining that the only thing he could get on the radio was country music stations. I may have neglected to inform him that the Mini was equipped with satellite radio. Oh well… 

      Rolling into Greer, SC at 6:30 that evening we knew we were in the right location. The hotel’s entry way was sporting various BMW’s on display, even a 5-Series GT (avert your eyes!) for guests to peruse on their way in. That evening, hosted by BMW, we dined on perfectly prepared Filet Mignon and a complimenting Pinot Noir while discussing the following day’s potential activities, not knowing just how important that night’s rest would be.
      Bright-eyed and bushy tailed we hit the omelet station by 7:16. A total of 12 customers were taking delivery of BMW’s that day which made for quite the convoy departing to the Performance Center that morning. We might also note that all who were taking delivery of a BMW this day were already owners of various BMW models, leaving our Mini Cooper S Countryman All4 to be the lone vehicle in the convoy not sporting a roundel. We felt like such riffraff!
      Gathering us all into the classroom our first task of the day was performance driving lessons. Each of us would be doing hot laps in a representative vehicle of what we were there to pick up. In our case a Valencia Orange 1M was sitting out on the paddock with our name on it. After receiving our instructions, including a list of safety precautions, we headed out onto the track at which point our instructor’s voice came over the 2-way radio giving us this last bit of encouragementbefore we actually hit the track: “remember guys, NYC. Not Your Car, not your gas, not your clutch, not your tires!” At that point our instructor led us out to the BMW mini-road course where we properly thrashed some tires.

     What we found out was this: the 1M is responsive and a blast to drive even with all the safety net electronics turned on, but in the proper setting (ie. closed circuit racetrack) switching to M mode turns the car into a different animal. The car actually shivers in anticipation. The wheel and the shifter fall to hand just right, and the pedals are set up almost perfect for heel-toe. But we won’t lie; in the six laps we each got on the track we weren’t exactly firing off perfect shifts every time. Judge a corner right and the meaty tires will track through with little drama. The binders are serious and even with the well-used and warped rotors on our track mule there is some serious stopping power available when you throw the anchor. The ride is a bit harsh, but in this instance we frankly didn’t care as the M tuned suspension maintained flat body composure through every corner. Put your foot down at the apex and the TwinPower Turbo 3.0L Inline-six calls all 335 hp and 332 lb-ft of torque into action.


      But the adrenaline rush didn’t stop there. We parked the 1M and took turns flogging a 335d on a very wet 300-foot skidpad. First lap out the instructor disables all stability control systems and tells you to put your foot down. Being far from a novice driver your humble scribe figured he could manage to keep the car in line, not so much. The rear came around to meet the front faster than I just typed this. Here’s your humble pie, sir. Collecting my composure we tried again, this time with the nannies left on. Aside from some tire scrubbing and some odd noises the car didn’t so much as deviate from the line I directed via the wheel, and I promise you my foot was on the floor. Amazing.


       From there we moved to the museum and plant tour, a neat and necessary opportunity for catching ones breath. Then off to the X5 off-road course. Now seeing as how we were maxing out our heart rates all morning at full throttle you can imagine how the prospect of a 5 mph cruise through the dirt track had us fainting “oh, how quaint”. That sentiment didn’t last long, though. We first tracked through a faux river bed which had water slogging up the doors of our diesel powered X5. Glad BMW uses triple seals! Next it was up and over a hill that the BMW instructors loving called the Frame Bender (for good reason). Going up the hill was nerving enough as the South Carolina light afternoon drizzle made the rocks slippery, but that wasn’t the half of it. Just after the crest of the hill came the bender part of the exercise. Nosing the X5 slowly over the crest the front driver’s side tire would lose all contact with terra firma. By this point however the vehicle is back on the decline and going forward the weight had to eventually shift from the rear to the front. As we creep slowly forward the rear of the vehicle starts to lift, we are now balancing on the front passenger and rear driver tires. With a little more throttle and a lot more respect for BMW’s SAV our driver manages to land the front tire once again. I’ve never had so much fun at 1 mph.


       The day wasn’t over yet. After a quick lunch our instructors rounded us all up once again for an unplanned but totally grin inducing hot lap in none other than the daddy of the M’s, the M5. After a quick check for buckled safety belts our pro driver hit the track and let ‘er rip. This lap wasn’t about turning in times, this was about noise and velocity. We had a set of tires to burn! We ripped up the entire road coarse circuit in precise fashion drifting every corner before entering the slick skidpad for a 360 drift followed by a 360 spin before heading back into the paddock. Kids, don’t try this at home.
      And then, the moment we’d been waiting for all day, our number finally came up to take delivery of the 1M. Now, unlike every other new car delivery I’ve been a part of, there is no signing of paperwork, no exchange of money, no hassling over whether or not the dealer is allowed to put their ridiculous promotional sticker on the trunklid. Nope, that part is over and done long before you visit the BMW Performance Center.  This time period is about you and your car, period. After peering through the glass at the 1M parked all pretty in the delivery bay, our track instructor welcomed us in to meet the car. As you browse through the photos of this Alpine White beauty take a moment to appreciate the sort of effort that goes into the delivery process. The car is parked in its own individual bay. You have the complete attention of the product specialist, in this case our driving instructor. All of the BMW roundels on the wheels are in the correct orientation. The keys and the owner’s manual are neatly laid out on the table. There is no rush. You have two-plus hours to yourself in this bay if you so desire. Our host went through in detail the various aspects of the car (many of which we had sampled earlier out on the road course), including a step by step tutorial of iDrive (a necessity, I assure you). We took our time, we did a complete photo shoot before we ever thought of cranking the motor over for the first time.


      So, going back to that alarm clock blaring at 3:30 in the morning the day before. Was it worth it? Do you really have to ask? All told, BMW did more than just manufacture a car this day. They provided a young man who worked hard to earn his “ultimate driving machine” with an experience he won’t soon forget.

 Photos by Jason Muxlow and Erich Gernand


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