The German Autobahn: Fast and Furious – Legally

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For those of us fortunate to own an obscenely expensive “supercar”, there aren’t too many spots where you can jump in and “let your hair down” at the car’s top speed. If you also happen to know someone with their own private airport then maybe you’ve hit the jackpot but there is only one other place on the planet where you can stretch that car to its limits in relative safety and that is in Germany. It’s called the Autobahn, and its legal.

The Autobahn is the fifth largest Interstate system in the world behind those of the USA, Canada, Spain, and China. Like many other things of magnitude in this world, its primary use was military and the majority of the important construction was done by Adolf Hitler before the Second World War. The attraction for high speed race cars in the early years was the long sections of straight road that are peppered throughout the system. This design characteristic led to several attempts by Mercedes-Benz and Auto Union(soon to be called Audi) to break land speed records in the early 1930′s until a tragic crash which killed the famous Berndt Rosemeyer in 1938, brought a stop to the practice.

My favorite Autobahn story, and let’s face it there are hundreds of them, involves a proud owner of a brand new Ferrari who was putting his new toy through its paces on the motorway. He was cruising at just over 100mph when he noticed a car in his rear view mirror. It was still quite far away but he could see it was gaining fast. The man started to increase speed to 125mph and then up to 140mph. He glanced back into the mirror and the car was still there, only closer. The man decided he’d had enough and floored the Ferrari. Within seconds he was flat out at 185mph and looked up again. The car had gone. At that split second, a huge Rolls-Royce hurtled past him and disappeared out of sight ahead. The man was shocked. Further down the road, he noticed the Rolls-Royce pulled into a rest area. The man pulled in to look at the car that had left his beloved Ferrari for dead. The car was a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow that had been modified to accept a Merlin V12 27-litre aircraft engine. Its top speed was over 300mph. Now I understand that this is urban legend material, but it illustrates the interest and magic of the Autobahn’s influence.

The truth is that some speed limits do exist in areas of construction and high vehicle traffic, usually in the range of 90mph. There are rumblings that the “open speed” policy of the Autobahn might be in jeopardy as certain groups of “concerned citizens” feel that safety is becoming more of an issue. I’m a great fan of never letting a good story get in the way of the facts, which frankly, show that between 1990 and 2010, accidents on the Autobahn dropped by over 40%. However, over 40% of Autobahn fatalities are as a result of high speed accidents. All of the German car manufacturers install delimiters on their fast production cars as a matter of course, but its very doubtful that legislation would ever get passed to change the driving laws.

So when you buy your next “supercar”, don’t forget that you too can get “Fast and Furious” but legally so, without fear of retribution. Just make sure there isn’t a Rolls-Royce behind you!

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