Trips for Gearheads
There are people who look at cars simply as tools — ways of getting from point A to point B. Then there are those who feel goosebumps at the sight and sound of a beautifully designed vehicle taking to the open road. And then there are those of us who get excited by cars, period. Any car — full stop. If you are one of the afflicted and addicted who cannot get enough of rolling machines, then you should plot, plan and scheme ways to visit each of the following destinations. Ranging from factory tours in Europe to car museums to attending special events, these vacation destinations will get any auto enthusiast‘s motor running.
This small town in Italy has become a mecca for many devout car enthusiasts — the birthplace of Ferrari. Since founder Enzo Ferrari began building cars bearing his name here in 1947, Maranello has grown to accommodate the company’s headquarters, factory, test track and museum. Bus tours of the test track and factory are fascinating fun for Tifosi (Ferrari fanatics) and typical tourists alike, and the museum houses a wonderful collection of classic Ferrari sports and race cars — there’s an entire section dedicated to Ferrari’s Formula One racing efforts, including an impressive array of F1 trophies.
If you want to feel fully immersed in Maranello’s motoring culture, rent a Ferrari from a company such as LuxeofItaly.com. A day in a new Ferrari Portofino will run about €1,800 (approximately US$2,120 at current exchange rates), or Live Italy Tours will let you have two hours in an F430 for a slightly more reasonable €575 (about US$675). For a bit more excitement, you can register to take your own car for a stint on Ferrari’s famous Fiorano test track. At the end of the day, head over to Ristorante Montana, located down the street from the museum. The restaurant is a shrine to Ferrari drivers past and present – the photos and memorabilia covering the walls are worth the visit, and the food is amazing.
Getting there: Maranello’s closest major airport is Bologna Guglielmo Marconi. Driving to town will take about 45 minutes; a bus will take a few hours.
Bowling Green, Kentucky
Car enthusiasts probably never gave Bowling Green much consideration until 1981, when General Motors moved its Corvette assembly plant from St. Louis, Missouri, to this beautiful city in southern Kentucky. Corvette fans as well as other auto enthusiasts will appreciate the significance of visiting the home of this iconic sports car. Although tours of the assembly plant are no longer available, it’s still worth stopping by.
Bowling Green, Kentucky
After a quick stop at the factory, be sure to head across the street to the National Corvette Museum. True Vette fans should plan their visit for mid-July to witness the National Corvette Homecoming — an annual gathering of Corvettes returning to their place of origin. This exciting event features a number of judged competitions, informative seminars, a car corral, a Corvette road tour, special parties and live music.
Getting there: The closest airport to Bowling Green is Nashville International, which is about 60 miles south of the city.
What car enthusiast’s travel plans would be complete without a visit to the Motor City — Detroit, Michigan. The Detroit Metro area is home to what are traditionally called the “Big Three” U.S. automakers: General Motors, Ford Motor Company and Chrysler. The headquarters may not be all that exciting; however, on the lower level of the GM’s Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit you’ll find a few dozen of the latest Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC vehicles for close-up inspection. You won’t want to miss the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn, where a lot more than just Fords are on display. You’ll see the famous Rosa Parks bus, as well as JFK’s limousine. The Ford Piquette Avenue Plant is the oldest auto factory open to the public — where Henry Ford assembled the first production Model Ts.
For a more modern take on vehicle building in Detroit, visit the Ford Rouge Factory, where the best-selling F-150 is manufactured. If you plan your trip for January the weather may not be great, but you’ll have the opportunity to attend the North American International Auto Show. The most important annual auto show in the U.S., Detroit is the place where car companies from around the world showcase their latest creations — definitely worth braving those Midwest winters.
Getting there: The Detroit Metro Airport is about 20 miles from downtown Detroit.
Pebble Beach, California
This small beach community near Monterey, California, is a beautiful place to visit, and is best known for its famous Pebble Beach Golf Links. But if you’re into cars, you’ll want to plan your visit for the third week of August, when golfers get ousted by some of the rarest and most beautiful cars you may ever see at the annual Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Taking place on the 18th green of the famed golf course, the Concours hosts more than $250 million worth of absolutely amazing collector vehicles each year.
Pebble Beach, California
On the Thursday before Concours Sunday, most of the cars competing for Best of Show honors take to the streets around Monterey, giving everyone a chance to see these works of art as they should be seen — rolling down the road. Other events taking place during the Concours weekend include a collection of cars and gourmet food at The Quail, A Motorsports Gathering; more Italian cars than you can imagine in one place at Concorso Italiano; and — if you’re into racing — you’ll want to head to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in Salinas to watch the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. A number of collector car auctions occur over the weekend that are definitely worth checking out. For true enthusiasts, this long weekend in August is pure car heaven.
Getting there: The closest airport is Monterey Regional, but it is quite small with limited daily flights. San Jose International Airport offers more options and is about an 80 miles north of Pebble Beach. Be sure to plan ahead for this event — hotels fill far in advance, and they typically aren’t cheap.
Greer, South Carolina
It’s unlikely that a visit to this small town west of Charlotte, South Carolina, is on the typical bucket list (if there is such a thing). But if you are a BMW fan, Greer could be your favorite place in the country, since it’s home to BMW Zentrum — the only BMW factory in the U.S. In this complex BMW builds its “sport activity vehicles,” including the X3, X4, X5 and X6, as well as the M versions of the X5 and X6. The public may tour the factory, but reservations are highly recommended. That said, Zentrum offers much more than just a factory tour.
Greer, South Carolina
Located next to the factory, the BMW Zentrum Museum is free of charge and offers a look at BMW’s past, present and future with production cars, concepts, racecars and motorcycles. (Of course there’s a gift shop, so you can take home your favorite BMW paraphernalia.) For a bit more excitement, head over to the BMW Performance Driving Center. Here you can get behind the wheel of a new BMW with an instructor sitting shotgun who can teach you how to get the most out of your BMW – or just have a great time driving. Or go the easy route and do the Ultimate BMW Experience, which gets you a visit to the museum, a private tour of the factory and an afternoon at the Performance Driving School. Certainly a day to remember.
Getting there: The closest airport is Greenville-Spartanburg International, which is about 10 minutes from BMW Zentrum.
Every car enthusiast dreams of heading to Germany to take a drive on the famed autobahn, where there are stretches of road with no speed limits. So if you are taking a trip to Deutschland, be sure to include Stuttgart on your itinerary, since it is home to one of Germany’s most iconic sports cars: Porsche. In Stuttgart you can tour the Porsche museum, where you’ll see more than 80 vehicles that chronicle the history of the legendary brand. From there you can move on to the state-of-the-art factory, where the iconic 911 is produced.
After you’ve had a chance to see how these magnificent machines are built, head over to the Porsche Drive counter and arrange to get behind the wheel of one of the latest creations, such as the 911, Boxster, Cayman or Macan. And once you’ve had your fill of Porsche (if that’s even possible), head about 20 minutes south to the Mercedes-Benz museum. With more than 160 vehicles and 1,500 exhibits, the museum showcases the brand’s 125 years of automobile building. Guided tours of the museum are also available.
Getting there: Stuttgart International Airport is about 30 minutes south of both the Mercedes-Benz Museum and the Porsche Museum.
This classic Italian city in northern Italy is home to excellent food, legendary balsamic vinegar and some of the best Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese on the planet — all good reasons to visit. But even better: Modena is also home to Maserati. Tours of the factory are available, and the showroom and store are definitely worth visiting. You’ll also want to arrange a visit to the Umberto Panini Motor Museum, which houses a collection of some of the most important Maseratis ever built, including a 1957 3500GT and 1934 6C race car.
Be sure to stop by the Umberto museum’s gift shop, where you can purchase some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese that is actually made on the premises. And since Modena is the birthplace of Enzo Ferrari, don’t miss the Enzo Ferrari Museum dedicated to il Commendatore’s life story, featuring Ferrari cars as well as a painstakingly renovated shop where Enzo’s father used to work. Since Modena and Maranello are so close, there are shuttle busses available between the Ferrari Museum and Enzo Museum.
Getting there: The closest major airport is Bologna Guglielmo Marconi. Driving to Modena will take about 40 minutes; a bus takes a bit longer.
Asheville, North Carolina
Set in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, is the legendary Biltmore Estate. Built by railroad baron George Vanderbilt, the main house is the largest privately-owned house in America. But best of all — for car enthusiasts — the Biltmore is home to the Land Rover Experience Driving School. With thousands of acres of wooded trails, rolling hills and wildlife, it is an appropriate setting to experience a Range Rover’s true capabilities.
Asheville, North Carolina
The Land Rover Experience has a number of courses available. You can learn to handle off-road obstacles such as steep ascents, descents, side tilts, log crossings, and rock crawls from experienced Range Rover instructors. Or even better, opt for the full-day experience that is fully customizable to match your skills and interests — it even includes a picnic lunch and two Land Rover Experience Driving School gifts, along with a framed certificate of completion that proves your mettle.
Getting there: The closest airport is Asheville Regional, which is about 20 minutes from the Biltmore Estate.
One of the most famous races in the world takes place in this Midwest city — the Indianapolis 500. And while attending the race is on most auto enthusiasts’ bucket lists, if you can’t make the race there is a lot more to experience at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In fact, this is the self-proclaimed “Racing Capital of the World.” On the grounds of the famous speedway — now a National Historic Landmark — is the Hall of Fame Museum, home to a variety of race cars as well as passenger cars that were built in Indiana.
The Speedway’s Hall of Fame Museum also offers a grounds tour that visits the timing-and-scoring suite in the Pagoda, the Media Center, Victory Podium, the Gasoline Alley garage area and the world-famous “Yard of Bricks” at the start/finish line. If you’d like to truly experience the speedway, the Indy Racing Experience Driving Program gives you the chance to ride in a special 2-seat IndyCar — or even better, drive yourself in a car that has actually raced in the Indianapolis 500. Of course, the ultimate Indianapolis trip would take place in May to experience the excitement of the legendary 500-mile race.
Getting there: The Indianapolis International Airport is a short 11 miles away from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
For many Americans traveling to Europe the first time, London is often the first stop. (No new language to learn, and so much fascinating history you forgot since leaving school.) For the car enthusiast, London can be an excellent hub for visits to many of the world’s most famous automotive marques. About two hours north of London is the Jaguar factory at Castle Bromwich — a former aircraft factory that is now producing the Jaguar XE, XF, XJ and F-TYPE. After a fascinating tour showing these beautiful cars from body stamping to final production, head about 13 miles south to the Land Rover factory in Solihull. Here you can watch the state-of-the-art factory turn out the Range Rover, Range Rover Sport and Discovery. Even better, after lunch at the Land Rover Experience Center, you can experience what a Range Rover is capable of as you spend the afternoon off-roading.
A few hours farther north will take you to Crewe, home of Bentley Motors. In addition to touring the factory, visitors to CW1 house on the premises can experience the entire Bentley line, as well as a dedicated personalization area which gives customers the opportunity to create their own unique Bentley. Other brands with headquarters and factories within a few hours of London include Lotus in Hethel, Rolls-Royce in Goodwood and Aston Martin in Gaydon. You could easily spend weeks exploring all the automotive offerings of the United Kingdom.
Getting there: London’s Heathrow Airport is about 20 miles west of downtown London. Crewe, Solihull and Castle Bromwich are all accessible from London by train.