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This article is was written by Lenn Hass and posted on the UUC Digest on Monday January 17, 2000 and is reprinted with his permission.

As my contribution to the grand re-opening, I have a story to tell...

A buddy of mine, Josh Tabin, just bought a new E39 M5. With that car, BMWNA includes a visit for two to the new BMW Performance Center in Spartanburg, SC for an M5 intro, plant tour and car control school. (Josh owns Tabin.com in Chicago, a PC/network sales outfit. Hey, PC margins may be slim, but they add up!)

I was invited to go along, and the trip was incredible! (That’s the mark of a true car guy. Josh could have taken his girlfriend, but he asked another car guy to go. After all, this is the M5! Sniff, it chokes me up.) We were there for the January 6/7 course.

Upon arrival, we were driven to the nearby Marriott in a 528 Touring, shown to our room and given “M5 Driving Experience” polo shirts. The next morning, we took a shuttle to the factory where they build the Z3/M Roadsters, Coupes and the new X5 uber-suv. The grounds include the Zentrum museum and test track. (They even have an impressive off-road course for X5 orientation.)

The factory tour was detailed. The plant is laid out to flow very smoothly through the assembly process. They do it all, too, from building the bodies out of locally-sourced stampings, to immersion corrosion-proofing/color priming to engine install and interior assembly. The place wasn’t very loud, either. It was fun to see right-hand drive M Roadsters fitted with euro-spec 321-hp engines for export to England.

It’s a non-union shop and all 3000 folks who work there are eligible for a low-cost subsidized lease on any Bimmer they want. The parking lot looks like the nation’s largest BMW club!

After the plant tour, we visited the Zentrum museum - chock full of antique and classic Bimmers, Beemers, race cars, art cars, an Isetta, an M1, the “007” movie Z3 and even a Bonneville streamliner.

Then, we headed outside and got into M Roadsters and M Coupes for a 75-mile drive North to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. Josh and I chose an Estoril Blue M Coupe and pulled out near the end of the caravan leaving the parking lot. Each car had a radio and three driving instructors to lead the way and ride herd on the pack. The Coupe is just awesome. It’s balanced, powerful, quiet and solid as a rock. The Roadster is great, but suffers from excess wind noise (with the top up - it was cold out) and the plastic rear window buffets at speed (ought a be glass). Just wait ‘til these puppies get the new 340-horse M3 six next year!

We arrived at the Biltmore Estate, had lunch, and took ourselves on a self-guided tour of the mansion. The place was built in 1895 by George Vanderbilt and sits on over 100,000 acres of land. It has 250 rooms and took 1000 workmen five years to build. It’s filled with priceless antiques, artworks and wonderful examples of turn-of-the-century engineering to run the place. It’s an architectural wonder. After a brisk drive home, the M5 intro group met for drinks and dinner on BMW’s tab. What a company! (Hey, anyone would love this kind of treatment.)

The next morning was it - M5 day was sunny and warmer, still cool. We met in the large classroom at the Performance Center. The intro presenters had an M5 in the front of the room that they used to cover most of the features on the car, focusing on the nav system. Towards the end we got to ask a few questions of their head technical trainer, Richard Glasscock, the guy who trains mechanics and knows all things mechanical about BMWs. But before we could get too spun up with our questions, the driving instructors flagged us down and we moved to the driving classroom.

Our driving instructors, Ty, Dan and Gail, were veterans in racing the Legends series and off road rally campaigning. All had been teaching students for many years, though none of their hands shook too much... We briefly covered the day’s schedule - Our curriculum would focus on car control and M5 familiarization for both novices and more experienced drivers alike.

Then the big moment - we left the building to pick out our M5s for the day. (Life’s choices should all be so tough!) This time Josh and I chose Imola Red w/sport interior and aluminum trim. We climbed in and fired up the 4.9 liter eight. Nice burble. Our first exercise was a warm up slalom through the cones followed by an ABS exercise in max braking. Other exercises (a swirl of memories in my mind now) included a higher speed slalom, hard ABS braking while steering through a corner, “water wall” accident avoidance, sport mode operation, “box canyon” accident avoidance, dry and wet skid pad with DSC on and off, and a final timed slalom event to put it all together. Some notable impressions:

A moderate portion of the course was oriented towards basic car control, ABS and DSC familiarization. All the ABS stops, especially the wet curve stop, were quite educational, especially if you hadn’t done these before. The staff did an ABS-off demo with a 328i, and mowed down some cones. It built a lot of trust in the ABS system.

The “box canyon” accident avoidance exercise consisted of a straight run into a box defined by cones. After the entry into the box, the left side opens up into an exit lane. The challenge is to execute a quick lane change without flattening any cones. The lesson is to look hard left at exactly where you want to go. Each driver makes four runs at increasing speeds. Believe me, it was fun to watch! If you didn’t look hard, one cone was almost sure to get hit. At the top speed, the lane change was a vigorous snap and the DSC helped smooth out the overshoot as the car entered the exit lane. Big fun!

The dry/wet skidpad was a hoot. The P-Center has a 300 ft diameter polished concrete pad. In the dry, we all got to experience the limits of adhesion, throttle steering and terminal under steer. In the wet, we got to experience terminal oversteer! Spinouts were everywhere! (If you’re in a spin, put both feet in!) Woo hoo! Seriously, we learned to modulate the throttle and maintain the drift angle through big arcs of the pad. We also got to see how much the DSC helped stabilize things - in both dry and wet, the fastest pad times were with DSC on and the throttle flat on the floor. Calm steering really helped here, as the DSC tries to act on steering input and cuts power if too much sawing is going on at the steering wheel.

The final timed auto-X was the cherry on the sundae. The course was a simple widely-spaced cone slalom, but was laid out on a long curve. Our job was to start smoothly, (The rule was that DSC had to remain on) run up through the cones, turn around at the end, run back and park in a stop box, breaking timing beams at the start and finish. The hot technique seemed to be to launch firmly, shift early into second, look way down the cone slalom, turn wide at the end, slalom back and hit the brakes hard just before the stop box entry. It was a blast!

Of course, we had a great lunch midday and got to see a torn-down M5 motor in the shop, which is used as a teaching tool.

Some M5 observations: This is one honkin’ great cruise missile of a car! It’s got gobs of power, firm-yet-supple handling, and transient response to make a NASCAR racer blush, especially in sport mode. The fit and finish are excellent, from the suede headliner down to its aluminum dead pedal. The seats fit well and the brakes could pull a loose tooth out of your ear to ear grin.

At the conclusion of the course we each got a certificate and a neat little M5 lapel pin. Josh and I then hopped into an M5 picked up there by a roofing company owner from Birmingham and caught a ride down to Atlanta to visit Josh’s sister. On the road, the 5 was as docile as any 5’er and was very quiet in 6th, but the straight stretches were snack food in 4th and disappeared fast.

My thanks and appreciation to the whole Performance Center staff, and BMWNA in general for building great cars AND doing something really useful about driver education as well. Comments about this article can be directed to me at lrhann@aol.com, or to Josh Tabin at josht@tabin.com. Questions about the BMW Performance Center in Spartanburg can be answered by calling 1-888-345-4269.

They’re also putting on an M-school this year...

Lenn Hann
‘00 323i sport (feels a bit down on power this week...)