Here’s Why You Should Seriously Consider A Visit To Romania Next Summer
Photography by Alex Sobran
What comes to mind when you think of Romania? Prior to visiting the country for the first time last year (to drive some excellent modern classics from BMW’s Munich-based collection along some of wildest asphalt on the planet, among other things) I was expecting to see a few gift shops lined with Dracula collectibles and perhaps a gypsy or two once we ventured outside the bustle of Bucharest, the country’s lively capital city. I found both, but to characterize the place by its stereotypes is, like usual, a disservice to what’s really going on.
I know that being a guest journalist for a week or two at a time means my limited experience in Romania is far removed from the typical citizen’s, but if you’re thinking about an alternative European travel destination I can vouch for it being well worth your consideration. And on that topic, the dollars and euros in your pocket will stretch on forever here compared to the Germanys and Italys to the west.
My good friend Alex Seremet is BMW’s communications and PR manager in the country, and when he invited me over to attend the 8th edition of the revitalized Sinaia Concours d’Elegance that traces its history to the 1930s, I was excited to have an opportunity to hang out with last year’s buddies amidst another unique array of automobiles in the mountain resort town of Sinaia. The cars might not be as exalted as the ones to be found on the lawns of the world’s premiere concours (though the best-in-show-winning 1937 Mercedes-Benz 540K can hang with the best of them, like it did earlier this year at Villa d’Este), but I wouldn’t trade the atmosphere here for any of the big names. That’s not to say the show itself is lacking, but you shouldn’t come to Sinaia expecting a spread like Pebble Beach’s.
What you do get is many multiples more fun. Example: hauling tookus up a rain-slick mountain road in a hill climb car. The hot little 2002 that I was strapped into belongs to the man in the bucket seat next to me, his name on the door beside the German flag of his home country. Eduard Tontsch has greying hair but the smile and verve of a teenager, and when he asks if I feel comfortable going quickly in the wet, I implore him, please, to push as hard as he wants to—I’ll be the one laughing when we overtake service vans in between counter-steering up the switchbacks.
His skills behind the wheel of this hill climb-prepped ’02 (done up in the simple but striking Alpina livery of old) are far beyond those of a reckless teen’s though, and his champion status in the vintage series he competes in with the car proves as much. The worked-over tach-blurring M10 four-cylinder under the hood is good for power in the 200 neighborhood, and there’s not much left on or in the car that isn’t aimed at its primary function of scrambling up tight asphalt. In other words, it moves. When most pre-concours events consist of polite conversation and the exchange of business cards over coffees and pastries, this is a far better way to wake up.
After my internal gyroscope had a chance to reset itself we’re quickly whisked back to Peles Castle for the main event. The forecast has sadly come true and the rain is coming in curtains, but the sky pauses enough to get the camera out all the same, and some of Tontsch’s other Bimmers beckon. His CSL replica is all well and good and more accurate than most, but it’s the tow vehicle that makes the combination one to weaken the knees: the spotless Taiga Green 3.0Si is my favorite of the day, though I’m not quite sure it was officially a part of the show.
After doing a few loops of the cars that were—arranged in a flowing procession that snaked around the castle proper and its various satellites, it was far more aesthetically pleasant than the typical grids and columns to be found on fairways and in glorified parking lots—it’s time for the participants and spectators to go on a tour of the town below, and when Alex asks me if I’d like to ride along with someone I opt for something familiar but foreign: Sindie Paul’s Cadillac Sedan DeVille.
Sat in the spacious back, the view is bizarre: I’m looking at a huge human being dressed reminiscent of Elvis inside a searingly teal interior with the windows letting in views of the castle and snatches of a language I can’t begin to understand. It’s my first time in a big Caddy like this, but somehow the stately land yacht’s reputation fits perfectly in this setting; to maintain and drive one of these in America is to be expected, but the extravagant nature of the car is only heightened by the fact that it takes up two spaces to parallel park it a country where most people are zipping around in truncated hatchback shapes.
Like Sindie, the others who’ve brought cars to this concours despite the disagreeable weather seem to have struck the right balance between taking things seriously and not. The cars are constantly being wiped down during the day—and they deserve to be, given how clean and original many of them are—their owners rightly proud and protective, but when it comes to the conversations we have in the bar over a beer they are quick to joke and extremely easy to just get along with.
They’ll tell you everything you want to know about their Dacia or the their Mercedes-Benz, but they aren’t the type to yammer on about themselves. Later in the day, under the collective cover of dozens of shared umbrellas, it’s time to declare the class winners before the crowd splinters off into the warmth of dinner plans. The trophy recipients are beaming as they drive up to collect their recognition, but they all stay to congratulate each other because the element of competition is just different here: everyone wants to win, but it seems like they want everyone else to too.