The Legends Of The Autobahn Come To America
Photography by Alex Sobran
Monterey Car Week is receding in the rearview, but after all the auctions and races and dawn wanderings at Pebble Beach the event that always lingers longest in my memory is Legends of the Autobahn. If you’re of a similar mindset—the kind that thinks the best German cars were designed before the Wall came down—I guarantee this is the best $20 you’ll ever spend on a parking pass. The event is otherwise free to attend, and it presents the best assortment of German sportwagens outside of a stack of old Motorsport and AMG catalogs. There are some questionable entries to be sure—if your E9 was really “sent back” to Alpina in period, I doubt they’d put 17″ E39 take-offs on it—but speaking generally about the assemblage on the Nicklaus Club, the depth of variety among just three marques—BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi—is pretty astounding. Words like that fit the scene when it’s comprised of both Merc hearses and M-swapped ’02s.
With arms and legs and neck almost audibly sizzling under the cloudless blaze of sun, the impending burns were well worth it when the payoff involved rows of Cosworth 190s, gleaming BBS mags, and every M3 a boy racer could ask for. There are original cars like a somewhat crusty Bavaria with a T2000 propped on its trim-less flank; there are hot-rods like an S38-powered E30 M3; there are epitomes of “boss” car culture in the form of lowered W124s with G-Wagon neighbors; there are Audi Sport support trucks made from Volkswagen Transporters (no word on authenticity of this one I’m sorry to say); there are Euro-only imports M5 Tourings and Audi RS2s; there are Gullwings; there is everything. Various Car Clubs of America are out in support, but the atmosphere is very lax and despite a few larger displays and some taller tents than I remember seeing last year, it still maintains a feeling of intimacy unmarred by the heavy hands of what we’d call corporate.
Judges walk around and point at askew trim clips and adjust their straw hats in mild disapproval, but even the biggest critics will find something on the links to feed their particular appetites. For me it’s all about the ’80s and ’90s stuff with big engines, but there’s an undeniable charm present in a preserved 1600 or a spotless W123 wagon sporting green-gloss-on-green-MB-Tex. And despite the little dig at restomodded E9s with wheels that don’t fit, there were some very clean examples in this crowd wearing aftermarket bits of kit that held their own next to Batmobiles.
The cars only offer so much though, while the primary enjoyment comes from meeting the owners and other enthusiast on-lookers like myself. Every year means fresh stories to share with old friends and new ones, and while a few stay firmly planted in their behind-the-bumper lawn chairs, most of the group is very mobile and talkative—which is a sign of genuine interest in the scene as opposed to sitting around hoping people like your car while you don’t return the favor. That doesn’t really happen here. At Legends—as the cool kids tell me it’s called—you’re going to find friends instead of competitors even if there are a few awards to go around by afternoon’s end.