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AMG Driving Academy, 2013 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 (Mercedes-Benz)
AMG Driving Academy, 2013 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 (Mercedes-Benz)

Driving experiences

Brand bonding is the name of the game Add to ...

Are you experienced? Have you ever been experienced?

I don’t want to take the Jimi Hendrix lead too far and I’m not talking about watching the sunrise from the bottom of the sea. This is about “driving experiences” that are packaged and sold by the top German auto makers. So, have you ever been experienced? I have.

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Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen all offer an amazing range of “driving experiences” that run from factory and museum tours through hard-edge race track and off-road training plus some lengthy and luxurious cross-continent driving adventures. These experiences can cost anywhere from a couple of hundred euros to many thousands. But what better way to bond with your chosen brand?

When I was at the Frankfurt auto show in September, I picked up a beautiful 112-page glossy booklet of Mercedes-Benz Driving Events for 2013/2014. The offerings included summer and winter driving experiences in Namibia, the Sahara, northern Sweden and a 34-day ocean-to-ocean tour across South America.

The majority of the experiences sold are in the category of driver training at levels from basic to extreme. I have taken some of these courses and the quality of the instruction is always excellent. You’re likely to find yourself sitting beside a semi-famous racing driver who can do amazing things with the vehicle. It absolutely, positively makes you a better driver to go through one of these programs.

On the other hand, if I had the dough, I’d more likely sign on for one of the Mercedes “travel experiences.” Four days driving Mercs in Ireland will set you back €3,000 (about $4,225), five days in Tunisia is €4,000, nine days in Namibia is €6,000 and the big one, 34 days ocean-to-ocean in South America, well, the price isn’t listed on the assumption that if you have to ask you can’t afford it.

You can find lots of driving experiences for sale in North America, but none sold directly by domestic manufacturers. What’s generally on offer here takes place at various warm-weather race tracks under the name of a famous racing driver.

For example, the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School exclusively uses current-model Corvette ZR1, ZO6 and Grand Sports. For about $1,500 a day, you get excellent race training and lots of seat time at a private track near Las Vegas.

Brand value is extremely important to potential purchasers – especially in the luxury and high performance segments. I wonder why other manufacturers don’t get into the “driving experience” business to bring these brand-bonding moments to new or existing customers.

In July, I wrote about the “Well-travelled Bug” of W.P. Loofs, who did three around-the-world trips years ago in his 1955 Volkswagen. I mentioned that Loofs described his driving adventures in a self-published book that was one of the most amazing travel accounts I’ve read. I had numerous inquiries from people who searched in vain for the out-of-print edition.

I heard from Wolfgang Paul Loofs last week. He’s now 85 and has just completed a slimmed-down, 155-page version of his earlier autobiography. It is titled In His Hands and it adds more detail and context to his incredible driving adventures in the late 1950s and 1960s – in places where no other touring motorist had ever ventured before.

He is convinced he only made it to the finish line of dangerous journeys because he was “continually protected by many guardian angels,” hence the title. For those interested in the story, the book is available (ISBN 978-1-4866-0037-3). This is a “driving adventure” that no car company in its right mind would ever offer.

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