I am a petrol head, car nut, all those words that describe an automobile aficionado, apply to me. I am particularly attracted to German, English and Italian sports cars. I love sports car and Formula One (grand prix) racing, so it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to my trip to Monaco for the 1970 Grand Prix.
I was living in Germany and in July 1969 I bought a new BMW 2002. I had it modified by the German tuning firm ALPINA. They tweaked the engine, suspension and modified some body panels to accommodate far wider wheels. It was a German hot rod. I used it as a daily driver and took it to racetracks around Germany on weekends. I believed that I was a pretty good driver.
This was the car that I took to Monaco. I drove from Karlsruhe south through Switzerland into France. The roads through the Swiss and French Alps were narrow and twisty. They were exactly what I had hoped that they would be. I could fling the little BMW into the turns and then punch it going out of the turns onto the short straights. The way that it held the road was incredible. While the acceleration wasn’t as good as the larger 6 or 8 cylinder engines that powered larger European cars, the changes made by ALPINA made it astonishingly fast.
Coming out of Switzerland dropping into France I noticed a Mustang following me. I knew that as big as the Mustang was and as small and tightly suspended as the BMW was there was little chance that the Mustang would be able to keep up for long. I was not amused that it didn’t drop back as I became a bit more aggressive going into the turns.
In fact, it was getting closer! I knew that the Mustang had greater acceleration, but it carried a lot more weight. It could not corner as well as the BMW, but it was obviously gaining on me. The driver acted as though I was holding him up! Down and around the twisting road we raced. When the road straighten a bit, the Mustang blasted by me, it’s raucous exhaust thundering off the canyon walls as it accelerated hard and disappeared around a tight bend. I was incredulous! Passed by a big lumbering American car. It was embarrassing.
My ego was so bruised. I backed off and continued on down the road at a slower pace, enjoying the road, the handling of the BMW and the scenery of the beautiful Alps. After a little while the road dropped into a village. There, at a small gas station, the Mustang was accelerating away. I needed fuel, so I pulled into the spot where the Mustang had been. As I got out of the car an attendant came rushing over. I knew what to expect because it happened to me a lot when I drove into small villages. The attendant would want to know all about the BMW. But it was different this time. The attendant was animated and had a huge grin. Between his broken English and my limited understanding of French I came to understand that the driver of the Mustang was a Frenchman, Jean Pierre Beltoise.
The name was familiar to me. He was a Grand Prix driver who would place 8th on the starting grid at Monaco in the next few days. My ego soothed, I continued on my journey to Monaco thinking of the brief time that I had diced with a Formula One pilot on a tiny road in the French Alps.