By Vickie Ferguson

We're whizzing along the Autobahn, Beethoven blaring from the CD player, enveloped by that special new car smell. Our car. We're among the many Americans who have traveled to Europe to pick up new cars from European auto makers, combining the charm of Europe with the fun of driving our own dream vehicle on vacation.
Back in the states, we had ordered our Porsche Boxster from a local dealer, then signed up with the Porsche Cars North America Grand Tour, held twice a year. Buyers don't have to take the tour and may pick up an auto on their own. But we found the tour interesting, informative, and well worth the time.

Rides around Porsche's Weissach test track are included, as is a fascinating factory tour of the Porsche plant in Zuffenhausen, a Stuttgart suburb. Weissach, about 20 miles from Zuffenhausen, houses the automaker's research and development facilities. The test track is a road course that winds through the countryside. Engineers who developed our model drove us along the test track. R & D uses the track constantly so innovations can be tested by designers as soon as new models clear the assembly line.

Before touring the factory, we stopped at the Porsche Museum (Mercedes also has a museum in the Stuttgart area), featuring an assortment of exhibits celebrating the 50th year of the company.

The first surprise on the factory tour was how much work is cleverly handled by robots. The robotics are programmed for whichever model comes down the line for welding. Since Porsche often mixes models in an assembly, this means the robots handle first a 996 coupe, then a 986 Boxster, perhaps a Cabriolet next.
Workers rotate jobs weekly, which not only relieves boredom with repetitive tasks but gives the factory a work-crew that knows the assembly process for all the cars. In the body shop, automatic carts bring parts to workers at nine stations, each cart "programmed" for the particular model passing through. Two shifts keep the factory humming. A sense of pride is evident throughout.

Courtesy of Uncle Sam and the 3rd Armored Division, we had lived as newlyweds for about a year in Frankfurt in the late 1950s. This time, as we began our driving tour, we skipped the big cities for the country inns and small hotels of scenic Germany.

With two weeks of free insurance, we planned our own itinerary using one of the excellent guides available for just such a purpose. We chose one major circle of Bavaria and another route in the Black Forest before returning to Zuffenhausen where we'd leave the car for stateside delivery.

Our first stop took us almost into Austria as we stayed at the Zur Post in Inzell, about 25 kilometers (16 miles) almost straight west of Salzburg. Situated in the center of the village, it was nicely painted and balconied on the outside, and inside featured warmly paneled dining rooms. Bedrooms are comfortable, and the breakfast buffet is ample, serving both hot and cold items. Reproductions dot the premises which also feature a large indoor swimming pool.

Fast food outlets haven't yet touched the town which we'll remember for beer, bakeries, and exquisite embroidery.
However, rain encouraged us to move on toward the Black Forest area. We stopped first at a small inn, another Zur Post, in Ettal, still in Bavaria, on the road between Garmisch-Partenkirchen and Oberammergau. We had time to tour the local monastery and enjoy its gardens. Then it was on to the sunshine of Lake Constance.

Although we loved traveling the back-roads, we used the Autobahn to speed us along when we changed areas. Contrary to popular belief, Germany's 6,000-mile network of superhighways of four to six lanes, do have occasional speed limits, posted in kilometers. We saw 120 km (75 mph) signs quite frequently; a top end of about 130 km (81 mph) is recommended. Drivers universally blink their lights to pass, give turn signals when exiting, and are courteous in the extreme - even while they fly down their highways.

Meersburg is a medieval town on Lake Constance (Germans call it the Bodensee). We stayed at the Weinstube Löwen, a wisteria-covered tavern-hotel located in the heart of the cobblestoned old city. During most of the day, Meersburg allows no cars but relents long enough to let visitors load and unload. Good parking is nearby. Ferries ply the scenic lake and the sun we'd missed was shining every day. Numerous cafés and Bierstuben served delicious meals and often featured the fresh fish of the area. One day we took the boat to Lindau at the opposite end of the lake where we enjoyed a marvelous meal overlooking the harbor.

After departing Meersburg we stopped a few miles away at the Basilika Birnau, a jewel of a Baroque church which was consecrated in 1750. With detailed guidebooks available in English, the magnificent sanctuary came alive with its altars, statuary, and gold leaf.

Bypassing the Autobahn for the winding roads of the Black Forest area, we stopped first at Hinterzarten, where Frau Pfeiffer offers an exquisite small hotel, the Sassenhof. Although it housed no restaurant, many were within walking distance. However, her breakfasts and daily 4pm tea were delightfully served to the accompaniment of classical music in dining rooms with crisp white linens. The brochure had said that this rare hotel would feel like home and it did.

Next stop was with the Scherer family at the Hotel Dorer in Schnwald, in the heart of the Black Forest, 49 kilometers (31 miles) northeast of Freiburg. Each evening a fixed-price meal is served in the small, paneled dining room with a choice of several entrées. We decided to try one meal and were so overwhelmed by the quality of the food as well as its preparation that we ate all our dinners there.

In nearby Furtwangen we spent most of one day at the Deutsches Uhrenmusem (clock museum). Located appropriately in the center of the German clock industry, this museum holds the largest collection of clocks in Germany. Displays illustrate the history, art and technology of clocks. Clock making around the world is presented from sundials, hourglasses, and candle clocks as well as complicated astronomical clocks and high-precision marine chronometers. A well-known watchmaking school is housed nearby.

Roads in the Black Forest curve and meander, exposing glorious scenery at nearly every turn. Every village has a shop or two with the ubiquitous cuckoo clocks but many styles of carving are available. Merchants generally take credit cards and ship back to the states. Shipping costs can be high so check the price before deciding. We found we could manage our small wall clock in our luggage and brought it home safely.

Leaving the Black Forest behind, we drove in sunshine on the Autobahn to Stuttgart and then Zuffenhausen where we left our yellow Boxster. We'd miss Tweety (of course we had to name her) but we'd see her again in four or five weeks.

(Vickie Ferguson is a free-lance travel writer living in Highland Ranch, Colorado.)

Tour Hotels

  • Sport-und Kurhotel Zur Post, Reichenhaller Str. 2, Inzell D-83334, tel. +49/08865/9850, fax 985100, rooms 90 to 190 DM ($47-$100)
  • Zur Post, Kaiser-Ludwig Platz 10, Ettal D-82488, tel. +49/08822/9150, fax 6971, rooms 90-150 DM ($47-$79)
  • Weinstube Löwen, Marktplatz 2, Meersberg D-88709, tel. +49/07532/43040, fax 430410, rooms 85 to 220 DM ($45-$116)
  • Sassenhof (garni), Alderweg 17, Hinterzarten D-79856, tel. +49/07652/1515, fax 484, rooms 98 to 208 DM ($52-$109), no credit cards
  • Dorer, Franz-Schubert-Str. 20, Schnwald D-78141, tel. +49/07722/95050, fax 9505530, rooms 85 to 220 DM ($45-$116)
  • Steigenberger Graf Zeppelin, Arnulf-Klett-Platz 7, Stuttgart D-70173, tel. +49/0711/20480, fax 2048542, rooms 375-505 DM ($197-$266), U.S. dollar discount price for Porsche buyers: single $139, double $179.

BUYING A CAR IN EUROPE

Sellers: Contact any authorized dealer for BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Saab, Volvo, or Porsche. For the Grand Tour, contact a local dealer or Porsche Cars North America Inc. at 980 Hammond Drive, Ste. 1000, Atlanta, Ga. 30328 or call 770-290-3500.
Fast Lane Travel, Inc. also offers Porsche trips. Tel. 800/823-1188, Fax 303/876-4170 or e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Other manufacturers with delivery programs: Mercedes-Benz, 800-367-6372; Saab USA, 800-955-9007; Volvo North American Corp., 212-754-3300; BMW (Customer Service), 800-831-1117.
A couple of subscribers have recommended Fred Opert Cars, which claims to arrange more European deliveries than any dealer in the U.S. Contact: Fred Opert Cars, 111 Spring St, Ramsey NJ 07446, tel. 201-327-1111, fax 201-327-8222.

Insurance: Porsche offers two weeks comprehensive insurance with zero-deductible. Mercedes gives 15 days of similar coverage. BMW offers 30 days of insurance with a 10 percent deductible for theft only. All will extend coverage for a fee, but be forewarned that insurance is quite expensive for nonresidents who want extended stays. Volvo and Saab charge for their 15-day coverage from a few hundred dollars up, depending on whether you extend your stay.

Pickup: For Porsche, it's Zuffenhausen, a Stuttgart suburb where Grand Tour members are taken by bus. Mercedes uses the Sindelfingen Delivery Center near Stuttgart with fully equipped guest facilities and two restaurants where a complimentary lunch or breakfast is served. A 90-minute factory tour is also available. BMW is in Munich and offers 24 free drop-off points where the owner may leave the car for shipment home. Some companies charge extra for drop-off if at a different site. Check with your dealer. Volvo delivers at Gothenburg, Sweden, a port city with ferries to Europe. Saab's delivery is at the factory in Trollhattan, Sweden, but you can take delivery in 11 other European cities.

Savings: Some manufacturers discount cars delivered in Europe and/or include extras such as complimentary hotel stays, meals and transportation to the pickup site. Volvo has complimentary airfare from 22 US. cities. Since these extras can change, check with your dealer or manufacturer. Porsche provided a discounted hotel stay at the Graf Zeppelin Hotel in Stuttgart as well as two dinners and a lunch at the factory, all accompanied by German wines and beer. The VAT (Value Added Tax) is paid but refunded with interest when the car is delivered in the U.S.

Internet: An entire book offering tips about renting, leasing or buying cars in Europe is available at www.ideamerge.com/motoeuropa; click on "guidebook." The site also offers links to manufacturers, dealers and insurance agents, as well as providing information about taxes in various countries and depreciation you might be able to claim by adding vacation mileage to your car.

Helpful books: Charming Small Hotel Guides, published by Duncan Petersen, and Germany's Best-Loved Driving Tours by Frommer. - Vickie Ferguson