The ultimate bucket list for car enthusiasts

7 min reading time
Do you love to talk torque and daydream about finding an antique car in an old barn? Then make sure you check out our car enthusiast bucket list created specifically for you: 10 things petrolheads should experience at least once in their lives.

Are you ready to retire so you’ll have time to do all those things you’ve been dreaming about for years - finally cleaning out the basement, spending your afternoons channel surfing, taking self-improvement courses at the local college? “No, I’m a car guy / girl,” you say. So you dream of spending time under the hood restoring that sweet vintage find, scouting out a road with the tightest hairpin turns, or just cruising down the highway watching the landscape unfold before you? If this sounds more your speed (ha ha!), then you need to check out our bucket list for car enthusiasts.

Mille Miglia – a once-in-a-lifetime experience

There are lots of classic car rallies, but there is only one Mille Miglia. This historic race that takes place in Italy has provided racing fans with speed thrills for decades. From 1927 to the end of the 1950s, drivers raced through northern Italy at breakneck speeds. “Mille miglia” in Italian means 1,000 miles, which is how long the course is that drivers attempt to complete all in one go. As some of the course winds its way through tiny village streets that are unpaved, the Mille Miglia is not for the faint of heart.

While people back in the day enjoyed the curves, drivers today enjoy travelling through the scenic areas of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy in their classic cars. Every May, the drivers and audience can enjoy the heady smell of petrol wafting on the soft spring breeze. This is truly a race for those who want to experience the Dolce Vita.

Nowadays, the object is no longer to reach the finish line first. It’s about dividing the course up into equal parts and enjoying the daily drive through villages that appear to have been forgotten by time. Locals stand on the side of the road to cheer on all the “belle macchine”. And at the end of your day, you can sit down to enjoy the wonderful local cuisine paired with a glass of wine.

The only other thing you need to make this trip absolutely perfect is the right car. We recommend the BMW 328 Touring-Coupé, which won the race in 1940. It is an unparalleled BMW classic. Or you can choose another vehicle from the BMW Group Classic. All cars that race must have participated in at least one of the original Mille Miglia races up until 1957.

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Car heaven: the Cité de l’Automobile

Car museums are everywhere. But none of them can hold a candle to the Cité de l’Automobile. Located in the Alsatian town of Mulhouse, France, the museum is home to hundreds of rare antique vehicles from every era of car-making. And as it boasts the world’s largest collection of Bugattis (a whopping 87!), this museum is guaranteed to make car fans swoon.

The cars on display range from dream cars to four-wheeled nightmares, icons of automobile manufacturing and the vehicular equivalent of wallflowers right down to cabriolets and regular everyday cars. Car buffs will no doubt need more than one day to take it all in – and to gather up enough factoids to regale your car buddies with.

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Road trip XXL: the Pan-American Highway

The mother of all road trips - driving the entire Pan-American Highway from Alaska down to Tierra del Fuego. Some people even feel like they should take a sabbatical to really do this route justice. And as with any road trip, you should be well prepared before you head out.

A series of roads spanning some 15,500 miles connects the two American continents from the northernmost point at Prudhoe Bay in the US to the southern tip of Argentina in Ushuaia. Along the way, you will experience some of the most incredible scenery the planet has to offer - from the arctic cold of Alaska to the tropical heat of Guatemala, moonscapes in Bolivia all the way down to the antarctic chill of Tierra del Fuego. The road is entirely navigable with the exception of one section between Panama and Columbia. You will have to have your car ferried across the gap between Central America and South America.

The aim of this adventure is to just cruise along and let yourself be awed by the fantastic variety of landscapes. The official Panamericana route passes through the middle of the US. Of course you could always take a detour to see the dazzling Californian coast. Modern cities like San Francisco create a nice contrast to the cultures of the other regions that lie along the Panamericana, such as the Aztecs in Mexico or the Gauchos in Chile. This is why we give the Pan-American Highway three whole points for learning experience.

No other road trip on earth offers such diversity. The only thing you really need for this trip is enough time to enjoy the breathtaking wildlife around you and the fascinating people that you will meet along the Pan-American Highway.

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Glamorous speed: the Goodwood Festival of Speed

Let’s be honest: A big part of the thrill of driving a car is seeing just how fast you can go. So if you feel the need for speed, then we know just the place for you – the Goodwood Festival of Speed held every summer on the vast parkland of Goodwood House in West Sussex in the southeastern part of England.

While car fans leisurely sip tea on the lawn, race car legends go streaking by mere meters away on the historic motor circuit. Cars from every era and every class show off what’s under their hoods on a short but challenging hill track. Nowhere else will you find such a glamorous celebration of motorsport and historic race cars.

The people who attend this event are as diverse as the cars themselves. VIPs mingle with racing fans while the automobile aristocracy is wooed by autograph seekers. Regardless of whether you go to race or just to be a spectator, there is something for every kind of car enthusiast at this festival.

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Holy halls for car enthusiasts: where the cars of the future are made

From petrolhead to electrichead – car lovers are keeping up with the times too. Even people who are passionate about cars are aware of the environmental impact of petrol. So what about electric cars? How does designing an electric car differ from designing one with a combustion engine?

Take a tour of the BMW plant in Leipzig and you’ll find out. This is where the BMW i3 and other vehicles are made. From the delivery of chassis parts and the paint shop facility to the CFK panel presses and the final assembly, you can experience firsthand how the employees harness their passion and focus their attention to detail to build an electric car with a soul.

The perfectly choreographed sequence performed by the robots and the precise timing of the BMW employees as they assemble the electric cars on the clean factory floor is a wondrous sight to behold. And if after all this you still want to see how a petrol car is made, then of course there are tours for that as well.

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Celebrate Le Mans with other racing fans

At the legendary 24-hour Le Mans race, it’s better to pass by the VIP seating and the delicate hors d’oeuvres. To really get into the traditional mood of this race, join the people sitting on camping stools eating sausages from the barbecue. Le Mans fans come for the outdoorsy festival atmosphere where everyone can join in and celebrate. You have to be in good shape though, because the party goes full throttle from Wednesday to the day of the race, a Sunday in June.

And you won’t be able to sleep because of the blaring music and screaming engines. The beer is on tap and each group of fans sets up their own camp, with flags marking out each territory. Sound exhausting? It is. But it’s also incredibly fun. And we guarantee that after Speedweek at Le Mans, you will be able to recognize the roar of a race car in the dark just by the sound of the engine.

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Carving on the Stelvio Pass at sunrise

The one must-have item on any list for car enthusiasts is the Stelvio Pass in the mountains of northern Italy. And the best time to go is in the early morning. As the sun comes up, it bathes the road through the pass in a magical light. If you wait until later in the day, you will have to share the switchbacks with bicyclists and motorcyclists.

The eastern ascent from Vinschgau in southern Tyrol boasts a seemingly endless number of curves – 48 in all. As you carve the turns, the sides of the mountain reverberate with the sound of the tailpipe, and in the tightest curves you can hear the tires gripping the road.

You continue to climb and turn in the early morning light, and then suddenly the Ortler Alps open up before you in a majestic panorama when you reach the village of Prad at an elevation of 915 meters above sea level. This is one road that you will wish never ends.

Once you reach the top of the pass at 2,757 meters, you can treat yourself to a cappuccino and take in the view. Then hit the road again to tackle the western side down into Lombardy.

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The Essen Motor Show: the world’s craziest car show

Frankfurt, Geneva, Tokyo and Essen. Essen? Yes, Essen. This city in the German Ruhr Valley is a fixed part of the car show calendar. The Essen Motor Show is wilder, motlier and just plain crazier than its staid sister shows in the big cities.

Shiny chrome and blinking LED lights as far as the eye can see. The smell of petrol hangs heavy in the air. On every patch of available ground sits a finely-tuned V8 revving in hope of a race. Car guys / girls are shredding their tyres doing burnouts and drifting, while the car geeks goggle at all the crazy modifications. We give this shindig a full three points in the party category.

If you really want to get the most out of this show, you need to let loose your passion for cars and join in the revelry. The party atmosphere aside, it’s also a great place to swap tips about restoring and tuning your own car.

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Your new addiction: car restoration

The ultimate goal that every car enthusiast aspires to is restoring a car. Grease in your hair and calluses on your hands – these are the mark of a true car guy / girl. Talking about cars is nice, but there’s nothing like bringing an old car back to life with your own two hands. You don’t even mind the setbacks because when you finally turn the key and the engine starts for the first time - that’s when you know it was all worth it.

The perfect vehicle for a restoration project is the BMW Isetta. It presents something of a challenge, but nothing that will overwhelm the average amateur mechanic. All you need to make this dream a reality is a garage, the right tools and a bubble car that needs some TLC.

But beware - restoring cars can be addictive! First you’re out there working just a couple of hours a day, but pretty soon your better half has to drag you out of the garage at all hours of the night and make sure you actually go to your day job. But it doesn’t matter. You will keep working until you’re finally able to take that first ride in your masterpiece.

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Celebrating beauty: Pebble Beach Concours d’Élégance

While beer is the beverage of choice at Le Mans and Essen, expect to see glasses of champagne being quaffed by the smart set of the motoring universe at the Pebble Beach golf course in California - the birthplace of the Concours d’Élégance. Here the world’s most prized collector cars, which have been lovingly restored so they are in immaculate condition, all vie for the title of the the best of the best.  

The final perk is that car manufacturers never fail to miss this opportunity to show off their one-of-a-kind classic cars and new concept cars. This is why the  Pebble Beach Concours d’Élégance is the car show that all car aficionados dream of attending.

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illustrations: Julia Ossko & Eugen Schulz

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