Wuchtig. I’m sitting, panting, trying to catch my breath on the side of a tiny two-lane road running through the vineyards of California’s Napa Valley. I’m in an American car. I haven’t spoken German regularly since I was 18. Adrenalin has chased everything resembling a coherent thought from my mind. And yet, strangely, the only thing left banging around my speed-addled skull is a single German adjective for which the English language has no translation: wuchtig.
From the safety of my desk back in Oregon, a German-English dictionary offers a parade of possible English meanings for this word, that 556 horsepower has left ringing in my ears. Weight, pressure, force, impetus, vigor, power, and kinetic energy all make the list. But what about anger? Rage? Impatience? Wuchtig is how daddy shouts when he comes home drunk and angry; it’s the roar of a sweaty millionaire celebrating his dominance in an NFL endzone.
It’s also the sound that 6.2 liters of supercharged V8 make when they get just out of earshot of their rightful owner.
This particular “V” belongs to one of Cadillac’s PR guys, who, having heard that I’d never set ass in the infamous sedan, handed me a key fob. No “be careful” preceded this unexpected gift, no waivers were signed, no next-of-kin informed. Just a friendly “why are you not driving yet?” as I collected my thoughts before approaching the large, dark presence lurking in the parking lot.
But whatever confidence I’d gained by psyching myself up, soon melted in the evil presence of this brute. Walk up, and the smell of vaporized rubber tickles the nose and jangles the nerves, like the smell of blood on the breath of a large predator. And after two days of riding and driving in Cadillac’s standard seats, the V grabs your body in the crushing embrace of something living and powerful. Only after the engine comes to life, and I begin to dawdle out of the parking lot does the V become just another Cadillac, softly woofling towards the open road. But that impression only lasts until I reach the first stop sign, wait for the briefest interruption in traffic, and leap out onto the highway.
With a gusty, hard-edged snarl, the V launches onto an unfortunately crowded two-lane highway. California’s wine country may be a favorite launch site for luxury cars, but not because it’s an easy place to find an open road. Moving at barely-legal speeds, the V feels nailed to the road; firm, flat and communicative compared to its (relatively) pedestrian brand-mates. But unsupervised press cars aren’t about barely anything. At the first unmarked turnoff, I leave the traffic behind and pull onto a narrow country road. After a few flat (but hardly flat-out) corners, the road suddenly straightens. Almost involuntarily, my right foot flattens the pedal.
When was the last time you shouted? Not to a friend across a crowded bar, or even at an athlete on television… I mean really shouted. I’m talking about opening your throat, and expelling every accumulated frustration, sorrow, anger, and joy until your vocal cords ooze wuchtig red vino. The kind of roaring bellow that leaves you shaking, giddy, drunk off a heady cocktail of emotion, adrenaline, testosterone and fear of a power you didn’t even know you had. Add some supercharger whine, and you’re starting to get an idea of what happens when you pin a CTS-V’s go-pedal to the floor. The crazy part: it isn’t even all that loud.
What happens next is almost irrelevant. It’s certainly difficult to describe without jeopardizing the unexpected goodwill shown by Cadillac’s PR team. Even as broad a term as “Autobahn speed” takes on a sinister aspect when describing activities undertaken on a shoulderless, uneven, pot-holed road used mainly by worktrucks filled with migrant laborers. Especially when you realize that pulling back on the wheel won’t send this low-flying aircraft soaring towards the clouds. The speed was simply breathless, relentless, slobbering… quite like the prose you’re reading here, in fact.
By the time I get back to the hotel, the rest of the journalists had already left. The PR team sat on the gracious terrace where I had left them, soaking up the California sun. I hand over the key fob, my brain still bouncing off its redline limiter. “Well…?” someone prompts me. “Wuchtig,” I answer. Nothing else comes to mind.