There I was, at the top of the Sella pass, enjoying a sandwich while taking in the breathtaking view of Italy’s Dolomite Alps. I was a week-and-a-half deep into a much-needed vacation from the rewarding but demanding challenges of running TTAC, and work was the last thing on my mind (besides gathering my thoughts on the vehicle I had just nursed up the snowy pass). Then, all of a sudden, I looked up from my ham-and-cheese and caught a glimpse of the notorious psychedelic swirls used by automakers to hide their forthcoming vehicles from, well, people like me.
In an instant, my sandwich went flying as I lunged for my DSLR and hopped out of the car. Being a writer, not a photographer, I fumbled with the lens cap, losing valuable seconds, and the element of surprise. The sharp-eyed test drivers saw my camera just as I started snapping, and like a flock of startled birds, the three cars sped off down the road. Not even knowing what I had just seen, I heard the blood roaring in my ears, as a great bucketload of adrenalin hit my system. I had just gone from lunching tourist to erlkönigjaeger in a matter of seconds. And like any hunter, I was flush with the thrill of the hunt.
In sober retrospect, I must confess to being a little bit disappointed with both my accidental find and my response to it. First of all, I should have recognized at least one clue that a test convoy was coming: just as I had started eating my sandwich, a brand-new BMW 6-series whipped around a corner, kicking up a rooster tail of snow as it hung out its tail out to an extent that mere mortals would never attempt on such a challenging, snow-covered road. Then, after it reached the summit where I was stuffing my face in my parked car, it turned around and headed back down the eastern side. No normal human being buys a brand-new 6er in order to expertly whip it around a snowy, switchback-laden mountain pass on a Tuesday afternoon… this was a trained driver, scouting the route for the coming erlkönig convoy. At the moment, however, I was simply impressed with the skill of the driver, and didn’t think twice before returning my attention to my sandwich.
When I did finally notice the convoy that had stopped directly in front of me, I struggled at first to identify the cars. Over the past ten days or so of plying European roads, I’ve noticed a few new BMW 1 Series Sportwagons (F20), but I wasn’t able to instantly recognize the two camo-clad vehicles as such. In fact, I also lost valuable seconds staring at what I thought was a Vauxhall or Holden badge, trying to piece together what version of the Astra might be plying these remote alpine roads. Then, after taking the pictures posted here, I attempted to decipher what I had seen through my camera’s display, and my initial though upon seeing the photo at the top of this post was that I had just seen an un-camouflaged four-door sedan version of the Einser sandwiched between the two mules. Which, in a way, I had… what this photo proves, as much as anything else, is how similar BMW’s 3 Series and 1 Series really are. Looking at the photos on my laptop now, I see that the only real discovery I made was that the forthcoming 128i (likely the highest-performing version of the F20, in the absence of an M version) will have twin exhausts.
So, perhaps my discovery wasn’t ground-breaking. Perhaps these photos won’t provide a profound insight into any future BMW models, most especially any BMWs bound for American shores. But the thrill of my accidental erlkönigjagd was enough to make my day… and perhaps our eagle-eyed Best and Brightest will spot something I haven’t. In any case, here are all the pictures I managed to snap.