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Nordgau
Sunday, January 11th, 2004, 03:08 PM
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http://www.americanautobahn.com/

AUTOBAHN
SYLLABICATION: au·to·bahn
PRONUNCIATION: ôt'o-bän
NOUN: An expressway in Germany and German-speaking countries.
ETYMOLOGY: German : Auto, automobile; see auto + Bahn, road, from Middle High German ban.
From the American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Ed. 2000.

TACHOPHOBIA
tac·ho·pho·bi·a — n.
1. The irrational fear of speed.
American Autobahn by Mark Rask

German Autobahn... American Autobahn...

Imagine driving from Minneapolis to Chicago, San Francisco to L.A. or Louisville to Atlanta (400 Miles) in under 4 hours!

Imagine the Highway Patrol helping you do it!

It's already being done from Munich to Stuttgart, Frankfurt to Hamburg, Hannover to Passau, and in many other countries around the world.

Right now, someone is driving down the German Autobahn at 120 mph—and doing it far safer than we ever imagined at 75 mph—or 55 mph....

How can we bring this Fast-and-Safe philosophy to America?

With the automotive enthusiast's "Bible" for Fast-and-Safe driving: American Autobahn!

This is the book that Federal, State and local bureaucracies, along with the insurance companies and "US" automobile manufacturers, don't want you to read.... The book that dares to expose why America has failed to save lives on the road, and how Germany has reduced the number of people killed on its roadways by almost 70 percent over the last thirty years, in spite of 100+ mph speeds on its Autobahn freeway network.

A brave new book by Mark Rask

"Will there ever be a rural American interstate with no speed limit? The answer is abolutely yes. Or it could be absolutely no, depending on what direction we choose to take as a nation. When it comes down to the options before us. Only three possibilities remain: The first is to do nothing, maintaining a status quo that all but guarantees that 40,000 people will die this year and every year afterwards. The second is to make a true commitment to the Slow-is-Always-Safer credo by allowing safety experts and Washington bureaucrats to determine what constitutes a slow enough, 'safe' speed, and then enforcing this limit by retrofitting every vehicle on the road with mandatory speed governors.... The third, and final, option is to work to minimize the accident risk of higher-speed driving and to integrate this Fast-and-Safe philosophy into our highway safety network."
—Mark Rask, American Autobahn, Chapter 10, page 263

I WANT MY AMERICAN AUTOBAHN!

Achtung! Don't Try This at Home
As seen at 212mph on the History Channel - Modern Marvels: Autobahn

James M. Clash
Forbes Global
Adventurer
09.15.03

There are few places on earth where you can drive a passenger car as fast as you want. The Autobahn is one of them.

When Alois Ruf, owner of Ruf Automobile, invited me to Germany to attempt 200mph (322kmh) on the Autobahn in his historic Yellowbird, I was skeptical. Okay, the Yellowbird is capable of such speeds--it was the first production car ever to shatter the elusive 322kmh barrier, in 1987. And yes, I had driven that fast before, twice--in a Lamborghini Murcielago and in an open-wheel Indy race car owned by Sam Schmidt--on large oval tracks with no other cars around. But on the Autobahn, with traffic, in a 16-year-old relic?

"I'm not joking," Ruf repeated. "Come see." So I did.

For the unaware, Ruf enjoys a cult following of sports-car purists even though it has produced only about 400 cars since its inception in 1963. In addition to souping up stock Porsches--911s, Boxsters--Ruf builds its own cars which run at mind-boggling speeds that marvel even Porsche. The Ruf R Turbo, for example, with 520 horsepower, tops out at 350kmh--faster than Porsche's new 10-cylinder Carrera GT. In its designs, though, Ruf is careful to preserve a car's understated lines and integrity. No nitro-burning, flashy muscle cars here. You could pull up to that 350kmh R Turbo at a stoplight and think it was a normal car. [One of Ruf's customer cars, a yellow homebrew Porsche 911 (520 bhp) with computer-controlled rear spoiler and leather-clad roll cage, was featured at 212mph on History Channel's Modern Marvels: Autobahn - at night, in the rain.]

It's no surprise then, that when I first spied the Yellowbird at Ruf's Pfaffenhausen, Germany, headquarters, I mistook it for a customer's car. Far from it. With twin turbos producing 470 horsepower, and weighing just 1,150 kilograms, the Yellowbird clocked a blistering 340kmh in 1987 with Le Mans winner Paul Frère behind the wheel in a famous speed shootout at Volkswagon's Ehra-Lessien proving ground, leaving Ferrari and Lamborghini in the dust. Recently the car has been refurbished, and I was to be given the honor of taking it back to speed.

More than half of the 11,000-kilometer German Autobahn system has no speed limit. It is perfectly legal there, for example, to pass a police car at 210kmh. In fact, according to Mark Rask, author of American Autobahn, the average speed for cars is 130kmh; at any given moment, 15% are traveling 155kmh or faster. Surprisingly, the Autobahn is safer than U.S. highways. In 2001, the death rate there was 27% lower (0.59 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled versus 0.81 for the U.S Interstates).

Why? Drivers in Germany must be at least 18 years old and fork over more than $1,000 to undergo 24 hours of rigorous private instruction, including training on the Autobahn, and pass a comprehensive written test, before obtaining a license. (Compare the U.S. with no required training and a minimum age of 16 in many states.) Also, unlike in the U.S., Germans use the left lane only for passing. Roads over there are built better, too (a 70-centimeter roadbed versus 28 centimeters in the U.S.)--and are better maintained. So are German cars made by BMW and Mercedes, which handle easier at high speed and sustain less collision damage.

But extreme speeds, even on the Autobahn, present their own problems. A slight curve that, at 160kmh seems like a straight, becomes quite challenging at twice that speed. Second, no matter how well-behaved German drivers are, there is traffic. Slower cars in the right lane have trouble judging closing speeds of really fast-moving cars because they have not experienced them (240kmh maybe, but not 320). A driver may glance in his rearview mirror, see you as a dot in the distance, then leisurely pull into your lane to pass the car in front of him--thinking he has ample time. Truth is when approaching at 320kmh, you close on a car traveling 160kmh as if you're doing 160kmh and he's standing still!

Our plan was to try at night on the A96 between Mindelheim and Munich, when few vehicles prowl the road. That is when Alois--and Wolfgang Weber, Ruf's professional driver--occasionally test at top speed to ensure their cars have 100% of the power and performance finicky customers are promised. At 11:30 p.m. the night we tried, the roads were still damp from a day of Bavarian downpours.

The Yellowbird is like a missile, and I'm not the first to describe it that way. The rapid acceleration and accompanying noise is akin to having a jet engine strapped to your back. Each gear shift feels like jettisoning stages of a rocket. After "getting used" to it, I managed to hit 305kmh, but night-blindness and an unfamiliarity with the road made me increasingly tense. Tense isn't good at those speeds. Sensing my discomfort, Alois--an incredibly gracious host--announced a change of plans. We would try again the next morning on the A81 Autobahn between Würzburg and Heilbronn after rush-hour but before lunch.

Sure enough, the next day the roads were dry and I could see a lot better. But there was traffic. Not a lot, but enough to make me pause. Test driver Weber, who would act as my copilot in the passenger seat, assured me we wouldn't try unless we found a proper break. So out onto the A81 we went. I would build up to 225kmh in fourth gear and try to maintain it in the left lane, picking off scattered cars and trucks while awaiting a long, clear stretch of road. Often we found what we thought was one and accelerate, only to see more traffic and immediately have to back off. At 290kmh, it doesn't matter whether traffic is in the right or left lane--we just couldn't take a chance.

After several nail-biting attempts, we found a promising gap between the Mockmuhl and Neuenstadt exits. I shifted into fifth, flipped on the high beams and matted the throttle. The rocket was launched. Weber began calling out numbers: "275, 290, 300." I was too busy to look at anything but the road, now reduced to a long, thinning string. I straddled the two lanes to see better ahead, and for stability (we were in a gentle left-hander). "Still okay," shouted Weber, "305, 310, 315." The front of the car suddenly felt very light, as if we were about to take off, and all that was peripheral--trees, guardrail, signs--became a blur. "Go for it, go, go," screamed Weber maniacally, with his thick German accent--then suddenly, "Yeah, you did it!" I immediately eased off the gas, and none too soon. A quarter-mile ahead a truck lumbered along in the right lane. I carefully moved all the way into the left lane and, for the first time in what seemed like hours, took a breath.

When we returned to the shop Alois and his wife, Estonia, like proud parents, were there to congratulate me. I had done 324kmh. Estonia gave me a Ruf windbreaker, signifying my initiation into their speed club. On a roll, we decided to take the R Turbo out. I managed to push it even further--to 336kmh, a personal best for me. But the newer car, with 50 more horsepower and ABS brakes, runs a lot smoother and while I got a speed rush, it wasn't as intense as in the Yellowbird.

Ruf is building a new prototype nicknamed "Godzilla" capable of speeds approaching 360kmh. If you see Alois, tell him I want to test it--but on a track this time, not the Autobahn. I have no more nails left to bite.

Columnist Clash is the author of To The Limits: Pushing Yourself to the Edge--In Adventure and in Business (John Wiley & Sons, 2003).

Sidebar - But If You Really Must . . .

To run at speeds above 240kmh, a driver should have some training. Then you'll have to find the right car and road. You can rent a top-end BMW or Mercedes from Hertz or Avis in Germany. The Germans, in their wisdom, put governors on most of their own cars, limiting top speeds to 250kmh--not too shabby. Unless you're night-blind like me, try in the wee hours of the morning, when there's light traffic, and on a dry road. Preferably the day before, find a stretch between two exits with a long straightaway, then traverse it several times to become familiar with the terrain. The Bavarian Autobahns offer many such areas. Work up to top speed gradually, and be smooth. Jerky movements at high speed easily unsettle a car. Also your vision becomes tunnel-like, and this takes a while to get comfortable with. How about elsewhere in the world? Japan has a surplus of well-built roads, but this is not a land geared for legal speed. Australia has thousands of kilometers of pavement in the barren bush, but you can't be sure it's in shape for this kind of driving. As for going all the way up to 322kmh, it is difficult and dangerous, even with training. You would have to bring your own Lamborghini or Ferrari into Germany, or get Alois Ruf to lend you one of his cars.

Phlegethon
Sunday, January 11th, 2004, 04:03 PM
There seem to be a lot of misconception prevalent as far as the German autobahns are regarded.

First of all maximum speed by now is only theoretical. Unless you are crossing the boonies there are speed limits. Normally 120 km/h are the max. In the industrial regions the maximum speed on the autobahn is somewhere around 4 km/h during daylight hours. Keep in mind Germany is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

As this country is also technically bankrupt the quality of the autobahn is lousy, to say the least. Germany is the #1 transit country and usually the right lane is completely occupied by trucks from almost every European country. Imagine going 150 mph on the left lane when suddenly one of those trucks tries to overtake another. I can tell you from my own experience it is not a good idea.

Probably the only valid reason that there are less accidents in Germany than in the U.S. is that Germans are much, much better and disciplined drivers. Getting a driver's license has turned out to be impossible for many Americans here. There is a good reason that your American driver's license is not recognized here (with a few exceptions, like Colorado). Getting a license here takes at least 35 hrs driving practice, 20 hrs theory instruction and a theoretical and practical test (in both of which roughly 60% fail in the first and 40% fail in the second try).

Loki
Sunday, January 11th, 2004, 04:18 PM
Getting a driver's license has turned out to be impossible for many Americans here. There is a good reason that your American driver's license is not recognized here (with a few exceptions, like Colorado). Getting a license here takes at least 35 hrs driving practice, 20 hrs theory instruction and a theoretical and practical test (in both of which roughly 60% fail in the first and 40% fail in the second try).

I have a British (EU) drivers license. I can drive everywhere in Germany with that, right?

Dr. Solar Wolff
Tuesday, January 13th, 2004, 06:54 AM
Ameirca doesn't have any Autobahns. America has freeways and interstate highways. There are big differences between the two. Freeways and interstates are straight, when ever possible. Autobahns curve gently to keep the drivers awake. Freeways pass right through the hearts of major cities with endless on-ramps slowing traffic to a crawl. Autobahns connect major cities. The British system is far better at this than the American. They circle the city, sending feeder roads into it. We, in America, just sit in traffic and catch road rage. It is as if American highway "engineers" once heard of a magic Autobahn and tried to re-create it without getting all the design aspects correct.

Rather than go on here, perhaps it would be useful to discusss the cultural uniqueness of American drivers "caught in traffic". We put loud horns on our cars. We perfected the one-finger salute. We are the world greatest marksmen from a moving vehicle.

Nordgau
Tuesday, January 13th, 2004, 12:00 PM
There seem to be a lot of misconception prevalent as far as the German autobahns are regarded.

First of all maximum speed by now is only theoretical. Unless you are crossing the boonies there are speed limits. Normally 120 km/h are the max. In the industrial regions the maximum speed on the autobahn is somewhere around 4 km/h during daylight hours. Keep in mind Germany is one of the most densely populated countries in the world.

Oh, poor Phlegethon living in densely populated and red-green governed North-Rhine Westphalia. :behead


As this country is also technically bankrupt the quality of the autobahn is lousy, to say the least. Germany is the #1 transit country and usually the right lane is completely occupied by trucks from almost every European country. Imagine going 150 mph on the left lane when suddenly one of those trucks tries to overtake another. I can tell you from my own experience it is not a good idea.

Ah, only on the worst routes. One of my favourite thrills it was from time to time to overtake trucks on the right lane with 180 km/h immediately before my exit and then to drive nearly directly with the overtaking process into the exit, where then some braking is wise. - To be honest, I don't really care if the one can speed from Minneapolis to Chicago, as long as I can step on the gas pedal from Passau to Hamburg. :jeer

Milesian
Tuesday, January 13th, 2004, 12:14 PM
I have a British (EU) drivers license. I can drive everywhere in Germany with that, right?

Yup, I believe you can drive anywhere in the EU with that.
Happy Motoring :D

Phlegethon
Tuesday, January 13th, 2004, 12:24 PM
To be honest, I don't really care if the one can speed from Minneapolis to Chicago, as long as I can step on the gas pedal from Passau to Hamburg. :jeer
You'd have to take the A3 then - and I can tell you that the A3 between Passau and Regensburg is one of the worst pieces of autobahn in Germany. Although there isn't really that much traffic the asphalt is broken and badly fixed. For my own safety (and in order to save my tires) I never drove faster than 120 km/h on that stretch. Further on the way to Hamburg it is no big problem to go over 200 km/h at night. Hamburg as a city lies in the middle of nowehere. ;) But as you burn a whole lot more fuel at 200 km/h than at let's say 130 km/h I only speed when I am late and have to be on time.