Buying a new BMW is always a pretty special experience. To some it is a chance to move up to the next level of BMW performance cars and to others it is the realization of a dream come true.
There are many ways to buy your first, or perhaps it’s your next new BMW vehicle. You can go to the dealer and buy the one in stock that you like most. If you have a bit more money and time you can opt for a European delivery, order your car and turn it into a vacation at the same time.
There is also a third option that falls somewhere in between.
That option is to order your car the way you want it from your local dealer and specify that you want to pick it up via the BMW Performance Center Delivery program in Spartanburg, South Carolina. In many ways this is the best of both worlds as it offers a lot of value for the money and allows you to take a short vacation at the same time. It also includes a few big time extras.
Since I was driving my own 1996 Z3 back from the Amelia Island Concours weekend anyway, I called my friend Dave Buchko in BMW North America public relations to see if I could drop by the Performance Center and see what the experience was like, and at the same time take my Z3 back to its birthplace for a few pictures.
The process starts as it would with any new car purchase. You go to your local dealer and spec out the car you want and order it. When your new BMW is ready, you fly to the Greenville-Spartanburg airport and spend a night at the Marriott there. The next morning you will be driven to the BMW Performance Center, which is across the street from the Spartanburg BMW manufacturing complex.
The day starts with a classroom session that discusses what you will be doing on the test track, the various systems of your BMW that you will be exploring hands on, what they do, how they work, and how to best use them.
Next you head to the track, where you are provided with a BMW similar to what you have ordered and, with you behind the wheel and with the help of the Performance Center’s instructors, you learn to control your new BMW at its limit. You learn the amazing capabilities of and how to properly utilize BMW’s Dynamic Stability Control system in action on our wet skid pad, practice panic braking to demonstrate ABS braking and how it works in conjunction with the Dynamic Stability Control, and get to explore the handling capabilities of your new BMW on one of the many road course sections. I was honestly surprised and amazed at the advances in these systems and was stunned at what these driver aids allowed me to do with the car.
Being a former NASCAR stock car driver myself, I did a credible job at the school and, when it turned out that one of the instructors was a former NASCAR driver colleague, I ended up being called by the name Ricky Bobby the whole time I was on track. Happily, I did not damage the car Ricky Bobby style.
I was driving was a BMW M2, which to me is the ultimate current embodiment of the Ultimate Driving Machine, being perfectly balanced and properly fast.
The driving session includes you riding shotgun in the car you have been driving with your instructor behind the wheel. The instructor will then head out for a hot lap on the road course section, which is a clear demonstration of why you are not an instructor at the school, as it is likely that their laps will be quite a bit faster than yours were.
There is another more interesting course on site that has been set aside specifically for those buying X series cars, the off-road driving course.
I had the pleasure of driving a new X5 on they course and have to say that while the road course and skid pad stuff is fun, the off-road course, while a bit slower, is much more fun. At one point we got to balance the car on its right front and left rear wheels, drove through a pond with 4 feet of water, utilized the Hill Decent function when driving down the steepest hill most people will ever attempt, and took some very slow and steeply banked turns, so much so that all you can see out the drivers side window is the ground.
This school demonstrated to me that the X series cars are only bettered off road by the cars from Land Rover, but have the added benefit of being a proper performance vehicle on the road as well, in a way that no Rover can equal.
Your delivery day is not finished yet, however.
After the driving segment, you head to an excellent lunch at the Performance Center cafeteria, followed by a complete tour of the BMW factory across the street, where you see exactly how these cars are created.
The factory tour itself is worth the trip and it is amazing to see the mix of high technology and craftsman at work on the line. My favorite part of the factory tour was watching the parts delivery robots that travel through the factory in action, delivering parts to the workers just when needed.
After the factory tour, you head to the BMW Zentrum Museum, where you are given a guided tour of the cars on display and how they fit into the company’s history and helped to build the BMW brand. The museum had racec ars, the first BMW built in South Carolina — signed by all the employees — a Hockney 8 series art car, the Elvis Presley-owned 507 roadster, among other notable models. The Zentrum museum also has a cute Isetta coffee car with an Isetta on display in the middle of the bar, with seating around it
After all of this you head back to the Performance Center to receive your own car. They take you to a special room and show you your new BMW for the first time, going over the features of your car in their entirety and answering any and all questions you may have.
The day ends with you getting the keys and heading home on what will be your first road trip in your new BMW.
But the Center is also a great place to visit even if you are not getting a new car as it offers numerous driving programs, from an off-road driving program to a 2-day BMW M performance school.
Another bonus is that the Performance Center is next door to the Zentrum museum and the BMWCCA Foundation, which has factory records, a small museum of its own, and a large gift shop stuffed with many very rare BMW items at great prices.
I ended my visit with a photo op of my 1996 007 edition Z3 in front of the Zentrum museum. It seemed a fitting end to a great day at the factory to have the car photographed where it was created.
Photos by BMW and by Andy Reid