Life is too short to drive every car, attend every race and visit every museum.
You can’t drive, see or do it all but there are some experiences every car lover should have at least once. Whether you’re into classic American muscle cars or late-model Japanese roadsters, here are 20 things you should do before kicking the bucket.
Drive on the unrestricted sections of the Autobahn
The unrestricted sections of Germany’s Autobahn are the only roads in the world on which enthusiasts can legally drive at any speed they want. Seeing a sign that indicates your destination is 200 kilometers away and knowing that how quickly you get there is entirely up to you and your car is a unique feeling.
Driving a car at – or near – its top speed is an experience you’ll never forget. Act fast; the German government recently proposed enforcing a speed limit on the entire Autobahn network to keep CO2 emissions in check.
Drive a V12-powered car
Driving a mighty V12-powered car is one of the most memorable experiences you can have as a car enthusiast. From the sound of the 12 pistons screaming away to the engine’s response when you mash the throttle, it makes even a V8 seem tame in comparison.
We recommend one of Lamborghini’s naturally-aspirated V12s to get the most authentic experience but even a twin-turbocharged unit like the 6.6-liter in the BMW M760i doesn’t disappoint at all. The V12 is a dying breed, so make the most of them while you can.
Drive a rear-engined Volkswagen Beetle
The original, rear-engined Volkswagen Beetle is a masterpiece of simplicity that put millions of people all around the world on wheels. It’s undoubtedly one of the most significant machines in the history of the automobile.
It’s also a car that lived well beyond its sell-by date thanks in part to discreet but meaningful updates so it’s a way to experience many eras of car design at once. Spending an hour behind the wheel of a Beetle is fascinating from a cultural and a mechanical perspective.
Driving off the beaten path is something every car lover should do at least once, and we’re not talking about a dirt road out in the countryside. Taking a 4x4 like a Jeep Wrangler or a Land Rover Defender to its natural habitat is the perfect way to discover a completely different facet of driving, one in which differential locks and a properly-sized snorkel are more important than Bluetooth connectivity and Apple CarPlay. Taking in a gorgeous scenery is the icing on the cake.
Spend a day at the track
Broadly speaking, it’s difficult to legally exceed 75% of a car’s potential on a public road. Taking a car – and a driver – to the limit requires going on a race track. In this eye-opening environment, you’ll learn what a car is capable of, what you’re capable of, and valuable lessons like keeping a proper posture behind the wheel and always looking where you want to go.
Chasing tenths of a second on a track is a blast and mastering it may also make you a better driver in everyday situations.
Visit the Lane Motor Museum
The Lane Motor Museum proudly calls itself the largest collection of European cars in the United States. It’s not just the usual suspects, though. Yes, the museum owns a Citroën DS and a BMW Isetta but it also displays a plethora of obscure, oddball cars like a 1951 Hoffman (pictured), a Peel P50 and a replica of a 1933 Dymaxion.
Visiting Lane - located in Nashville, Tennessee - is a mesmerizing dive into the history of the automobile.
Attend the Goodwood Festival of Speed
Passion increasingly takes a back seat to government regulations in the automotive industry; the Goodwood Festival of Speed places it front and center. Held annually on the south cost of England, it’s a four-day celebration of all things rare, fast and otherwise intriguing that includes a car show and a world-famous hill climb.
Where else can you see a Porsche 917, a Red Bull Formula One car, and a Peugeot 208 Pikes Peak racer in action within a few minutes of each other? And the parking lot is a show in itself. The 2019 event runs 4-7 July.
Attend a major race
You can get a great view of a major race like the Grand Prix of America, the Wales Rally or the 24 Hours of Le Mans by watching it on television but you miss a big part of the experience by not attending in person. Hearing, seeing and smelling the cars from a few hundred yards away adds another dimension to each event and going on-location is an excellent opportunity to meet like-minded enthusiasts.
Drive across America
America is a country the size of a continent. Driving across it lets you experience a diverse variety of landscapes including scorching deserts, snow-capped mountains and bustling cities, plus different cultures and cuisines.
Driving from Los Angeles to New York City takes four to five days depending on the route but we’d plan at least a week, and ideally a month, to venture off the highway and truly take in the sights.
Own a fun weekend car
Every enthusiast should own at least one fun car in his or her lifetime. It doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive or fast; a humble Fiat 126 (pictured) driven on the weekends can deliver more smiles per mile than a rational, late-model daily driver. And remember, it's usually more fun to drive a slow car fast than the other way round.
Classic economy cars are surprisingly affordable to keep running, too.
Drive your heroes
The old adage ‘never meet your heroes’ often holds true when it comes to human beings, but we encourage enthusiasts to drive the hero cars they’ve lusted after since they were kids. Whether it’s a Ferrari 308, a Volkswagen Golf Rallye, or a late-model Subaru WRX STI, odds are driving it flat-out on an open road will be an experience that won’t disappoint.
Drive on the opposite side of the road
We’re used to driving a certain way; on the right side of the road and on the left side of the car, or vice versa. Stepping out of your comfort zone to go to another country and drive on the opposite side of the road requires a high level of mental gymnastics that’s worth experiencing at least once, especially if you’re shifting your own gears. For the sake of your door mirrors, try it first on a relatively empty road, not in a crowded urban center, but you'll soon get used to it.
Attend a major auto show
Many analysts vociferously argue the auto show is going the way of the carburetor, but attending one of the bigger ones – like Geneva or Los Angeles – remains an awesome experience. Where else can you find such a diverse selection of cars under the same roof?
Factor in the excitement of new vehicle introductions and walking through aisles of cars at an auto show becomes a thrill no other event can deliver.
Drive (and drift) on a frozen lake
Driving on a frozen lake is as demanding and entertaining as it sounds. You learn a lot about the handling characteristics of a car without having to worry about stuffing it into a wall – there is usually plenty of room for error.
We suggest driving as accurately as possible for a few laps and going sideways for a few more to get the full experience.
Drive a kei car in Japan
Driving a kei car in Japan will give you newfound respect for minimalism in car design. The models that compete in this uniquely Japanese segment need to comply with strict regulations that dictate their dimensions and what they’re powered by. As of 2019, a kei car can’t stretch longer than 3378mm (133in), wider than 1473mm (58in) and taller than 1981mm (78in). In return, its owner gets a car that's cheaper to buy and operate, tax-wise.
Its 660cc engine can’t make more than 63 hp. And yet, kei cars are capable of carrying four adults in relative comfort and of reaching freeway speeds. They come in all shapes and sizes ranging from a panel van to a mid-engined sports car. PICTURE: Honda N One
Drive a pre-WWII car
Slipping behind the wheel of a car made before World War II nearly requires you to re-learn how to drive. It (usually) has a steering wheel and pedals but the similarities between a car made in the 1920s and one from 2019 largely end there.
It can bea little bit challenging depending on the model but it’s a rewarding experience that sheds valuable insight into how cars have evolved over the past decades. PICTURE: Bugatti Type 56, an electric vehicle from 1931
Learn basic maintenance
Working on a car is a rite of passage for many enthusiasts. Whether it’s changing a set of spark plugs or replacing worn brake pads, performing basic maintenance is something every car lover should learn. It’s not as daunting as it might sound, it’s satisfying and it can save you money in the long run.
Visit a car factory
Seeing the steps involved in turning a piece of sheet metal into a car is an eye-opening experience. No two car factories are alike. Some rely heavily on robots, like the giant Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg.
Smaller companies like Morgan Motors have retained humans in the production process because they value old-world craftsmanship above all. Both sides of the spectrum are equally captivating. Most car factories offer a tour, and they're rarely expensive.
Talk to someone who designs cars
Chatting with the men and women who design cars for a living is the best way to get an inside look at how an automaker operates. Turning a concept car into a production model is a long, complex process that involves dozens of decisions at dozens of levels.
No one is better positioned to explain it all than a designer or an engineer. Of course, you can’t walk into Audi’s design studio and ask to talk to Marc Lichte but attending races and car shows is a good way to meet some of the people that turn ideas into reality – while crossing two items off your list at once.
Visit the Petersen Museum
The Petersen Museum in Los Angeles is an automotive paradise that places cars from all walks of life on equal footing. You’ll find hot rods, lowriders, one-offs, emblematic vehicles like the Ford Model T, high-dollar vintage Ferraris and more humble trailblazing classics like an International-Harvester Scout under the same roof.
The Petersen Museum regularly holds special exhibitions so you can go once a month and see something new every time, all curated by clever people who absolutely love cars.