From Beamers to beaters: Get behind the wheel of awesome cars around the world
Whether you’re a serious car nut with a need for speed or just an everyday driver who appreciates a cool and classic roadster, these are some of the best racing and driving experiences on the planet.
Racing has shifted gears since the first automobile race more than a century ago in France. On that day in 1894, winner Count Jules-Albert de Dion was proud to have covered the 78 miles in six hours and 43 minutes. Flash-forward to 2016, and his 11mph race seems like more of a crawl. For those with a serious need for speed (or just a good old fashioned joyride), accelerate the fun with some of the world’s most unique car racing and driving experiences.
1. Cruise Route 66 in a Classic Car
Grab that sweet flag t-shirt you bought for the Fourth of July and go all-American for a day on the famed Route 66 in a 1966 Mustang Convertible. Leave the top down, throw on some shades and stop at every wacky or nostalgic roadside attraction along the way. Pick up your vintage ride from Panam Holidays Inc. for a self-guided road trip, following convenient itineraries and easy-to-use GPS instructions. You can opt for a guided tour along the entirety of Route 66, or just specific sections—where the adventure goes is up to you. With accommodations, activities and even a luggage truck to haul your gear, Panam covers the logistics so you can focus on getting your kicks.
2. Steer an Aston Martin on Ice
James Bond has good taste in cars. And what does he drive? An Aston Martin, obviously. Timeless, elegant, and, well, sexy, these luxury sport cars are exceptionally engineered to drive like a dream. But who has a cool $330k just lying around or gets a brand new Aston Martin from the British Secret Service every time the old one accidentally sinks to the bottom of the Tiber River? (Shut up, James, no one asked you). But don’t despair: Even if your budget is more suited to a Honda Accord and the bottom shelf version of a Vesper martini, you can still enjoy a taste of the finer things. Throughout the year, Aston Martin lets regular people give their legendary cars a spin during a series of special events. One example of an upcoming shindig is “Fast ‘n’ Fancy,” where you drive an Aston Martin on a private ice track in the heart of Colorado. Other opportunities include test driving cars that are currently in production in Warwickshire, UK, or driving courses with top-notch instructors in Millbrook, UK.
3. Handle Heavy-Duty Construction Equipment for the heck of it
It may not be a bucket list priority, but studies show that general awesomeness skyrockets when you’re stacking 2,000-pound tires in a Caterpillar 515CL Hydraulic excavator or digging gigantic trenches in a D5G track-type bulldozer (take that, Audi). Experience what it’s like to play “bucket basketball” or teeter-totter over a monster-sized dirt mound in a bulldozer at Dig This in Las Vegas. It’s basically a giant sandbox for grownups that satisfies the odd desire to play with all that crazy construction equipment we’ve seen, but rarely get to commandeer. The session starts with in-cab training before you don a neon yellow vest and get those big boys moving. Can you build it? Yes, you can.
4. Drift Away in Dubai
Drifting is an addictive, adrenaline-pumping maneuver where a driver oversteers the car and loses traction in the wheels, all while trying to turn a corner without crashing. If this sounds like your kind of crazy, head to the Dubai Autodrome in Motor City, Dubailand, about 20 minutes from the Dubai city center. Here, you can live out a “Fast & Furious” fantasy with an action-packed drifting class led by an experienced instructor who helps you accelerate, throttle and brake while maintaining constant speed—even when you (and your tires) lose grip. Held in a Volkswagen, the lesson includes five minutes as a passenger and 50 epic minutes of behind-the-wheel time. Buckle up for one heck of a joy ride, muscle shirt optional.
5. Tour Tuscany in a Classic Fiat
Explore the streets of Florence, Italy, and surrounding landscapes like a local in a vintage Fiat 500 with Caf Tours. Pick up your classic ride at a garage in what was once a prestigious Florentine palazzo and meet up with a guide who'll drive ahead of you, narrating your ride via radio. Seatbelts strapped and windows rolled down, zip along the river on tree-lined streets to romantic city vistas where pulling over for photo ops is a given. After that, it’s all about cruising the countryside: Wind past olive groves and vineyards, visit one of the region's oldest churches and even pause on a private terrace to for a view of historic villas and castles that dot the landscape. End your day right with a taste of Tuscany: Cheese, ham and a glass of Chianti await you before heading back to Florence.
6. Careen Down Chicago's Streets in a Shopping Cart Race
When the first shopping cart race took place in 1994 in San Francisco, it was called the “Urban Iditarod” after the world-famous dog-sledding race in Alaska. The idea took off, and since then, abundant copycat races have popped up in cities across the US, including Chicago, Portland and New York City. For one of the most spirited shopping cart races in the country, head to Chicago for the CHIditarod, which doubles as a charity food drive. Gather a team of five people, borrow a cart from a supermarket (ask permission first), fill it with food donations, pimp it out with decorations and dig up that old Halloween costume: This is the type of event where goofy pomp and circumstance reign supreme. Arrive at the starting line with at least 65 lbs. of food in your cart and get ready to push it all nearly five miles in your craziest garb. Bumble across the finish line for a big street party honoring your mushing efforts, the community and all those donations, which go to the Greater Chicago Food Depository and partner charities.
7. Rally for wide ride
If driving on concrete makes you want to fall asleep at the wheel, spice up the topography with a wilder flavor of motorsport. Leave the asphalt behind with a rally drive, which involves racing on public or private roads in specially-modified cars equipped to navigate all kinds of terrain, including stretches of unpaved and unforgiving roads. For a solid foundation in the basics, check out the One Day Rally Experience with Team O’Neil Rally School. Rev up a Ford Fiesta rally car (we said they were modified, not that they were luxury vehicles) to learn about left foot braking, skid controls and different grip levels before taking your turn tearing up the facility's roads.
8. Rock the Cradle at the Birthplace of Ferrari
Home to the famous Ferrari factory since the early 1940s, it’s only fitting that Maranello, Italy, has a Ferrari Museum to match (not to mention a second museum in nearby Modena—because, you know, Ferraris). Learn the stories behind this iconic luxury brand while browsing the World Championship race exhibit, trying out simulators and even changing a tire on your own (Luigi was your favorite "Cars" character, right?). Then take a tour with I Love Maranello for a chance to get behind the wheel of one of these sleek pieces of machinery. If sitting in the lap (um, seat?) of luxury suits you, I Love Maranello offers additional driving experiences in Maseratis, Lamborghinis and Ducatis. Stateside, find comparable thrills at Las Vegas Exotic Cars with a high-octane drive around the streets of Las Vegas in a Ferrari F430. Whether on Italian hills or US highways, there's nothing like letting those ponies run.
9. Try Your Hand at Stunt Driving in England
You know that trick-filled, famous Mini Cooper chase scene at the end of “The Italian Job”? This is the closest you’ll ever get. At Stunt Drive Experience, the UK’s only stunt driving venue made for learners, driving star Kelly Bird and her team of talented trainers show you how to perform film-worthy driving moves in BMW MINI’s and Z3’s. Learn slick techniques like handbrake turns, donuts and two-wheeling...or keep your status as a spectator via indoor and outdoor viewing areas that let you observe the action from a safe and comfortable distance.
10. Look dapper driving a 100-year-old Ford Model T
The Ford Model T, also known as the “Tin Lizzie,” was the world’s first mass-produced car with more than 15 million manufactured between 1908 and 1927. Those contraptions hail from simpler times, but driving one is far from basic. Experience a blast from the past by learning to operate one of these scrappy-yet-classy vehicles at the Gilmore Car Museum’s Model T Driving School in Michigan. They’ll teach you how to kick one of these antique relics into action by using throttle control levers, proper shifting techniques and other thingamabobs that make your regular ride look like child’s play (bonus points if you wear some sweet driving goggles or a flat cap). Insider’s Tip: The classes book up fast, so call for a spot well in advance.
Whether it's the fragrance of luxury-car leather, the adrenaline rush of rally driving or the chill vibe of a classic road trip, give yourself something to daydream about during your daily commute. It's okay, your good old Camry isn't the jealous type.