Late in January, I went on a trip to Spain for a Choir tour. Between an afternoon in the Prado, an evening in the Picasso museum and a chance to sing in La Sacrada Familia, one could understand if I didn't pay much attention to the cars of Spain. I will admit, I fell in love with art and music while in Spain, something I never thought I'd do. But rest assured, I didn't let that distract me from my first and greatest love, the automobile.
Being an Opponaut abroad is rather overwhelming. Upon arriving at Paris Charles De Gaulle airport, I immediately was drawn to the windows, peering out onto the tarmac at the Renault, Peugeot and Citroën service vehicles. My friends immediately facepalmed upon the realization that I was going to spend the entire trip lusting after foreign-market cars like Tiger Woods in a Waffle House. Things only escalated from there, because on our first day in Barcelona, I stumbled upon this:
After leaving Palau de la Música Catalana, our lovely British tour guide led us on a walking tour around the area. We could see the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia lurking in the distance, and when we arrived at the square outside the cathedral, I was met by the Monte Carlo Historic Rally. Pure joy and more than a hint of adrenaline coursed through my veins as the automotive glory placed before me made our visit to the cathedral an afterthought. You could say I was having a bit of a crisis. So, with the unbridled giddiness of a teenage girl at a Jonas Brothers concert, I set forth to take some quick pictures as the group marched on towards the cathedral, unamused by the real attraction.
Our preforming arts coordinator apparently found my excitement amusing and shared this little gem with the group with the title, "Car Crazed Joe." How right she was. (No, I don't wear my hair like that, it was messed up because I may or may not have been running)
Unfortunately, my rebellious teenager phase ended in high school, so after leaving a few sizable puddles of drool around the square, I followed the heard. We entered the cathedral, an undeniably beautiful building, but thoughts of 911s with rally lights still flooded my mind. I managed to endure the rest of the tour and our guide finally granted us some free time in the area. Considering the nature of the trip, we were required to be with at least one other person from our group at all times. Everyone knew I needed to go back to that square. Thankfully, my friends were nice enough accompany me. At this point, I didn't think my day was going to get any better, but I was immediately proven wrong. The square was now packed with cars, so I did what any of us would do: completely lost my shit. I quickly discovered passes were required to get inside the actual area where the cars were, but I did manage to strike up a conversation with the owner of a lovely 2002. Sadly, language barriers are real, so we didn't manage to have much of a talk, but I successfully conveyed my admiration for his car, and he replied with a proud smile and told me his 2002 was in his words a, "One.... nine.... umm seven.... two." Eventually my friends' patience wore thin, and we set off to explore the city. And yes, I took more pictures.
I couldn't see the cars depart from the square due to our schedule, but stumbling upon a collection of historic rally cars was enough of a treat on its own for this enthusiast. Admittedly, I'm no rally expert and honestly didn't recognize most of these cars, so if anyone has any rally knowledge, I encourage you to share in the comments.
The Monte Carlo Historic Rally was undoubtably the automotive highlight of the trip, but that doesn't mean I stopped drooling over the bevy of foreign cars that filled the streets. Our travels took us through Barcelona, Zaragoza and Madrid, all the while I observed the Spanish car market and drew a few tentative conclusions along the way. First of all, nearly everything is diesel. Advancements in diesel drivetrain technology were clear as older cars exhibited the stereotypical rough idle and potent exhaust fumes, while newer cars were much smoother, only emitting a throaty growl under acceleration. Volkswagen Auto Group has a huge presence. Madrid's business district is currently dealing with a full-blown Audi infestation. In most other areas, SEATs and Golfs are immensely popular. Many police cars in every city we visited were SEATs. Sciroccos were much less common, but every bit as sexy as you'd think.
Japanese manufactures have some presence, but I didn't really pay much attention to them since Toyota's European offerings are just as beige as what they sell here. Europe's Civic is clearly better than ours, and it's really the only Honda I saw very often. That being said, most Accords likely flew under my radar since they're just beakless TSXes. Sadly, I didn't see many Alfas. There were a few Mitos around, but that's about it. Fiats seemed fairly common, particularly the Punto. New Peugeots and Citroëns didn't appear too popular, not much of a surprise considering their current fiscal situation. On the bright side, Citroën does have a hand in the police car market, with many Madrid police driving Picasso C4s. Luckily for the French, Renault's increase in sales and market share was evident, as Clios and Méganes were everywhere, and might I add, a couple of the most attractive cars we don't get in the states. Renault's Dacia brand was a bit more rare, but I have great news! It's the Dacia Sandero!
Apparently you can get a Tesla in Spain. I haven't seen a Model S in the states yet, but I saw one on my trip.
Now, I know you're thinking, "That's all fine and dandy, but what about the German wagons?" You're in luck, because I was just getting to that. Ze German's offerings were a little more common in Spain than here in the states. Audi seems firmly perched at the top of the wagon hierarchy. Although the softness of the 3-door A1's bubble-shaped cabin overshadows its scowling facia, the 5-door's a little longer and looks downright confrontational in person. There were a good number of A3s, but A4 and A6 wagons were everywhere and they never failed to turn my head.
(This one looks like an Allroad Quattro)
Along our journey we made a few stops in smaller towns to sing or go to museums, most of which didn't offer anything of interest to the car enthusiast. However, one stop did. Our itinerary for the last day included a sightseeing trip to Segovia the last day of the trip. The tour guide suggested we go to Toledo instead, which was a great call. On the way, we passed the expansive Airbus facility at Getafe where a few parts of the A380 are manufactured. Our tour guide told the group a bit about the A300-600ST Beluga used to transport the large components (more on that in a minute), and we headed to Toledo.
(They built escalators into the side of this hill. Because lazy tourists.)
I would've given anything for access to a car here. There's wide, two-lane roads all throughout the hills across from the city. The city is packed with little one-way, cobblestone streets just begging to be thrashed by a hot hatch. Between the views and the roads, driving here is now on my bucket list.
As we headed back from Toledo, it was business as usual for me; staring at cars out the window until I started to get sick. (I tend to get carsick looking out side and rear windows, or going slow in a car with mushy suspension. Strangely, speed doesn't cause me any queasiness... but I digress.) Thanks to my aggressive ADHD, I noticed something in the sky while checking out the clouds. I pointed it out to my classmates and they asked, "Is it a bird? Is it Superman?" Shocked by their stupidity, I replied, "No dipshits, it's a plane." Upon further examination, I thought it looked a hell of a lot like the Beluga our tour guide so ironically mentioned on the way there. I told a few people that's what I thought it was and nobody really believed me. But as the plane drew closer, our tour guide saw it and agreed it was a Beluga. The behemoth was landing at Madrid airport and actually passed us twice, allowing us to see it from nearly every angle. Seeing a Beluga in flight is a truly surreal experience. My first thought was, "No, there's no fucking way that thing's in the sky, this can't be real." In spite of confusing the hell out of me, the Beluga is a truly marvelous thing to see in flight.
But that story's meaningless without the SR20, so here's a shitty picture, taken from the bus, on my phone, using zoom. So my apologies in advance for the quality. In case you can't see it, I've provided this illustration for clarity:
Although I discovered a whole new automotive culture in Spain, I learned about a hell of a lot more than cars on this trip. Before leaving, I had no idea what La Sagrada Familia was, didn't care for art, honestly only sang for the scholarship money and thought Spain was just a country full of fiscally irresponsible people who loved getting gored by bulls once a year. All that changed quickly on the trip. Our group clicked, and we managed to make some damn good music in Spain and for the first time, I enjoyed singing in choir. Singing in La Sagrada Familia (on my birthday none the less) wound up being the best experience of my life, and seeing the Prado's beautiful collection of masterpieces showed me the value of art.
The cars? They were just icing on the cake.
Since this is the internet and people like to lie here, have one of our concert posters from the trip:
And here's some architecture porn from La Sagrada Familia. That place absolutely blew my mind.