Creme 21 has become a legend of its kind. Introduced to the German market in the 1970s by the company Henkel in an act of defiance against established brands such as Nivea and others, the cream in the bright-orange packaging and bearing the magic number 21 – symbolic of the long-awaited coming of age – has attracted predominantly young people down the years. Creme 21 embodied a lifestyle all of its own in the days before the word had established itself in popular parlance. In the still young Federal Republic, it represented an expression of youthfulness and joie de vivre. This was the feeling that a small team of enthusiasts wanted to bring back to the roads when, 13 years ago, they founded the creme21 – a rally for young classics that went about its business rather differently from most.
The creme21 organisers and participants have better things on their minds than special stages and time checks. They prefer to pick out achingly pretty back roads and break up the stages of the rally with a succession of fun games by the side of the road.
It’s all about the pleasure of driving and the enjoyment to be had off the road as well. BMW Group Classic needed no second invitation to inject a little extra spice – in the form of a racing MINI Cooper, an exquisite Rolls-Royce Corniche Convertible, a BMW 850 CSi, a BMW M1 (a true Bavarian sports car icon) and, alongside the other rarities, two BMW Z1 roadsters with retractable doors. A delegation from the BMW Classic editorial team snapped up the chance to experience the creme21 in one of the Z1s alongside racing driver and television presenter Tim Schrick.
The action got underway at the Hockenheimring circuit, with technical scrutineering and a drivers’ meeting, before the 200 teams were split up into guided groups. Instead of piling through the Parabolika as fast as nerve allowed, our initial progress was relatively stately. Regardless of any theatrical considerations behind the leisurely pace, driving around a grand-prix circuit in such a fashion is sacrilege to Schrick – and he was soon dropping back from the cars in front approaching tighter corners, before making up the ground in a high-speed drift around the bend. He had a point; it was so much more fun that way! Before I could look around for a grab handle that wasn’t there, I was pressed back into my seat in an unruly heap…and remained pinned there for the rest of the lap.
The following morning our journey began in Ludwigshafen, and from the meadows of the Upper Rhine Plain we set off on the roads through picture-book wine-growing country that those knowledgeable sorts on the organising committee had carefully sought out for us.
Only the weather threatened to spoil our fun. Not that it succeeded, as the Z1 was loath to let wet roads knock it out of its stride.
As for those roadside games, a tin-can alley competition was one of the items on the agenda that challenged the skills of the drivers outside their cars. With the rain still sheeting down, we jumped back into the car without complaint alongside pilot Schrick, whose right foot was only too happy to bring a little sunshine to the occasion.
The next day the rays returned, leaving us to lap up the top-down qualities of the Z1. And if lowering the roof didn’t provide enough fresh air for the soul, dropping down the doors would always oblige. The roads from Mannheim to Nuremberg gave me ample time to muse over how the brains behind creme21 had happened upon such an incredibly beautiful route.
The major traffic arteries were all studiously avoided, as we made our way through one region after another and bathed in a highlights reel of delightful countryside on our west-east journey across Germany.
Our arrival in Nuremberg heralded a new day, a new feast for the eyes. The rally then took us north through what they call Franconian Switzerland. As the corners stacked up, main roads once again became conspicuous by their absence; another feather in the cap of those that made this happen.
Come midday, we found ourselves in the car park outside a steam train museum, and the convoy of young classics proceeded to comprehensively steal the show from the venerable locomotives. It was like we’d been transported back into the 1970s, and nobody would have been surprised if Kojak had suddenly emerged from one of these fine cars of a certain age.
We crossed what used to be the border into East Germany and motored on into Saxony.
Who would have thought Germany was peppered by so many avenues lined with centuries-old trees? We enjoyed the echo sent reverberating into our Z1 by each and every trunk along the way, tried our hand at Teebeutelweitwurf (a game where you propel a teabag as far as you can using your mouth!) and looked on in astonishment as the country road began to widen – and sprouted curbs. This was the Schleizer Dreieck, Germany’s oldest street circuit. As Tim’s foot lowered to the ground, the corners of my mouth turned skywards into an instinctive grin. The party in the evening of the penultimate day, the traditional high-point of the rally, had the glasses chinking; we were in Leipzig now and could look forward to a lie-in the following day.
Mercifully, things didn’t get started until late on the final morning outside the gates to BMW’s Leipzig plant – the launch pad for our subsequent exploration of an eastern German hinterland still marked by the coal mining industry of yesteryear.
There were more surprises in store when it came to the presentation ceremony at the end of the rally. Prizes included various flea market items – coloured orange, as if you need ask. And the overall winners were all smiles as they received their (orange) ceiling light in recognition of their endeavours.