You’ve probably heard of the place. Initially, W.R. Hearst intended it as a summer home for his family, but the project ballooned over some three decades and became much larger and more grandiose than he had initially planned. When you actually see it for yourself, standing on the grounds or in its many rooms and galleries, it simply blows the mind, time and time again. Even more impressive than the approach to the front of the house through the garden and across the main terrace are the panoramic views surrounding the property, the Pacific Ocean to the west and deep valleys and towering wooded hills on every other side.
Hearst Castle is a big house, and with a private guided tour from one of the veteran guide supervisors, who expertly wove us in and out of other ongoing tours occurring in tandem (our guide, Scot, told me there could be as many as 500 people on the grounds at any one time), we ended up spending a little more time on the grounds than we intended.
So, late for dinner, we hit the road once again. This time I got behind the wheel of the old E28 M5. It was the most “underpowered” car in the group, what with 256 hp and all. It is, however, just 3,400 pounds compared to the new 550i which weighs in at nearly a thousand pounds heavier. In fact I was second in line in our train, chasing that very car.
Compared to driving a modern BMW, driving the E28 is… well, there is no comparison. The experience is completely dissimilar. And once I settled into the 20-odd year car, I found that’s no a bad thing. The steering precision off-center is way off, but once you get the wheel cranking, it responds in a wonderfully progressive fashion. The same is true with the cable-driven throttle. The instantaneous acceleration of the newer cars isn’t there, but keep the S38 inline six on the boil and the car carries velocity like a projectile—particularly on twisty bits. Like a modern BMW, the ’88 M5 is happiest on a winding road, and you can make a direct connection with the lineage. And road feel through the suspension and chassis makes the driving experience come alive in a completely different way. Settling back into one of the newer cars made me feel, well, lonely and isolated, and I had to readjust all over again. I found myself hot on the 400-hp 550i’s heels at every turn—in a car with only about two-thirds the power output. Amazing stuff.
We arrived at the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur just in time for our dinner reservation. Originally a 160-acre homestead claimed by William Brainard Post in 1850. Post’s grandson, Bill, founded the resort and inn. The modern restaurant, the Sierra Mar Restaurant, was dedicated on its opening in 1992 to Bill’s late sister, Mary Post Fleenor. Placed literally on the edge of a steep incline that descends sharply into the Pacific, the restaurant offers a gourmet dining experience overshadowed only by the spectacular ocean views.
After dinner and wine and good conversation, we made our way to our base for the next four days, the equally scenic Carmel Valley Ranch, where we crashed forthwith to regenerate for the day’s following activities: the Concorso Italiano and The Quail car show gatherings.