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Motor-City Chapter of the BMW Club Takes to the Back Roads

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BMW Spring Dust–Off In The Thumb

Story and Photos by Joe Chagnon
With Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

Ladies and Gentlemen: Start your engines. Spring has sprung and we’re ready to run.

Early spring in Michigan is a season that brings renewed enthusiasm and energy. The long, cold winter is behind us. Heavy outerwear is now relegated to the closet. Windbreakers, short sleeves and baseball caps are the garb. Couple that with a beautiful sunny 70 degree late April day and you can’t expect anything more for a spring ride and drive.

Twenty-five automobiles, one motorcycle and 45 enthusiastic folks gathered at VR Performance, Sterling Heights, MI to begin their journey north along M-53 to Port Austin at the tip on the Michigan’s “thumb” then a return south on US-25 along scenic Lake Huron coast culminating in Port Huron where the St. Clair River begins it’s flow back to Detroit.

VR Performance, a company specializing in BMW, Porsche, Audi, Subaru and Mitsubishi performance parts modifications, provided the launching point for the early morning start of our scenic drive. Managing partners Eric Volz and Horst Reinhardt led the group a tour of the facility and workshop where they built a vehicle and was a participant in the Targa Newfoundland for the 2012 race and are the proud holder of 1st, 2sd, and 3rd place trophies.

Outside we’re ready to roll. We expected a diverse assortment of vehicles and that’s just what we saw. Represented in the parking lot were the classic M6, fresh off the line 650 Grand Coupe, X1, an HP4 motorcycle and a variety of others like Z4 convertibles, M3s, an M5, Mini Coopers, and an assortment of 3 series. A Lotus Elise even snuck into the fold.

Those with convertible tops put them down and those with sunroofs opened them wide. Then everyone stowed the goody bags provided by Bavarian BMW and VR Performance and with the roar of engines our drive north began.

Once out of Metropolitan Detroit on north bound M-53 large and small farms dotted the countryside. Farmers were out tilling the soil for spring planting and winter wheat already greened the landscape. Cows, sheep and horses grazed in the pastures. Fresh smells of spring filled the air. Hawks soared overhead looking for a snack and wild turkeys ducked into the forest along the highway. An occasional herd of whitetail deer fed in distant fields.

After an hour and a half hour of driving we turned off M-53 to the little town of Elkton where we stopped to observe and photograph wind turbines at the Harvest Wind Farm. When approaching the area the 328 feet high structures could be seen far off in the distance. Up close they felt intimidating because of their hard-to-imagine size. Brian Dickens, with Renewable Energy Education Consultation, Woodland Wind LLC, said nine wind farms are dispersed throughout the thumb. Most are owned and operated by Detroit Edison.

The Elkton area wind farm consists of 140 turbines with an additional 200 scheduled for construction and installation in the future. Each turbine provides enough electricity to power 350 homes annually. Average cost per wind turbine is two million dollars and 60% on the profits are returned to the community. Their Thumb Project employs mostly local residents for construction and maintenance. Wind power generates 7% to 8% of Michigan’s electricity.

Moving on we passed through cross road villages of Gotts Corner, Pinnebog and Oak Beach before arriving at Port Austin where we were warmly greeted by Maria and Sal Cucchiara proprietors of Joe’s Pizzeria. A photo of an M-3 on the front door made everyone fell welcome. The pizza and lasagna are made from scratch and were delicious.

Following lunch we caravanned along US-25 south to the first of two county roadside parks. A plaque at White Rock Park profiled interesting local Indian history. The second was a Sanilac County turnout. Both parks set high on bluffs affording beautiful panoramic views of Lake Huron. Off in the distance we spotted an iron ore freighter cruising along to its Great Lakes port. A scenic lakeside drive to Port Huron was the final leg on our journey.

We were surprised to learn many in the group have never been to the tip of the Thumb. So that leaves many sights yet to be explored and certainly room for a return visit. Here in Michigan spring and fall motor tours remain popular for marque clubs and we have no shortage of wonderful places to visit. And, outside of the urban areas roads tend to be scenic and imminently drivable.

© Joe Chagnon and Steve Purdy, All Rights Reserved