"Why do we do this? It takes time and effort - and we're clearly not making the same profit," says Mercedes' Fred Heiler. "But we do it for long-term owner devotion. When someone picks up their car in Europe, they've seen where it was 'born' and built. They're much more likely to become a Mercedes loyalist, even a fanatic."

MICHELE MEYER, an award-winning writer, is too busy with assignments for American Way, Parade, Real Simple, and National Geographic Traveler to take a European driving adventure.
Auto Factory Tours
You're in Europe anyway, and you've seen enough watercolor lilies and lace doilies to last a lifetime, so why not visit the factories where some of the sleekest cars are built? Such visits are easily arranged if you keep in mind that English-language tours book early and many carmakers close their doors to visitors on weekends and European holidays - or when a new style is being launched. Be sure to reserve in advance and check whether youngsters are admitted. Here's what else you need to know.

The Zuffenhausen, Germany, factory has an English-language tour of 60 to 90 minutes on weekday mornings. There's also a museum with several dozen cars, including the first Porsche ever from 1948. You'll learn, too, that Ferdinand Porsche developed not only the first Volkswagen Beetle, but also the Mercedes-Benz SSK. Call (800) 446-7978.

English-language tours at the north Munich and Dingolfing, Germany, factories occur at most twice weekly and must be requested in writing at least four weeks in advance. Only those ages 14 and up are admitted. The BMW Museum in Munich is open to the general public for a small fee and without reservations. Request information on setting up a tour by calling (866) 868-7269.