Yeah, it really is that good.
5 reasons why BMW ownership is irresistible
I tend to do my deepest dives into a particular car by owning it. I can recite chapter and verse on Porsche, Corvette, Sunbeam Tiger, and many others, but my personal experience with BMW has been through owning just a single one: a six-speed 1997 540i I had about 15 years ago. I loved that car. Although I also experienced an ’87 325is and an even earlier 320i that were owned by my college roommates, I’d still consider my experience with the BMW scene limited.
All that changed last week when I attended the BMW Car Club of America’s 50th Oktoberfest, held this year in Greenville, South Carolina. It was wonderful to spend a few days with the most dedicated fans of the BMW marque, and it reminded me how universally great these cars are.
Here are five reasons why BMW ownership is virtually irresistible.
BMW is for everyone.
There is literally a fun-to-drive BMW available at every price point. While many of them were fairly mass-produced, it doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm for keeping them on the road. We put on a seminar at the new headquarters of the BMW CCA and noted that great examples of many classic BMWs can be purchased for less than $20K. Certainly there are some rare and collectible models for much more than that (think BMW M1), but if you want to jump into the hobby, there are a lot of fantastic choices here.
It’s the people, people!
I’m a big proponent of joining car clubs, but the members I met certainly seemed to have more Bavarian blood coursing through their veins than most. These people do everything you can think of with their cars, and they adore them—from stock to modified, vintage to late model, concours quality to track rat. I really had the sense I was with an inclusive group of people who loved to share their experiences and learn more about those of others. I met people from all over the world; this is a wonderfully diverse community.
The lingo is their love language.
If you want to have some fun and be able to “talk the talk” with serious BMW propellerheads, you have to know their dialect. BMW owners love to talk about their cars by the internal chassis number. For instance, an E30 would be that famous 3-series from the early 1980s through ’91, the smaller “3-series” available in coupe, sedan, and convertible. Oh, and the engines also have their own numbers. I overheard a “shortcut” conversation around a modified BMW 2002 at the concours. When the owner was asked if the motor was an “S14,” he just nodded wisely and nothing more needed to be said. That meant it had an E30 M3 engine in it—quite the potent upgrade!
Drive a BMW and it will change your perspective on the “old car” experience.
Many people accept a certain amount of “not great” when it comes to vintage automobiles, and by that I mean they accept compromises. What if I told you that you could have a 30-plus-year-old car with great handling, a proper five-speed, and available parts that won’t burn a hole in your bank account? A car that when it rains doesn’t leak water all over your feet and fry the wiring harness if you try to use the headlights and wipers at the same time? A car that has probably the most legible nighttime instrument cluster ever made, maybe even decent air conditioning, if your climate requires it? I’m telling you, take a look at a BMW. I’m not saying it’s as cheap to restore or maintain as a ’65 Mustang, but I think you get your money’s worth on what you spend here.
If you’re interested in driver’s education or racing, your BMW can probably handle it.
Michelin provided its proving grounds in Greer, South Carolina, to the BMW CCA to run some performance driving events, and I was right in the middle of it. From my volunteer vantage point at Flagging Position Five on the autocross course, I saw BMWs from the 1960s right up through new ones, all on full cone attack. I can’t remember the last time I was at an event like this where there wasn’t even a drop of oil or coolant left behind; it was pretty amazing. Some of the cars were being shared by up to three drivers, so that means some cars took as many as 18 runs per session. Preparation for most of them involved nothing more than raising the tire pressure!
Finally, I have to admit that my favorite experience of the week came on Friday at the BMW Performance Driving school. BMW had arranged rolling on-track displays of various cars throughout BMW history, two at a time over the course of the afternoon. The club was being treated to all the noise and fury the latest BMW race cars could provide, plus everything from small-bore Isettas to M-powered 3- and 5-series cars. And let’s not forget the mighty M1 for the crowd.
I was enlisted as cameraman (a generous description) in the 1991 318i project car built by our friends at Grassroots Motorsports magazine. What I thought was going to be some light parade laps turned into a true battle royale. The car felt great and Grassroots owner Tim Suddard was making all the right moves on the track, so we started reeling in the M Coupe that had started ahead of us. The crowd loved it, and we almost had him.
Watch the full video over on Hagerty’s Facebook page. It’s a riot.
There was a lot more to the week, including a fantastic driving tour and more “around the bar” fellowship than I can describe here. I had a great weekend with the BMW crowd. Now it’s time to start looking for one of my own again.