From Iran to Long Island, this engineer built his dream BMW collection
I was born in Tabriz, Iran, and have always loved cars. My dad was an authorized dealer for American Motors selling Jeeps and Ramblers, and when I was 15, I assembled a CJ-7 with my cousin Ayoub, using parts from our Jeep store. It took more than two years, but I learned so much from that project. We were an authorized dealer for Mercedes parts, too, and we always drove a Mercedes, but in 1974, we switched to a BMW 520. Soon we got a 2002tii as well, which planted the seed of collecting in my mind. My oldest brother, Masoud, raced in Iran and won a championship in that car. He also taught me to drive in that tii when I was 14, on the shore of the Caspian Sea.
We moved to America in 1982. A few years later, in my last year of college at SUNY Stony Brook, I saved to import a gray-market 318i from Germany. I wanted the European model because it had smaller bumpers and more power, without all the emissions equipment. I owned it for about 10 years, and during that time, I earned my master’s degree and Professional Engineer license. Once I got established in my career, I started to collect my dream cars, one by one, as I could afford them.
First came a 1985 635CSi, which I bought from the original owner. It had maybe 76,000 miles on it and was mint, but I’ve put a lot of money and work into it—and only 4000 more miles—in the 28 years I’ve owned it. It’s still in near-perfect shape.
I also have three Baur 323i cars—white, black, and silver. Baur is a German company that got license from BMW to cut the top off the cars and make them two-piece convertibles. You can have the car closed. You can open up the top just above the front seats. You can open up the back above the rear seats. Or you drive it fully open and put the top in the trunk. It’s fascinating and I am, at the moment, possibly the only enthusiast in the world who has three of them. Finding even one is difficult.
I bought the white one first, in 2012, on eBay, which was my first experience with that. I was so nervous. I was thinking that if I gave my credit card information, it was a scam and I’d never see a car. Everyone was telling me, “Don’t be crazy. Don’t do it.” I couldn’t sleep thinking about it, though, so I got out of bed five minutes before the auction closed and simply paid whatever the guy wanted, which was $5000, sight unseen. Then I got the message: “Congratulations, you won the Baur.” That was one of the most exciting moments of my life.
That car really got me into restoration. I could do some of the mechanical work myself, but I did pay to have it painted. I needed wheels for it, too, and I wanted Alpina wheels, which are not easy to find. But I happened to go to Germany to visit my nephews and found a complete set over there. I brought all four of them home in my suitcases, but not before security stopped me at the airport in Hamburg because the alarms went off when they put my bags in the machine. They were quite surprised when I opened them up.
One night, I was messaging a guy on eBay who had a rare square-headlight set for BMWs. I bought it, and when we got on the phone, I noticed from his accent that he was Persian, like me. His name is Vanik, and he and his brother Vahik own Bavaria Auto Repair in Sun Valley, California. A few months after our conversation, I was out in California and Vanik invited me to the shop. When I got there, he showed me a shell for a BMW project—no interior, no engine, nothing but the shell. When I asked what it was, he told me it was a 1974 2002tii, just like the car my brother had raced so successfully. “I want it,” I said. Vanik looked confused. “Can you build it for me?” I asked. On the spot, we made a deal, and he spent about three years on it before shipping it to me.
Now the brothers are working on a rare (one of 1672 ever made) 1975 2002 Turbo for me. The body is finished in silver, and Vanik is putting the engine together before assembling the car. He says it will be done in a year. As an engineer, I always factor in variables, so I’d say more like two years. Finding parts has been a big challenge, but I’m browsing globally for them at every opportunity. I have many good friends and family members who search as well, and they have been instrumental in my collecting. When I hear someone has new old stock parts, I try to jump on them. I always try to buy extras, even if I don’t need them now. My parts storage looks like a mini BMW dealership.
Sometime around 1988, I was passing a local BMW dealer on Long Island and saw an E30 M3 for the first time. I’d never seen anything like it, and I never forgot that first encounter. Then one night a few years ago, I found an M3 for sale on eBay. I offered to buy it, provided Vanik could check it out, so I put him on a flight the next morning. When Vanik called me, he said, “Tell me you have changed your mind about this car, so I can buy it for myself!” Vanik did a thorough checkup on the M3, made some repairs and upgrades, such as installing a dogleg transmission, then shipped it to me.
Of all my cars, the black Baur feels special. We fully restored it and built the car with a stroker BMW engine, upgraded suspension, and a dogleg gearbox. It’s close to 240 horsepower and has Alpina touches all over, so it’s the most complete in terms of looks and performance. It’s like a wild horse.
Really, the only car missing from my collection is a 3.0CSi. They are so hard to find, but I’m looking. I’m always looking. My mom likes to make fun of me over my obsession. “Mohamed, don’t be shy,” she said once. “Why don’t you drive one of the cars into the living room?”
“Mom,” I said. “I wish I could.”
This article first appeared in Hagerty Drivers Club magazine. Click here to subscribe and join the club.
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