Never Stop Driving #23: Our fascination with BMW M Cars

These days, it’s worth celebrating when a new car emerges with a shift-it-yourself gearbox. BMW is keeping the faith with the new M2, a 453-horsepower, rear-wheel-drive coupe that will be available with a manual gearbox. While the definition of “manual” is a bit fluid these days, what with all the paddle-shift cars, in this space a manual transmission means the driver has to operate the clutch and the shifter.

The new BMW M2. BMW

Despite the fact the new Corvette and every current Ferrari are automatic only, there are still nearly two dozen cars available with manual gearboxes. Perhaps you also didn’t know that the Dodge Hellcat was once available with a manual. Somehow even I missed that one, which means, I dunno, age?

Anyway, we’re all looking forward to driving BMW’s latest M car because many of us are such huge Bimmer fans. Our own Sam Smith is practically a BMW 2002 savant. He currently races one in vintage events and recently restored a left-for-the-junkyard 2002 and drove it across the country. Rob Siegel, who regularly chronicles DIY for Hagerty,  owns several 2002s. Perhaps you’re familiar with our video star, Jason Cammisa. If you’re not, start with this epic film. Cammisa owns a Euro-spec 1990 BMW wagon and also produced yet another thrilling film on the new M3 versus the original E30 M3.

I drove my first BMW in 1991, while I was an intern at Car and Driver. To say that the 325i changed everything wouldn’t do it justice. That car established, for me, just how connected a driver could be to a machine. I never forgot it, so in 2016 I bought a 100,000-mile 1998 328i that I drove for two years. I passed it to my son for his first car and he promptly fell for it, too. We both lamented the day three years ago when we decided that we were as tired as the car—of fixing it. I missed that machine and its smooth and linear straight-six engine so, last fall, I bought a 1998 BMW M3.

My M3 as featured in a Revelations episode. Jason Cammisa

What is it about these cars? My M3 is one of the most fluid and graceful automobiles I’ve ever driven. I love the smoothness of the straight-six engine, which owes its greatness to the BMW four-cylinder that came before. The M3 is balanced, lithe, eager to run, and happy to putter around. The so-called E36-generation 3-Series also wears the most crisply styled four-door suit ever drawn. The sedan is compact yet roomy, quick yet supple. I’m getting to that stage in life where I’m buying and selling fewer cars as I figure out what I really love. I think the M3 is a forever machine.

With that background, you can understand why we’re so interested in the new M2. The thing has big shoes to fill. I can’t say I’m in love with the design, but they did keep the six-cylinder engine and, of course, the manual. We will keep you posted.

If BMWs are your thing, you can find one via the Hagerty Marketplace. If not, we’ve published plenty of other material to keep you busy this weekend, including this piece about one man’s unique Ford Escort collection. Cadillac unveiled a new EV luxury machine to reclaim the podium among high-end car brands. Speaking of podiums, here’s an idea to race on a small budget. The Barn Find Hunter, Tom Cotter, uncovered a 1937 Riley. Yeah, we’ve been busy.

Finally, if you need a nudge to get out and drive, check out this cautionary tale of letting a car sit.

Have a great weekend!

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    I’ve been driving since I was 15… that was 50 years ago. And I’ve owned and driven all kinds of cars from my ‘41 Oldsmobile (which my father bought as a new car) to my latest purchase a ‘22 GMC Acadia. I have to say that the best, most exciting, an absolute thrill to drive was my 2018 BMW M2 with a 6-speed manual transmission. What an incredible piece of engineering! 😁

    I am blessed to have owned a brand new 1st generation VW GTI. That started me on the path to BMW. I owned an 85 325e after that. Which I just loved. First straight six that just revved forever. Then in the mid 90s I bought a lightly used 2 door e36 M3. Favorite car of all time. I just now bought something comparable in a 987 Boxster. Love it! 1st Porsche. That M3 though was the best!

    Bmws were easier to love when they were beautiful however there is little to love about a manual trans. Driver involvement? I guess but why not get more involved in accurate car placement and correct cornering lines? Once upon a time a manual got you an extra gear, better performance and weight savings. Now i can only dream of shifting as quickly as a modern auto. My new campaign: save the left legs

    Lew, I agree with you 100%. These transmissions can shift faster, more precisely than I can dream of. Not having to shift allows me to concentrate on other aspects of the driving experience.

    Let’s not forget that Sir Sterling Moss drove a 3.8L Jaguar as his personal car – with an automatic transmission. Guess he didn’t feel a need to play “hot shoe” in his personal car. Nor do I any longer.

    For sure the robotic boxes shift faster than a human and in many high-powered cars you don’t need to shift much anyway. I hope, however, that we continue to have the option to shift ourselves.

    Thanks, Larry: I’ve seen several articles along these lines, lately. I vintage race a TR4A, own a 2010 Challenger RT stick shift and a couple of stick shift Jeeps. Everyone is a unique but fully engaging experience. Due to an aging body I reluctantly traded my 2020 FIAT Abarth Spider (stick shift) for an automatic ‘18 BMW M240xi. While the Bimmer is a nice car and executes driver commands with precision, I feel totally disconnected from the road. I want a car that gives me feedback, tells me I’m on the edge (or not), let’s me know road conditions by feedback through the driveline and steering. None of that from the Bimmer. It’s a great driving video game, but not a really fun to drive car.

    Looked at buying a 2002 Bimmer. Went to the dealership ,maybe looking a bit like a farmer, The sales lady ask if we new how much a BMW cost? and that a test drive was out of the question,so my wife and I went next door took out a new MB S class and bought it

    I can relate to your story from the other side. I was a car dealer in England and in the’70’s and 80’s dealt mainly in secondhand sports cars. One day a scruffy looking chap came in and was looking round a Jaguar E Type. I ignored him until he came into the office and said, “Do you want to sell that car or not?”. I replied, “I do if you’ve got any money”. He did no more than dump a carrier bag on my desk full to the brim with used notes, saying “Will this do”?. I nearly broke my legs getting them off the desk so fast! It turned out that he was the rather eccentric owner of a fleet of taxis, hence all the cash. I learnt a valuable lesson that day, you definitely can’t tell a book by the cover!

    When I was into Porsches, the local Newport Beach, Ca dealer told me they never judge a customer by the way they look. The richest people on the coast sometimes dress in torn pants, deck shoes and a stained ‘wife beater’. But they’ll write an all cash check for a new Turbo and never blink an eye. They most likely just got done working on the yacht!

    Altho I appreciate your love of the BMW brand Larry, as a tilt n load tow truck service provider, I tow more BMW’s than other vehicle, with Mercedes and Audi right behind. To me , BMW means Bring Massive Wallet. I would consider a vintage 2002 as a toy, but they are now becoming out of reach pricewise for an average Joe, or Mike.

    Interesting. Our 238 was pretty well used up by the time we sold it. There was some rust and all sorts of little things failed like the door locks and the window fans. My new car has under 40k miles so here’s hoping it’s more reliable…..

    Admittedly, I am a fossil, but I love a manual transmission and I love M Cars. I started with a 1997 M3 and worked my way through about 4 others over the years. I now have a 2011 1 Series M Coupe– my second one. I had one, then sold it to get an M2, then realized I liked the 1 Series M better so sold the M2 and bought another 1 Series M. I also have a 1973 2002tii– Inka Orange– with a 5 speed from a E21.

    I haven’t owned a manual since my 1967 Ford Mustang fastback back in the day. I decided two yearsago to buy a BMW convertible with manual shift. It took a year of searching for the perfect car. Finally located a 2007 335i convertible with a 6 speed manual in Vermont of all places. Never driven in the snow, only 86k miles on the odometer. I couldn’t get over how smoothly it shifted and the turbo six cylinder engine can make this fly. Absolutely will keep this one until the wheels fall off.

    It’s good to hear when a new BMW comes out with a true manual trans. Do you remember the little known Z1? I saw a few in Europe while I was there. Very interesting, but maybe not very practical.

    I’ve been a BM fan since I took my first one a 1500 New Class in part exchange in 1971 and as I was a car dealer for 40 years I have owned and dealt in literally dozens since. I have a 3.0 CSL which I owned since 1974 and owned a E46 M3 CSL for eleven years until I stupidly sold it last year and regretted as soon as the buyer drove off. They fully deserve in my opinion their claim of being a driver’s car.

    Hi Larry, I love the Hagerty Magazine and is my favorite to read of the 6 car magazines I take. Road & Track has gone way out with full page color of a WORD or TITLE and 1 or 2 page pictures of a car and much less interesting content about the car they are reviewing. My latest issue had 24 wasted “Display:m/picture pages out of 72 pages. Don’t need it. I like the human interest articles of Hagerty, reviewing attainable cars by the average person BBC and LOVE the writings of you,Sam Smith, Leno, Aaron, Carini and members. I grew up in a “car” household with my dad working for Chrysler factory and mainly managing car dealerships. I heard car stories at the dinner table every night. I like all brands but rode in my first Porsche, a “bent window” 1954, black cabriolet. I have been a member of Pacific NW region for 39 years. I currently own only 3-a 1983 Guards Red Cabriolet for 33 years, a 2006 996 Azurro Blue 50th Anniversary Club Coupe ( had to win a lottery to buy this one) and a 2014 PDK Boxster which I use with the AZPCA region at my winter home. I also own a stock 1967, Candy Apple Mustang, c code, 4 speed convertible with 273,000 miles I have owned for 54 years. Keep up the good work. I have several cars insured with Hagerty for past 12 years and spread the gospel of Hagerty to others. Keep up the good work. Thanks, Dennis Rood Kirkland, Wa & Anthem, AZ

    Hi, Larry and everyone! I agree I am not a BMW fan, but there are a few that have caught my eye. Nice to look at but can not afford to fix when they break. I learned to drive on the family tracker then graduated up to my mom’s 1951 Plymouth Yes this was a stick. My dad was a mechanic, who became a mechanical engineer and was enlisted to help NASA go to the moon. I no longer can shift constantly with the standard but still feel the customer should have the right to choose. I have a late 1950 Chrysler Imperial that is both a auto-matic and manual. So I enjoy the occasional shift and the freedom, when my back won’t allow. I have spent my free time fixing her up – piece by piece. My husband gets a laugh, when someone asked him a question on how he fixed this or that. He just smiles and says well you have to ask my wife, she is the one who did the work not me.

    Thanks so much Dennis! I’m thrilled we’re keeping you happy. You illustrate the point that so many of us love multiple brands and different cars. It’s a rich world out there.

    In response to your article regarding people who are fascinated with BMW M cars, I have a fine example. A gentleman approached me exclaiming that he was a self acclaimed “BMW enthusiast.” This was an understatement as he offered to produce a video of my car. I believe that he was trying to make a name for himself as a videographer and offered to create a short interview for free. One has to be a dedicated car guy to drive 2 hours from his home to a total stranger’s residence. He made this “short” on a Sunday afternoon and sent me the result by Monday. I was quite impressed.

    Anyway, I thought that you might get a kick out of the video.

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