A flash of red. Like a blood soaked cat, hyped on catnip, chasing a laser. A Spanish couple appeared behind me pushing an empty stroller. The flash of red was their son, who I assume to be around 4 years old, sprinting through the museum in a Team Ferrari racing suit. He pointed boisterously in every direction his little head would swivel, and shouted “Papá! Autos! Autos!”
I felt that excitement before, on my 16th birthday. My dad and I drove 2 hours south to Tacoma and met a man selling a 1992 BMW 325i. It was alpine white with a pristine black pleather interior and 5-speed gearbox. The car drove like it was on tracks; knowing exactly the line to take through each curve of the road. The gears practically changed themselves as I revved the engine to red-line and chirped tires around uphill hairpin corners. I fell in love with this little white BMW.
I could feel the car daring me to go just a little faster. I skipped second and shifted straight into 3rd gear as I descended onto the freeway ramp. It held the road with a confidence so strong that your feet began to absorb it through the pedals.
As a young 16 year old nothing brought me more pride than working on my car. Not only did it save my scarce supply of dollars, it felt nice to understand the functions of the most expensive thing I had ever purchased. The M50B25 engine was a dream. I swear, you could change the oil in a 3-piece suit and not get a drop on you. Change the oil religiously, keep your coolant levels high, and that engine will live for 300,000+ miles no problem.
In the middle of the night I sat at an intersection. I revved the engine to 3,000 rpm and dumped the clutch as I turned left. The back of the car swung out and I was sideways in the road. I depressed the clutch again, and shifted to second gear as the back of the car came back around. As I released the clutch the rear wheels began to spin and the car began to pirouette. I had forgotten to take my foot off the gas while shifting gears. I slammed the brakes but it was a useless effort. The car landed ass first in a ditch.
The impact buckled the frame between the trunk & rear tires. Insurance wanted to total the car.
I found a deal on an E34 525i in West Seattle and drove that for the next year. It got me from A to B, but never showed a daredevil spirit like that white 325i. It drove like your grandfather’s saloon.
The modern BMW has no appeal to me. My parents once purchased a 2003 525i and it made me incredibly sad. The gas pedal was electronic. No longer could you feel the engine rev through the pads of your feet. Engaging the clutch became a guessing game of “is this enough power?” The engine bay was crowded with electronics & plastic shrouds. The car was more computerized and less fun.
BMW powered my youth. They took me to school, work, dances, road-trips, gigs, dates, hikes, mountain tops, riverside campfires, house parties, and wherever else a teenage might go. Those cars made life’s journey’s a little more enjoyable.
All images shot on Fuji X-Pro 1, Canon 5dii, and Google Pixel 2