Last week, I mentioned returning to my younger years. The honest truth is, I haven’t been ‘single’ since my mid-twenties, and in some weird way, I seem to need to reconnect to who I was then, in order to move forward. Let’s see, I had British and Italian sports cars, a Honda CB350 motorcycle…and discovered BMW’s. OMFG, fun vehicles that are well-engineered, where I don’t have to re-sync the carbs or fix some damn electrical connector on the way to work every week. I became a hard-core bimmerphile…
Some years ago, while we were building our home, I sold off my beloved BMW M cars to help pay bills. The years without a BMW (except my favorite, the old airhead) were tough, but I was driving the F150, cleaning our construction site and recycling stuff and hauling fixtures and lighting and equipment to keep costs down. In the mean time, we bought this nice white ’97 BMW 528i (which Nancy mostly drove) to help transport our parents. Last year, we added a Mini Cooper so I could economically commute. All so practical.
(And yes, the Mini is a hoot, a throwback to my days with Austin Healy Sprites. An awesome fun, 36mpg car.)
Then last summer, the head cracked on the 528i when Nancy was driving it. Engine trashed, not worth repairing. The white bimmer has sat neglected in front of our home ever since. I’ve honestly felt bad every day, seeing her there, forlorn, of course a reflection of how forlorn I’ve felt. Until last month, when I looked at her in her layer of dust, and decided she was my girl (vehicularly speaking, of course!)
So I’ve started turning her into a Q-car. Pardon me, I’m going to geek out here. The E39 BMW body is a simple, classy and compact vehicle with great handling, one of my favorite designs. The six-cylinder M52 motor is light, the weight balance is great, so this car is toss-able on twisty roads. Roomy for four, big trunk space, quiet and elegant.
Looking on craigslist.org, I immediately found a rare S52 motor from a wrecked BMW M3 for a good price. Recognizing this as a divine gift, I picked it up in my construction truck (“Roy”, the fabulous Ford F150), and brought it to my local shop for transplant. What’s an S52? Basically a drop-in replacement for the stock motor, but rated at 250+ hp. Same weight, so the car handles well, but lots more power.
Ok, this is good, she’s on the road and accelerates like Batman on steroids. But handling is not great. Shocks are worn, and it’s time to replace the tires anyway, so…I found a set of wheels on craigslist from a recent BMW 550i — 8.5” wide in the front and 9.5” in the rear. They are huge, with 275/35-18” low-profile tires, compared to the original 15” wheels. Three days ago, they were installed, and are absolutely the most rubber on the road that can be squeezed into this car without looking obsequious. But in the words of the immortal John D. MacDonald, she’d “roll you sick on a wet lawn”. Mama needs new shocks.
Ja, arrived last week, installed today. Bilstien HD’s, for the automotive cognoscenti. I’m suddenly driving a taut, Teutonic sedan with neck-compressing attitude at full throttle.
My younger self dreamed of ownership of glorious machines like Aston Martin’s, or even the BMW M1 circa 1979. I now have a quiet, unassuming-looking car that cost maybe five thousand bucks to bring back to life, and outperforms the dreams of my youth. Yes, the state of the art, 10 to 100x more expensive, is much better these days…it’s hard to beat a $100K Porsche. But there is a joy in taking a car that could be tossed into recycling, and doing the things needed to bring her back. It’s economical, and a fun “guy thing”. And such a great opportunity to build a dream. She’s mine.
The dream works on multiple levels. I am in a different personal vehicle now, moving through a new life. It’s no surprise that my outer vehicle, the car that I drive, has to change. So cool that it is my own choice, my own expression. The BMW brotherhood understands. The service guy I worked with today (Jeff, at Bavarian Professionals) said “How cool to have an S52 in an E39?”
Peeling another layer, I notice how my resurrection is through a more masculine gateway. I now find paths to deeper joy that are not all about my relationship with my partner. I used to take a thousand or three-thousand-mile motorcycle vacation each summer. I have two great bikes. Perhaps that is coming next. Perhaps I’m saying this to make sure it does.