The Art of Aging without Grace

October 15, 2014 at 10:51 pm

Ask anyone familiar with BMWs and they will tell you the E36 was the bottom of the barrel amongst recent product lines. Cost-cutting everywhere, l0w-grade materials throughout, and enough rattles to make you think they hid a den of snakes in the door panels. Still, the chassis was well vetted, offering a fairly sublime driving experience particularly in M3-guise.

I still don’t care.

Up until about six months ago, I loved the M3. It was fun to drive, cheap to own, and looked great from every angle. It still does the last thing, but as my E30 has gotten pretty close to daily-driver reliable, I’ve felt let down by the M. Why is the E30 quieter? Why does the valvetrain have less clatter? Why do the materials feel richer, more substantial? Is it all mental? Or does the ancient E30 have an edge quality-wise over the newer M3?

I think the answer, like many, lies somewhere in between. And full disclosure, I love the E30 so much that I’m sure my judgement has been swayed as the car has improved with ample maintenance dollars thrown at it. But it doesn’t dispel the notion that the M3 feels older with each passing season, whereas the 325is feels better and tighter as one more final tweak is made or another maintenance item is taken off the list.

Many will tell you the E30 has some special ingredients dialed in, cultivating memories of BMWs past. A little bit of 2002, some E21 – and viola, you have the perfect driver’s car. Is it my imagination? No, but the M3 does feel like it is aging rapidly. And given a sudden uptick in mechanic visits, the proof is in the invoices. Perhaps I need to accelerate my plans for a used Tacoma and a second E30.

The Forever Car

June 5, 2013 at 10:54 pm

Recently, my brother shared an article that discussed how a Porsche 911 was the author’s “Forever Car”  – a car that he would never sell unless it was physically impossible to retain it. As some of you may know, I recently acquired a 1995 E36 M3 coupe on a bit of a whim, and I can say this: it has the stuff forever cars are made of.


I don’t know what it is, but older vehicles for me capture a mixture of qualities that today’s new cars and trucks can’t re-create, features that appeal to the senses and slip further and further out of grasp with each platform change or model update. I suppose people from every era say the same thing about how generational shifts aren’t moving us forward, whether it’s the type of service you receive in a restaurant to the price of a good pair of shoes. As I grow older, I find myself somewhat ambivalent about most of the changes we’re experiencing.  I can appreciate a good mobile phone, and eating organics can only serve to improve my health. But throwing down $30 large for a soulless rolling technology convention just isn’t going to happen.

The M3 is full of instant sensory gratification, from the way it just makes noise – it sounds fast when you’re creeping out of a parking space. It is eerily silent when you’re sitting in traffic, save for a rich mixture giving it a pulse at idle. The exhaust is bassy, full of bumps and pops when coasting down a hill. The intake noises, from the whine in first gear to the air horn-like blat it gives at full throttle, is nothing any new car can offer without acoustical support from some electronically manufactured soundwave. Kids today think all car movies are filmed with CGI, thanks to Fast & The Furious. The M3 is Ronin compared to Tokyo Drift. 

It looks natural. It’s a normal 3-Series coupe, from the side skirts to the trunk lid, yet a set of chunky wheels and aero kit transform it, with the 235-series rubber poking out from the fender. It’s as if the designers knew all along the ordinary E36 would accommodate such enhancements, even when there were no plans to bring the M3 to the U.S. Today’s  performance variants need lowered suspensions, 19 inch wheels with tire monitors, LED lighting and 500-watt stereos to convey performance; the M3 accomplishes the same without a bumping system and Von Dutch pinstripes.

Most of all, it’s a giant middle finger to our throwaway society. It’s got 153,000 miles of memories, and is testament to a proactive maintenance schedule and passionate owners. Today’s gadget-hounds and window shoppers find contentment knowing they’ve purchased the latest and the greatest, and tremble with the realization that newer and better will be here in six months – or worse yet, next door. Good for them, I suppose. Hope that new infotainment system keeps them occupied – God forbid they actually find driving engaging enough.

And that might be the bottom line of all of this. If you enjoy driving, you find pleasure in the tactile sensations of older vehicles, from the smell of fuel wafting through weathered gaskets and the rough leather patches of a worn steering wheel with hand-stitched M colors. If you just want to ensure your ego can keep up with the Joneses, your driveway will become a revolving door. If you want a forever car, you buy an M3.

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