Dear Old BMW,
I miss you! We haven’t seen each other in years! We have had quite the ride. The first car I bought at the age of 15 was a 1993 E36 325is. I fell in love with that car as well as the brand. My father taught me how to wrench and become a somewhat-competent weekend mechanic, but the car provided the subject matter. This wrenching is a valuable skill when the other thing it taught me is how to drive. I didn’t even have my license when I first bought the E36. But it was old and needed some love. Love is what we gave it until I was able to drive it on the road for the first time. When I got my permit, I learned how to drive a manual in it. This led to an interest in motorsports and getting involved in autocross, HPDEs and other track days.
All of that was easy to do because learning the dynamics of my car was easy. Nothing about the handling, shifting or braking ever surprised me. It truly was the “ultimate driving machine” and the ultimate car for me to learn on. Starting with the 2002 and seemingly all the way up to the E90 generation, BMW made some of the ultimate driver’s cars on the market. But at the same time, BMW didn’t follow the market or, really any rules for that matter. They didn’t try to fit into a segment because they created their own, like the “sport sedan.” These were practical cars, meant to be driven and driven hard. Soon, cars like the M1 were created and brought rise to the BMW M division as we know it. Not long after came the E30 M3, a homologation special built purely to go racing. The M1’s smooth inline six then made its way back into the E28 5-series chassis, resulting in the birth of the M5.
All of this was when the M badge stood for “Motorsport.” Rowdy, detuned race engines found their way into street cars. Even in the 2000s, when emissions regulations were starting to get more strict, engines like the sonorous 4 liter, 8200 rpm V8 dubbed the S65 were stuffed into the engine bay of a small sedan and sold to the masses. These vehicles had soul, character, and quality unmatched by almost everybody else.
Fast forward to 2020, and BMW M’s spark seems to be weakening. While beautiful and insanely-fast M cars are being produced, the M badge is everywhere. It went from meaning something really special, to being on almost every model in BMW’s lineup. The brand is now more the “Ultimate Marketing Machine.”
So, “Old BMW,” where have you gone? I miss the days when the driving experience mattered more than the numbers. In a world of semi-autonomous cars, I know I should be grateful that companies like BMW still care about the driving experience at all. I can only hope you don’t continue to stray too far from what made us all love you so much in the first place.