We all share a love for the marque. I’m confident in speaking on everyone’s behalf when I say that; there’s no question about it. The roundel is representative of something we’re all undoubtedly looking for. For some, it represents a brand that is, and for others it’s representative of a brand that was; however, whether we’re into the latest machinery from Munich, or the predecessors that helped to establish the brand BMW that is today, it’s likely that we can agree there’s a certain thrill we seek that simply can’t be found elsewhere.
With each passing year, my car grows older. It’s an inevitability, and with it comes a certain responsibility to maintain the car to the best extent my wallet and Significant Other will allow. It’s an experience for every BMW owner on a long-enough timeline, and often picks up pace not long after that universal milestone: 100,000 miles. There are, of course, those successful enough to hop from new M5 to new M5 with each year, facelift, or model, but there are still those of us who ride the wave of car ownership down into the dirty depths and despair of maintenance hell—um, heaven.
These are German machines, after all. While the engineering speaks for itself, with the ownership of any aging BMW comes a slew of wants and needs from the car, often voiced as squeaks, rattles, shimmies, and shakes. In fact, BMW has included a “maintenance gauge” on nearly every car they’ve made, disguised as “coolant temp.” As the gauge moves almost indecipherably to the right, my brow begins to sweat. By the time your BMW reaches fifteen years of age, there’s a reasonable chance the cooling system has grenaded itself completely.
While it takes a lot to keep an old BMW off the road entirely, the tabs and tallies of keeping one in the condition a title like “Ultimate Driving Machine” demands can come as a shock to the unsuspecting. Years after the warranty ends, you’ll find just about everything that moves needs replacing at some point.
Once the shock subsides, however, you might just find that you like it down here.
The world of 25, 35, or 45-year-old BMWs is a special place, and just like the latest from our beloved brand, these cars, too, offer something you won’t find anywhere else. While their driving experience fits that description, it’s not quite what I mean. Instead, there’s a song and dance that comes with these cars, and the ability to play along takes a finely tuned hand and ear. It’s like the famed butt dynamometer—but instead, it’s a sensation that plays the strings of emotion instead of one’s gut. “I’m having too much fun. Is my car about to break?” I find myself asking regularly. These cars play a symphony of sounds and sensations, and the ability to discern the differences between the car’s character and outright cries for help only comes with time.
My own car turns 34 this year. It’s an ’84 533i, and while I’ve spent a small fortune rebuilding it from the ground up, it still asks to dance on occasion. And by “on occasion,” I mean every time I get behind the wheel.
For us, it’s a dance I’ve grown accustomed to. I know each step, each movement, each twist and turn. The car—a race car, to be clear—attempts to assault my senses. The lightweight flywheel clatters, and the race clutch makes its chirps. The transmission sings a harmony of whines made audible thanks to solid mounts, and the limited-slip rear end, with its extra clutches and solid mounts, bellows a base howl from the boot—almost inaudible over the scream of the exhaust. The fuel pumps, solid-mounted to the body, sing and echo as they always do.
But the nuances of the dance come into play when pitch of the fuel pump changes subtly—barely audible over the rest of the car’s choir. Picking up on such a change has taken years of practice—years of dancing with these cars—but it’s a cue to change my step.
In other words, it’s time to fix the fuel pump that is inevitably about to go out.
Learning the song and dance of a car is something that only comes with experience. It is an automotive symbiotic relationship come to fruition; it’s the car’s way of sharing what it needs as it continues to serve us with sheer driving pleasure. Dare I say that it’s perhaps the language of love between man and his (or woman and her) BMW?
However, just as it takes time to learn to dance along, it takes some time before a BMW will make the first move, asking to dance at all. So hang in there. Preventive maintenance is important (or so I’ve been told), but even still, eventually your Bimmer will work up the courage to communicate, and I hope you dance along. It’s a special part of a relationship with a BMW that only comes in the later years—the golden years, if you will.
Just as my Fiver does now, it won’t be long until the F10s begin a song and dance of their own. In a few more years, the maintenance bills will eventually exceed the value of the car. Those powerful, impressive—albeit oil-burning—turbocharged V8s will only grow more and more finicky as their plastic components deteriorate.
It sounds bad, doesn’t it? Again, hang in there. For when you love a car, chances are it’ll love you back. Or perhaps I’m merely justifying the tens of thousands I’ve dumped into aged BMWs of my own through rose-colored glasses. Just let me have this.—Mike Burroughs