I was fifteen or sixteen years old when the BMW bug bit. I was driving an ‘89 Honda Prelude at the time, equipped with four-wheel steering, a JDM engine swap, and bright red paint. High-school-me loved it—but every time I’d park in my high-school girlfriend’s driveway, her neighbor’s Calypso Red M50-swapped E30 always left me yearning for more.
It was, for better or worse, all downhill from that point on.
I entered the world of automobiles at an interesting time. I was young, ambitious, and interested in making a name for myself. On the other hand, I was unknowingly diving into the midst of a social shift; at the time, in the mid-2000s, web forums ruled the social landscape; track down my account on the largest of the BMW forums and you’ll find more than 11,000 posts to my name. Print magazines still sat at the top of the totem pole, of course; any magazine feature solidified a car in tuning history. It was the ultimate honor bestowed upon any creation.
At the very bottom of the totem was the budding beginnings of something called “social media,” but I don’t think any of us anticipated what was to come of it.
Today, everything has changed. Most say, “Print is dead”—sorry, Satch!—web forums are dying left and right, and the instant consumption of automotive media—and worse, folks’ need for instant gratification—is now the name of the game on the likes of Instagram and Facebook. There are at least a dozen rants to make, a dozen complaints to file, and a dozen ways in which this tirade could go.
I miss the way it was, and I’m sure we all miss what we consider to be the “golden era” of the automotive community, no doubt a different time for each of us. For now, though, I’ll focus on us—the ones reading an e-mail digest—as the socialscape of our community continues charging ahead at full speed.
It’s a train we’ve probably missed.
At eighteen, I thought I was hot stuff, as many of us do at that age. To the older generations, I was a loud-mouthed kid, hell-bent on tarnishing every BMW I could lay my hands on. With our wheels too wide, our tires too narrow, and our cars too low, we were willing to sacrifice performance for style—something that was very much against the status quo—and it left people scratching their heads. Our BMWs were meant to be the “Ultimate Driving Machine,” after all. Much as my parents never really understood the heavy-metal music I listened to as a teenager, the established BMW community—or at least a part of it—was met with conflicting emotions as a younger generation of incoming enthusiasts approached their cars with completely different attitudes from their own.
Unfortunately, the tables have definitely turned. Now I’m the out-of-touch “old fart” I presumed anyone my senior was, just ten years ago—and I’m not even 30 yet. I find myself wondering what on earth the “kids” are doing these days, dumbfounded at how they choose to use or modify their cars. Today, the newcomers seemed focused on attention—their place in the automotive world measured by likes and followers, all on a grand stage for the world to see. The immediate consumption of their efforts, which seems to disappear as fast as it surfaces, is stark in contrast to the old forumscape, where threads sat perched atop pages for days or weeks at a time, driving discussion—or arguments—for hours on end. I’m sure things were different before I found my way into the community as well, but nevertheless, change is inevitable.
So, I say, to the generations that came before me, as an enthusiast and honestly, still very much a kid to his peers: I get it. Your shoes fit my feet rather well these days. As the years go by, I find myself more and more interested in an untouched BMW, left exactly the way it left the factory. After all, it’s only original once, right? My interest in driving my car continues to grow, and my desire to rock the boat—well, that’s still there, too; I’m not going to be disingenuous. But I get it.
Out there somewhere are new sixteen-year-olds, new licenses in their wallets, still hot off the laminator. They’ll approach today’s status quo in an entirely new way—and knowing me, I’ll hate it. Many of you will be open-minded, I’m sure, but plenty of us will meet the changes with crossed arms and a furrowed brow—just as I was met at that age, too.
The cars change. The styles change. Attitude, camaraderie, and community change, too. Even BMW, the brand, grows and evolves, with or without us. It’s all evidence of brand perseverance: The next generation’s interest continues, reinforcing everything we’ve come to know and love about the marque.
So the next time you find yourself scratching your head at what someone else is doing to their Ultimate Driving Machine, just rest assured that there’s something about that roundel that enamors them, too.