By Kevin Albino:
There I was, cruising down the Autobahn toward Austria with my dad fast asleep in the passenger seat of our 1988 BMW 320iT—yes, the E30 Touring. Don’t pinch yourself, you might be dreaming, I thought. It was the last week of my work-study term abroad, and my dad and I were embarking on a fantastic road trip across Germany and the gorgeous Austrian Alps.
Six months earlier, while I was just settling in to my Hanover flat and worrying about the next time I’d see my girlfriend (now my wife!), my dad reached out to me with a plan: He had found a reasonably-priced shipping company and wondered if I could find him an E30 Touring, or another 25-year-old German car to send home. I would use my feet on the ground and my sub-par linguistic ability to navigate the legal barriers in our way.
The German eBay, eBay kleinanzeigen, was open on my web browser before I could finish my next thought.
I came to find that the process is not as difficult as you might think. The popular OEM European Delivery services paved the way for a smooth legal process to drive vehicles bound for export on public roads, even used cars purchased on eBay. If the car was already registered and inspected, you could even drive the car for up to five days on the seller’s plates, negating the need for a truck and trailer.
A meeting was soon set with a seller outside the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, but my every intention of carefully scrutinizing the car was abandoned when I first laid eyes on it. The ’88 320iT was Delphin Gray Metallic, with a one-year-only Lila M-Tech Color Edition sport cloth interior, so-called “Eurowaves,” and a five-speed. If the engine didn’t run, I was pushing this thing back to Hanover! You can imagine my relief when it fired up with that familiar BMW growl.
High beams flashed in my rear-view mirror and a diesel Avant whizzed by as I moved into the center lane. I looked down at my gauges: The two-liter six was screaming along at 4,000 rpm and 140 kph. Any faster and the combination of engine wail and steering vibration made it very uncomfortable.
But I didn’t care. I was driving an E30 TOURING. IN GERMANY. ON THE AUTOBAHN.
I sent my dad the good news when the car made it through the four-hour trip back. Neither of us could wait for our upcoming road trip! My German-language minor passed the test of the local DMV, and certified export plates were mounted to the car.
Now, I had owned an E30 previously, a 1993 Bostongruen Metallic 325iC with a five-speed and 256,000 miles. I fell in love with the driving dynamics of that old convertible, as floppy as they can be in stock form. This Touring was different; while it still had the familiar straight-six tone—like an old brass horn at a Munich beer hall—the chassis communicated in a way that bordered on
telepathy. More talented writers can endlessly wax lyrical about these cars; everything you’ve heard is true.
The car was slightly lowered; it rumbled through an aftermarket exhaust, and it had a limited-slip differential. That last detail was learned behind the wheel as it drifted easily—yet-unintentionally—through a rainy roundabout. The limit of grip could be felt through the bottom of those purple cloth seats, and a tiny amount of opposite lock and throttle carried it out like it had replaced the E34 M5 in Ronin.
I wasn’t about to leave Europe without christening the car on the Nürburgring. Fortunately, I was able to take three touristenfahrten laps and purchase the requisite Ring stickers. Unfortunately, the old water pump decided to retire; it let me know when the Touring marked its territory the next morning. Luckily, a friendly mechanic near the flat was able to sort the car before our upcoming Grand Tour was set to begin—when the Touring, with my dad and me taking turns behind the wheel, was used for its literal purpose.
And what a tour it was! My six months abroad were capped off by visiting BMW Welt in Munich, skiing Kitzbuhel in Austria, and enjoying the Weihnachtsmarkt in Stuttgart. (Okay, okay, we also went to the Porsche
Museum.) The only hiccup of the entire trip occurred on the slopes when Dad and I, showing off like a couple of teenagers, crashed into each other and tumbled down the mountain. This apple landed pretty close to the base of that tree.
Finally, in the grayy, cold, coastal town of Bremerhaven, I waved goodbye to our trusty longroof in the shipping yard, as we boarded the train to the international airport. Of all the memories I made during my time in Germany, touring in the Touring with Dad is the one I will never forget.—Kevin Albino