Some of us have already found it, while others still search. Part of the population doesn’t even bother pondering such foolish things, but a select few of us have given the subject a truly inordinate amount of thought and speculation over the years.
In short, if you had to pick a single current or previous-production BMW model to have as your sole vehicle, what would it be?
In my case, I have thought that I had discovered it—or at least the idea of which BMW I would choose—more than a few times over the years. There are many models, each of which I considered to be an absolute perfect fit for the demands of my life at a given moment in time, only to discover a few years later that circumstances had changed and something previously off the radar was now a better candidate.
But at least I feel as though I’ve been trending in the right direction.
While I used to consider a sedan an absolute necessity, a few BMWs ago, I realized that a two-door really is more fun, and decided to the shed the rear doors—maybe someday I’ll getting rid of the roof, too? Yes, says the editor; yes, yes, yes.—SC] Power has been on a steady increase, while odometer readings have been dropping, but I have yet to purchase a brand-new car.
But that’s all a bit extraneous to the subject at hand; we’re after the one BMW in which to envision ourselves driving off into the sunset. I suppose a good place to start is with my current stable, because regardless of the fact that it’s currently 60% Japanese, the BMWs remain the objects of my affection (read: obsession).
The 2012 135i is clearly the nicest hunk of metal I own. I love this car because it’s a blast to drive on a variety of different roads, and it is unique in that it uses an N55 engine backed by a seven-speed DCT; where else can you get that? I’ve mentioned the car more than a few times before, and I have personalized it in a number of subtle and more recognizable ways, ranging from Dinan S2 software and a louder-than-expected BMW Performance exhaust (before M Performance Parts were a thing) to unnoticeable additions like a grocery-bag holder in the trunk and custom coding for lights and other features. It also wears Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, of which I have a fresh set of rears in a closet waiting to be mounted when the current ones are done, and I also purchased a rather expensive but highly inclusive warranty for it early this year.
Technology and plastic parts aside, I feel thatmy 135i is a truly excellent BMW, one that’s the perfect size with more than enough power and utility for my lifestyle. But I do know that eventually it will be time for something else in terms of a maintenance-and-repair-cost-versus-value standpoint, and the price of a Certified Pre-Owned M4 keeps getting more attractive.
Then there’s the E30. My 1985 325e is worn out and beat up; it has clearly been ridden hard and put away wet a number of times. Nevertheless, I’ve been able to track down an incredibly detailed history of the car from new, and although this E30 project has an interminable amount of work remaining, it remains on a steady upswing in terms of its overall condition since I acquired it. I’ll spare you the romance novel on feeling a certain bond with a car—which has never been exactly the same through the various BMWs I’ve owned—but the E30 definitely has some good things going for it.
Some cars have a way of making us hate working on them, because no matter what, Murphy’s Law inevitably seems to have its way. My 325e is not like this; almost everything I attempt (with the exception of a few errors on my part) is rewarding in terms of improving the overall state of the tired old Alpine White coupe. Also, parts are cheap, relative to what I’m used to on newer, higher-performing models, and if I get rid of it, it will only be a matter of time until I acquire some other old (two-valve-per-cylinder), leaking BMW.
The E30 was the first BMW platform I fell for, and to this day I fantasize about selling everything else and just rolling with the 325e. But as we know, that could very well drive me to hate the car and myself before long.
So… without missing a beat, we’re two BMWs in, and I don’t want to part with either of them. So much for picking one that I already own! Now for the hypotheticals.
I’ve owned two E46 sedans and still consider them to be among the best all-around cars out there, and the M3 remains on my bucket list. Mine were both sport-package four-doors, but I’ve always lusted after a ZHP (performance package) sedan. I’d spec it just like my last 2004 example: Silver Grey Metallic over black, but this time the Alcantara cloth combination as opposed to leather. I’d either retrofit some kind of modern input for the premium sound system, or upgrade to one of those Android-powered nav systems that match the instrument-panel design. Folding rear seats are a must, along with xenon lights, and it’d be awesome to have some of the old BMW Performance catalog parts under the hood, like the strut brace and intake. Otherwise, I really feel that these cars come nearly perfect from the factory, but a mildly upgraded suspension never hurts. I’ve also speculated a bit further in this regard before, considering things like an S54 swap, or maybe an S54-swapped 325i Touring, and then you’d really have something never to part with.
And of course there’s the E28. I’ve also owned two of these—both 535i’s—and again considered them to be near the top of the list in terms of a BMW you could drive until you’re both decomposing. Not only that, but there are more than a few people who are actively living this one out with their E28 M5s; a least a handful are original owners, while others have clearly established their intentions by adding mileage in an unrelenting fashion. I think either an M5 or a 535i could fit the bill. The tech isn’t there, but who cares? The power, space, and practicality are, and the looks are among the best of the breed when dressed up just a bit.
But how about something a bit more sporty? Something that looks at the 911 and laughs at the folding rear-seat cushions? Roundel editor-in-chief Satch Carlson has clearly made his decision with the Z8, but I’m talking about the Z4 M roadster, which he also owns. After putting over 4,000 miles on this Alpine-White-over-Imola-Red-leather roadster driving to and from O’Fest in 2017, and then jumping directly into my 135i, I couldn’t help but feel that the E82 was soft in comparison. At that point in particular I welcomed a bit of extra cushioning, but I couldn’t separate myself from how connected and raw the driving experience of the Z was. My Techno-Violet-over-Mulberry E36 was quite in tune with the road, but something about the Z4 M roadster was just so much more exhilarating and pure.
The 2002 deserves a cameo as well, because even though I am not from the correct era to have witnessed them being sold new, they remain recognizable to me as the car that put the marque on the map in this country. Fun, practical, and sporty: Drive to work, get your groceries, run the other errands, and come the weekend, mount the Minilites (or do you guys prefer Panasports?) and put the rubber through a few heat cycles at the local HPDE or autocross. The M10 engine loves to rev, and to this day, modification and other support remains strong. The trunk is large, and so is the interior, for such a contrastingly small exterior presence. Now to find one without rust and an owner who isn’t asking the moon.
I could write a book on this stuff. We haven’t even touched on the E39 and the Touring model derivatives, and what about something on the level of a Z8 or 507, or maybe the rather overlooked 2000 CS? This could clearly go on and on—but now it’s you’re turn: What model—or models, plural, if we’re being honest—are on your speculative drive until I’m dead list?—Alex Tock
[Photos courtesy Alex Tock, BMW AG.]