Braving Los Angeles traffic always seems worth it for a certain BMW-themed event that takes place every fall near Van Nuys. I’m referring to the SoCal Vintage BMW meet, of course, a perennial gathering that never seems to disappoint me. The 2018 edition was like any other, but with a marked increase in attendance and vendor presence compared with when I was last able to attend in 2016. (CCA Oktoberfest attendees will recall that our own yearly gathering was held later than usual during 2017, which precluded a visit to SCV.)
Although the cutoff year of 1990 continues to shrink in the rearview mirror to almost 30 years ago now, the enthusiasm for classic and vintage BMWs of all sorts shows no signs of tapering off. On the first Saturday in November 2018, the chill morning air that had settled on the expansive lawn of Woodley Avenue Park was punctuated by the distinct smell of carbureted exhaust fumes leaving the tailpipes of hundreds of different BMWs, all in various states of preservation—or the exact opposite. Arrayed by chassis platform code and spread out in what could be thought of as chronological order, enthusiasts of all different backgrounds modulated their clutches and feathered their cable-actuated throttles as they formed row upon row.
The scene is one that is replicated on almost any given weekend in various corners of the country to some degree, but there are a number of unique factors that have allowed SoCal Vintage to transition from another single-marque gathering to the kind of enthusiast’s paradise that encompasses more than the name of the event suggests. First off is the sheer scale; only a few other events bring more BMWs together in one place, and even fewer focus on the vintage models that continue to serve as cornerstones of the brand today.
Second—but a close contender for first—is the wide variety of what you’ll be treated to when making the rounds through the rows of cars. As my own appreciation and interest have grown and broadened, it seems that so, too, has the type of metal showing up at SoCal Vintage. Whether you’re into the rarest of the rare, or cleanly executed engines swaps and high-dollar restorations, at least a few people will have brought something that piques your interest.
2002s, E9 coupes, New Class sedans, Sixes and 8 Series, E30s, and more, all coming together to sit on display, makes for an atmosphere like no other—but the cars alone don’t make SoCal Vintage all that it is. From the BMW CCA presence, which takes the form of dozens of members, to the younger enthusiasts who are just getting started, it’s the people that bring all of the elements together. Gawking at whatever rare or finely dialed-in specimen that has your current attention is great in itself, but the owner rattling off a quick rundown of the specifics and its history allow the experience to come full circle. Whether it’s a seasoned person with a recognizable name within the community or a fresh face brand-new to the scene, SoCal Vintage caters to all kinds.
California is often maligned for its stringent, nation-leading emissions regulations, but don’t let the out-of-state naysayers fool you. The cars on display at SoCal Vintage, no matter their age or modifications, almost all wear California license plates, many of which are the only one ever mounted on that vehicle. Are you into BMW’s high-strung, twin-cam race-derived engines of the 1980s, with their unmistakable M Power valve covers? Or do you prefer a tastefully modified 2002 running a pair of big twin-throat side-draft Webers on the side of its M10, and a close-ratio five-speed swap to back it up? How about an immaculately preserved 3.0 sedan just recently imported from Europe, still sporting its original deep blue velour interior?
The 1602 full cabriolet by Baur is quite rare, with only 1,682 made, but there were at least three, maybe even four present at this year’s gathering—and no, that’s not counting the other handful of Baur cabriolet targa-style models. The 2002 Turbo is even more of a rare sight in person, with just 1,672 made, but there was one highly original model present as well. I could go on and on with examples, but I think you get the picture.
Don’t forget the varied color palette, either. Taiga or Turkis Green? Both were available for viewing on several different examples. BMW’s array of different blues, grays, and silvers was also on display, and it’s always a treat to arrive early so the moment can be captured under optimal lighting conditions. There were also a number of V12-powered 8 Series wearing a few BMW Individual colors, butphotos can never do justice to the variety of different 1970s era colors like Sierra Beige, Sepia Brown, Colorado Orange, and others.
There are plenty of examples of fit and finish—or tasteful patina—as well. While some BMWs in this crowd stand as near-perfect examples to how things were when they left the factory, others proudly wear their history, with weathered paint and threadbare upholstery seeming to have no damping effect on enthusiasm. It’s easy to get distracted by the ones that are kept to concours standards at all times, but it’s encouraging and important to bear witness to the real-deal cars that are still out there tearing up the streets on a daily basis.
Speaking of which, although I own a BMW that is driven almost daily which would be welcome at SoCal Vintage—my 1985 325e coupe—it’s still too rough and untested to make the trip up to Van Nuys, as longer drives tend to transition into a shakedown run for previous unknown problems and issues. No problem, though, as the parking lot of Woodley Avenue Park has been undergoing a transition into a congregation of newer BMWs, like the Dinan S2 135i coupe I drove.
As enthusiasts, we sometimes struggle to convey to others what is so special about BMW automobiles. One of the best ways I’ve ever heard it described was that certain models become something that is greater than the sum of their parts. The 2002 is a perfect example, because there are plenty of other counterparts of sporty yet practical cars from its era, like the Datsun 510 or Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint, but neither strikes the same balance of practicality, performance capability, and ease of wrenching embodied by the BMW. Without getting too caught up in flowery language, it really is the parts and how they’re married together which makes these cars what they are.
Another often-overlooked aspect of this type of event is the peripheral support that comes from the various vendors. As I mentioned above, this year seems like an easy contender for record attendance, and this was made possible not only by the throngs of BMW drivers puttering onto grass still soaked with morning dew, but also the vendors that made their presence known. Shift knobs, wheels, stickers, and suspension bits were on display beneath various EZ-Up canopies, and who can forget the manifold that allows triple sidedraft Webers to be mounted on the side of an M20?
Contrary to other gatherings and events, when afternoon draws near and it’s time to navigate the freeways and traffic back to San Diego, I never feel as though I missed anything at SoCal Vintage. We all get caught up in conversation while making our rounds to see everything, but like the celebrated 2002 or the venerable E30, there’s something about the atmosphere of SoCal Vintage that embodies everything that can be done right at a car event, striking a near-perfect balance.—Alex Tock
SoCal Vintage 2018
Best E3: Eric Friis, 1972 Bavaria (not pictured)
Best 2002: Michael Sicoli, 1970 2002
Best Early/Neue Klasse: Chirs Macha, 1969 2000
Best 3 Series: Fred Larimer, 1988 M3
Best 5 Series: Darrin Stevenson, 1988 535i
Best 6/7 Series: Hayley Holmes, 1985 635 CSi
Best 8 Series: Alex Cartio, 1992 850 Ci
Best Sponsor Car: La Jolla Independent, Kaelin Thompson’s 1971 2000 Touring “Baguettemobile”
Best Modified: Steve Liu, 1991 318
Best Original: Chris Kohler, 1987 M535i
Bimmerheads Choice: Kevin Kolosvari, 1972 3.0 CSi
Best of Meet: Hayley Holmes, 1985 635 CSi
2002AD, Aardvarc Racing, Adams Autosport, Bavarian Restoration, Bavarian Workshop, Bring a Trailer, Hagerty Classic Car Insurance, Ireland Engineering, JF Pro Bimmer, Kooglewerks, La Jolla Independent BMW Service, Meguiar’s, Odometer Gears, Pedal Haus, Ronin Autowerks.
[Photos via Alex Tock, SoCal Vintage BMW.]