Bavarian Autosport: Remembering An Old Friend

The saying goes that companies aren’t our friends—but Bavarian Autosport always felt like one. The Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based retailer of BMW parts, upgrades, and accessories announced abruptly last week that it would be closing its doors after a run of more than four decades, and as enthusiasts, we wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the story and community built around one of the earliest and most beloved BMW parts retailers—a company that was an integral part of BMW maintenance for owners of all ages and passions.

The story of Bav Auto and its founders, Peter Robart, Mark Ruddy, and Dave Wason, mirrors that of a great many industry stalwarts (including the BMW Car Club of America itself), first opening in the days of private BMW importer Max Hoffman in 1974. BMW of North America would begin importing cars directly the following year, but it’s no secret that in the Hoffman era and beyond, BMWs tended to be a rather temperamental breed. The ownership experience for these distinctly foreign vehicles was defined by how best to keep them on the road—and in that endeavor, Bavarian Autosport was one of the earliest and most devoted contributors.

Like the BMW CCA—headquartered at the time in nearby Boston, Massachusetts—Bavarian Autosport relied on word of mouth and enthusiast publications to bring the critical service of BMW repair and maintenance to owners. It’s worth mentioning that Bav Auto, both as a mail-order enterprise and an online retailer, had been a longtime supporter of Roundel magazine (as well as BimmerLife), but truth be told, we’d probably have mentioned them anyway—such was the influence of the New England retailer that brought together garage-bound BMW drivers from across the country, swiping with oily fingers through tutorials by “Bavarian Otto” (the website’s DIY-instructing cartoon character), and fiddling with alternators and driveshaft guibos that arrived in hand-packaged boxes from New Hampshire.

It’s that story, of grit and adventure and late nights wrenching under rusty cars, that was shared most prominently in the last week since the closing was announced. Bavarian Autosport was always the plucky underdog of the BMW community, a small outfit driven by the passion and commitment of three friends to bring BMW maintenance to the masses. Drivers came out of the woodwork to paint a picture of a Bav Auto as an old friend, one who would deliver much-needed parts in snowy parking lots at New England colleges, or to the desert of the American West, where you might not see another BMW for hours. It was the everyman’s shop, one that was a phone call away with knowledgeable staff, and for the New England community, always seemed to go above and beyond (one particular story from Rob Siegel comes to mind, in which an employee delivered a part for a 2002 to suburban Boston via motorcycle).

Bavarian Autosport, for all its charm and New England spirit, was not without its hiccups. In its years as an online retailer, customers voiced complaints about availability and shipping times, and more than a few shops noted that while they would have loved to support the retailer, were it not for the lack of wholesale pricing.

In 2017, the team tragically lost Peter Robart at age 66, a shock for the close-knit community evolving Bavarian Autosport for the future of automotive maintenance. From a business front, the website received a much needed update last year, but once again, complaints arose about the new design and the difficulty in searching for multiple BMW models (which, let’s be honest, Bav Auto’s customer base is wont to do).

In the end, the company’s fate came slowly. It was simply a developing and fiercely competitive landscape of automotive retailers, combined with a shrinking amount of DIY work, that pushed the New Hampshire staple out of the market. According to an anonymous source, remaining inventory and brand intellectual property was purchased by a certain Ohio-based retailer, and moved out by the truckload in just days. It’s unknown what their plans are in the near future; for now, the warehouse is now empty, and the employees left with little to do and lots to process.

What we have now are the memories, like mine from my last time attending the Bav Auto Show and Shine in 2014.

The Show and Shine was a near-permanent event in New England, a marketing tool for Bav Auto but perhaps even more so, an annual gathering of enthusiasts that spanned not just the facility’s parking lots, but all up and down the street near the New Hampshire coast; I drove my E24 6 Series about a hundred miles from Vermont, and—by my recollection—parked roughly that far away from the actual event.

But despite the crowd, it was everything a one-day BMW gathering always has been, and always should be: a group of owners of varying tastes, from E21 Baurs with no paint, to pristine E28 M5s and collector-grade Z8s, to an absolutely wild “666CSi”, a twin-turbo E24 6 Series that pretty much stole the show. Everyone was telling stories and educating back and forth—just like Bav Auto did for 44 years.

The automotive landscape has changed immensely since 1974, and it’s far from finished. But the passion that drove Bavarian Autosport’s founders to create a haven for BMW owners never became less relevant. There is still a 16-year-old kid working on an E21 in his parents’ driveway, and a repeat M3 owner looking for bushings for her next track event, and a father determined to install brakes himself on the family E70 X5.

The BMW and Mini communities will move on. We have plenty of great retailers to choose from, and probably more accurate inventories and more intuitive websites. But perhaps if there’s a takeaway here, it’s to appreciate the conversations you have on the phone with a knowledgeable sales representative, someone who listens while you tell stories about your car, or goes above and beyond to make sure that part is in stock in time for the show next weekend—the things that build a community, and make it strong.

Together, we’ll always need a friend in parts distribution. Now it’s just up to us to make sure that dream stays alive. —David Rose

[Photos via Bavarian Autosport and David Rose.]

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to correct that Bavarian Autosport’s inventory was purchased by another retailer.

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