Celebrating The Big Coupe At Southeast Sharkfest

In a world of single-marque shows, it’s easy to find environments that celebrate all things BMW. But it takes another level of passion to create a festival around a single model, exploring all of the intricacies and variations that go into a full production run. For E30 M3 owners, there’s SIGfest; for 2002 owners, there was last weekend’s Mid-America 02 Fest; and for owners of the narrow-kidney E9s, E24s, and E31 big coupes, there’s a single-model event with a design-inspired name: Sharkfest.

The name comes from the angular, almost concave front grille design that took shape with the first Neue Klasse coupes of the mid-1960s, which gave the cars a distinctive “sharknose” front end. It was a design cue created by Wilhelm Hofmeister (a name any self-respecting BMW nerd enthusiast should recognize for his famous C-pillar kink), but translated into two subsequent coupes created by different designers for vastly different automotive environments.

Subtle but meaningful commonalities between all three generations go a long way to explain why owners of cars that are, on the surface, vastly different still appreciate the spirit of all three big Bimmers. At the end of the day, these three generations are Autobahn thoroughbreds; cars that love to be driven at high speed on hundred-mile-long stretches of pavement, and through swift, sweeping corners. No caveats needed here—even today, these cars do more than keep up with traffic, as anyone who has been passed by an E9 can attest.

Today, we would call these “conquest cars” meant to compete for new markets and against other ultra-luxurious manufacturers. They were designed, engineered and painstakingly built for the more distinguished driver; unlike the contemporary sport sedans of each era of big coupe (primarily the 2002, E30, and E36), BMWs largest offerings were designed to offer a mix of luxurious appointments, elegant styling, and high-speed comfort at the cost of precision and acceleration. These are fast cars—not quick cars.

Given their highway prowess, it’s no surprise that the attendees of Sharkfest will often drive a thousand miles or more to gather in Spartanburg, South Carolina and celebrate three generations and more than 50 years of BMW’s greatest two-door touring cars. License plates from across the south, up through to New York can often be seen, and when you start to talk to the owners and discuss the history of the event, you start to see why this one, of all gatherings, brings such a committed audience.

Started by Kai Xing and Nat Arnold in 2003, Southeast Sharkfest has moved from location to location over the years, but has always represented the same passionate group that assemble to appreciate beautiful coupes in every style imaginable. Kai has been a longtime E24 owner, and the 6 Series inspiration remains evident around the event, but E31 and E9 owners have grown into a considerable presence as well. For all three owner groups, it’s an opportunity to gather, enjoy relaxed drives with other coupes, and appreciate the intricacies of automotive design as they evolved over production runs and model lineages.

It’s those intricacies that make this event particularly cool. The result of so much coupe-specific passion is quite possibly the widest variety of E24s and E31s you’ll see anywhere. For E24s in particular (the core of the event, and by far the largest group in attendance), Sharkfest is a case study in how the famous Paul Bracq design evolved over its thirteen years and two facelifts. From early Euro cars to “world bumper” M6s, the field last weekend was the greatest—if not the only—place to compare variations between models and body design in seconds.

Then there are the cars that owners have built. The number of “idealized” E24s and E31s present was one of the most memorable parts of the weekend, from a Jagermeister recreation, to Euro bumper swaps, to coilover-equipped track builds, it’s the perfect environment to find inspiration for your own E24 project—or perhaps to have your mind blown, in the case of Jeff Caplan’s Odometer Gears “Laser Shark” Chump Car, an M635CSi that we can’t even begin to describe.

Amongst the highest-value attendees were the Alpinas, including a B7 and a monstrous B12 S E31. As is often the case, there were impressive spectator vehicles too, including an S62-swapped E39 Touring tow vehicle, and my personal favorite, a gorgeous E30 Touring complete with Hartge graphics and custom BBS RS wheels.

Like other fan-favorite events, Sharkfest is a gathering more than a competition. It’s an event that celebrates the diversity of a model range—whether E9, E24, or E31—and to catch up with friends old and new. It’s the opportunity to get inspired to complete your own build, enjoy a showroom-quality 8 series, or a concours-ready E9, and everything in between. But let’s be real, for enthusiasts around the country, it’s also an opportunity to do what these cars were all made to do: drive. — David Rose

[Photos courtesy David Rose.]

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