My first car doubled as the family wagon—it was a 2006 VW Passat, with a punchy 200-horsepower turbocharged inline four. Sure, it couldn’t compare to the R36 Variant—a 300-horsepower, 4-Motion all-wheel-drive, three-pedal performance iteration of my beloved Passat—but I loved that hunk of German metal regardless, even if it did drink a quart of oil a week. The Passat saw an untimely departure from our family garage once the odometer rolled over 100,000 miles; the dash had lit up like a Christmas tree adorned with twinkling DTC ornaments, coincidentally right when the warranty was up. How convenient!
Like many other enthusiasts, I had been bitten by the longroof bug, and so had my family; we weren’t ready for life without a wagon. Enamored by BMW as a whole, we tried to buy a Bimmer wagon shortly thereafter, but quickly found that these are an endangered species, nearly extinct in the American market. Those who did own them weren’t selling them, and for good reason.
A sport-tuned Bavarian grocery-getter was, for a very long time, my ultimate BMW—it balanced everyday livability with performance potential—but only if you lived outside the U.S., I soon realized. BMW M CEO Markus Flasch has reiterated on multiple occasions that we aren’t getting an M wagon, or any Touring model, for that matter, for 2020 onward. While cherry-picked European markets were graced with the existence of the prodigious S58-powered Alpina B3 Touring and exposed to a menagerie of aftermarket modifications like that of AC Schnitzer’s G21 tuning program, the U.S. was once again left in the dust.
Like many others, I was let down by the decision. From the perspective of a consumer, the States surely have cultivated a large demand for performance grocery-getters over the years, following the production of Audi’s RS6 Avant and Mercedes-AMG’s E63 AMG S Estate, among others. While we had hoped for a new high-performance BMW to enter the arena and challenge the competition, we were once again reminded that SAVs do in fact dominate the American market, and there’s nothing we can do to change that consumer trend. Nevertheless, Flasch’s adamant declaration is rather depressing for those who are staunch longroof aficionados. The legacy of the BMW station wagon had been sent to the chopping block, our beloved wagon community seemingly along with it.
The community is strong, however. While we understood the motive for BMW’s decision, that wouldn’t stop us from creating our very own performance wagons.
For some, the E39 540i touring was the perfect foundation: Its size made it the prime choice for an engine swap, as it was able to accommodate the monstrous five-liter V8 from the M5 of the same generation with some minor tweaks, along with a doable installation of a proper six-speed manual. I was lucky enough to see one of these meticulously-crafted specimens at a recent BMW CCA LA event, and it made me want to start a new wagon fund.
The owner did a brilliant job of matching everything under the hood to that of the E39 M5, as evidenced by the clean, neatly-presented, OEM appearance of the engine bay. Although I failed to take a proper picture of the interior, a six-speed was also installed, and the OEM media system was swapped for an iDrive system, a newer technology interface found in the F30 3 Series generation—a classy touch to finish it all off. Wagons like this with well executed M drivetrain swaps sell for big money, as we have discussed here before.
E46 Tourings are also well known among wagon fans, particularly because they take to S54 swaps like ducks to water. BMW even proved how easy the swap was with the development of the M3 Touring prototype, a concept that served to illustrate the ease at which it could be constructed. Today, with the right donor and an abundance of patience, you could essentially have a longroof M3, ready for life’s challenges during the week and a quick lap around the track come Saturday. Throw in an M3 limited-slip diff, a six-speed manual transmission, and all of the exterior body panels, and you have my perfect wagon: S54 performance with an attitude reminiscent of its OEM two-door brother—not to mention the practicality that you’d expect from what is essentially a longer M3.
If the aggressive lines of the newer BMWs are more your style, meet your new build inspiration. Sander Koelemij, owner and founder of Full Car Tuning, also happens to be a wagon genius, and his ingenuity led him to design and craft the ultimate M Touring, the performance wagon that BMW should have made. With an F31 base laying the groundwork and a salvaged M3 CS providing the parts, the new F81 was nearly a carbon copy of its sedan donor. It’s as stunning as it is aggressive, and the 453-horsepower CS power plant ensures that you’ll never be late picking the kids up from school.
Koelemij’s creation is a bittersweet one, however, as our hopes of a performance Touring variant are dashed with its one-off status. The F81’s exclusivity shouldn’t stop us from admiring the dexterity and gumption of our wagon community, though.
All of the unbelievable wagon builds we’ve seen over the years are a direct response to BMW. No M wagon? No problem—we’ll make our own, with a special, personal touch.—Malia Murphy
[Photos via Malia Murphy, AC Schnitzer, Evolve Automotive, BMW AG.]