They say that a good economy is like a gazebo: Multiple pillars must support the roof in order to achieve a balanced platform. But when one of those pillars grossly out-sizes the others, as with an economy dominated by oil or narcotics, it becomes more like an umbrella. The same can be said for one’s personal interests—especially when BMWs have the same effect as narcotics!
I consider myself a highly productive individual, but last year, between my personal cars, a side business with insatiable needs, and a full-time regular job, my life was feeling more like an umbrella than a gazebo.
It was time to restore the balance.
In the past, mountain-bike racing, hang-gliding, or just loading up the dogs with my wife and living the van life in the mountains rounded out the pillars of my gazebo. But in recent years, time constraints, over-use injuries, and my insatiable car obsession slowly unhinged that balance. In order to reestablish it, I needed something that would scratch the flying itch and satisfy the desire for the soul-cleansing remoteness of the mountains and the desert, while also being able to bring my wife along. I found the missing gazebo pillar in a 1995 Aviat Husky, a small back-country airplane that traces its design roots to the iconic Piper Super Cub—think steel, aluminum, and fabric.
While relatively slow and affordable on the airplane scale (look for a comparison with M5 ownership costs in April’s Roundel magazine), the Husky has some serious capabilities. It can take off and land in about 500 feet on rough surfaces, and can fly at a slow enough speed to navigate tight mountain canyons. It cruises at 110 mph and has enough power to climb over the Colorado Rockies safely with proper mountain-flying technique. Finally, it has the range to access most of the Mountain West in about a third of the time it takes to drive, making a seven-hour drive a two-hour flight. My wife and I took delivery of the plane in November in Bozeman, Montana, and enjoyed our first adventure traversing the backcountry of Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Colorado on the way home.
While the Husky was relatively affordable on the airplane scale, it was a massive undertaking for us, and as a result, sacrifices had to be made. The 1990 Volkswagen Vanagon Carat was the first vehicle to be sold, followed by my beloved 1989 BMW 325iX. Neither of those was a legacy car, but the 1993 BMW M5 Touring was—and in order to afford the Husky, I needed to sell it.
I agonized over it for months, but in the end, cars (and airplanes) are just tools that provide experiences. I had thoroughly enjoyed the experience of owning an M5 Touring, and was reluctantly ready to exchange that experience for a more balanced existence. It hurt, but the other legacy car—the M coupe—will remain in the quiver indefinitely. I should add that I am extremely grateful to be in a position in life where I could have such a quality problem as needing to sell an M5 Touring to afford a small airplane.
The M5 Touring came to me late one dark night with a simple phone call that went something along the lines of, “Do you want an M5 Touring?” Without even the slightest pause, I responded, “Yes!” A few weeks later it showed up on another dark night, and in an instant, decades of fantasy became reality as I joined the small enclave of American BMW enthusiasts who had seen, much less touched or driven, a genuine M5 Touring.
I remember that night like it was yesterday: I opened the door, strapped in, and went for a drive. The neurological pathways in my brain that literally define my BMW obsession must have lit up like fireworks on the Fourth of July as I pushed its Euro-only 3.8-liter S38 engine to redline and disappeared into the darkness.
In the years that followed, I never lost that initial elation with the M5 Touring. It never wore off, never became routine; the M5 Touring was always an experience, whether it was sitting still or in motion. An aimless shortcut through the garage would often turn into a five-minute session of appreciating that BMW M GmbH had had the gall to build a wagon version of their pinnacle M car—much less one in purple (Daytona Violet, in BMW-speak).
I wasn’t the only one who found the M5 Touring so captivating, either; it was as much a hit with enthusiasts at Cars & Coffee as with clueless strangers in the grocery-store parking lot. I once snuck it into the static display of a military airshow, and it received compliments from all, from the base commander down to the airmen guarding the gate, despite its being conspicuously out of place. Nobody said a word.
At the close of the year, I sold the M5 Touring on Bring a Trailer. It wasn’t the best time to sell it, and it didn’t fetch top dollar, but it was the right time for me: That airplane wasn’t going to pay for itself. Plus, I had heard rumors of a several more M5 Tourings coming to market—some with nefarious history that I didn’t want mine to be in the shadow of.
I counted the days as the M5 Touring ticked up to its final closing bid. Before it went on the truck, and on to the next chapter of its story, I quietly took it for one last drive, for one last photo shoot, for one last neurological fireworks display for the closing chapter of my story.
Giving up those experiences for others of the airborne variety is bittersweet, but it is a choice that I have made. The plus side is that I was able to pass the M5 Touring on to other stewards who will have their own elated late-night drives.
The M5 Touring and I had one last drive and photoshoot before it went on the truck.
It was a cold winter day; the light was hollow and flat, a fitting mood for the occasion. But true to the M5 Touring’s form, that session was just as intense as my first day with it—something that few cars have accomplished in years of BMW obsession.—Alex McCulloch
[Photos courtesy Alex McCulloch.]