E46 330i ZHP

Well, it’s been a hell of a few weeks, after which I reckon a little mild profanity is both warranted and justified. At present it’s a dark snowy night in Colorado, one of those heavy, wet spring snowstorms where inches fall in hours. Raindrops gave way to snowflakes at dusk, and there is a certain beauty to them as they dance in and out of the porch light’s lone shaft.

The silence of solitude can be piercing at times. Sheltering in place, quarantining, social distancing—whatever you want to call it, I have been keeping my distance from the world, which would seemingly make for good writing circumstances. Yet the trio of E46 ZHP sedans that I was planning on covering just seems trivial, given our current state of affairs.

So perhaps something a little deeper is in order.

A trio of 2003 BMW 330i ZHP sedans seem somehow trivial at the moment.

In the U.S. alone, more than 120,000 people are infected, and thousands have died of the CoViD-19 coronavirus worldwide, while millions have lost their jobs—and all three of those numbers are only going the rise in the short term. In my own little slice of the world, the four-day trip that I was supposed to fly yesterday turned into a two-day trip that starts tomorrow; I expect there to be but a few passengers aboard. Personally, I would rather stay home, but if I don’t show up to fly (as long as the airlines are flying), some poor bastard junior to me will have to go in my place and potentially expose their family.

With my wife being a nurse, we are already high-risk. The future of my airline career is tenuous, and the health of my BMW-centric side-business remains uncertain given the potential long-term impact that this outbreak could have on the economy. But these uncertainties pale in comparison to the possibilities if and when I contract the coronavirus (if I haven’t already) and the possibility, albeit remote, of being in the small minority of people who develop severe (or acute) respiratory illness as a result.

However, my potential problems are laughable compared to countless others who have already had it so much worse, and I am grateful to have no serious problems so far. This pandemic could amount to be the single biggest challenge we face in a decade—or even a generation—depending on how it plays out. None of us will likely emerge unscathed.

When there is no toilet paper, shop towels will do—but for God’s sake don’t flush ’em!

As a pilot, one of the cornerstones of my profession (and my personality) is to stay cool under pressure—and I would encourage everyone else to do the same. I always joke with my wife to never panic until the zombies have broken down the door and you are out of shotgun shells—and after that you might as well just enjoy the ride!

In addition to being cool, being smart, and being responsible (hoarding toilet paper, really!?) perhaps this time of challenges is also a time for perspective. As we collectively isolate ourselves in order to prevent the spread of this insidious virus, we can also take stock of what is truly important. At the top of that list should not only be our families, our friends, and our fellow human beings, but also our passions, our determination to persevere, and our faith in the human spirit.

How it feels to be an “essential” employee.

Despite our multiple and continuing flaws in preparing for and handling the this pandemic, there have also been amazing stories of kindness, goodwill, and innovation. My wife and I have made it a point to order take-out from many local restaurants that we would not normally frequent, and to tip very generously. Manufacturers are gearing up the production of medical supplies, businesses are innovating, and supply chains are streamlining. Skilled labor in the form of tradespeople who have often been overlooked by American culture are now being recognized as essential under many “stay at home” orders. Dogs have never been happier or more exercised, hands have never been cleaner, and given the rate of toilet-paper hoarding, the same could be said for our derrieres! When we do leave the house, traffic has never been lighter—making taking the long way to run your essential errands all the more enjoyable from behind the wheel of your BMW.

…and perhaps that BMW is an E46 ZHP sedan…

For us BMW-philes, those projects that we’ve put off for far too long may finally get attended to. This is a great opportunity to address that annoying squawk list that we all have on our cars. Perhaps there is that job just beyond your comfort level that you have been hesitant to dive into—remember, with the right tools, the right instructions, and a little bit of willingness, no maintenance task is too difficult. And if you get in over your head, your local repair shop will be glad to have your business. Oil leaks, cooling system overhauls, or that noisy window regulator that is just waiting for the next rainy day to break in the down position: This is a great opportunity to tackle them all.

Then, when you’re done, a proper detailing is in order. All of the nooks and crannies that are normally glazed over can finally be cleaned, along with the engine bay and undercarriage, followed by a thorough clay-barring, polish, and wax. You can take your time and work like you have nothing better to do—because you might not!

Have window regular going bad and don’t want to order a new one? Here’s a good zip-tie DIY. [Photo: E46Fanatics member elbee]

Once the BMW is done, perhaps a little soul-searching is in order. I’ve always strived to live my life as if it could end tomorrow. The mind and body are maintenance items, just like cooling systems and brakes. Happiness is not conditional, nor is it guaranteed, but the pursuit of it has always been a worthy investment, one that’s needed most when times are difficult.

I’ve always thought one of the keys to happiness is to appreciate that which most of the world takes for granted. As the world around us has slowed down, there is no better time to appreciate what we might normally dismiss. As BMW-philes, we are connoisseurs of something very specific that most of the world dismisses: the driving experience. Our BMWs are nothing but a good tool for the job, one in which we can hone our skills, relish the moment, and pursue the art of perfection, one apex at a time—even if it might be in the empty parking lot behind the grocery store until the race track opens back up.

Once that BMW is in tiptop shape and clean as a whistle, taking the long way to the store is a wonderful opportunity to tap into that joy—as long as it is done so responsibly. And if when you return it’ happens to be a bit dirty, don’t worry; you’ll have time to detail it again tomorrow.

Some hunt apexes at every opportunity.

We are also lucky enough to live in an age where the available options to have that experience are plentiful across the financial spectrum. I remain optimistic, but in the plausible scenario that I lose my job, lose significant income, or my business closes down and I’m forced to sell the M coupe, there will still be a BMW in my budget. That’s the great thing about BMWs; even the beaters are fantastic—because they are BMWs! Give me a few grand to scour the Internet and a few weeks to make whatever abomination I find into a respectable Bavarian, and I’ll love it just as much as the nice ones I’ve had—because it’s a BMW. And when I’m done, I’ll wax poetic about its pros and bitch about its cons to my fellow BMW-philes… because that’s what we do.

Collectively, we occupy but a small glimpse of time and space, and in the scheme of things we still have it pretty damn good. Despite the uncertainty and challenges that we face—and some of those are vast—I’m optimistic that they are also opportunities for improvement: improvement of our country, improvement of ourselves, and even improvement of our cars. Together we will beat this thing—and when we do, we will be stronger as a result.

Stay safe, stay home, and keep the faith.

[Photo: Peter Thompson]

Oh, yeah: and those E46 ZHPs were pretty awesome, too. I think the white one might fit the bill if I need to downsize to one car.—Alex McCulloch

[Photos courtesy Alex McCulloch, Fox Chung, Peter Thompson.]

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