I went to a wagon meet in Los Angeles earlier this month. AutoConduct hosts monthly themed meets for all makes (and all people). This was the only time that they have repeated a theme—wagons—and it begged the question, “What is it about wagons that stirs all this passion?”
This column was not intended to be a plea for BMW to bring wagons back to the U.S., but as I started writing it, friends said that I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on it. So, since you asked, here’s a little basic tenet for you: BMW would sell more wagons in the U.S…. if it sold wagons in the U.S. It’s like a restaurant that closes at 1:00 p.m. and wonders why they don’t sell many dinners.
And yes, I am waving my hand that I would buy a new performance-oriented new Touring if it were sold here. That’s one!
National publications also claim that BMW should sell wagons here. Car and Driver said just last year, “Note to BMW: America needs more fast wagons,” and then cited the RS6 Avant that Audi happily (and quickly) sells here. But for now, let’s focus on the fact that so many people appreciate the wagons that we do have, and why we like them.
To get us there, let’s start with the host of the Wagon Roll-in at AutoConduct, BMW CCA member Leo Mayorquin. Mayorquin has been such a fixture in the SoCal (national?) car scene that his Instagram account is simply “@cncpics.” Now vice-president at AutoConduct, he sees plenty of automotive enthusiasm. “The wagon passion is certainly unique,” Mayorquin explains. “Of all the themes we’ve hosted at AutoConduct, this one had so much demand that we had to do it again. And it did not disappoint us at all. You can still do mods to these cars, since most emanated from sedans, and you can make them fast—faster than you’d expect from a wagon. But you can still do your family activities, including a run to Home Depot, but still enjoy the car in the process. For both wagon meets, we had people travel a long way to get here for it!”
One of those folks was San Diego Chapter member Osami Bandi. He drove the two hours in his 2016 F31 328i xDrive Touring. He acquired his wagon for functional reasons, too. “I initially got the wagon to take my mother to her chemotherapy sessions,” he says. “After she passed, I could not bear to sell it, so I decided to build it into something I’d continue to enjoy every day. I love it because of it’s so versatile in every aspect, and even with the mods it’s a great car for anything.”
He didn’t just tiptoe into the mods, either; he took advantage of the platform similarity with the F30 and made this F31 a head-turner. “Some of the mods include a Dinan big turbo, Dinan intercooler, AFE turbo pipe, VRSF catless downpipe, Mishimoto oil catch can, Active Autowerke exhaust for the F30/F31, and a BM3 stage two tune,” he says.
Not to be outdone, Edrees Popal drove up from San Diego, too—but with three BMW Tourings. He drove a relatively freshly imported E36 Touring, his brother Elyas Popal drove an E30 Touring Design Edition, and friend Johnny Carranza drove his bagged E39 Touring.
I had to check in with Popal; I met him at an event in San Diego last year, he seems to be a go-to guy for wagon insight, including recently selling another E30 Touring to my friend Dawson Graf. “I got into wagons when I bought my first E39 Touring years ago,” Popal says. “I love them because of the cargo space, for one. I also used to restore small vintage two-stroke motorcycles, and the wagons were big enough that I could haul one or even two in there and still have a great ride.
“I had always wanted a manual BMW wagon, and years ago I finally found my first (and only) E39 manual wagon on Craigslist for $1,500,” he continues. “I opened up my dealership and started importing and buying E30 Tourings. America never got the cool cars; I have a friend in Europe who helps me find the cars I bring in and sell—or keep.”
He’s not kidding; his current collection includes more than twelve BMWs, including that Design Edition E30 Touring I want—and a 1957 Isetta, never to be confused with a wagon.
At the first wagon meet held at AutoConduct in April, I remember a stop-in-my-tracks moment courtesy of Joe Barrios, owner of the M Shop LA. Mayorquin had generously (and perhaps optimistically) had me park my wagon next to two of Barrios’ gems, an S54 SMG-swapped E46 Touring and an S62-swapped E39 Touring. I had hoped some of that M-ness might rub off on my E61 as I nestled up to them.
Barrios’ wagon appreciation evolves from his childhood. “Wagons are like a blast to the past for me,” he explains. “They remind me of my uncle’s 1970’s Chevy Chevelle wagon. I remember how much fun it was to go for rides in that car, even if it was just to go to the market. Wagons are definitely a favorite in general.”
It’s obvious that wagon passion is not unique to SoCal. I know that our friends in the Pacific Northwest also love wagons—we could have done a column just on their WagonFest alone—and apologies to Tim Alfaro and crew and many more for not including you in here with your amazing wagons. We did check in with Peachtree Chapter member Nick Wood in the Atlanta area—Newnan, Georgia, specifically—and his E91.
“I like it because I can haul almost anything I want, but it’s still a relatively smaller car—the best parts of a car and an SAV,” he says. “It certainly looks more aggressive than a standard E90 sedan. It’s the perfect car for daily duties, whether that’s hauling antiques my wife may buy or hitting a cars and coffee.”
Wood almost lost the wagon—and more—when tornados whipped through Newnan earlier this year. “The E91 actually suffered some damage during that storm, but I couldn’t get rid of it,” he recalls. “Without BMW selling news ones here, and the size of the E91 being so ideal for us, I’m going to do everything I can to keep this one for a while!”
With a recently restored E9, a ’73 2002, and a Dinan S1 E36 M3 in the stable, this Touring is in good company.
Speaking of classic BMWs, Lance White is one member who knows a thing or ten about classic BMWs—all BMWs, I’ll add. It should emphasize the extent of wagon passion when a collector such as White has such an appreciation for wagons; he owns two of the 118 1995 Euro E34 M5 Tourings, among a few other gems.
“Wagons are fun because they sort of fly under the radar,” says White. “A lot of people think wagons can’t be cool, but they are generally a blast to drive, can take all our stuff, can be pretty fast, and even get great mileage. My E34 M5 is so much fun on the roads we take heading down to Carolina with sport-suspension options, and the six-speed manual makes it even better—just a blast to drive.”
White’s wagon enthusiasm extends back to the old family truckster. “Our family wagon growing up was a 1968 Chrysler wagon, dark green with fake wood paneling,” he recalls. “Fast-forward to 1975 and my first wagon of my own was actually a wedding present from my father-in-law—an Opel sport wagon, complete with rally wheels, gauges, and a manual! We were actually a two-wagon couple briefly with my wife’s Datsun 510 wagon.
“I remember lusting after a golf yellow 2002 Touring I saw in Germany,” he adds. That probably stoked the BMW wagon interest and led to the Inka 02 Touring he currently has—and to more fun, too. “Before I knew we could import them—gray-market back then—I built a clone E34 M5 Touring,” he says, “but I’m glad I imported the actual M5s with their 3.8-liter engine and these six-speed manual transmissions.”
Many BMW wagon fans appreciate other wagons as well. “I’m a hot-hatch guy, too,” White adds. “I have an Audi RS4 Avant clone that might be my fastest car.” In addition to the aforementioned fun, White also includes an S54-swapped E30 Touring he got from Terry Sayther.
The parallels with the 2002 Touring extend to a number of folks. Robert Tran was also at the AutoConduct meet in August and had debated trying to bring both his 2002 Touring and his newly imported E36 Alpina B3 3.2 Touring. Tran knows that the wagon community is a unique one.
“It was great meeting other BMW enthusiasts who were as nerdy as I am on the niche things,” he says. “It helped that I rolled in with an Alpina B3 Touring. But it was also neat that I quickly found others more knowledgeable of Alpina cars than I am. I’m definitely looking forward to future events and contributing to the community.”
It might be a niche community, but as I’d seen while caravanning to Legends with Tran a week before in our Tourings, those who know, know.—Kyle van Hoften
[Photos courtesy Kyle van Hoften.]