Autumn carries a certain weight in the Northeast. The stirring of bright orange leaves signals the first thoughts of the long dark season—and the annual race against the salt—before clearing out the barn for storage and mouse-proofing the summer cars as best one can. But for many years it has also meant that it was time for the perennial BMW celebration of Vintage at Saratoga.
Saratoga’s annual BMW show, hosted by the wonderful Patroon Chapter of the BMW CCA, has for many years been an integral part of the Northeast’s BMW culture, much like Lime Rock car corrals and Larz Anderson programs. Over the past two years, however, the close-knit community of friends new and old have been waiting very patiently to return to the grounds of the Saratoga Automobile Museum; the event had been scheduled for the spring of 2020, but it was pushed back for perhaps obvious reasons.
This made the most recent gathering, held on a beautiful Saturday in October, a relieving reunion not just for the organizers (who have done an incredible job to make the event happen), but for drivers of vintage BMWs as far away as Pittsburgh or Maine who made the trip to rejoin friends new and old.
From the first whiff of exhaust in the crisp morning air to the whine of the window motors and calling out to old friends, the Saratoga Vintage is as the Saratoga Vintage was: carefree, peaceful, and welcoming, with a smattering of unobtainium throughout. Beyond the field of 2002s, an extra helping of M coupes, and a row of E24 6 Series and E9 coupes, we were graced with spectacular BMWs like a Z1 roadster, a Glas 1600GT, two Z8 roadsters, and one-off creations like John Holzscheiter’s S38-powered E9 coupe.
While such a caliber of car is typical of a Saratoga show, some of the ringers in attendance were thanks to the BMW Classic Car Club of America’s New England Tour, which was organized by that club’s president, Dirk de Groen, and ran through the hills of Vermont and New Hampshire during peak foliage season. It was a spectacular drive—we joined for a brilliant display along Route 100—culminating at the Saratoga Vintage. De Groen and his wife, Alexandra, drove the rally in their fantastic 3.0CSL, adding another feather to the Saratoga event’s proverbial cap.
There’s nothing that better illustrates how circumstances have changed in the last few years than a perennial event like this. Since the last Vintage at Saratoga, we’ve all grown older and, if not wiser, at least attuned to the market. The cars that northeastern BMW folks have been bringing to this show for ten or twenty years have ballooned in value over the last 24 months, and that was on my mind as we drove in. We were so far removed from the days where someone could roll up in a different $4,500 E24 or E28 each year! Today, an appraiser would have characterized the lawn as being filled with appreciating assets, not automotive heirlooms, and I’ll admit that it’s disconcerting to see so many familiar cars and realize how so many of them—the cars we all bought to drive—have become collectibles approaching the apex of desirability.
But the attitude that weekend was the same as Saratoga has always been, and it was a relief to see that the culture running through a longtime BMW program was the same as it has always been, with long-term owners abounding. Skyrocketing value or not, the New England community owns these cars to enjoy them, and the joy and passion of the BMW CCA in Saratoga shone as bright as an autumn maple.
Yet for all the raucous energy, one must also consider the more sobering story of the lost years of events. As with everywhere else on Earth, there are absent souls when we reunite. Saratoga, although it felt the same, was no exception. We may have studied appreciation with rapt attention for the last two years, but in the same span, many of us have come to understand loss. We all have in our memory a face or a car that’s absent from events this year, and we process it in our own way.
For my girlfriend and I, the reunion represented the ability to bring seven friends together—as many as we could fit in the house—pack them into the back seats of some old BMWs, introduce them to some of my earliest friends in the club, and show them the real spirit of a longtime BMW CCA event. After so much darkness, laughter echoed off E30s and E28s, connections were forged anew, and from the ashes of a somber two years, the community emerged stronger than ever.
The faces might be younger, and we might treat the cars a little more gently in their time of appreciation, but the laughter and smiles have returned to the fields of Saratoga. If you had any doubts about the return of events, rest assured that the BMW spirit in New England remains as alight as the trees of autumn.
Thank you to our friends in the Patroon Chapter for a wonderful event.—David Rose
[Photos courtesy David Rose.]