I’ve owned 30 cars in my lifetime, and as you can imagine, not all of them wore the BMW badge. If I’m honest, the German brand represents just three of my purchases—but two of those are in my garage right now. This might suggest that my history with BMW has been recent, but it has actually been decades in the making.
As a teenage car enthusiast in the early ’70s, I didn’t care much about BMWs—barely acknowledging their existence. Raised with the rumble of muscle cars that dominated my neighborhood, all that mattered to me was cubic inches under the hood. Detroit iron was everywhere, and I developed my automotive prejudice based on that perspective.
It’s not as though I was ignorant to the existence of foreign cars. An early-’60s Rambler station wagon was the last American make my family owned. It was actually my father who introduced our town to the first VW Beetle and microbus, as well as the Fiat and Honda brands. Perhaps he was ahead of his time, but in my adolescent mind, that was a dubious distinction.
The family of a high-school friend of mine rented out a room to Edgar, a student who was studying to be a pharmacist—and who owned the only BMW 2002 I had ever known to that point. I can’t say that I remember much about the car itself, not even the color. However, I do remember that knowing my love for cars, Edgar offered to let me drive it—and I declined.
Yes, I know: I just heard me say that, too.
Since I would usually have taken the keys to anything on wheels, I still wonder why I snubbed that invitation. Perhaps it was due to concerns of accidental damage—but such concerns had never been a deterrent before. I think that in its most basic form, the boxy design was simply no more compelling to me at that time than our family Fiat 128 sedan.
Oblivious, I am now very much aware that renowned designer Giovanni Michelotti is responsible for the styling of this legendary two-door sedan. His work was truly the foundation of countless BMW creations since then. He has designed some of the most captivating sports cars ever created, and many of them would be included in my imaginary collection.
The BMW 2002 had a 2,000cc engine and two doors, thus the given name. Now, if I’m pressed to think about it, that could have been a point of contention with me; I had a fundamental dislike for the metric system—especially after the Metric Conversion Act was adopted in 1975. The cc designation didn’t exactly dissuade my domestic bias.
But although I eventually learned to acknowledge this new scheme of measurement, it was several more years before BMW would draw further interest from me. When the oil embargo of the early ’70s ignited a desperate move for efficient performance, nothing produced in America was inspiring in that arena, so I turned my focus to British sports cars. Ironically, Michelotti was the designer and inspiration for several of them.
This is about the time that I realized taking corners was much more satisfying than launching a quarter mile. Smaller, lighter vehicles had more potential, because a modest increase in power translated into incremental performance gain—all the while maintaining exceptional handling characteristics—particularly with the timely introduction of the radial tire.
Cars with superior handling proficiency also satisfied my life-long obsession with stunt driving. I find the choreography of man, machine, and road a thrilling presentation, and I never miss a movie that features exceptional driving. Not surprisingly, the James Bond movies have always been a favorite series because they have always included an incredibly impossible chase scene.
Released in the late ’90s, The World is Not Enough featured the stunning pre-production BMW Z8 convertible. As shallow as it sounds, I left the theater wishing that I could drive like James Bond: cool under pressure, indifferent to imminent danger. The elegant and spirited design of this instantly classic roadster became the catalyst for a new fixation with BMW.
In a household where my wife and I carefully budgeted monthly expense, an acquisition did not look promising—BMW models were not cheap. But at the turn of the millennium, lease rates became as competitive as mortgage refinancing is today. Upgrading to something I never dreamed of driving became suddenly plausible.
BMW capitalized on the leasing trend with an aggressive strategy: Rates were very reasonable, and the maintenance program made it all the more appealing. I found myself at my local dealership one afternoon wandering the showroom, and the 325xi caught my eye. It was the most affordable BMW at the time, but elegantly sporty—and now unexpectedly attainable.
My existing ride was free and clear, and the trade-in was enough for the deposit and first month’s payment. While I sat in the dealership conference room signing the requisite papers, they were screening The Hire on a continuous loop. That amazing BMW original short-film series featured Clive Owen as a driver for hire who got himself in and out of trouble with his driving skills. How incredibly fitting!
Three years and almost 50,000 miles later, my wife and I were well past the mileage limit for the lease agreement, and ended up in a more practical car for reasons not relevant to this narrative. Although neither of us regretted a single minute behind the wheel, it would be fifteen long years before I would reunite with the BMW brand.
Events of the past two years have caused some of us to take stock of our lives, our behaviors, and our possessions. We now had three cars in our stable, but our driving habits had changed—and conditions were not expected to improve. As I detailed in my first BimmerLife column, it simply didn’t make sense to have so much money invested in so many machines.
It was time for simplification.
Over the course of six active months we exchanged all three cars for two replacements. The BMW M440i had the perfect combination of comfort, performance, and elegance, while the 330e my wife picked out is a modernized plug-in-hybrid version of the 325xi we enjoyed so many years ago. This transition was the very definition of the term less is more.
My introduction to BMW has been more of an extended journey than a singular event—from ignorance to educated as a young adult, through obsession and ownership many years later, and finally to a dual reunion in the past many months. I can’t say that I regret the cars I’ve owned in between BMWs, but I also wonder what might have been had I just remained in the BMW family.
And to you, Edgar, I hope that my rejection so many years ago did not offend you. Today I regret that missed opportunity to drive what now represents the very beginnings of the two cars that reside in our garage. If it makes you feel any better, you are credited with introducing me first to this exceptional brand. And for that, I am most appreciative.—David Newton
[Photos courtesy David Newton, BMW AG.]