BMW E36 3 Series Touring

Four cars—a wagon, a sedan, a coupe, and a vintage car—walk into a bar…. No? Okay, how about they drive six hours to Laguna Seca?

Actually, this is not really a joke, but a hypothetical situation meant tackle the age-old question, what is the ideal car? (By the way, the answer is always “wagon,” but I can’t end the column here, regrettably, so let’s continue.)

Seeing amazing cars at the track means we first have to get to the track successfully.

That ideal-car question, or at least the answer, might depend on the intended use. My intended use was not hypothetical; it was last weekend, a six-hour drive to get me quickly to a race track. And as I write this, I’m about to do it again, so regardless of what I used last weekend, I’ll need to make another choice before you read this.

Both trips involve solo night missions that start in LA traffic. The first one included rain (this happens when you leave Southern California, apparently), and these round trips invariably include three days of parking outside in too much dust and dirt—or as Chevy Chase puts it in Fletch, “filth and muck.”

My cars despise filth and muck. So do I.

A peek through Pedram Mehdipour’s 2002 reveals more fun cars ideal for the weekend.

So maybe my ideal car, at least for this purpose, needs to be fast, comfortable, waterproof, and impervious to dirt. What are the important features for your car? My daughter says that she needs Bluetooth, keyless entry, pink interior lights, a gas card linked to my account, and room for a surfboard. (She does not surf). Another friend says that it is important to him that he “feels the road,” so I figure that something like a Fred Flintstone car with no floor would be his ideal ride.

Do you need storage? Handling? Enough power to beat the inattentive driver next to you off the line at a stoplight (don’t do that, it’s not safe!)?

The Man(o) himself, Manuel “Manofied” Agulian led the eponymous Manofied Rally to Laguna Seca from Southern California.

At the track last weekend, there was also a car show featuring 2002s (and really anything else) there. Hagerty had presented a Cars & Caffeine event as part of the SVRA SpeedTour event at Laguna Seca, along with a parade lap around WeatherTech Raceway. Those events started to weigh on my which-car decision.

Let’s say, hypothetically, that I had a 2002 available, and wanted to bring that car so that I could have it at the Hagerty event. This particular hypothetical car has made the journey before, and has been displayed at Legends of the Autobahn. But a 1973 car, no matter how well sorted, would not be the best choice for a dark, rainy, solo drive; it sure would have been fun, though. But getting this car road-trip dirty would be a sin.

You might have an arsenal of options in your BMW fleet, real or desired, for a six-hour drive to get somewhere, and it might include a sedan—perhaps, hypothetically, an E39 M5. Be honest: Did you just think, “But the miles!”? Well, this hypothetical Le Mans blue over-Le Mans blue M5 has 124,000 miles on it already; 1,200 more won’t kill it or decrease its value. And with most pundits constantly declaring this sedan to be one of the best cars to drive, sedan or otherwise, it would be tempting to take that.

But I’d probably be pulled over for exceeding the posted limit every twelve miles.

WeatherTech Raceway was once called Mazda Raceway. Let’s stick with Laguna Seca.

Now let’s consider a coupe. This hypothetical car is an Estoril blue E36 M3; it behaves pretty well, and it has also made the journey in the past. Both this car and the M5 have manual transmissions—as does the 02, of course—so that’s a wash, whether for the fun of blasting along a few curvy roads or for the pain of potential traffic.

If I might get a ticket every twelve miles in the sedan, I’d probably get one every ten in the Estoril Blue coupe. By the simple size delta between a sedan and coupe, I could probably carry more stuff in the sedan, but luggage is not the concern on these trips—just space on the front seat for energy drinks and corn nuts, and space for the camera and a leaner clothes selection than I suppose I should admit here.

Finally, the wagon: This one is not hypothetical; I have it and I love it. However—brace yourself—this E61 has failed twice on previous efforts at the same journey. It just doesn’t like Monterey. (Baffling—everyone likes Monterey.)

The wagon is my most modern BMW, so I still think that its failures were merely bad luck—both times. There’s definitely plenty of space, and with this Dinan-badged Touring riding on KW V3 coil-overs, BBS CI-R wheels, and Michelin PS4S tires, it won’t be the last car to arrive at the party. But I will admit that as nice as I think it might look when it’s parked, freeway potholes target it like a bird on an overhead power line looking for a freshly washed car below. And there’s the looming fear that this otherwise cooperative car seems to crumble if it even senses a coming Monterey junket.

This wagon seems to like riding instead of driving; it was bailed out by Mike Burger’s shop during a past trip to Monterey.

So here I am, wondering which car I would take if I had these hypothetical options for this repeat journey. What are the other options you would include as the ideal car for this kind of trip—convertible? Two-seater? (Yeah, Satch: We know, we know.)

Taylor Griffith didn’t have a six-hour drive, but he sure had fun in his Dinan Alpina E32, another ideal car for the weekend.

I still need to decide whether to put more miles on a car that most owners pamper: Do I risk it and bring the “just get it out and drive” vintage car? Do I go for the repeat and tempt fate seeking a successful trip in the Dinan wagon? Do I drive what some might think is the sleeper sedan?

I think I have the answer: I actually need a new-to-me car for this kind of drive.

If you are my neighbor, my wife, or my parents, you’re probably rolling your eyes at this point—or perhaps planning an intervention. But if you’re someone selling an X3 M Competition, please give me a call.—Kyle van Hoften

[Photos courtesy Kyle van Hoften.]

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