The year 2023 has brought many noteworthy BMW-related firsts. To name a few, the LMDh BMW M Hybrid V8 hit the track, BMW Motorrad turned 100, and TouringFest was born. “What’s TouringFest?” you ask. It’s a multi-day event focused on a mutual love of driving long-roof BMW vehicles, with its inaugural running taking place in the picturesque North Georgia Mountains in late April of this year.
Peachtree Chapter Vice President and X Chapter Secretary Al Mancuso came up with the idea for the event and explains, “To my knowledge, [an official gathering of wagons is] something that’s never been done by BMW CCA. There are special chassis and model-specific events for the coupes, Z3s, and 2002s, so why not something for wagon aficionados?”
Mancuso has been a CCA member for over two decades and was introduced to BMWs by his parents. He says, “To be honest, I didn’t really understand why people bought BMWs until my parents bought their first. Once I drove it, I understood exactly why they wanted one. Ever since then, I’ve pretty much always owned a BMW.” His current stable consists of a 2018 430i convertible, 2016 428i xDrive coupe, 2006 330ci M-Tech convertible, 2000 M Roadster, and, saving the best for last, a 1996 323i Touring, which is what he brought to this year’s TouringFest. (And for those keeping score, it is indeed an E36-chassis touring which was never offered on U.S. shores, so this one had to be imported.)
Nearly twenty CCA members spread across eleven wagons attended the first TouringFest, with Joseph Robinson driving the farthest in his manual-equipped 525i touring (E39) from Central Texas to attend the party of practicality. The three-day event kicked off with a popular “beer swap” at the host hotel in Gainesville, Georgia. Mancuso explains, “We had people coming from all over, so on Friday evening everyone arrived and checked into the hotel, we swapped our favorite beers from different regions and then had dinner.”
The bulk of the automotive activities began at first light the next morning. Mancuso continues, “On Saturday, we were all about driving. We started early and drove out to Hiawassee, Georgia through the mountains and had lunch. Then there was the drive back, which got us back to the hotel later in the afternoon.” A car show and dinner finished out wagon-related activities for Saturday. Some chose to meet up for a group “goodbye breakfast” on Sunday before heading their separate ways.
A memorable moment for Mancuso during this year’s TouringFest was during Saturday’s drive. He laughs, “There were a couple of times on the drive back where part of our group was separated. Some of us turned around to get them, and we kept crossing each other’s paths—it was like Keystone Cops—but eventually we got back at the same time.” Aside from a good chuckle on the return trip to the hotel, Mancuso reflects, “It was really nice to have kinship with other people who ‘get’ the long roof. Other than the cars just looking cool, they are so capable. They beat any SUV hands down. They handle like sports cars. You just can’t beat them. We don’t understand why other people don’t get that.”
Of the wagons in attendance for 2023, Mancuso rather liked Chris Holliday’s S54-swapped E46 Touring, saying, “It’s really nice. He’s a friend of mine, and just a couple of weeks before TouringFest, I helped him swap his tan interior for a new dark saddle black interior. It’s just a great car.” Holliday’s E46 Touring started life as a 2000 323i and he says, “In its current form, it’s an M3 inside.” The now-badged “332i” packs an M3 drivetrain with S54 engine, six-speed, suspension, brakes, and all the other M3 fixins.
Holliday made the trip to TouringFest from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and describes his trip to Georgia, saying, “The drive is part of the event for us. We always try to make it more than just a scream down the highway and back. We avoid I-95 and I-81, so we travel out to the middle of the state and get on US-220. We ride down 220, with various excursions along the way, and spend the night in Warm Springs, Virginia.” In all, it was about two nine-hour travel days for Holliday and his touring to reach the host hotel in Georgia.
The excitement of first impressions was Holliday’s most memorable part of this year’s event. He reflects, “When we all first met and had the fun of discovering what was special about each wagon. Literally every one of these had something special, whether it was an E36 wagon never sold in this market, an E36 that’s been swapped or upgraded, an S62 inside an E39, something supercharged, something with an S54 engine—everything was special. And just getting to look at everyone’s special cars was the most exciting moment for me.”
With TouringFest 2023 in the books, Mancuso gives a shout out to Connor Bullock, who owns one of the other S54-swapped E46 Tourings that participated this year, for helping plan the drives and restaurant venues during the 2023 event. And, of course, an overflowing hatchful of thanks to everyone else for attending, making this inaugural touring-focused event one to remember.
To build on the success of the first event, TouringFest 2024 will add another day to the schedule—there will be two days of driving, more great food venues, beer swap, and goodbye breakfast. And while the 2023 TouringFest focused on E36, E39, and E46 wagons, the upcoming 2024 event will not highlight any specific long-roof BMW chassis, so all are welcome. If this caravan of camaraderie sounds like it’s right up your alley, keep April 18th–21st, 2024 open on your calendar. For registration and lodging, see the MotorsportReg event page here.—Mike Bevels
[Photos courtesy of Chris Holliday.]