I’ve owned my 1999 M Coupe for 17 years, longer than any of my cars except for the E9. Despite its longevity in the stable, I’ve had an uneasy relationship with the car.

I love its look and its performance, and I’ve had no substantial issues with it except the driver’s door window regulator, but I don’t drive it much because the foam in the heavily-bolstered seats doesn’t have enough give in it, and as a result, my lower back begins to hurt soon after starting to drive the car. A few years ago I installed the seat tilt kit. This seemed to move the pain point out from 45 minutes to maybe an hour and fifteen, but didn’t fundamentally change the issue.

The clown shoe and my dear departed 1982 Porsche 911SC are tied together in a funny way. I bought the SC in 2001. I adored the car and daily-drove it for years on my five-mile route to my job when the weather was good, leaving the Targa top in my garage and treating the car like a convertible. My E9 was already on my Hagerty insurance policy whose terms, like those of most collector car policies, exclude commuting, so I wasn’t daily-driving it to work anymore.

When the 911SC became 25 years old in 2007, it became eligible to be put on the Hagerty policy, to so save money, I added it. Like the E9, its use dropped dramatically. That same year, I happened into the M Coupe. I wasn’t looking for one, but even back then, they didn’t show up on local Craigslist often, and it was well-priced due to bent wheels and needing shocks and struts.

I was instantly smitten when I drove it.

Buying it when I still owned the Porsche seemed crazy, and $12,500 was more than I’ve paid for any car, but I was still making good money at my engineering job, and YOLO and all that, so I snagged it. It essentially replaced the 911SC as the too-cool-for-school daily-drive-to-work car. It wasn’t until I needed to go to a business meeting in New Jersey and decided to take the M Coupe (I mean, why wouldn’t I?) that the back-pain issue reared its ugly head. By the time I arrived, I was in agony. I dreaded driving home. It has remained a fundamental stumbling block in my use of the car. I’ve never taken another road trip in it.

The just-purchased but unplated M Coupe sitting in my then-clean (?) garage. That’s the E9 under one cover, my departed ’72tii “Kugel” under the other, and the Porsche hiding behind the sliding door.

In 2005, the company I worked for got sold. Two years later, the new owners closed the building. Fortunately, they moved my group into a 32,000 square foot warehouse. I was the group supervisor, and the division of the company I was in had no other presence in the state, so my unexploded ordnance detection group had free run of the whole place without real adults looking over our shoulders.

We had two UXO detection vehicles, the truck and the 32-foot trailer that hauled them, a marine-based system, and, for a period of time, a hovercraft in the warehouse, so the step to a couple of cars was an incremental one. There’s nothing like free storage space to allow the number of cars to creep up.

This was the situation that the M Coupe was born into—it could live in my garage and the Porsche could hang out in the warehouse. But in 2011, the company closed the warehouse and moved us to much smaller digs. In addition to losing the space, it heralded the beginning of the end of my stable employment. I needed to make some tough decisions on which cars stayed and which went. Obviously the E9 wasn’t going anywhere. I got rid of a well-patina’d 2002, a rust-free ’85 635CSi with fresh paint, five-speed, and sport seats, and a ’92 Toyota Land Cruiser that hung around for a bit after I bought it to use for one summer as a Nantucket over-sand vacation vehicle.

But the hard choice was between the Porsche and the clown shoe. I liked the shoe but I loved the Porsche. However, its engine was going to need attention—it was leaking oil past the valve guides as well as through the seals on the oil return tubes, not all of which were replaceable with the newer-style expand-and-lock parts. When I looked at the studs and nuts holding the heat exchangers to the heads, I saw that heat and rust had reduced them down to the thickness of pencil lead. I knew that any attempt to fix it would snap the studs and land me in a world of hurt, and convinced myself that the time to sell it was now. Small-bumpered long-hood 911s were already fetching big money, but SCs were commodities. There were a lot of them in the $10k to $20k range. I figured that if I wanted another 911, in a few years I could buy something slightly newer like an ’88 Carrera 3.2. The other factor was that, even though I loved the SC, it was a primitive car. Generationally, it felt like my 1970s BMWs, whereas the M Coupe felt three generations newer and was completely unlike anything else I owned.

So I sold the ’82 911SC. I’d bought the car for ten grand, owned it for ten years, and sold it in 2011 for ten grand. It wasn’t a panicked sale. That’s what it was worth. Of course, about three months later, all air-cooled 911s went nuts. I doubt I could buy the SC back now for forty grand.

Mistake! Mistake! My kingdom for a time machine!

I mention all this because part of my conflicted feelings about the M Coupe is that a) it’s the child that stayed when I sold its older brother, and b) I’m totally convinced that, if I sell it, its value will skyrocket as the SC’s did. In reality, however, that’s not likely. Clown shoes and their values get a lot of press, but it’s mainly the low-production 2001 and 2002 S54-powered cars (only 678 made for the U.S. market), especially the low-mileage ones in zingy colors with two-tone interiors, that reach stratospheric values on Bring-a-Trailer. Values of the 1999 and 2000 S52 cars (2180 U.S.-spec cars built), particularly driver-quality ones in silver with solid black interiors like mine, are at the bottom of the value stack.

I bought the M Coupe with about 95,000 miles on it. It now has just a shade under 109,000. Doing the math, that’s a little over 800 miles a year, so my statement that “I don’t drive it much” is borne out by the numbers. And much of that mileage was probably front-loaded near the beginning of my stewardship.

Owning a car that I barely drive and that I know I’ll never take on a road trip is something of an anathema to me. It flies in the face of my whole “I’m not a collector” self-image. Plus, not road-tripping a car removes the vector for adventure and bonding. The biggest thing I’ve done with the clown shoe is shot the video with Magnus Walker (and even more fun than the video itself was when we got stopped for speeding).

It is in this context that the M Coupe has been sitting at my house since the fall. I really thought that, this time, I’d let it go. I had the wheels repainted and the embarrassingly-old tires replaced, shot the required walk-around and driving videos, and planned to take yet another crack at fixing the window regulator mechanism that makes a loud snapping sound at the top of the roll-up (“planned” meaning I haven’t done it yet).

But then, a few weeks ago, my use of the M Coupe increased sharply.

It began with the Monson warehouse. As I wrote about the last two weeks (here and here), I needed to take a few trips out to Monson where I store five cars. I didn’t really want to leave the M Coupe out there, but I wanted to bring the Lotus back home, one of the three cars in my garage had to be the one to make the swap, and I didn’t want it to be the E9 or Hampton the survivor 2002, so I scooted out in the M Coupe. I enjoyed both the car and the drive immensely. The Lotus didn’t cooperate, and I took the 635CSi home with me instead to fix its broken handbrake, but the next week I brought the Shark back and retrieved the M Coupe. After dealing with foibles of the four “old BMWs” in Monson, it was hard not to appreciate the clown shoe’s feel and performance, and the trip wasn’t long enough to anger up my back.

The following weekend, my E30-and-911SC-owning friend Stephanie Smithwick was in Providence for a wedding. She’s not attending The Vintage in Asheville this year and I wasn’t there last year, so we wanted to catch up over breakfast. The shoe seemed the natural car to take for the 50-minute drive. Shooting down there and back was heavenly.

The M Coupe looking elegant on the streets of old downtown Providence (photo by Stephanie Smithwick)

Then, my daily-driver 2003 E39 530i stick sport began acting up with an odd hesitation issue. It’s not so much loss of power as it is the feeling that the car nods off for a few seconds. While driving the car to a couple of gigs, the problem seemed to be getting steadily worse, to the point where the cruise control wouldn’t engage. As I’ve long said, pretending that problems don’t exist or hoping that they’ll go away is like trolling for a tow truck, or like walking past a grizzly bear refuge wearing a shirt made of bacon. So I’ve been hesitant to drive the car further than short trips until I identify and fix the problem (no check-engine light, no meaningful codes).

That same day, I needed to shoot up to Londonderry to pick up a guitar, so the M Coupe was pressed into service again (FYI a guitar just fits under the M Coupe’s rear hatch if you put a towel under the neck of the hard-shell case so it doesn’t scuff up the interior divider), and again I felt blessed to continue to own the car, particularly when the 85-mph traffic speeds on I-93 reached the long sweeping curve just north of the NH-MA border.

Between the drives back and forth to Monson, the trip to Providence, and the scoot up to NH, I probably put more miles on the M Coupe than in the past few years combined. This new phase in its life where it’s being used because it’s the lowest-mileage most-reliable BMW I own is surprising, even humorous, but most welcome.

At some point, the day may come when I need the $22k to $25k that the car would realistically bring, but to quote both Aragorn and LeBron James, that day is not today. So, no, don’t message me and offer me $26k. I’d be an idiot to let it go. I mean, I still need a dependable car :^)

Rob Siegel 


Rob’s newest book, The Best of The Hack Mechanic, is available here on Amazon, as are his seven other books. Signed copies can be ordered directly from Rob here.




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