Winter Romance: The White Shark
Selling this one was the right thing to do. At least that’s what I tell myself.
Ending a self-imposed 3-year “exile” from interesting cars, during which time I commuted to work in a beat-up late-’90s Saturn wagon (which served me admirably, I should add), the acquisition of my 1986 BMW 635CSi was at the same time a very deliberate purchase and an impulse buy.
I’ve always had an affinity for big GTs. I had just sold our (very faithful) 1993 Volvo 940 Turbo, and was still somewhat involved with the Volvo Brick community. But I also wanted something more engaging to drive, and I’d never owned a BMW before. Taking all that into consideration, I gravitated toward either a Volvo 780 Bertone—Volvo’s quirky, academic coupe of the late ’80s—or the E30-generation BMW 3-series. I knew an E30 would surely satisfy me from a driver’s standpoint, but there was (and is) something about the Volvo 780’s uniqueness—not to mention the familiarity of its platform—that I found very appealing.
So combine some of the driver’s car qualities of the E30 with the big, unique GT angle of the 780, and during the course of my deliberations, I arrived at the BMW E24 6-series. The E24 had presence, adequate pace, perfect proportions and was available with a 5-speed. I found the example shown here on Craigslist. I e-mailed the seller; he was the third owner and lived just down the road. I arranged to meet him one late summer evening in local grocery store parking lot; with my first in-the-flesh glimpse of the car, I knew it was something special.
It had 253K on the odometer, an amazingly stiff clutch pedal and the dash was cracked in multiple places (typical E24 interior problem), but the paint was in fantastic shape, it ran perfectly and most importantly, there wasn’t a hint of rust on the car, being as it was of west-coast origin. The big M30 straight six made a lovely sound as it hustled its way up to redline and the engine’s midrange punch was very impressive. So with little research, only a day or two after the very idea of acquiring an E24 had popped into my head, I bought one.
I owned the 635 for 9 months, from late August through the following April. It never let me down; never missed a beat, even with as many miles as it had. Autumn cruises through the piedmont with the windows rolled down were heaven. I got admiring glances from folks at gas stations and thumbs up from other BMW drivers. I was introduced to the wonderful E24 community, chock-full of helpful, unpretentious owners with encyclopedic reservoirs of knowledge about the car. With all that, though, I still began to be, if not exactly eager to sell, at least resigned to the fact that I had to get something else, for a number of reasons.
The first problem is illustrated above: The E24 was my daily driver all throughout a particularly snowy winter. The car was rust free, and ’80s BMWs not exactly being known for their comprehensive and durable rustproofing, I was on pins and needles every time I drove it through the slush, or even in the rain. I took it to the coin-op car wash at least twice a week during that period, but that didn’t assuage the feeling that I was accelerating whatever seeds of deterioration were planted in the fenderwells and rocker panels. It was awful owning such a classic and knowing I had to drive it in those conditions.
Next, the car didn’t fit our family’s car project paradigm. My 240Z project had yet to commence, but I knew it would, and if I’d kept the E24, my car affections would have been split between it and the Z. In the end, our family budget wouldn’t support more than the Family Hauler + Daily Driver + Project Car equation, and the 635 ventured too far into the Project Car category.
And finally, I simply hadn’t done enough research before buying the car. If I had waited a week or two and gathered additional information, I might have learned that a gray-market Euro import E24 can be had in similar condition to the one I bought for a very small premium over the price I paid—if not the same price. Euro E24s are blessed with a higher-compression engine, oftentimes can be had with a close-ratio dogleg gearbox and most importantly, sport the lovely thin-profile Euro bumpers that absolutely make the lines of the car. I liked my 635 very much, but I never got over the hideous US-spec “diving board” bumpers and the way they contrasted with the beautiful Alpine White paint.
I was sad to see it drive away. Its present owner lives in the sunny, snow-free Florida panhandle and is an ’80s BMW enthusiast, hopefully putting many happy miles on the car.