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Posts filed under ‘BMW’

Doctor 540i or:
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the V8

July 7, 2013 by Matt

I used to look down my nose at this engine configuration.

Sure, my opinion of them was colored by my thoughts concerning the perennial American attachment to big whacking pushrod lumps (which are certainly effective, done correctly), but I was wrong to let my views on the evergreen Small Block Chevy engine taint my perception of V8s in general. There’s a reason many more automakers besides the Big Three cleave to or have gravitated toward the configuration.

BMW V8 M60B40 E34 540i Engine Bay Motor

Click the image to enlarge.

I’ve always been an inline-six and rotary engine buff. I’ve been fortunate enough to have owned a few Mazda rotaries and a number of inline sixes from a variety of manufacturers (Nissan L24, Toyota 7M and 1JZ, BMW M30 and M50), so my predilection for those configurations’ inherent smoothness and refinement has been cemented for ages. I sneered at the V8’s less-than-optimal internal geometry that meant it could never be as naturally smooth as a fully-counterweighted inline-six. I adopted a kind of snobbish engineering puritanism.

But I’m happy to report that my month-and-a-half of life with my 1995 540i’s 4.0l M60 V8 (shown above) has helped me see the light. It’s a cross-plane design and very nearly as smooth as my old 525’s M50 in the upper rev range. The additional two power-pulses per cycle contribute to the feeling of refinement and give it a lovely noise. And it pulls like a freight train. I may not have completely “come to the dark side” and become an avid fan of the pushrod variation—they’re still too ubiquitous, and I like my cams up top, please—but as of this writing, send me my long-delayed V8 Fan Club membership card.

12 Comments

A Local Build: Carl’s Hardy & Beck BMW 630CSi

June 3, 2013 by Matt

Hardy and Beck BMW 630CSi E24 Restomod Carl Pardue

Carl’s resto-mod 1977 BMW 630CSi might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s hard to knock the thoroughness of his execution.

Originally the poster BMW E24 6-Series for the tuning outfit Hardy & Beck, Carl came across it in 2009 and fell in love with the car and its history. After completing one of the most comprehensive Z3 M Coupe turbo builds in the country, he trained his sights on the E24, determined to infuse the car with his unique vision.

Hardy and Beck BMW 630CSi E24 Restomod Carl Pardue

The idea for the engine is to create the highest-output naturally-aspirated M30, retaining as much of its character while turning everything “up to 11,” so to speak (and hopefully still remaining somewhat streetable). Meticulously prepped, the engine features custom 10.8:1 compression Wiseco pistons and TWM Induction individual throttle bodies (ITBs). The M30’s 2-valve cylinder head has never been known as a paragon of breathing efficiency, but Carl’s build will definitely explore the upper limit of its capabilities.

Hardy and Beck BMW 630CSi E24 Restomod Carl Pardue

Hardy and Beck BMW 630CSi E24 Restomod Carl Pardue

The interior has been completely overhauled as well, with new seats, upholstery and freshened details. It’s not original, but it all fits together somehow, and it’s special, and that counts for something. Will be following the remainder of the build with interest.

15 Comments

The New Daily: 1995 BMW 540i 6-Speed

May 26, 2013 by Matt

1995 BMW 540i 6-Speed Arktisgrau Arctic Gray

1995 BMW 540i 6-Speed Arktisgrau Arctic Gray

Here it is. Just arrived Friday morning. And the important stuff:

1995 BMW 540i 6-Speed Arktisgrau Arctic Gray Shift Knob

BMW M60B40 Engine Motor E34 540i

Yes folks, I have obtained one of the 1,524 6-speed BMW 540i E34s to be imported during the single model year they were available here: 1995. Arctic Gray (Arktisgrau) over Dove leather interior; I love the color combination. The engine is a 4.0l DOHC V8 with a rated output of 282 hp and 295 ft-lbs of torque. The car weighs just north of 3,500 lbs, which makes for a 0-60 time very close to 6 seconds. Needless to say, it offers a healthy bump over the 189 hp of my ’95 525i. The added displacement provides a very meaty torque curve as well, which translates to neck-snapping acceleration from most anywhere on the tach, and the DOHC head keeps the engine breathing well and pulling hard right up to its 6500 rpm redline. 2nd and 3rd gear acceleration is relentless, and the engine makes a lovely noise.

1995 BMW 540i 6-Speed Arktisgrau Arctic Gray Dove Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard

One of the main selling points of the car is displayed above: Its immaculate interior. Aside from some repairable door weatherstripping shrinkage, the interior looks new. The sport seats are firm but comfortable, the color scheme is very pleasing and it even features the optional 6-disc CD changer my 525 is hard-wired for but didn’t come with.

I found the car on Autotrader in Denver a couple of Fridays ago. I messaged a BMW forum member in the area asking if he’d be willing to check it out for me. Not only did he graciously agree to do so, he actually offered to deliver the car to me the following week if I would pay his expenses and the flight home. How could I refuse?

After leaving the dealership Wednesday afternoon, he rolled into central NC last Friday morning and met me at my office. He hung out for the morning and I drove him to the airport over lunch, after reimbursing him for gas and his expenses, which turned out to be amazingly inexpensive. Needless to say, I’m incredibly grateful, and the forum member has earned himself a gold star from me now and forever.

It does have a few issues, including dampers in need of replacement, cracked/missing foglights and a touch of rust along the bottoms of the doors (most frequent E34 rust area). New dampers are on order, I’m in negotiations with BMW friends over foglights from parts cars, and taking care of the rust for good is simply a matter of locating replacement doors and swapping everything over. It’s easier than it sounds.

The idea in replacing the 525 with a 540 from the same year was to retain as many of the qualities that I love about the E34 525 and shore up those areas in which I’m less than satisfied. So far, mission accomplished. Here’s what I wrote on the forums:

Alright, driving impressions compared to my 525. Overall, very similar. The 540 definitely feels more hunkered-down. Where the 525 would dance through the corners the 540 seems to take a set and bite down. If the 525 is a ballet dancer, the 540 is more of a Barry Sanders-type running back. I’ll have to post another review once I get the new dampers installed because I’m sure that’s coloring my impression of the 540. The new car does feel a bit heavier in the nose, but the car still feels like it pivots around the driver’s seat bottom—my all-time favorite quality of the E34. Overall the 540 doesn’t feel quite as “flickable” as the 525, but it’s not as floaty either, if that makes sense. Again, I’m sure new dampers will make a huge difference.

The 6-speed has taken some getting used to. I know the 5-speed in the 525 so well, the ratios and gearchanges are completely second-nature. Now I’m wondering if I’m on the highway, loping along in 6th and need to gun it to pass, do I drop 1 gear? 2 gears? Gotta get used that, and the stiff throttle cable isn’t helping with learning the car’s rev-matching/heel-and-toeing behavior.

And the power…oh the power. I’ll just come out and say it (some of you will laugh): This is the fastest car I’ve ever owned. The surge in 2nd and especially 3rd reminds me of my old 1JZ-swapped Supra for the 24 hours or so it was running correctly (long story), and that makes sense: Similar power (282 for the E34 vs. 280 for the Supra) and weight (3500 for the E34 vs. 3450 for the Supra). I remember distinctly pulling onto a country road in the Supra, opening it up and muttering “Holy crap” at the wave of power; I had exactly the same reaction in the 540 not 20 minutes ago when I laid 20 feet of rubber at the 1-2 upshift and kept it buried… It is addictive like nothing else.

So far, so good. Working through the laundry list of little things that need to be taken care of upon acquiring a new-to-me car is always kind of fun, and satisfying. Onward…

19 Comments

An Original Owner Story

April 29, 2013 by Matt

1995 BMW E34 525i Oxford Green Rear Back Taillights

A couple of New Years ago, I drove the kids in my 1995 BMW 525i back to my parents’ house for our annual holiday visit. My car’s original owner is a lady who lives on their cul-de-sac. She replaced the E34 with a new-ish E90 325i, but still misses her old car quite a bit.

I parked by the curb on a Friday afternoon, and she saw her old car for the first time since selling it to me that past spring. She had to run to an appointment, but the incident reminded me to ask her something I’d been wondering about for a while. So I sent her an e-mail later that weekend asking for her story of the car’s purchase.

Here’s her reply. It made me really happy. Enjoy:

I would love to tell you the story:

In about 1994 or sometime around there, I was in Germany on business and rented a car for business purposes, as I was traveling to another city for a second meeting. The car they offered me was a BMW 328i, and I drove it from Frankfurt far into the countryside (I can’t remember the town), on the Autobahn. OMG, that just took me right out re: BMW’s. It was a manual shift.

I had driven a manual shift earlier in my life (school bus in high school, old Volkswagens, Mazda 626, which I had at the time), so a manual shift was very much at home to me, and frankly, what I consider…shall we say…driving.

Back in the US, I started thinking about how nice it would be to have a BMW, but what a dream that would be. I went to the first dealership, and thought they were snotty and arrogant, but I did connect with a sales person there who took me for a test drive in a white 525 with black interior. It was pouring rain and we’d stopped on a dime in the rain on a back road, so that was impressive to me.

But black interior? High price? Arrogant dealership? Automatic? That was 4 votes for NO.

Sometime later I was having dinner with my then insurance agent, Peggy, and her husband Ed. Over the course of dinner I learned that Ed loves BMWs and is always on the lookout for good deals. In fact, Ed loved hanging out at a second dealership in Raleigh and knew the guys there. He’d be on the lookout, but you know how people say those things, so I didn’t think much of it.

And then, about 4 or 5 months later, out of the blue, it was December, and Ed called and said that the second dealership had a 525i with manual shift in house, at the price of $34,000. It had 4,000 miles on it because it had been driven by an Executive at the recently opened BMW plant in South Carolina, so it had been really packaged nicely for the Executive (hence the burl dash, which was new at the time). He talked to the sales person and they would hold it for me if I was interested.

I went to the dealership, drove the car, and (remember this was December, 1995, and car salesmen were not as egalitarian or enlightened in the awareness of Women as Legitimate Customers). The sales men (I emphasize the men word here) were commenting with some shock that I could drive a manual shift. (Huh?) They couldn’t imagine that I would want a manual shift.

OK, but I did and yes, I bought the car. I had incorporated my business, so bought it with profits from my business. I paid cash for the car. That same unenlightened salesman said (brace yourself for what’s coming), “So, little lady, who’s going to be paying for your car?” I replied, “I am.” “Well, I know that you will be making the transaction today, but who holds the loan, or who is giving you the money?”

I looked him square in the eye and said, “I own a business. I earned money in my business to buy this car. There is no loan. There is no one else. I am paying cash for this car. TODAY. If you have a problem with that, I can speak with someone else.”

He sputtered and said something about little ladies today, blah blah blah, and we proceeded with the transaction.

I only mention that as laughter as to how times have changed. I noticed that salesman was not there very long afterwards.

For the entire time I owned that car, I had all service done at the dealership, as you can see from the records. I never had one lick of trouble with it (except for a water pump that went out 3 years ago in 100 degree heat, and a local tire shop replaced that in an emergency).

All service was performed by the same mechanic, Conrad, their top mechanic, until he moved to Virginia. Then I interviewed Conrad’s recommended replacement, who I think was William.

The service manager at the dealership in Raleigh, Kelly, knows me and this car like his own child. They were always good to me.

And that car represented my business ownership, my success beyond my dreams as a small business owner, and a real sense of pride for me. It also drove like a dream. I “fit” in the bucket seat (no small feat for a 5′ 1″ tall woman with short legs)

I had grown up in a large family where we were always limping along with second hand cars and Dad doing the repair, and we crossed our fingers on big trips, so it was important to me to be religious about preventative maintenance.

Mostly that car represented to me Dreams Realized, and I’m not just talking owning a BMW (I was always a little embarrassed about that, I don’t like the Ego stories that people make up. It was always less to me about having a BMW as having a nice car that I had didn’t have to worry about, that I could be proud to drive up in, that I paid for from my business and that I loved loved loved to drive…It was so much about the way that car drives).

Thank you for taking such good care of this car, and for understanding that sometimes a car is more than a car.

And thank you for asking…

Happy New Year,

B.

3 Comments

For Your Consideration:
The ’88-’89 BMW E24

April 26, 2013 by Matt

BMW E24 M635 M6 1989 1988 Gray

I realize some of you will always be partial to beauties such as the delectable E9 coupe, the exquisitely-proportioned E31 8-Series or the swoopy 507 roadster, but to me, BMW hasn’t made a better-looking car than the E24 6-Series. They just nailed it.

BMW E24 M635 M6 1989 1988 Gray

Frankly, the bumpers make or break the styling. Up until the final two years of the car’s long 13-year model run, the E24s bound for the US were fitted with hideous, protruding “diving board” crash bumpers—functional to be sure, but an order of magnitude worse to look at than the lovely, discreet Euro-spec pieces. But in 1988, BMW standardized the design across all markets with their so-called “world bumpers,” fitted to the E24 seen here. They still don’t complement the car’s lines quite as well as the Euro bumpers, but if the example seen in these photos is any indication, they do a fine job in their own right.

BMW E24 M635 M6 1989 1988 Gray

As an aspirational car, fit center caps to the 17″ wheels and position the badges correctly, and wouldn’t be ashamed in the least to be seen behind the wheel of this machine. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The rest of this photo collection can be viewed on the BigCoupe.com boards.

Image credits: Gregory Markarian

5 Comments

Winter Romance: The White Shark

March 29, 2013 by Matt

1986 BMW E24 6-Series 635 635CSi Alpine White

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.

1986 BMW E24 6-Series 635 635CSi Interior Inside Cockpit Console Dash Dashboard Manual Stickshift

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.

1986 BMW E24 6-Series 635 635CSi Alpine White

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.

1986 BMW E24 6-Series 635 635CSi Engine Motor M30 M30B34

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.

5 Comments

The New BMW 4-Series Concept:
A Design Analysis

December 19, 2012 by Matt

BMW F32 4-series 428i 435i concept silver design styling

As we did with the design of the 4-door version of this car, the recently-released F30 3-series, let’s put the styling of the upcoming F32 4-series under the microscope. Granted, this car is officially billed as a concept, but considering BMW pulled the same thing a year or two ago with a “6-series concept” that ended up looking exactly like the production car, it’s fairly safe to say this is BMW’s new bread-and-butter 2-door.

So as sorely as I’m tempted, I’ll refrain from ranting about BMW’s absorption of the numeral “4” into their incredibly convoluted nomenclature system, and simply focus on the aesthetics:

BMW F32 4-series 428i 435i concept silver design styling profile side proportions

The proportions. There’s a lot to like here. BMWs have long excelled in this area, and if I had one bone to pick with the otherwise lovely outgoing E92 3-series coupe, it was a manifestation of BMW’s capitulation to the “swept back” fascia profile, where the bumper is smoothly integrated into the grille area and the signature kidneys sweep back into the hood. This was at odds with the Bavarian automaker’s traditionally upright, forward-swept nose profile, and the 4-series concept restores that classic look, to excellent effect. Additional noteworthy elements include the front wheels pushed well forward to emphasize the car’s handling prowess and the nicely-sculpted rocker panel that reduces the profile’s visual height.

It’s been said the 4-series seems to crib a lot from Audi’s A5 coupe in profile, but regardless if that statement’s truth value, if you’re going to raid design themes from another automaker, stealing from the A5 shows excellent taste on the part of the thief.

BMW F32 4-series 428i 435i concept silver design styling rear back tail

The details. The 4-series concept’s details are somewhat less successful. The front and rear valences are essentially mirror images of each other, and while they’re nicely-tailored and aggressive, their similarity seems to suggest a lack of creativity on the part of the designers about how to resolve those two areas in context. Also, the fascia adopts one of Mercedes’ worst habits recently: Too much chintzy aluminum bling filling and underscoring, again and again, each design element. It’s a look that will date itself much more rapidly than a simpler, more restrained approach. I can’t recall a BMW styling precedent for the fender vents aft of the front wheels, so it could be the automaker’s trying to start some “design heritage” with that detail. If it pops up on the fenders of future BMW coupes, we’ll know that was the case.

BMW F32 4-series 428i 435i concept silver design styling interior inside cockpit console dash dashboard

The interior. I could just be dazzled by the presence of an increasingly rare manual shift knob sprouting from the center console, but so help me, as much as I criticize some areas of the exterior for “over-design,” the 4-series’ interior looks like a very pleasant place to be. I particularly like the stitching pattern on the seats, the “baseball glove brown” of the leather, the lovely analog instrumentation ensconced within the traditional 4-gauge BMW binnacle, and the fact that the multimedia/navigation screen seems to be retractable into the dash, de-cluttering that area for a more “classic” view over the hood.

No, all in all I like the new 4-series concept very much—far more than the F12/F13 6-series. The proportions are spot-on, the interior charming and aside from some niggles with the details, it’s a great effort.

4 Comments

Stunning BMW E24 “Intro” Video

December 9, 2012 by Matt

This was recently posted by a new member of an online forum for BMW E24 owners and enthusiasts. Needless to say, if every forum inductee could make a clip of this quality, the internet car enthusiast community would be a very nice place indeed.

The cinematography, the music, the editing… It’s breathtaking—and descriptive. My major beef with most amateur (or even professional) car videos is that they tend to be so obsessed with over-the-top “kinetic” camera movement that you barely have time to glimpse the actual car or linger over its lines, but the video above draws out the proportions and feel of the 6er in massive fashion. Full-screen it and turn up the volume. Well done.

4 Comments

Audi and BMW:
A Tale of Two Brand Identities

November 26, 2012 by Matt

Audi BMW Corporate Logos

Over the past 14 years, the brand perception of these two German luxury automakers have followed decidedly different trajectories.

Note that I’m not talking about corporate profitability. Even as I make the case that Audi’s efforts at building and consolidating their brand image have far outstripped BMW’s, the latter remains a thoroughly successful company. I intend to focus more on brand perception, especially among nominally impartial enthusiasts like myself.

14 years ago, BMW was on a tear. Their primary lineup consisted of the E36 3-series, the sports sedan benchmark at the pinnacle of its development, the beautiful E39 5-series, arguably the best 5-series generation yet made, and the E38 7-series, a bold and powerful player in the high-end luxury sedan market. BMW’s offerings were built on the automaker’s core philosophy of RWD, highly-tuned non-turbo engines and a focus on driver involvement. Most significantly, BMW’s lineup was relatively small, and again, rested upon the automaker’s non-negotiables.

Audi, for its part, was still finding its footing, particularly in the US market. As Peter De Lorenzo summarizes in his excellent commentary on Audi’s most recent Le Mans triumph:

Audi was a perennial “second-tier” brand behind BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus in the U.S. market, struggling to break out of the continuing funk that was the direct result of the hatchet-job performed by “60 Minutes” twelve long years before that (November 1986). The totally erroneous report by the CBS news program, which accused Audi of building vehicles that suffered from unintended acceleration, nearly put the brand out of business in this country – even though it was proven to be completely false – and it lingered over the car company like a shroud of negativity.

De Lorenzo points out that the Audi’s cars were fundamentally solid, if a step behind BMW’s in terms of enthusiast appeal, but the automaker’s brand perception needed rehabilitation.

Audi set about that task in a consistent, disciplined manner, focusing on appealing design, effectively applying technology developed through the automaker’s racing efforts to their production lineup, and most importantly, making intelligent product decisions and not overextending themselves into markets out of sync with the company’s brand focus. As a result, De Lorenzo writes:

Audi is now the forward thinking brand firmly ensconced at the head table of the luxury-performance segment. Boasting technically advanced and beautifully purposeful machines inside and out, Audi production cars bristle with brilliant, innovative ideas and are executed with a relentless precision. And they are beautiful to look at as well.

Meanwhile, from an enthusiast standpoint, BMW has squandered their carefully crafted brand image with an ill-fated foray into Formula 1, as well as dubious product decisions. Among others, they released the hideous Chris Bangle-designed E65 7-series, the frumpy X3 small SUV, the confusing X6 crossover and its downright baffling performance variant the X6 M, and the awkward 5-series GT midsize hatchback. The Bavarian automaker’s market experiments with alternative propulsion have been less than confident, the excellent 335d diesel-powered sports sedan notwithstanding. And BMW has suffered a succession of comparison test losses to its rival from Ingolstadt (A6 vs. 535i and S6 vs. M5) along with a shocking victory by the new Cadillac (!) ATS over the new F30 3-series in the key categories of chassis design and handling.

BMW’s performance benchmark the M3 is still a world-beater, demonstrating that in essentials, the automaker is still as good as it ever was, but the singular drive necessary to develop the M3 doesn’t seem to maintain itself throughout BMW’s lineup, and the brand is weakened. There’s expanding into untapped markets, and then there’s unfocused quasi-desperation, a quality BMW seems to be radiating of late. In the final analysis, as we look forward to 2013, BMW is offering less and less for enthusiasts to get excited about, and Audi’s lineup contains more and more.

The obvious response comes: Why should the corporate bean-counters at the helm of either company care what enthusiasts think? They run businesses, and if there are new opportunities, why not tap into them, brand history and consistency be damned? While that line of thinking has merit, consider the significance of branding to luxury and performance automakers in particular: In order to maintain brand image, a kind of above-the-fray certainty about product decisions must come through. A luxury or performance vehicle should sell itself, to a degree; its brand should shape popular trends, not chase them. In other words, it’s counterintuitive, but too much marketing is a sign customers aren’t beating a path to your door; they aren’t seeking you out like they should. And if nothing else, certainty was a quality BMWs exuded from their arrival here in the US market in the mid-’60s all the way through to the turn of the century. That confidence, coupled with a focus on capturing the enthusiast market, vaulted the automaker to its current place of prominence, and ever since 2000 or so BMW seems to be simply coasting on its brand capital while exploring every new market niche under the sun. No, the majority of its customers may not be enthusiasts, but many of them appreciate the opinions of enthusiasts when it comes to choosing a quality car; this is what drove the yuppie obsession with BMWs 30 years ago, and is important, I believe, for the brand’s continued appeal in the larger market. BMW needs to maintain its position as the enthusiast’s choice of luxury cars in order to sustain its brand image, and they simply cannot do that by exploring every last untapped market niche, as they seem intent on doing.

If the BMW emblem is to remain a beacon to car buffs like myself, the automaker needs to take a page from Audi’s playbook for the last 14 years: Recognize the brand’s traditional strengths and focus like a laser beam on those qualities while expanding the product line within that context, rather than distorting it out of all recognition.

10 Comments