Everybody say “Hi!” to Justin, a reader from across the pond who is here to tell the story of his diesel BMW station wagon (cue premature Jalop-ulation) and how it wormed its way into his affections — JB
In your youth you never saw yourself out there, the low-revs-high-torque deadzone of combustion, the unthinking strip mall deadspace of the A-to-B’ers, the commuters, the easy-iron crew with one eye on their pensions and the other on their economy gauge. The oil-burners….
Your motoring career had promise. That’s how it started, anyway. The Mini Cooper. The three CRXs (how does the rhyme about Henry VIII’s wives go? divorced, executed, died…). The MGF, the Prelude. The Audi TT with its inverted national competencies – German styling, Italian electronics – dead pixels and dead dull, but still on an arc, a trajectory. A gasoline trajectory. NSX. A couple of silly Siebners, their bodies bigger than your house, their displacement bigger than your bath.
And then one day your mind is on other things. Maybe you’ve got that house you were negotiating for a year. Maybe you’re thinking about contractors and rewiring and the zoning regs in that pitch black midwinter morning. Maybe that tanker moving into traffic has stopped for some reason, dead in front of you…
…and maybe your Z4 coop with the 3-liter straight six is all up in its grill, as they say, all up in its safety bars at maybe 4 mph before you know what’s what. (And the final indignity, as you clamber out into the freezing black morning air – the tanker hasn’t even felt it. He drives off as you stand feebly by the front of your little coupé.) Corona Rings have never looked as expensive as they do lying on the pavement among shards of plastic. Detached retinas and the tears of angel’s eyes.
So. This is how it happens. You need something to get you moving while the Z4 is in the shop. It doesn’t have to be quick, but you need it quickly. Some space would work, what with the house move and everything. That night you are standing on a stranger’s driveway. There is a diesel car in front of you, and dimly you can hear yourself offering him £900 against his £2,000 ask. You shake hands at a thousand.
The next morning, when the winter light finally comes, you look it over. Christ, there is a lot of… moss? The near side indicator is doing headlamp duty and the headlamp is doing no duty at all. The leather of the rear bench has the engravings and impressions of children raised to their teens – every carseat, every fight, lost toy, spill. There are flakes of something in the center console and they are the color of scallop coral.
And yet. In its standard-issue titan silver, through its cataracted old headlight lenses, this Bimmer has something of a martial bearing to it. Its ‘touring’ body wants to be put back into service, back into work. This thirteen-year old E39 is beyond a grandfather now, almost three generations distant from the fray, but it’s ready. You give it a wash, get rid of the moss and the flakey orange stuff. Fix up the leather as best as you can. It will get you about for a couple of weeks, until the Z4 is fixed. Hell, with the roof rails and the load space, you might use it to haul a lot of crap to the dump too. It’s a strange sort of proposition, this 530D.
As soon as the Z4 Coupé is repaired, you have the advert online. But it’s not the short-term banger that’s going, it’s the little coop. In the few weeks you’ve had it, the E39 estate car has been undemonstrative, calm, steadfast. It has eaten cargo and mileage. It has a lot of the comfort you knew from your later Sevens, without the fragility or those unblackable iDrive screens glowing against the backroad gloaming.
You congratulate yourself on your semi-ironic “shed car” status. Brag about it to friends as you contemplate a few months behind the wheel of this mighty barge.
But, disconcertingly, the months pass. You realize that your half-baked search for a new car is a charade; that you’re sorta-kinda a little bit in love with the £900 E39. Okay, fair enough, you think – let’s embrace this whole estate car thing. Because, as much as you have enjoyed your Bimmers, this has been their best execution of an intended concept so far. So let’s get a decent one okay? Up-to-date, something to stop the co-workers sniping at work (no, I’m not sleeping in the car, ass hat).
And there’s the rub. You just don’t gel with that fart-in-a-bubble F11 styling. It seems too safe, both highly polished and at the same time inoffensively provisional, a sort of hyper-corporatization of a motor car. Lean and visceral it is not. You roll with the E39 some more. Months become years, you keep a weather eye on specs and configurations but it’s all flat. The Alpina fünfzig-jahre looks nice, but maybe in a browsing-the-web way, not in an outside-your-house way.
Suddenly, it’s 2016. You’ve had the ancient wagon for over three years – a new record. It has needed nothing beyond oil and filters, though you’ve treated it to a couple of little touches along the way, m-parallels and a set of facelifted Corona Rings of its own.
2016 is the year for the new Five. It’s called the G30 now, the 5er – you hope there will be nothing in that. An ‘E’ designation was good enough for four full iterations, and then only one ‘F’ before everything moved along. There’s a foreboding– isn’t there – that those letters are falling away at an accelerating pace. A foreboding that we might be on an endless upgrade path borrowed from the electronics-sector. More tech, more profit… but are they better cars?
You bought your E39 Touring because it was there and because it cost you three figures. But you fell for it in a big way. You had the cash, the motivation and the brand loyalty to spring for the brand-new showroom version of that car, but it turned out that the F11 was something lesser. You’re looking forward to the G30 wagon with bated breath. Perhaps hope is a better word than anticipation. But yearning… burning… for Bavaria… to justify your love.