Guest Post: Justify My Love

funfer

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.

12 Replies to “Guest Post: Justify My Love”

  1. viper32cm

    I love your next to last paragraph. I didn’t realize BMW was up to “G” when I read the first two sentences of that paragraph, but I completed the thought with you as I read along. Very nice.

    Reply
  2. VtNoah

    Great story. Brings to mind my… don’t laugh… 2000 Dodge Stratus that I picked up for $1500 while I was still in college. It was great. Had plenty of space, didn’t need anything for the year or two I owned it, had a killer stereo to blast Slayer in, plus it rode like a couch so I was always relaxed when driving it. Never mind the beige color or rusting rocker panels. That car was exactly what I needed at the time regardless of the stigma. Plus, I could yell, “I drive a Dodge Stratus!” and mean it.

    Reply
  3. tifoso

    Kind of reminds me of the ’87-’91 Civic particularly in hatchback form. No amount of electronics, heft or overwrought styling in subsequent versions has approached the essential goodness of Honda’s high water mark.

    Reply
  4. Justin Pattison Post author

    Thanks all for the comments 🙂

    VtNoah “it rode like a couch so I was always relaxed when driving it” – applies here as well!
    viper32cm – I’m glad I’m not the only one a little perplexed by this.

    One other thing – I didn’t really explain the invisible mind-maths that made the car £900… I paid £1k, then stripped & sold the Parrot system for £100. Turned out to be a duff move as it was a solid bluetooth solution… I just didn’t realize I’d still be missing calls three years down the line.

    Actually another thing… should say many thanks to Jack, and Bark, for hosting my little tale.

    Reply
    • Justin Pattison Post author

      I’m afraid not Dan, this is the first car thing I’ve written. But thanks for the comment, maybe I’ll try writing a bit more…

      Reply
  5. Andy

    Great piece. The E39 (particularly the big diesels and the sleeper 540i V8) is much loved by car enthusiasts in the UK, and can be cheap to run if you get a good one. It makes a regular appearance in the “shed of the week” column on Pistonheads (http://www.pistonheads.com/regulars/ph-features-sheds/shed-of-the-week-bmw-540i-e39/33191) where they pick out interesting cars for less than £1000.

    I find it amusing to read the comments on US car forums describing the E39 as some kind of fragile exotic beast which will financially cripple its owner.

    I prefer the looks of the newer E60, but there’s a lot more to go wrong on those cars.

    Reply
  6. jstyer

    Great post Justin!

    On another note, it is absolutely insane how expensive used cars are in the United States compared to Europe and the UK.

    Reply
      • Justin Pattison Post author

        This in itself is an interesting conversation. To look at new pricing, take say a base F10 535d. Whilst the UK and US specs might be different, they’re going to be relatively trivial at the pauper end of the spectrum so let’s just run with manufacturer base-

        UK: £49,070 (source: whatcar.com)
        UK: $70,229 (avg bid price conversion, per oanda.com ‘a few moments ago’)
        US: $57,525 (source: caranddriver.com)

        So, *22%* more expensive in the UK than in the US, like for like.

        I don’t have access to Glass’s etc, but I suspect jstyer is right about the used car price differential reversing this out. However, I have definitely noticed used prices rises non-trivially in the UK over the last two years… to the extent that I’ve probably made a few pounds even on the trusty old E39!

        Reply
  7. Scuttle

    I have experienced something like this twice and both times I ended up selling the cars due to reasons other than being tired of the vehicles.

    The first was a 1994 or 95 Prelude Si (a true H23 Si) with a factory leather interior and a 5spd. Never again saw one as nice as that for sale. Still regret selling that car and it has been 8 years.
    More recently I sold my 2005 Chevy Silverado. Much like your BMW it was a purchase of necessity as a home owner and motorcycle enthusiast. It wasn’t a vehicle I lusted over but I still miss how perfectly it met my needs.

    Currently I drive a Audi B5 S4 Avant 6spd with the 2.7t because I like to live dangerously when it comes to vehicle reliability. Loving the wagon aspect, its too bad Audi wont make them with a stick shift in the states anymore.

    Great story, thank you for sharing.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.