test driving cars as a recreational sport, pt. 2

A while back, I posted about the time I test drove an old Thunderbird, which was a hoot. And I would be lying if I said that was just once because now and then I’ll find a car on craigslist that I just can’t pass up. It’s been a while since the last time I posted on cars, but here’s follow up from what I hope will be a series of car vignettes.

E31 001
Bimmer Auto Sales, 1998 BMW 840i. Long Island City, Queens.

The BMW 8 Series is a curious thing. Its model run, 1989 – 99, missed the greed-is-good years of the 80s, but had all the breeding and extravagance for the yuppie-gone-Bateman set: a large, powerful grand touring coupe produced in exclusive numbers and, with a V-12, exceeded $100,000 USD. But in part because BMW has consistently failed in its bids for the high-rung sports car segment (M1 and Z8 come to mind), the 8 Series today is just an arcane model that comes up in the wash once in a while. More importantly for me, though, is that this is a car I always dreamed about when I was little — I thought it was the coolest thing ever! So when I found this 840ci offered for sale by a used BMW dealer in Long Island City (admittedly, for a suspiciously low price) I had to go take a look!

Upon seeing the car, the first thing I noticed was the car’s incredible presence, it’s just huge! Land yacht huge. Very low to the ground, which adds to its presence. I suppose a bit like I imagined it when in grade school. My excitement was tempered, though, by a few things: I noticed it was emblazoned with M-sport badges everywhere, an instant red flag as BMW never produced an “M” version of the 840.* This fact, coupled with the strong smell of cheap cologne wafting from the tired leather seating made for a very colorful (and displeasing) idea of what this car had gone through. Even still, I could picture myself in the car; a nice weekender for uncorking hairpin turns in the country or a good long distance road trip or maybe even an occasional track day.

So anyway, heavy middle-aged dealer guy is sitting next to me, taking away from my fantasies with his crushing commentary on sales-these-days, his-wife-that his-kids-this. Whatever. Not too annoyed, after all this is a car I remember lusting after as a kid. And now, if only my younger self could see me! Here I am sitting in one! Doing my best to pretend the traffic light on Northern Blvd is a starting grid, I excitedly wait for the light to change. Minute passes. Finally, green! I bury my right foot into the throttle and… nothing. A small lurch. Car gently moves away from the intersection with no urgency whatsoever. My mind reels. But. But! It has a 4.4L V8 for chrissakes! Motor builds to 3000 RPM, a banal number. The car moves without drama. But! It’s a god damn 840! It’s supposed to move! 282 BHP! It doesn’t have a B pillar! It has those cool headlights that only pop-out when you need them! Why the hell aren’t I pinned to the back of the seat?! By the time 4000 comes around and I let out a yawn. That’s 310 foot pounds of torque at the wheels and I got nothing. My childhood race car fantasies are gone. It doesn’t go to 5000. I sigh, sheepishly come to a stop sign, turn in and head back to the dealership. It is over.

BMWs seem to shake the worst out in people. Associated with power hungry yuppies, brash parvenus, and – in the case of all things “pre-owned” – low rent ballers. And worse still is the fact that I love BMWs. Not for any of these reasons, but because they are truly one of the last automakers that has maintained stringent fidelity to their mandate: fast, balanced, no bullshit performance cars.** Unfortunately, this particular car felt tired and probably had been through an unsavory cast of owners, but it was enough of a reminder that, hoakey as it, some fantasies are best kept as just that: fantasies.

*I don’t mean to make a Moby Dick of a post on the details of this particular car, but if I may vent briefly… BMW makes fast cars. BMW has a special department that makes some of their cars go extra fast. These cars are designated with “M” for “Motorsport.” However, what separates charlatans from the devout is whether or not the owner has plastered “M” badges to a non-M model. Clearly in this case, the previous owner was an imbecile.

**Exceptions: X3, X5

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1 Comment

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One response to “test driving cars as a recreational sport, pt. 2

  1. maybe the M is for “Mbecile”?

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