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Origin Stories

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  • Origin Stories

    Getting my car was a story. Maybe not a movie, but a decent story.

    I know I'm not the only one - I've seen several of you guys refer to the thing that first got your attention or how some of you original owners first got your car. I'd love to hear those stories.

    I wrote this several years ago when Jalopnik asked for "your best BMW story" as a nod to BMW celebrating their 100 year anniversary.

    I hope you enjoy, and more importantly, I hope you share your stories, too.


    The first car we bought as a married couple (to replace my expensive, gas-hungry Silverado) was a 1989 Mazda MX-6 Turbo (with the super cool oscillating vents - priceless!). It lost its timing belt at 80mph right around the 144k mile mark. I learned to never assume a previous owner has done scheduled maintenance - even if that maintenance would have been LONG overdue when you bought the car.

    I went without for a while, my wife and I taking turns riding our bikes and driving her car while I waited to buy the pickup I wanted, when our Camry died at 4:00 am one morning on the way to the airport for my very first business trip. It was also a timing belt (though the Camry has a clearance engine, so it was fixable - just needed a new timing belt). I called a cab, got to the airport, and by the time I hit my first layover in Denver, my wife's dad had coincidentally called and told her about a cheap, low-mileage car he'd stumbled across. I don't think she even knew what it was - it was just a car and it was available, and she said yes.

    I drove that Nissan Stanza for 8 years, and I hated it every day. It needed new CV joints (thank you, salty winter Detroit!), but that's the only thing I ever did besides oil changes. It was crazy reliable. So I didn't have even a hint of an excuse to get rid of it. We were poor and in school, and it was impossible to justify selling it. My father-in-law would remark years later that he never expected me to keep that car half as long as I did.

    I graduated with my MBA and got the job I'd always wanted - working at GM in 2007. The work and inside scoop on everything was great, but the uncertainty of the company's future was enough to keep us from buying a house - or blowing money on a new car. My uncle had an almost ten-year-old M3 I loved - and that I thought he'd sell me - but I had to do it BEFORE I started at GM or risk some major repercussions.

    After talking it over with my wife I couldn't justify it - even though I thought about it every day. That wisdom paid off, too - I was let go just before GM filed bankruptcy and never even made my 2-year anniversary there.

    Six months later I was somewhat employed again, and the Nissan was seriously showing its age. Knowing what I know now, it probably needed new shocks, suspension bushings, ball joints, control arms, etc. - but I was more ignorant back then and it just felt like it was slowly dissolving. Almost dangerous to drive. But I really wasn't all the way back on solid financial footing, so something new (to me) was not really in the cards.

    Around the same time, I went to visit my parents in Idaho and happened to mention to my uncle how much I still liked the M3. He'd originally bought it for my cousin, but it was so bad in the snow he'd traded him for an X3 (they weren't really interested in the hassle of snow tires). So now he was only driving the M3 in the summer, keeping it parked inside for the winter. Of course I made the "if you ever want to sell it..." comment, but unfortunately he immediately told me he'd already been trying to sell it.

    I was crushed. There was no way I could talk my wife into it. I couldn't even try. But my uncle was still talking. He'd had it up for sale for a while now, and had only had a few joyriders try to take it out. Well, there was this one guy who had offered to pay what he was asking, but he was a jerk, and he didn't want that guy to have it.

    So no takers. And then he dropped the bombshell - an offer I could almost maybe pitch to my wife despite our circumstances.

    He said he knew I wasn't working full-time again yet, but said he would give me the M3 for about half of book value. I WAS working - just not full time, and we did have savings, so paying for it wasn't really the problem either. But if things didn't work out with my current "internship" turning into a real job, I'd need to agree to sell it before things got tight.

    It sounded like a decent pitch to me, too. But I also knew it was somewhat risky - my wife is fairly risk averse, and was even more so at the time. And from a financial perspective, this was flat-out stupid. Well, maybe not stupid, but certainly not conservative. At best an unsecured investment, at worst, a complete loss.

    I knew what she'd say before I even asked. I knew the arguments she'd use, and I didn't blame her - I knew it too, but I had to ask.

    She should have been more put out about it (you know, the never ending obsession). But she was great (well, is great). She knew the Nissan was falling apart, and was sympathetic, but it just wasn't in the cards right then.

    So I called my uncle and told him I couldn't under my current circumstances. He said he might just sit on it for a while and try again in the spring, which was at least some consolation.

    Three weeks later I walked out of a restaurant for my birthday dinner, and our Camry had been stolen. I'd parked in the front row, and there was no question - it was gone.

    I looked again at the spot where our car had been, and realized I'd missed an important detail.

    There couldn't be more than a couple black M3 sedans within 500 miles, and I'm not a complete moron - it WAS my birthday. But still, I couldn't start to think this was a birthday surprise - too painful if it was some kind of cruel coincidence. So I stood there in a state of confusion addled disbelief.

    It must have been funny to watch me stand there, looking around the parking lot and then back at the M3. Around the parking lot, and then back at the M3.

    Something made me finally look back at everyone else.

    Cameras out. Smiling. Laughing, even. Not a cruel coincidence.

    Birthday surprise. Best birthday surprise. Best birthday ever.

    Best wife ever.

    I mean, it's one thing to buy a car. But it was a huge gamble, a giant act of faith that I'd find something, that work things would work out, that WE would work out.

    Especially after the strain of losing my job and some of the challenges we went through because of it, THIS was - impossibly - more than just the car I'd been dreaming about for years.

    It was a heartfelt token of commitment at a time when we didn't have much left.

    So it's a little more than a car to me.

    Even before my Matthew Crawford Shop-Class-as-Soul-Craft moment when I decided to fix the head gasket myself despite no previous experience - and the incredible wealth of experience that's opened up for me over the last ten years.

    Even before my decade of steering and suspension tweaking to make the car the perfect partner for an Indian Summer drive west of Austin into Texas Hill Country.

    Even before daily driving this incredible machine for 12 years… it was more than just a car.

    So you'd forgive me for laughing when people ask me if I'm interested in selling it. "Don't hold your breath," I tell them.

    Sometimes friends ask me -"Really - how long are you going to keep this car?"

    Barring a tragedy of some kind, as long as I plan to keep my wife around.


    Sounds good to me.

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  • #2
    Oh man, that is such a cool story. Wife got you good. I've had two cars stolen from me in the past so I can imagine that roller coaster of feelings you must have gone through in that 60 second window of your life HAHA.

    I don't have nearly as cool an origin story for my car. My dad had a 97 M3 when it was new, I was 12 and that was the first time I saw a car that I really thought was cool in person. Like I had probably seen lots of "cooler" cars around town but I don't remember any of them. I do however remember my dad bringing that car home, driving down the street and just being like "WOW okay so that's a thing I like now."

    I wound up toying with Hondas and Nissans instead of euros and worked at Super Street for a few years. Always kind of wanted an E36 though. At a certain point, I had to make the decision to part out and sell my Civic track car because I needed money to move, and the place I was moving to didn't have a garage. I was bummed about that but it had to be done in order to improve my life overall. I was also about to quit my day job at the magazine and go full time freelance. So there was a legitimate chance I would fall flat on my face.

    Fast forward a few years, no project cars, I was just driving a Honda Fit, great cars BTW, but things had started to change and settle down a little. My best friend was constantly harping on me for becoming boring and he kept telling me how cheap E36 M3s were. I had a budget of 10k and at that time in 2015-2016 there were actually a lot of pretty nice cars for that price lol. I test drove a couple cars that were good but didn't speak to me. I looked for the better part of a year until I eventually found what would become my car on craigslist, it was local in LA, had a cool color combo, very low options, and best of all was not immaculate, so I could fuck it up and not feel "bad" about it. I didn't expect a miracle for under $10k but I actually got the car from the guy for $7800, which I was amazed by. Then I proceeded to drive it for a year without doing anything except tires and fluid changes.

    From then on it's just been a wonderful blur. I've met a lot of great friends and had so many good times because of the car and community, and I love the car more today than ever. It's not perfect but that's fine, because it's mine.


    • #3
      What a great story. Really can't let that car go ever after that.

      My story with E36s starts back around 2007/2008. Had a solid group of friends from high school and we were all into modifying our shitboxes. I had a 2001 Nissan Altima that I lowered, put wheels on, all the bolt ons, etc. It was a solid car that served me well being a commuter student during undergrad. One of my buddies saved up for a long time and got a 1995 E36 M3 in Avus blue on Dove with very low miles (I think it had ~30k miles on it).

      We did a bunch of typical E36 stuff, CSL rep wheels, PSS9 coilovers, Turner stage 2 upgrade, catback exhaust. We scheduled a dyno day with a couple other friends for a Saturday morning. I drove over to his house so we could drive to the dyno together and when he came to the door he had a beer in hand and was still drunk from the night before. He handed me the keys and said I'm driving. Previously I've only been a passenger in the car. This was the first time I drove it and it was a revelation. We had to make a u-turn and I gave it the beans and it was effortless. The throttle response was telepathic. Its like it knew what I wanted it to do before I did. The steering was like a firehose of feel. I was hooked.

      A couple of years later, I had moved away from home and was going to grad school in central NY. My trusty Altima was getting long in the tooth and I had some money saved up so I started looking for E36M3s. I found one on Bimmerforums located in Virginia in December 2010. I convinced my buddy to drive down with me after we finished our last final to grab the car. It was snowing like crazy and I put my Altima into a ditch only 10 minutes into the drive down. Had to get a tow truck to pull us out but we kept on heading south without a front bumper. When I first saw the car in the parking lot I knew I had to have it. It was a 96 Boston green on mulberry, lowered, sitting on Kosei K1s. Guy was selling to buy a ring for his girlfriend. He wanted $7k and I offered $6.5k cash and he took it without hesitation. I took it for a test drive and nearly crashed it giving it too much sauce on a left turn.

      The next day my buddy (in my Altima, sans front bumper) and I started driving north. Plan was to stop at my parent's house near NYC to drop off the Altima (was going to give it to my brother, who put the nail in the coffin on that car in short order) then head back to central NY. The PO said the car was solid so I trusted him. On my way to my parent's house I stopped by my buddy's house with the Avus E36M3. I rang him out of the blue and told him to come outside. When he saw what I bought his jaw dropped to the floor.

      The final leg home still had some surprises in store. We got stuck in horrific NJ traffic, the temp needle moving near the red over and over. Had to stop at a gas station and was able to put some bottled water into the exp tank. The only thing that saved the head gasket was the low ambient temps and pure luck. Once we got close to home there was a 45 min windy road from the interstate to the town we lived in and it started to snow heavily. Somehow, over the course of an hour and a half, we made it home. The car had worn DZ101 summer tires. I'm still not sure how we didn't end up in a ditch again.

      I had the Boston Green E36M3 for 5 years until I wrecked it due to my own stupidity. I have made many life long friends and have countless memories thanks to these machines. I picked up an Avus M3 three weeks after crashing the BG one. I was too ingrained to switch platforms. Been in the game for way too long now but have no plans to stop playing either.

      Buddy's E36M3 with painted moldings (he bought it like that) on the day I first drove it

      My Boston Green machine

      My Avus at Mid-Ohio


      • #4
        Originally posted by BLCKSTRM View Post

        Birthday surprise. Best birthday surprise. Best birthday ever.
        That is absolutely insane! What a great story.

        My car obsession really began in 2002 while in high school, when my stepmom gave me the keys to her white 1994 Acrua Integra GS-R while visiting in upstate NJ for the summer. Manual gearbox, twisty backroads, windows down, blaring Dashboard Confessional at full volume, it was the absolute best feeling ever. I have photographs of this car, none of which are digitized unfortunately.

        The day I graduated high school in 2003, my mom gifted me a 1997 Volkswagen Jetta GL, memory red with charcoal interior. The car probably had 87 whp (2.0L 8v), but I loved that car and did a lot of work to it. Coilovers, wheels, exhaust, software, short shifter, even a rear disc brake conversion. I met a lot of friends from the “euro” meets in Houston, and am still close with a few of them today. I had a fairly high post count on vwvortex, and even went to Waterfest one year.

        Unfortunately these are the few pics of my Jetta I can find.

        A few years later in college, the car was giving me problems and I was absolutely broke, so I sold it. I still regret doing that to this day. I bought a 1991 Ford Escort wagon in absolute mint condition with 40k miles on the clock, and while the car was pretty rad, it was an automatic and left me kinda depressed.

        One day in 2007, I was studying at a coffee shop and decided to take a break and try to find my next project car. That’s when I discovered the E30 M3. I stumbled upon an article about an orange E30 M3 from Norway, and it absolutely blew my mind. The boxy shape. The fenders. The super fat BBS RS wheels. The gurney flap. I was immediately enamored and wanted to learn more. Shortly after digging into the E30 M3 rabbit hole, I discovered, and my grades were never the same. I couldn’t stop myself from obsessively researching every part and upgrade, and honestly this was how I educated myself on how cars actually work (still plenty of runway on that front). This led to a shift away from the “stance” crowd, and I became more focused on driving performance.

        While I wanted one so badly, I knew that a $10k E30 M3 was so unrealistic for me at that time (lol), so I started researching E36 M3s. That’s when I discovered, and the same obsessive spiral happened all over again. It’s all I could think about, and buying an E36 M3 became my sole motivation for graduating and finding a job. And when I did find my first industry job in 2010, the obsession didn’t stop. I spent countless hours lurking, researching, and making insanely detailed spreadsheets for dream builds and planning projects on a car that I didn’t own. During this time I found an E39 528i at a great price and drove it daily for a few years. I loved that thing and would definitely consider an E39 touring as a future project.

        A few years and career changes later, I landed my dream job at a very well known tech company here in Austin and finally started making some decent money. Within 9 months, I found my arctic silver E36 M3 sedan locally on craigslist. It was in rough shape, with 171k miles on the clock, and I fell in love with it immediately. It wasn’t my ideal color combination (alpine with modena), but I couldn’t resist. I paid $5900 cash for it in 2014. I wanted a project car to learn on, and that’s exactly what I got.

        To me, this car is so much more than a toy. It’s a physical manifestation of perseverance, and I’ll never sell it.

        And here I am, 15 years later, in the middle of the suspension overhaul I began planning in college when I should have been studying.

        The day I bought it:

        Last edited by Evtron; 03-02-2023, 06:02 PM.
        1997 M3 Sedan Journal