BMW at Monterey Car Week

Photos by Mitchell Weitzman and Daniel Blodgett.

There’s nothing quite like vintage, historic motor racing where one can see such storied, beautiful, and valuable machinery be used the way they were meant to. Having BMW as the featured marque at the Motorsports Reunion only added to the appeal.

Where else can you see so many amazing, rare BMW’s in one place? Fortunately for Bavarian aficionados, BMW was a featured marque at several major events at Monterey Car Week, celebrating the centenary of the storied brand. As a result, BMW’s by the hundreds flocked to the Monterey Peninsula to commemorate the week and their cars.  There’s always been a large attraction of BMW’s here every year, but never like this. DSC_2457

The Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca shows that nostalgia is not a shameful condition. It’s only natural to yearn for days past and to live in another era, especially when it has to do with cars. There’s nothing quite like vintage, historic motor racing where one can see such storied, beautiful, and valuable machinery be used the way they were meant to.  Having BMW as the featured marque at the Motorsports Reunion only added to the appeal.

DSC_0466With 3.0 CSL ‘Batmobile’s’ tangling on track with M1 Procars and 2002s, it’s a marvelous sensation. If you’ve never had the chance to hear a Procar in person, wringing out the M88, it’s pure majesty. If I could, I’d have the sound played at my wedding. BMW brought numerous racing cars from their past on display in the paddock as well, including a F1 GTR, V12 LMR, M3 GTR, and a Williams F1 car featuring a BMW V10.DSC_2273

Also on track throughout the week with the BMW’s were Ferrari GTOs, Porsche 911s, Group C madness, Can-Am, Trans Am, and also now in its second year at Laguna Seca, classic Formula 1 cars. With the price of admission comes unparalleled access to the paddock, where all the racing cars are on display for the fans between races. The drivers, crew members, and owners are all incredibly nice too, offering conversation to admiring spectators.

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Of course, the other, unofficial show are the parking lots. Anywhere you go, there’s exotic machinery. At Laguna, it was the BMW car corral inside the track. Elsewhere, be it on the streets in Carmel, or at the Embassy Suites, BMW’s were out in full force.

DSC_2467At the headline event, the Pebble Beach Concours D’elegance, classics ranging from original Mille Miglia-spec 328s to the exquisite Alexander Calder 3.0 CSL ‘art car’ were on display celebrating the brand along the coastal cliffs of scenic Pebble Beach. Seeing an old 328 in person, it’s every bit as elegant as a period Delahaye or Bugatti.

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For anyone who hasn’t gone, put it on your car-bucket list. You won’t regret it. Here are some photographic highlights of BMW’s through the week.

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Boris Said, along with Jonathan Edwards and Bill Auberlen, greeting fans.

DSC_0315 DSC_0318Anyone know the name of this color? It works brilliantly.

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A rare BMW M3 Lightweight. Stock on these are rising fast.

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Alpina stripes should be brought back on current offerings.

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Who needs an M4 GTS? Absolutely menacing.

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George Miller should use BMWs in the next Mad Max perhaps

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Just. Look. At. It.

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Once owned by the King, Elvis Presley, this 507 just finished a complete restoration by BMW in Munich.

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M3ntal. The attention to detail is astounding.

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A BMW Buffet

How often are there several fast BMWs lined up for your pleasure on a racetrack? Not often I must say, so how could I say no? There are far worse problems in the world.

Last month I was sent to the smoldering La Quinta, a small resort city near Palm Springs, in the midst of July. For those that are unfamiliar with the region, I can sum it up in two words: it’s hot. And I mean hot; Everyday was upwards of 110 degrees Fahrenheit. This was all part of a training program to be a BMW Genius. A Genius is a new(ish) role in the BMW retail world with goals to bring the cars and BMW experience closer to the customer. While most of the week was spent in a ice-cold conference room of a hotel (who thought I would have been cold this week?), one afternoon we were shepherded to the Thermal Club. For those unfamiliar, the Thermal Club is a private racetrack nearby that also plays home to the BMW Performance Center. Here, BMW enthusiasts and owners sample cars in a fast, controlled environment, whilst perfecting their driving skills. We would be given the chance to see just how well modern BMWs excel on the track and to provide us with some fun.

The victims? M235i’s, M6, M4, X5M, and a 340i.

My first rendezvous was with a soaked, concrete skidpad and an M235i. And it was downright marvelous. I had never driven on a skidpad, let alone one with sprinklers, but the natural balance of the small Bimmer turned it into an arcade. In the halfway-traction control setting ‘sport +,’ the M235i couldn’t stop spinning the rear tires even up to 3rd gear at 30 MPH (8 speed ZF auto), such was the slickness of the surface. But use the throttle to steer and it became just epic fun, holding long slides circle after circle. Sure, it required lots of steering input, not in terms of angle, but constantly changing from turn-in and countersteering. The 320 horses made by the Gillette-smooth 6 were more than plenty, and anything more would’ve surely resulted in some serious spins. The strangled steering feel also didn’t make for any issues here. Great seats too help prevent you from flailing around the cabin when sideways as well.

Next was a permanent autocross circuit, not even a half mile in length to sample a few of the M’s (and half-M’s). The M6 Compeition was first and starting off slowly to get a feel for the car and circuit, I can’t go on enough about how nice of the car the big 6 is. The cabin is such a lovely place to be, though the buttons and controls that are shared with lesser BMWs slightly cheapen the feel, the overall aroma of it all put the thought into the back of your mind. The demonic sounding V8 also is a nice touch. But soon it becomes clear that, even with the competition package, the M6 is not at home here. The power is incredible and the brakes do a remarkable job hauling the yacht back down, but the weight shows itself in corner transitions through the quick couple esses for us to play with. I’m sure on the large, real Thermal Club it would be sublime, being able to use the wider tarmac of an actual race track, but the thin confines of the autocross don’t encourage the all-out attack that the next car begs for.

Which brings us to the M4. And no, it’s not even the new-for-2016 Competition, just a standard M4. Immediately it’s such a more focused car here. Blasting down the short straightaway it doesn’t even feel any slower than the M6, which was barely clearing it’s breath by 70 MPH. Everything else, the braking, the turn-in with ferocious front bite, and the rotation the Active M diff provides is sublime. I’m not terribly fond of the M4 as a road car, but here in a closed and controlled environment, it really makes its case known. I found it best to turn in with a trailing throttle to help keep the back end rotating slightly to help hit each apex and propel down to the next braking zone. The standard steel brakes seize forward momentum rapidly, with no fade encountered either. The S55 up front never needed full revs, being more than happy to live right in the midrange at 4-5k. The DCT also gave snappy changes up and down on command. Track driving is what the M4 yearns for. If you have one and are yet to unleash it on a track, please do so before the years out.

And then came the oddball of the group: the X5M. Now, I’m still not quite sure why this ‘thing’ exists. But when talking about defying physics, it’s the first-prize at the science fair. Quite how it’s able to go around corners so quickly is beyond me. Braking points are much earlier too than the M4, with the car leaning on its outside tires as the 4WD system figures out how to help you around the bend. Sure, it’s somewhat satisfying charging down sports cars in a 2.5 ton SUV, but the experience is rather muted, more interesting than fun. If you can afford the price of one, why not buy a diesel X5 and an M4 for this sort of work? Though if you want one to do it all, then it’s perfect for that niche. It is blazingly fast, and impressive, but it’s no sports car.

The last on this section was an M235i again, but now in a totally new environment. Here, compared to the others, it shows it’s lack of real M-credentials. Not to say it wasn’t fun, in fact it was the most playful of the bunch from its lack of focus. Power is mundane after the M’s, but it’s still plenty for this tight track. Under braking and cornering there is much less composure and more body roll, going into understeer when pushed too hard, but still maintains great control and adjustability to play with the chassis. While not as fast in any direction, it becomes more involving as it requires more work, and I rather like that. Conclusions from this section came to be that while the M4 was the best on the autocross, the M235i was a close second for its irreverent brand of fun.

And lastly we moved again to another autocross, being longer and more technical, and with the least dynamically capable car here: the 340i. The new 340i replaces the 335i with a host of small suspension tweaks and a new power plant compared the now defunct 335i. It also makes 20 more BHP. The overall feel of the car is very akin to the M235i but with a chassis that’s prone to even more roll and a differential that can’t quite put all the power down through corners. Having driven the 340i on the road it’s a fantastic piece of kit for daily driving, but it’s less at home here. However, like the M235i, the waywardness of the chassis made for a highly involving experience. Though it showed understeer in the tight hairpin of the circuit, fighting that force and driving the car out using the power made for a satisfying time. In the two higher speed sweepers it was oversteer that had to be fought, and again it was fun despite the lack of balance. If the car were perfect, it wouldn’t be a challenge.

As the engines, tires, and brakes cooled, I reflected on an incredible experience at the BMW Performance Center. Driving a BMW on the road is one thing, but having the time on a track in one is leagues better than one could hope for. It wasn’t my first track day in my life, or my first at Thermal, but the adrenaline never gets old. The three instructors on hand for the day, Dave McMillan, Emile Bouret, and Adam Seaman, were astounding as well, giving great guidance and keeping us in check safety wise. After we were done, they took us out for drift laps in M3s, showing us how capable the cars are in the right hands. Mission accomplished guys. If you’re considering one of the programs at Thermal I highly encourage giving it a go, for the great facilities and instructors, let alone the cars. Now to browse parts catalogs to see about making my old ZHP ready for an autocross…

Cross Country Wrap Up

What’s it like to drive cross country? It is a challenge and an adventure for sure. Thousands of miles on the road travelling from place to place. AquilaBMW just finished is country country journey in his E39 M5 and has lots of pictures and stories to tell. Stop in and read about how much fun he had driving and stopping in to see members. Many more pictures and stories will come as he has a chance to collect his thoughts and download all of those pictures. Make sure you check in from time to time to follow up on the aftermath of his adventures.

AquilaBMW’s Cross Country Tour

The Ultimate BMW Forum