The year was 2007. My bro-in-law and I were watching a vast array of funny YouTube videos in the computer room of my parent’s house. He had also logged in to Copart which is an online dealer’s auction that he, somehow has access to. We were only scarcely paying attention to the auction. As Camry after Malibu after Caravan were being sold off. Then a car popped up that made us mute the dancing cat video. It sat, in all of its glory on the center of the screen. A 1986 BMW 528e, the starting bid a $100. We both looked at each other, and instantly knew we had to bid on it. Even though neither of us needed a car, even though the lot that this car was on happened to be in New Hampshire and we were in Baltimore, even though the little circular symbol indicating that the car up on the block runs and drives was missing. We just had to; I mean its $100! For a BMW no matter that it was older than me. I convinced him to click the mouse. $125 later I became the proud owner of a dark grey Ultimate Driving Machine. On the way up to New Hampshire, we brought along jumper cables, some basic tools, and tow ropes. Since there was no picture of the car with the hood opened, we had no idea if it even had an engine. So worse come to worse we were going to drag the car out of the auction lot with our Windstar, to avoid the $500 fee and leave it in a parking lot nearby. Once we arrived, the car was brought out on a giant forklift. We were both surprised to learn that there was something that resembled an engine under the hood. We were even more surprised and amazed that after a quick inspection and a few minutes with jumper cables attached the car fired right up. I did few laps in the parking lot, and we set off on the eight-hour journey back home. As we pulled onto the highway, it hit me. Here was a 21-year-old car, with leather interior, ABS, power windows and locks, a 10 way power adjustable driver and passenger seat, onboard info and diagnostic center, and the best part it had a third pedal and 90k miles. Well, maybe that wasn’t the best part. Maybe it was the fact that all those things listed previously were working without issue. The only thing wrong with the car was a burn out headlight. That’s it. We made it home without any problems.
The days, months and years that followed with this car in my life were brilliant. This was my first manual car. I loved rowing through the gears, even though the space between them was an eternity. I have seen lorry drivers have shorter throws. This was also my first rear wheel drive car. I quickly learned to respect this, when I was making a left from a dead stop and I spun it completely around, twice at 20MPH. It had flaws, yes, but it made up for them in massive amounts of character. It was just so different, so unique, and so cool. While kids my age were deciding which sticker to put on the spoiler of their Neon, I was rolling around in a manual Beemer.
The “e” in 528e stands for the Greek letter ‘eta’ and it implies ‘efficiency’; I was having none of that nonsense. The muffler started to rust so just broke it off completely, I found a Dinnan chip on eBay for $60 that made the engine a bit livelier, I fitted a cold air K&N intake and tinted all the windows including the windshield, which made reversing at night a blast. After all the “upgrades” the car begged attention. It was unlike anything else on the road, and I loved every second of it. It was immensely reliable and tough. Only basic maintenance and a tire change was performed the whole three-year tenure. The memories it gave me, were far from basic. Once, I found myself dozing off coming home from a late night party. Falling asleep I slowly veered off into a ravine of the highway at 70mph, and then back out and unto the pavement, and that’s when I woke up. Other than a few small tree branches and mud on the sides the shock absorber broke and slid down unto the tire, which made visibility a bit difficult, because the whole cabin filled with tire smoke from rubbing against the failed absorber. Nonetheless, I drove it home. The mandated for US import bumpers the car had were massive, and it made it indestructible. In stop and go traffic, at low speeds, I was rear-ended by a mom in a wagon of some sort. Upon getting out I discovered her front end visibly smashed in, broken grille, headlights, and the whole nine. My car had 3 inch bumper rash, I knew at that point I was the owner of an everlasting German tank.
When I parted ways with the car three years and 120k miles later I felt like I lost a good friend. The clutch was starting to give, and there was some rust on the chassis. So with that, I ended up trading it to a guy on Craigslist for a conversion van, because I wanted to tow cars for a friends shop. What a blithering idiot I was. I often reminisce about my tank. After all this was the body that the very first M5 came in, this was a car that oozed cool everywhere it went. This was the car that taught me to respect RWD and the manual gearbox and that asked for hardly anything in return. One of the very best cars I’ve had the pleasure of calling my own. This was my Ultimate Driving Machine.
the car pictured directly above is the actual 528e that I owned