Archive for January, 2014

To keep things fair and balanced after my last rant . . . . but god dammit if Porsche who makes bloated SUVs can still offer body in white cup cars and street legal race cars like the GT3 RS, why can’t BMW make something legit instead of just producing “one-up” versions of their regular cars . . . anyways, here’s the article.

The Myth of the “Real M Car”

The Myth of the "Real M Car"

On two occasions in the past week I’ve had brow furrowing moments where someone made reference to a “real M car.”  The most recent being the comments on Chris Harris’ comparison of the M6 GrandCoupe, E63, and Jaguar XFR-S where someone said “Finally maybe people will respect the M5/6 as real M cars.”  …this raises a lot of questions, the most obvious being “what the hell does that even mean?”

The phrase a “real M car” is used A LOT in modern automotive journalism. Watch or read any outlet’s coverage on a car BMW M has touched and the phrase is bound to turn up. It is often referenced as a comparative benchmark with no explanation of what it means. In reality, it is completely subjective nonsense. But that fact doesn’t stop journalists, enthusiasts, and even members of BMW’s marketing department from making the assumption that everyone has settled on a mutually understood, albeit completely nebulous, standard of excellence.

Now that we’ve gotten how ridiculous the whole idea is out of the way…let’s get down to what a majority of people are talking about when they say it. When you hear someone say “real M car” more often than not, they are referring to one of two periods in BMW M’s 40 year history.

The first being a time when “M” literally meant “Motorsport”

The 3.0CSL “Batmobile” was a homologation special for the European Touring Car Championship.

The Myth of the "Real M Car"

The M1 was a homologation special that ended up ineligible for its class due to rule changes by the time it came out.

The Myth of the "Real M Car"

The E30 M3 was a homologation special for Group A Touring Car races.  The ultimate form being the Sport Evolution of 1990; technically the last road car they built solely for the purpose of being able to race it.

The Myth of the "Real M Car"

They were “race cars for the road” in the literal sense and were built because race rules said they HAD to be.  The more hardcore of the BMW M purists consider these the only “true M cars” ever made.  They tend to view BMW M more as a religion that “heretics” took and perverted when they made the subsequent road cars.

The Myth of the "Real M Car"

The BMW 3.0 CSL, E30 M3, and M1 are spoken of in hushed, reverent tones. Modern M cars are false prophets to be denied and shamed.

These are the people that aren’t going to be pleased until BMW starts selling street legal race cars again.  They want the new M3 to come with a triangulated and seam welded chassis, Ohlins suspension, radio/cruise/climate delete, non-adjustable race buckets, fire supression, etc.  They risk a stroke every time they look at a X5 M or M6 GranCoupe.

The Myth of the "Real M Car"

The next group are those that would (and do) argue that the last “real M cars” are from the early ’00s. The E46 M3, the E39 M5, and the E36/8 M Coupe being the last cars made before BMW M “sold its soul for higher profits.” It was a time when senior executives of BMW M were saying things like “there will never be a M SUV” and “turbocharging would fundamentally change the character of the M brand.” And even with the E60 and E90 that followed, it felt like some of the old guard were still there, pushing for high-revving naturally aspirated V-8s and V-10s while their direct competition went forced induction. Then came the turbos and SUVs…and these people (myself included) threw up our hands and yelled “it’s over!”  Oh, THE BETRAYAL!  Many of these people haven’t set foot in a BMW dealership since on principle alone.  They lament that luxury has begun to take a priority over sportiness in modern BMW M, that the balance has shifted the wrong direction. But they forget that when the 3-series, 5-series, etc get heavier and larger, the M variants can only do so much to combat the bloat.  Current electric steering can only approximate the directness and feel of hydraulic steering.  Adaptive suspension can only hide so much weight.  We’re still in a transition period with young tech, it will get better, but patience is part of the process.

Both groups have valid complaints about the direction of BMW M and one aspect they agree on is the that ///M has begun to feel like a trim level you spec because you want the most expensive and luxurious variant of a BMW model. You buy a M5 because you want everyone else to know you spent more on your car than your neighbor with the 550i. You buy a M6 GranCoupe because you want a M5 in a better looking $23k suit. The choice to move up to a ///M car is one of one-ups-man-ship and not a statement that you care about dynamics over comfort. There are enthusiasts that still buy into the classic idea of BMW M when purchasing new, but they are a rare breed.  The question then becomes, does any of that matter as long as the cars are great? There’s an argument to be made that non-sporty buyers end up babying the car and you end up getting a great deal in a few years on a M5 that hasn’t been abused.

In either case, it is widely thought that BMW M doesn’t mean what it used to. That the introduction of things like M-sport dilute the brand and further bring into question what it means to be a “real M car.” I tend to think it is more of an issue with perception and competition. BMW M has the gift/curse of being around long enough to have an established legacy and the expectations that come with it.  A brand where things once considered sacred are now long gone.  So there’s some merit to the perception that the principles have been thrown out in the pursuit of sales and profit.  But these changes are necessary to stay competitive in a market where your competition is willing to do anything and everything to usurp you.  AMG, Audi GMBH, and Jaguar have gone from out-of-their-league “also ran” cars to legitimate competition that meet or exceed BMW M in areas they once dominated. Cars like the E30 M3, E28 M5, E46 M3, and E39 M5 stand out because their contemporaries never held a candle to the driving experience they provided. The E30 had no direct competition in the US. The E28 M5 blindsided every other German manufacturer with a saloon that was outperforming Ferrari.

The RS4 and C63 challenged the E90

The Myth of the "Real M Car"

in ways the C43 and B5/6 S4 never did the E46

The Myth of the "Real M Car"

E39 M5 owners never felt heat from the E55 or (C5) S6 the way the  F10 is from the E/CLS63 and RS6/7.

So while AMAZING in a vacuum, BMW M’s current offerings seem less impressive compared to their direct competition this time around.  If that is discouraging, remember that competition is good.

“The BMW M you once knew is gone”?…not exactly.

  • They can’t and don’t need to produce road going race cars in extremely limited quantities
  • The cars they’re based on moved upmarket, got heavier, and areas that were considered taboo by old school BMW M were tapped to stay competitive
  • The other guys got better

The good news? BMW M knows they have a problem.  Recent interviews with executives a ///M acknowledge the stiffer competition from AMG and Audi and that they are focusing heavily on weight reduction and the dynamic improvements that come with it.

And yes, BMW is selling more cars than ever, like that’s a bad thing.  No, they aren’t still hand-built in Garching…and Macs aren’t still built in SanFran garages.  But increased production means a cheaper economy of scale, increased profit, and the ability to take chances they otherwise wouldn’t.  They have invested heavily in volume carbon fiber production to reduce the weight of all their cars in the future and continue to pursue tech that will likely put them years ahead of their competition. (Who doesn’t want a M3/4 with a carbon tub?) They also know that with Audi and Mercedes readying relatively “affordable” RS and AMG models like the RS3 and A/CLA/GLA45 they need to have a presence in the sub-$50k market.

Am I disappointed that BMW M has “changed”?  Sure. But I’ve also accepted that they’ve had to.  A lot of enthusiasts act like the mere existence of modern M cars takes something away from the classics.  The fact that the M5/M6 have lost some of the feel and feedback doesn’t make the old cars any less appealing.  In fact, it makes them even more special than they already were.

The Myth of the "Real M Car"

Cherish the past, accept the present, and anticipate the future.  They are listening to feedback wherever feasible, but they can’t repeat the past.

There is no such thing as a “real M car.” It is a myth.

I just hope no one tells BMW, Audi, AMG and everyone else…because I never want them to stop chasing it.

Thanks to Michael Lee for the header photo.  His flickr page is chock full of amazing photos from Richmond Cars & Coffee and much more

Twitter: @Batterytenderun



It’s a MIATA!

Posted: January 30, 2014 in Rants
Tags: , , , , , ,

It really is the best car of all time.

And if that didn’t sell you . . .

1988 Porsche 944 Turbo

Posted: January 30, 2014 in My Cars
Tags: , , , ,

Alright, I’ll admit this before I get started – as I said, it was a mistake to trade my Audi A4 for this car, but, in my mind, at that time, it made sense.

porsche 951 finalI mean, just look at it?

Maybe you know about the Porsche 944, affectionately called the 951 by the aficionados.  Maybe you don’t.  Maybe it just looks like some shitty Porsche from the 80s.

Well, let me learn you a thing about these cars.  They had their humble beginnings with the 924, which was basically a sports car commissioned by Audi in the 70s, with an engine from a VW, built and designed by Porsche – until Audi/VW ran out of money and Porsche said “FUCK IT!  WE’LL BUILD IT ANYWAY AND SLAP OUR BADGE ON IT!”

Kaiser-Wilhelm-II1970s Porsche CEO

They produced a horribly shitty little car pumping out a grand total of 100 and nothing horsepower that barely held together and had electrics one step above a 1960s British sports car.  On a side note, I do own one of these shitboxes.

Anyways, the car eventually evolved into the 944, which was pretty good.  Front engine, rear wheel drive, transaxle, 50/50 weight distribution, good grip – you had a car that could bring it to the 911 while delivering modern amenities.  If you’ve driven a 911 built before 1990, you know what I’m talking about.

Then they came out with the turbo.  The 944 turbo was fucking awesome.  It was faster than a 911 in a straight line.  It had modern aerodynamics.  It had better handling in terms of linearity and predictability.  It had more grip than the 911.  It cost less!  There’s a reason Porsche won’t produce a Cayman turbo these days – they learned that from the 944.

My example was fine, just fine.  When I got it, it was a little rough.

944 turbo rough

Just check out those sick color matched phone dials!  I don’t think the prior owner had the funds or the inclination to maintain it.  I promptly dumped thousands of dollars into the car bringing it up to basic maintenance, including timing belts, water pumps, etc etc etc.

Let me say, the car did haul ass.  It was fast, it was fun.  It was easy to drive.  It handled great.  By the time I was done painting it, it looked cool.

Oh yeah, I painted it.

Well, we painted it.  Me and my 7 month pregnant wife.  She’s pretty cool.  I’m sure the fumes fucked our kid up somehow, especially the bondo.

porsche paint 1 porsche paint 2 porsche paint 3 porsche paint 4 porsche paint 5 porsche paint 6 porsche paint 7 porsche paint 8 porsche paint 9 porsche paint 10                                                                  Don Johnson Approved

Now, there’s definitely a right way to do things, and a wrong way.  And let’s be clear – I was a stupid kid who just got his hands on his first Porsche, which was a stupid decision in the first place.  Judgment was not (still isn’t?) my strong point.

What did we do?  We taped the car off and sanded the fuck out of it.  I used a grinder where I felt necessary.  I used bondo where I felt necessary.  We sanded again.  Then we primered.  Then we wet sanded the primer.  A few coats of paint, a day of drying, a few coats of clear, done.  No, I didn’t bother buffing.  Fuck that shit, that’s for those tarts who like detailing.  You know, the ones with “kits” that include tooth brushes?

It did look cool.  And it drove cool.  Then it blew up.  Then I sold it (non-running) for more than I paid for my A4.

And, I had to go get more Porsches – the addiction – the way they drove, the attention to the driver feedback.  Despite the fact that the company is full of uncle fuckers today, they sure knew how to build a car.

I was watching Married With Children and Steve and Al were sitting down discussing which car to get to celebrate his new promotion.  We’re talking circa 1987 here.

The options were “The Volvo, The Baby Benz, or the BMW 3-Series”.  During the important discussions it was determined that the BMW was the “Driver’s Car.”  I laughed a bit, and cried deep down inside.

This is because, today, BMW offers anything BUT the Driver’s Car.  We’re in an era where BMW’s sportiest models (keep in mind I refrain from actually calling them Sports Cars) weigh in the neighborhood of 3,505 lbs for the M235i (don’t get me started on the liberal use of ///M badging on anything with four wheels . . . ) to 4,387 lbs for the M5.

2series_coupe_seriesoverview_758x320_2Keep in mind, the 2-series is supposed to hearken back to the compact, lightweight 2002.  A car that weighed in at 2,073 lbs.

Now, of course we’ve got modern safety equipment, and exponentially more horsepower, and high strength and stiff bodies, but if a company like Mazda or Lotus can still build a light weight, affordable sports car, why doesn’t BMW?

Because BMW doesn’t give a shit about you, Mr. Car Enthusiast.  BMW is building cars as a full line automaker now.  They just don’t give a fuck about being the “driver’s car”.  In fact, you’d be hard pressed to tell the difference between an A4, a 3-series or a C-Class these days – what with all of them weighing a billion pounds, and even worse,all of them offering an all-wheel drive option for all the housewives and people with heart problems.

Let’s take a look at some of the other monstrosities and sins against God BMW is currently engaged in:

– 4000 lb + “sports cars”
– ///M badging everything that moves
– Abandoning naturally aspirated, high revving motors
– Creating FWD electric bitch buckets
– Offering AWD variants of every car they possibly can
– “Performance” SUVs.

AND they’re even demolishing their formerly awesome sub-brand, MINI.  MINI has an SUV now.  MINI.  SUV.


In fact, I’m going to just go out and say that other than their “built for racing body in white” cars that are delivered to race teams, BMW no longer builds sports cars.

Alright, I’m about to get even crazier here.

The only people who I feel that are building sports cars today are
– Ferrari
– Lotus
– Porsche
– Mazda
– Toyota

Yup.  Toyota.

And here’s where things get kind of weird . . . Toyota used to make some of the greatest sports cars on the planet, but at some point they realized that kind of thing wasn’t profitable, so they stopped.  They churned out gigantic bimbo boxes and bland mid-sized sedans and cashed the checks.

BMW is doing the exact same thing.  They are abandoning their core brand of “the driver’s car” in an attempt to be everything to everyone, and to maximize profits.  Along the way, they’re alienating the enthusiasts.

Toyota realized that the enthusiasts may not be the ones generating the most profit, but they are the most vocal.  They realized that they had become the automotive equivalent of a toaster, and that enthusiasts weren’t afraid to tell that to people.  They became “uncool”.  This WILL happen to BMW if they continue on the same path.

BUT Toyota realized, hey, we’re actually cool guys, here’s a car to prove it!  And what a car they made.  My sincerest hope is that BMW does get back to building sports cars one day.

And I promise I’ll buy one – 10 years after it’s reached the bottom of its depreciation curve and I can afford it. 





Custom RX-8 Aluminum Exhaust by STM

Posted: January 19, 2014 in Rants

In my quest to reduce weight, I worked with STM and commissioned a custom one-off aluminum exhaust for my RX-8.

The end result was 33 lbs shed and a quiet exhaust that sounds sporty, not obnoxious.  We’ll see how the aluminum holds up to the heat from the rotary.

DSC_0003_2_zps416dbcbf DSC_0005_zps87a77eff DSC_0006_2_zpsb6a87693 DSC_0006_zps2e01cdd2 DSC_0007_zpsf720fa8a DSC_0008_zpse0b1619e DSC_0009_zps0a77592a DSC_0010_2_zpsfeb65f9c DSC_0012_zpsf9b5acf7 DSC_0015_zps83b1c68d DSC_0018_2_zps00b045e0 DSC_0021_zps4602f0cd DSC_0024_zps563652d0 DSC_0027_zps81c1f994