I’m excited today to publish the first of a two part interview with Mike Miller. Mike is a long-time columnist for both Roundel and Bimmer magazines. He’s also a former mechanic, a holder of a Master’s of Environmental Law degree from Vermont Law School and basically a lifetime lover of BMW.
However, that doesn’t prevent him from speaking his mind as you’ll read below. Mike was kind enough to drop a comment to my article back in August, BMW’s Quality Crisis, which was partially inspired by his Tech Q&A column in Bimmer magazine.
The questions for this interview were crowdsourced from the M3forum.net and Bimmerfest.com online forums — thanks guys. I’ll be publishing part two of this interview on Wednesday.
1. How did you first come to write about BMW for Roundel and Bimmer?
I began sending tech tips into Roundel sometime in 1988 or 1989. At the time I was living in Vermont and working at an independent BMW shop, where I learned the parts system and “the German way” of working on BMWs. Sending in tech tips was just an effort to get more information out there in the BMW community. There was no online information back then, obviously, and accurate parts information was hard to come by but the shop I worked at had a microfiche reader.
Former Editor-in-Chief Yale Rachlin gave me a paying staff position in 1991 as Product Review Editor. Our current editor-in-chief, Satch Carlson, appointed me Technical Editor in 1998. Bimmer magazine was born in 1998. I contacted then-editor Jim Resnick and offered my services. After several feature stories I began to handle Bimmer Tech Q&A I believe in late 1998 or early 1999.
2. What was your first car, and (if not a BMW) your first BMW?
There were some false starts and cars that weren’t around very long and never ran. The first car most folks will remember me actually driving is a 1968 Chevy Impala Sport Coupe 327/250, TurboHydraMatic 350 (originally a Powerglide two-speed automatic), which I owned from 1980 to 2002. My first BMW that actually ran for any appreciable length of time is a 1977 320i, which I still own.
3. What’s your favorite M car, and why? Same question for 3 Series.
I’m resisting the urge to say, “Favorite M car for what?” Instead, I’ll go with “favorite M car for enthusiast street driving, rather than racetrack or daily driving.”
It also depends on what you consider an M car. If your definition of an M car is a car developed by BMW Motorsport (later known as BMW M), then my favorite is the 2002 Turbo. To me, it was the ultimate version of my favorite BMW ever, the 2002. I love the way BMW beefed up every part of the car and did so much R&D and updating considering the small number built — 1,672.
If an M car has to have the letter M in its name, then my favorite is absolutely the M1. Few people have ever had the privilege of driving an M1, but I have been fortunate enough to have driven two of them. Without question, it is the most visceral and purest BMW driving experience I have ever had, and that’s what I really like about driving – not outright speed or perfect handling, but the smell, the sound, and the mechanical aspects of the driver/vehicle interface.
With the 3 Series, I’ll take a different tack and go with “favorite 3 Series for daily driving as a driving enthusiast.”For me it would be the E46 330Ci coupe, Performance Package (ZHP), six-speed manual. Although other 3 Series cars may excel over the ZHP at various tasks, the ZHP was by far the nicest all-around 3 Series I’ve ever driven, with the best non-M suspension, a subtle look, great fuel economy considering the engine displacement, and ample power. It did not have giant acceleration numbers, basically due to the gearing BMW used, but it was an absolute joy on long road trips and frankly long road trips are my thing.
A close second would be the 2011 335is Coupe, six-speed manual. This car is the epitome of the E90 3 Series family, almost too perfect to be one of my favorites because it doesn’t require much from the driver, but the sound, the fury, and the slot-car handling really blew me away.
Now, if you want to know which 3 Series I enjoy driving most as a weekend-driver collector car, it is my 1977 320i, which is set up to look like a period 1970s TSD rally car. That shouldn’t surprise many people – I’m an old school kind of guy.
4. Since you often take BMW to task in your articles, what’s your relationship with BMW NA like?
Initially, let me assure you that I love BMW the company and BMW cars and motorcycles. I bleed blue and white. I also have a responsibility to my readers to call ‘em like I see ‘em. That responsibility includes telling what is, in my opinion, the truth about BMW reliability and quality issues. To the extent I am a gadfly, I am an unwilling gadfly.
I have a very good relationship with BMW NA. As an automotive journalist, my contacts are almost always with the public relations folks but I have also interacted with high-level executives. Notably, never once has anyone from BMW NA told me something I wrote was wrong – even when it was.
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