Good question – why are they? This was the title of a conversation thread started recently on Bimmerfest.com. The conversation crystallizes perfectly the gulf of understanding between old school BMW enthusiasts and the majority of new BMW purchasers today.
The original poster (OP in forum lingo) cannot fathom why anyone would be excited about an older car. To him new is superior and old is inferior, full stop. He’s thoroughly perplexed:
Do they like the older models because they actually like the cars? What’s the motivation behind buying an old-used model over a new model? Do they like them because it’s cheaper? Do they like them because they can feel good about themselves even though they can’t afford a new model?
There’s no way to “reverse” mileage/aging, and old models will always be used and cheaper. With this mind, I want to know: if money was NOT an issue, would these enthusiasts still choose a used BMW over a new one? (i.e. a used E46 M3 vs new M4).
As anyone who’s been to this site knows, I’ve been one of “these enthusiasts” for years. So I tried to answer him in three ways:
One is the (relatively) simpler design. Less software, more actual driving. Manual transmissions, spare tires, ability to turn off stability control. They are still mechanical machines, not rolling computers.
Two is ownership as hobby. When you do some of your own work on your car, some of the simple DIY stuff and religiously cover the maintenance, it gives ownership a deeper satisfaction than three years and trade it in. Call it the Zen of out of warranty BMW ownership.
And of course price is a factor too — let someone else take the MSRP hit.
I doubt any of this will mean much to the OP — the gulf is too great. His attitude is far more prevalent than mine, and is the reason that the majority of new BMWs (60+ percent) are leased, not bought. (The high prices help here as well). What’s the point of really getting into the ownership experience when you’ll be handing it back to BMW in three years or less?
The car magazines know the BMW old school enthusiast cohort well. Here’s a great description from Jeff Sabatini at Car and Driver, as part of a review of the new M235i, a car supposedly designed to bring old school BMW enthusiasts back into the fold:
You know them by the tarnish on their Roundels, the newest of which are now eight model years old and at least two generations obsolete… BMW knows them for their unwillingness to replace these beloved E36 and E46 Bimmers with the larger, and in management’s view, much-improved successors. This uniquely American cohort perplexes the Germans because such refusal to march in lockstep with product planning comes despite—or perhaps because of—their self-avowed passion for the brand.
A great way to understand the old school BMW enthusiast worldview is to read Rob Siegel’s “Memoirs of a Hack Mechanic“ – a fun read and very informative to boot.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and to choose their own kind of experience with the BMW brand. I’m under no illusions — the days of the BMW enthusiast as I would define it are numbered. (I wrote about this back in 2011).
BMW sales continue to rise, so one could argue the company can safely ignore debates of this kind. But as the old school BMW enthusiast viewpoint fades away, it will be interesting to see whether BMW is eventually viewed no differently than any other expensive European brand.
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