The Slow Car Movement & Vintage BMWs

BMW 2002 Turbo

GQ columnist (and one of this authors favorite authors) Jamie Kitman recently wrote a piece on what he has termed the ‘slow-car movement ‘. It ‘s an idea that takes some of the principles of the slow food movement and translates them into what many of us have been doing for years; driving our asses off in well worn (barely) vintage cars. It ‘s a simple concept and one I can articulate very well within my own garage.

Compare my ’88 535is to the new 535i for instance. Even with a manual and sports package the modern 5er doesn ‘t stand a chance in getting my attention if I want to actually drive. But if I simply want to be transported in effortless style with technology catering to my every whim I ‘d choose the 2011 5 Series. The difference comes down to involvement in the car and in the process of driving. There is little question that the new 5 Series is faster in every way imaginable. It ‘s safer, it stops better (way better) and will carry four in a level of comfort not even imagined in 1988. It is a better car in all the modern ways of measuring success.

The ’88 has one huge thing going for it. Feel. It ‘s the thing that Dr. Kay Segler talked about at the introduction of the 1M and it ‘s the attribute that so many modern cars have lost in the name of comfort, isolation and efficiency.

Yes, but doesn ‘t the E90 M3 have feel? It has some along with amazing control and precision. But it also has performance levels that are so high you have to be in triple digits just to make things really interesting. It ‘s a great car. Some would argue too good to have fun within the limits of everyday life (not to mention the law). An E30 on the other hand can get interesting pretty quickly at nothing more than 20 mph. Add in a touch of moisture on the tarmac and some modest tires and things can get downright hoon-like.

Yes the slow car movement is growing. It ‘s a natural outgrowth of the further refinement of the automobile, regulations and increased social responsibility foist upon us all.

Many of us want something raw. Something that feels as exciting as it looks and at speeds that we can live with. For me the answer comes in the form of my (new to me) E28. For you it may be an E36 M3, E30 or even a 2002tii. Regardless, I can assure you the reward is far greater than the sum of the old parts.

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  • JonPD

    A very interesting article Gabe. I am eager to see “feel” come back to the BMW family. I do find myself longing for this to hit across the brand. In a great many ways some of the fastest production cars today all share a ghostly image of feel to them. I am anxious to see how much feel that the 1M brings back. One part that does leave me contemplating though is exactly as laid out by EVO recently. If you take a dozen people and put them all through one car you can end up with a dozen surprisingly different views about the feel while driving it. Feel to me personally is difficult to describe in black and white, its as if the car and the driver reach a common harmonic frequency and becomes a greater whole instead of two parts of a total machine.

  • I guess I bought in to this “slow car movement” this past spring with the purchase of a well kept ’89 Porsche 944. No, it’s not a turbo, or even a 16-valve S2, but an 8-valve 2.7l four. While not quite glacial, the building of speed does pale in comparison to the ’09 Cooper S stablemate. But, I have been driving it more than the MINI this summer, so there is something about it that attracts. Maybe it’s the evenly distributed weight, low slung driving position, or all black exterior and leather interior. The inline four is generally referred to as “agricultural sounding” by 911 afficianados, but I rather like it’s gruff voice. And, the exterior design still looks great to my eyes, 22 years after production, and well more than 30 years after it’s 924 predecessor, on which it was based. It’s true, they don’t make ’em like they used to…

  • Noro

    Great write-up. Down the same road, I went from a very quick E92 335i to E46 330i ZHP and feel like I got an “upgrade”. I also keep my beloved E30 M3 as a reminder of how less is more.

  • Dylan Bland

    This site has undoubtedly had an impact on me and what I’ve discovered about cars and driving, and this article sums it all up. I’ve recently added an immaculate (new to me) E30 325i M Sport Coupe to my garage and I absolutely love it. I’m not ready to give up the comfort, safety and technology of my R56 MINI for everyday commuting, but having just come back from an hour long night-time drive in my E30 I can safely say that BMWs of a previous era have well and truly won my heart.  

  • I sold my 06 MINI Cooper last year and bought a 1978 530i(e12), it was a shock going from a modern car to a “classic” but well worth it. I have since added an e34 and a Mazdaspeed MX-5 to my collection but the e12 is vastly overlooked among classic BMWs. The styling, while not as flashy as other BMWs from its era, is understated, elegant, and downright phenominal. Granted mine has bigger headers, a straight exhaust, and bilsteins so it does not drive the same as an original e12 but I would take it over just about any modern BMW.

  • goat

    An excellent article that summarizes an increasingly manifest zeitgeist. And, yes, it’s for reasons you describe that I keep the aging Miata around and find it more fun than many newer and much faster cars.

  • Rick Roberts

    If you look at your cable/satellite TV channel lineup, you’ll see hours of coverage on vintage cars.

    Speed channel and HDNet, for example, carry hours of vintage car auctions. HDNet (Mark Cuban?) has auction programing every week. There are also multiple programs on finding and restoring vintage cars, including some from the UK — watched an hour on restoring a vintage Mini last month.

    The day might come when a twenty-year-old car is more of a status symbol than a new car.

  • Couldn’t agree with you more. It’s so hard to be one with the machine anymore. My e30 M3 will be with me till the end. I’m going for a drive now…

  • Ian

    I’ve got a ’91 325-i convertible that I wouldn’t trade for anything. None of the comforts I enjoy in my other vehicles, but more character and connection than I get in all of the others combined.