Most brands, regardless of the product they offer, possess something unique that attracts a certain type of customer. Subaru peddles a sense of adventure and safety; Rolex offers exclusivity and craftsmanship; Pepsi offers a unique tasting fizzy brown liquid. To most people reading this, the mention of BMW instantly conjures the familiar mantra of “the Ultimate Driving Machine”. Which may, or may not, be how we found ourselves to be helplessly enamored with BMWs.
BMW established itself quickly in the United States as a car for people who cared about driving. This was achieved by effective marketing and relying on early, stout, inline-six-cylinder engines like the M30 and M20. Later, BMW also earned notoriety as a very tech-forward company, beginning as early as the 1980s. Like the aforementioned Rolex example, BMW’s positive qualities helped to quickly establish its reputation as an aspirational brand.
Through the years, other qualities became associated with what it meant to own a BMW – but not all positive. A stigma associated with being an inconsiderate driver, for example. Or perhaps an overwhelming need to occupy more than one parking spot.
But it gets even worse than that. As an aspirational brand, BMWs rapidly became automotive accoutrement to the self-declared successful. An entire segment of BMW’s customers no longer cared how the car drove – it was simply important to be seen driving one.
Unfortunately, BMW’s brand image was already somewhat diluted by the late 2000s; just about the time I became aware of their existence. I assumed that somewhere between “Sheer Driving Pleasure” and “spoiled rich kid” was reality. Like with most branding, it became unclear what was marketing and what was the truth. And for years, I never cared to or expected to discover it for myself.
As a result of those mixed signals, BMW remained very much out of my radar for years. As a much younger car enthusiast, I leaned toward domestic muscle cars, influenced by my father. One day, I nearly walked into a lightly modified E46 M3 in an eerily empty New York parking lot.
It felt like the first time I had ever seen a BMW, and immediately I was in love. I started obsessively researching and learning about BMWs, and eventually bought my first one – an early 1990s 325is. Mechanically, it was mostly a disaster. And it wasn’t particularly pretty, either. But it was my first taste of what the Germans were capable of, and I never went back.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was getting a taste of what BMW does best. Robust and smooth power delivery paired with responsive and communicative steering. A sensible, but still luxurious feeling interior. The overall “just the right size” dimensions and classically good-looking proportions. But the most important and memorable quality is how it drove. My expectations of “the Ultimate Driving Machine” were fulfilled and exceeded – and have been time and time again. Probably most of the reason I’m still obsessed with BMWs, even many years later.
But every good love story has a unique origin – we’d love to hear yours in the comments below!