How did we get here?

So, how did we come to be here? Well, I suppose I’ve been a classic car man all my life. I’ve always been interested in older or unusual cars and remember a conversation at school with a couple of other 13 year olds. I simply couldn’t understand their fascination with getting a mini and “tarting” it up – twin SUs, chrome dashpot covers and trumpets, chrome rocker box, wheel spacers and as much Paddy Hopkirk tat as you could buy on a paper boy’s wages. Nor could I understand that other staple of the time, a jacked up mark 2 Cortina, white Cosmic 8 spokes and a La Cucaracha airhorn – I tried to explain that a Cortina wasn’t dynamically brilliant at the best of times, so how would fitting a couple of lengths of quarter inch flat bar (even if it was chromed) to the spring hangers, heavier wheels and a horn that needed its own compressor improve it?

Now, a Mark 10 Jag – actually a 420G – had been sitting outside a neighbour’s for weeks. I bet that could be bought for significantly less than the Carlos Fandango Cortina or the 1959 big fin Sunbeam Alpine that was lying at a local farm. Or the Jensen Interceptor sitting in a local showroom, waiting for its owner to get his licence back. I don’t know what speed he was doing, but the car was there for at least 4 years. These were far, far more interesting.

The first car I owned, at 16 in 1979, was a 1967 Morris Minor Traveller. Donated by a friend of my mother’s after she forgot to open the gate before driving through it. I bought some tools from the implement sale, including a set of gas bottles and taught myself to braze – large scale soldering really. In those days, brazed repairs were perfectly acceptable, so I managed to get the bodywork repaired – to the point that it resembled a Traveller, got the engine running, renewed the brakes and got it moving around and stopping under its own steam. All with the aid of a Haynes manual and the ability to follow a recipe.

The first car I bought with my own money was another Traveller – a scrap one for spares – £40.00 got four good tyres and some body bits – unfortunately I didn’t notice that the great, rust free wings front and rear were fibreglass. A 1956 split screen 4 door saloon, a bargain at £80 followed and it’s been pretty much constant ever since.

In rough order and only including cars that were classic cars at the time of ownership – I’ve had loads that weren’t at the time, but are now – and had a reasonable chance of seeing the road again:-
1967 Morris 1000 Traveller
1956 Morris Minor Series 2
1970 Hillman Imp
1972 MGBGT*
1959 Sunbeam Alpine – yes, the one from the farm.
1958(?) TVR Grantura
1971 Aston Martin DBS
1969 Jaguar 420G
Indeterminate Series 2 Land Rover 88*
2 Mid 60s Karmann Ghias* – I didn’t realise I had two until long after I bought what I thought was one and went through four front tyres in as many weeks!
1973 MGBGTV8*
1962 Austin 1100*
1969 Wolesley 16/60
1976 Vauxhall Victor
1976 Triumph Stag*
1976 Jaguar XJ4.2C
1967 MGBGT – Sebring racer copy
1973 Vauxhall Magnum 2300
1971 Jensen Interceptor – not the disenfranchised driver’s one
1973 Triumph 2000
1965 Austin A40 Farina
1966 Austin Cambridge Countryman
1973 Reliant Scimitar GTE
* used daily in my ownership

There are many, many more that I’ve either bought to break or haven’t passed the “had a reasonable chance of seeing the road again” test. I doubt that I’ll ever get round to cataloguing them all, but even listing those has reminded me of a few forgotten people and events.

So that’s life before classic BMWs

After a couple of years without a classic on the road, but bits and pieces to play with in the garage, I was missing the agony and ecstasy of classic car ownership.

It was 2003 and I fancied a reliable classic and having had loads of BMWs over the years and running a 528 at the time, a classic BMW was the obvious choice.

I had a reasonable budget and had my eye on a later model E30 325i convertible.

So into the BMW magazines, the classic press and the Autotrader I delved and it wasn’t long before I realised how long I had been away. I saw an E30 M3 advertised and it was just a wee bit over what I wanted to spend on a 325i convertible.

I started to reconsider. Could you really get into the iconic E30 M3 for about the same as a convertible? Not quite, but not far off it. I was working in the North West of England for three days a week at this time and of an evening was absolutely bored to the point of watching Emmerdale Farm, so, I made arrangements to see a couple of cars relatively local to where I was staying.

The first one was a tired wreck. If it had been a 318i, it would have been scrapped years ago.

The second one was horrid with huge rims and a sound system that was measured not in decibels, but on the Richter scale.

A business trip to Luton allowed me to look at a third one described as “….in excellent all round order. Enthusiast owner for past 7 years. BMWCCGB member.” This sounded more promising. I arrived and looking at the chap’s drive, I was immediately hopeful that I had found the right car in the hands of the right type of enthusiastic owner. There was even a spares car parked in the driveway ready to be stripped as and when required. It was when he took me for a test drive in this “spares” car that I realised that I had wasted another day looking for an E30 M3 at a sensible price. I’ve been wary of BMWCCGB members ever since.

Then, I found a car in York. I spoke with the owner on the phone and he seemed easy to get along with. He told me what he thought needed doing and what he thought was good about the car. He was what estate agents call “a motivated seller” and we did a deal pretty quickly. It drove very well, but was lowered and had even firmer suspension than standard, but it was epic fun to drive. Light, manoeuvrable, quick, rorty and handled like a go kart. the dogleg box and a wee blip on the throttle on the down changes and you felt like Mr Cecotto himself. Without a doubt the most enjoyable driving car ever.

A 1989 M3 Cecotto in Macau Blue with Silver Nappa leather. Overall in good clean tidy condition and at a fair price. I bought it and enjoyed it for a year until unfortunately, I wrote it off with a little over exuberance on a damp roundabout. No other car involved. Tit. My E30 M3 had suddenly and unexpectedly came out the loser in a confrontation with a wet, greasy road surface, a roundabout, driver brain fade and a length of Armco.

I was faced with the equally sudden and unexpected dilemma of what to replace it with. I was cushioned in this terrible time by the decent sized wad that I had managed to prove to the insurers was the market value of the old M3. That’s a story in itself and they settled at a figure very close to double their original offer, and if I were honest, a sum that had somebody offered me that amount for the car, I’d have sold it. Anyway replacement options included:-

a) another one – discounted, eventually for a number of reasons, but principally because it was a fabulous car to drive – for an hour, but to be honest, I think I’m getting old, because any longer than an hour in the M3 or 20 minutes on a motorway and I’d had enough. Noisy, hard, uncomfortable, quick, but not quick enough to make up for its shortcomings, lacking in torque and LHD. Fabulous, fabulous car, and unbettered on track, but not an enjoyable classic car, for me. I later discovered that the E28 M5 was the car that solved all these and had I driven one at this time, it would have been top of the list
b) a Porsche 928S – very cheap to buy , but horrendously expensive if anything goes wrong and it’s not a BMW.
c) The beautiful E9 CS – in my view BMW’s best looking car since the 507 and incredibly cheap to buy (Then!!), particularly when you consider their rarity. They are cheap to buy for a reason though – they’re all rotten. Even years on in 2011, this is what I should have bought.
d) 840Ci see b) above, but with the advantage of being a BMW.

So, it probably had to be a classic coupe or GT car, preferably a BMW, good value on a performance per pound basis and not rotten (in retrospect, I was always going to struggle there) and, after the E30 M3, not left hand drive. This caused me no concern whatsoever, and while my son quite enjoyed our trips through the McDonald’s drive through in reverse, my wife hated sitting in the “wrong hand drive” car with a passion.

I’ve always liked the E24 BMW 635 and I remembered, in particular, an Alpine White M635 CSi belonging to a pilot I knew in about 1990. I’d had a standard 635 in the past and at the time I lusted after a Highline with all its late 80s pimpmobile toys. A plan was beginning to form.

The M635 CSi, in Highline form was emerging as a front runner.

Having spent hour upon hour travelling the length and breadth of the UK looking at E30 M3s described as in good condition which, in truth, would have been scrapped years ago had they been 316s, I was also hoping to find something a bit nearer home.

So while no definite decision was made, and I still suffered the occasional random Jensen Interceptor/Mercedes SLC thoughts, I was almost certain that if I could find a local M635 CSi Highline in decent nick and not too dear, I’d seriously consider it.

The problems with this seemingly simple sounding and outwardly cunning plan was that there were only 524 RHD M635s made between 1984 and 1989 and only about 100 or so of those were Highlines. The E24 body was designed, and for a while at least, manufactured by Karmann. Now, legend has it that if you look up “Karmann” in a GermanEnglish dictionary, the name of probably Germany’s best known coachbuilder (Karmann Ghia, VW Beetle convertible etc.) translates simply as “rust”. So, with only 100 being made and those rusting out quicker than your average Vauxhall Victor I wasn’t hopeful, but had a quick look at the BMW Car Club website anyway.

Amazingly, I found a 1989 Lachs Silver Highline (chassis number 465/524) for sale only a few miles from home and on examination, it was OK and tidy enough, but the wings were showing the usual signs. Back in the day, BMW were replacing E24 wings under warranty! It had the rust bubbles under the rear lights which is a standard fitment in all Highlines along with the electric memory seats and extended leather trim. That interior was excellent and overall it was a well maintained tidy enough example of a rare car with only two previous owners (one of whom I knew), and loads of history. It has been owned in the Glasgow area all its life and still has the supplying dealer sticker in the rear window.

While I knew that it would need new wings in due course and the sills looked at, probably all at the same time, I thought I’d be able to use for the remainder of that summer and hopefully the next one as well before the inevitable bodywork tidy up was required.

So a deal was done.

Isn’t it astonishing how the brain of the terminally addicted classic car enthusiast works? It has the capacity to block out, until the very second that the last crisp twenty is handed over, that the reason it always remembered that Alpine white M635 wasn’t its beautiful coachwork, nor was it its stunning performance nor, even the primeval, almost visceral wail of its exhaust, but how much it cost to fix the snapped timing chain.

So having purchased a very rare, rust prone, classic car with a highly tuned engine with what I mistakenly thought at that time was a propensity to destroy itself, I did the only sensible thing and bought an M635 for spares. It was the earlier chrome bumper model and obviously not the Highline, so I bought an accident damaged Highline for spares of all the Highline bits – what else was a man to do? It doesn’t take a genius to work out how we get from this position in 2005/6 to where we are today with literally hundreds and hundreds of used spares for all classic BMWs