It seems unlikely that anyone in 2037 will be inclined to keep a 2012 BMW 650ci in such excellent condition as the 1987 635CSi pictured above -and even if such a thing happens, will said 650i make it that far into the future without a catastrophic electronics failure rendering it a two-ton paperweight? Although Jack and Steve have offered their own context on older cars, mine will be different. I’m still not yet legally able to rent a car on my own. This 635CSi was built before I was even born, so driving it gives me a glimpse into the past, but without the benefit (or handicap) of contemporaneous context.
Ari, the owner of the gorgeous example in the title picture, was the first of our group to have a car, a navy blue Dodge Intrepid that was used as a detective’s car. At the age of 18, telling girls that “I have my own car” was considered the height of comedy, with all the associated dissonance of knowing that it was bound to deliver poor returns.
The Intrepid died sometime in the winter of 2008 only to be replaced by something far more interesting – a 1987 E24 BMW 635CSi. Ari’s Dad had always wanted a BMW, but could never justify the cost of one – the fleet of trucks needed for his contracting business was a priority, and he had a fully loaded Sierra 2500 Duramax for himself, which probably cost as much as a nicely equipped 5-Series. It’s easy to see how Ari’s dad finally justified this purchase: it was in incredible shape, with only 64,000 miles on the clock and a set of authentic AC Schnitzer rims. Ari’s mom promptly managed to destroy one of them after hitting a median at speeds near 50 mph, and a replacement couldn’t be found. For the rest of its life, the car wore E39 M5 wheels – and Ari became its sole driver, with his mom getting a Volvo wagon for the daily grind.
I was lucky enough to drive the CSi on a couple occasions over the years, and those moments are responsible for informing me on how cars, particularly BMWs, used to behave. It wasn’t muted and comfortable like the E39 or any post-Bangle BMW. Rather, it felt a bit rougher around the edges, in the same way that my Miata feels crude compared to a modern MX-5. The big I6 was only rated for 182 horsepower but felt much zestier than its output figure would suggest. The one flaw in the package was the slow, ponderous-feeling recirculating-ball steering which felt dated to someone used to more precise rack-and-pinion systems.
For most people our age, the 635CSi was just a cool looking BMW from a bygone era. For those who knew better, it was a portal to another era of the automobile, before iDrive, Bluetooth and “aspirational brands”, a driving experience that was distinctly analogue and imperfect, but with a fidelity unmatched by modern methods. Driven back to back with any current BMW, you’d hardly know that the E24 shares a common lineage with the current crop of cars. A quarter century of “progress” has led to the 6-Series gaining two extra cylinders, two turbochargers, 3 extra forward gears and a suite of electronics that would be inconceivable in 1987. Unfortunately, Ari lost his job right around the time that the radiator, brakes and exhaust system all needed replacing, and he decided to quickly sell the car rather than wait it out and try and repair the car at a later date. Had he possessed some extra money and inclination, the 635csi could have easily ran another 25 years.