1989 BMW 325ix Touring
Listening to Paul talk and reading the words he puts down you could start to imagine that as he travels, stories just sort of come to him. He doesn’t seek them out; he just opts to get off the interstate, and is immediately immersed in a world of adventure, replete with authentic characters, heart-thumping narratives, and a connection to the vehicle a car buff sort of dreams about. It is easy then to assume every car has that story: That from the moment it pops on our radar, we’re simultaneously peeling back decades of personal history on the owner, service history on the car, and stepping back into another decade as a 25 year old transmission slips quietly into the next gear, endlessly twisting down some dusty Spanish through groves of Valencia oranges.
That wasn’t the case this time. Things were fairly cut and dry. After selling Javier’s 1989 BMW 325ix Touring a few months ago, we had a short but fully engaged list of people back in the States asking when we’d be bringing back another. “Not an easy question to answer,” I’d tell them, explaining that they’re nearly as rare in Spain as they are in the States. I felt like the world’s worst drug dealer, giving the market a taste of the action, but having no supply with which to back it up. So when this 1989 BMW 325ix Touring popped up in town near the port, it was a no-brainer. Oddly, knowing there were a few people already interested in it back in the U.S. and it should sell without issue, my mind quickly turned to the story. Those adventures that crawl out of roadside shrubs to see how they can give Paul a hand wouldn’t be around this time; it was only a 30KM drive to get it to the port.
Paul went up to have a look, and it checked out. It didn’t have an exotic limited slip differential or upgraded shocks like the last car, but it was beautifully maintained; sort of a rare bird, when you consider the original owners must have selected the AWD Wagon combination to be utilitarian, not a garage queen. The wheels weren’t correct and the driver’s seat had a tear. Otherwise the interior was beautiful; the vintage cloth material pulling you back into the ‘80s in the best possible way. The paint was original, a rarity in a part of the world where quality paint jobs can still be had for a very reasonable cost. Some major preventative maintenance had been done on the motor back in December, to include the cam belt. And it was one of 20 cars shipped to Spain with the hot weather package, an upright oil cooler in the front lower chin to help keep things from getting out of control in the long Spanish heat. All good stuff, but they’re just facts, man. No story there.
Not a deal breaker though – the vehicle’s condition is only one-third of the equation. We still had the Seller to contend with. We could hope he owned a BMW Dealership, had met his wife with the car, spent his summers touring the Mediterranean coast with his family, or had a collection of E30’s spilling out of his garage. Imagine that story: “From Spain to the US: E30 collector’s passions burn strong despite an ocean between.” It would be fascinating to think that one collection provided the missing piece to another, and to articulate the similarities and differences between these geographically divided collectors united around a common interest. But you can’t wish someone into eccentricity. He was a guy who bought a BMW for a toy, and it was time to let the toy go. Period.
Three strikes there. No adventure, no exotic history, and a very normal seller. A good story seemed to be slipping away. A narrative full of far flung adventures to connect someone with the car went up in the same Spanish dust Paul kicked up as he turned into the Port. He dropped me a message to say it was delivered, noting that the 30KM drive was spirited, but uneventful. He even apologized for the photos, remarking that the sun’s position high in the sky was useless for capturing anything artful or inspiring (this always makes me laugh – I’m lucky if I even get the car in frame properly. I want to nod empathetically and mutter something about shutter speed). It would be loaded onto the massive floating parking garage a few days later that would ultimately carry it through the Straits of Gibraltar and onto Baltimore. The import documentation was done, and it would pass U.S. Customs without issue a few days later. There wasn’t much else to do but wait for the car to arrive, and get it down to the dealership.
HOLD ON TIGHT
Years ago I drove a 1985 325i coupe, which proved to be an affordable post-college car, carrying people and bikes around Northern Virginia, and once up the side of Snowshoe Mountain in West Virginia to test out their back country single-track. I had that E30 when I met my then-girlfriend (now-wife), and it was replaced when I thought she might consider marrying me if my car had air conditioning or functioning windows to help contend with Virginia’s sweltering August heat. So I’ll admit I’m biased – I have a soft spot for E30’s, and as someone with two Datsun L-Engines in his garage, I certainly have a soft spot for a nice straight six.
Despite that, I wasn’t sure what to expect when we had brought Javier’s car back. It was still a wagon. A 3,000 pound, 25-year old station wagon. I had made a few small trips around Falls Church to familiarize myself with the car when it arrived, but otherwise focused on getting it out to its new owner in Warrenton. We arrived early on a Saturday morning. His driveway and garage were a testament to his dedication to these machines, with E30’s, E34’s, and an M-Package E85 occupying the lot. One of those E30’s was a stunning, low-mileage 325ix coupe; a hint that he knew this particular platform well. After exchanging some pleasantries I took the passenger seat so he could go for a test drive. And damn, he was driving a completely different car. The road we took was a ribbon of pavement built around the country hills, and he knew them intimately. The AWD chassis gripped without question as he threw it into turns, surging the little wagon out of corners and lunging on towards the next obstacle. Working the gearbox he kept the speed high, but what struck me was how well it held. The cornering was just on rails. I left his place looking forward to finding another car; I wanted another shot at driving one of these little Bavarian sleepers myself.
WAGON NO. 2 ARRIVES
The shipping line called early the morning it arrived. We’re a small company; it’s not uncommon for our cars to be some of just a handful that get dropped off at our side of the Port in Baltimore, while the Manufacturer’s cars are driven off en mass just a few hundred yards away. This intimacy makes it easy to recognize who a car belongs to, leading to some quick conversations in the past:
“Hi, I’m calling about our 1982 Land Rover, I wanted to see if it had arrived yet?”
“You must be William.”
It’s a level of intimacy that’s hard to find in the transnational ocean freight and car import business, where facts and punctuality normally drive discussions. But this morning’s call was different. “They’re telling me there’s something wrong with the clutch; they went to unload it and something wasn’t right. You’ll need to make sure you get it towed away.” Your first thought is, “Well that’s interesting. It drove to the port just fine. And it’s just been strapped down inside a boat for two weeks. How could that be?” You begin thinking about the world of possibility. Slow leak in the clutch line? Bad master cylinder?
Whatever the reason, I was left with the fact that I might need a new clutch, which the auto parts store down the road has in stock for a few hundred bucks, and I need to get the car towed home, which a very reliable friend is already in route to do. We laugh that there has never been an easy project; the process of moving a car from the center of Spain to the East Coast of the US keeps you on your toes. If fixing a clutch was what we had to contend with here, it could be a worse day.
When the car arrived, that blissful optimism carried on as I edged the car into first and pulled out on the street, effortlessly moving through second, and onto third, now assuming that our port worker friend must have just started on the job this week. Those same gears Paul worked through a few weeks earlier as he drove towards what we assumed was the finish line for the story felt just fine, mated to an unmistakably strong clutch. The engine surged forward, once again surprising me at how eager and torquey the 325i straight six actually is. The little E30 heart is a remarkably fun engine. There’s nowhere in Falls Church that requires AWD, especially in the late Spring, and so twisting around side streets and neighborhoods to check the steering becomes a tiny game of ‘point and shoot’ with the 325ix, trying to test the car’s grip without scaring any pedestrians.
It didn’t take long though. Driving around soon revealed that our port-worker friend was right; the clutch felt… wrong. I took it to one of my favorite local haunts to get an experienced set of eyes on the problem, where it was decided a new clutch was needed, along with new slave and master cylinders. It was in-and-out in a day, and we were back in business.
* * *
There’s an impressive Cars & Coffee in Great Falls every Saturday morning, where car guys-and-gals gather to take in the first shot of caffeine while surrounded by sleeping giants. I took the BMW up there early on Saturday morning when it was back together to see if a 25 year old station wagon would draw a crowd amidst a backdrop of Aston Martins and Lamborghinis. Nice weather meant the lots would be full by 6:30, as a couple hundred cars poured in from VA, MD, and DC. The first-come, first-served setup means a Murciélago is no more guaranteed a parking spot than our little wagon, so I made a point to leave early as the sun came up, working the BMW around the beltway up to Georgetown Pike. This quirky E30 was ordered with power front windows and cranks in the rear, and I made a point to roll them all down before settling in for the trip. The morning was quiet, cool, and without traffic, allowing me to stretch this little Wagon’s legs. It was bittersweet; after this morning I’d need to ferry it off to the dealership, making this the last chapter in our little journey with the BMW.
Georgetown Pike twists and winds as it parallels the Potomac River, passing farmland and horse-country slowly resisting development outside the Nation’s capital. I looked for opportunities to snap some photos of the car en-route, trying to make some use of the dew still clinging to the grass. “Paul will be proud,” I thought. Settling into dirt roads and fields, the car looked right at home, a play-thing in its own right, but functional before all-else. Admiring the lines of the slick roof and the slight taper from front to rear, I failed to notice the duck whose home I was somehow intruding on before 6:00 am on a Saturday morning. He followed the BMW around, as though making sure this German stranger walking around his living room didn’t steal the fine china. We took the hint, made our way to the show, settling into a spot next to a new M3 sedan. I wondered if the owners would be amused at the juxtaposition between old and new, but the ‘owner’ turned out to be a younger kid working for the local BMW Dealership, charged with showing off some of the new inventory. The 325ix was probably older than him, and I wondered for a few minutes what life choices I could have made to be young and trusted with a $60,000+, 425-horsepower monster. I’m still not sure they’d hand me the keys today.
So how did the little wagon do that morning? It actually held its own, with more than one enthusiastic BMW guru instantly recognizing the little machine. And despite the exotic sea of cylinders, it wasn’t the only storage-rich platform there, with a CTS-V and S4 rounding out the collection. I love wagons. We have an Outback, and my personal car is an E39 540i sport wagon. The wagons that have something special going on feel like they’re part of a secret club, and there’s a code you need to know to be get in. This one is fairly easy. For anyone familiar with E30’s, the code is spelled out across the wagon’s back: “325ix.”
(CLICK THE IMAGE BELOW TO CYCLE THROUGH THE GALLERY)