Paying A Visit To The BMW CCA Foundation’s Treasure Chest in Greer, South Carolina
Photography by Corbin Miranda
If you can enter the BMW Car Club of America Foundation’s collection of Motorsport racing history without having your breath taken away entirely, you might exclaim “Wow,” “Holy…,” or some string of happy expletives that I won’t try to guess at. Whether a fan of the marque or not, there is little argument against their prominence in racing—after all, this is the company that’s earned F1 titles, Le Mans victories, a win at the Mille Miglia in its heyday, countless touring car championships, etc.—and the Foundation nests quite a few of these special competitors.
With over 50,000 (yeah, thousand) artifacts on hand, and more than 20 historically significant BMW automobiles parked among them, every nook and cranny of the 15,000ft² facility is filled with physical heritage that is bound to grab your attention, or at least briefly until a neighboring piece draws your eye. Located in Greer, South Carolina, next to the BMW Manufacturing Plant, BMW Zentrum, and the BMW Performance Center, the Foundation helps constitute the largest concentration of the company’s facilities in America.
The astounding mass of memorabilia and machinery is tucked away next to the Performance Center’s off-road course and behind some smaller commercial lots. It’s a rather unassuming building, but once inside, you’re greeted by shelves stuffed with scale models, miscellaneous parts off of old race cars, and of course, the requisite gift shop. The next sector, separated by just a few glass panes, is the best part of the building: the museum. Here lurk five CSLs, a V12 LMR (the second car to win Le Mans with a BMW motor, the first being the McLaren F1 GTR in ‘95), a Miller & Norburn 2002, a few Formula cars, and even a pre-war roadster that survived WW2. These are a few of the vehicles on the BMW CCA Foundation Museum’s ever-growing roster.
Positioned behind the walled-off outer rim of the museum and to the rear of the wall of 101 coffee-based watercolors by Romanian artist Adrian Mitu, you’ll find archives of old posters, magazines, DIY kit models, clothing, genuine service manuals, ads, toys, video games, and anything else with a BMW logo affixed. Not only does the archive reach back as far as the inception of the company itself, but it also spans across every language and region where BMW holds a presence.
As you can likely imagine, a project of such magnitude and importance requires a substantial amount of effort to curate and maintain and, somehow, add to. The BMW CCA Foundation has a wonderful team that works around the clock to carry out their core mission, but behind the scenes of all the acquisitions and archiving is the Curator of the Foundation, Michael Mitchell. Fortunately for us, Michael was kind enough to take a brief moment out of his lively schedule to answer a couple of questions, and give us some insight into what it’s like to be in his enviable position.
Corbin Miranda: Can you give our readers a brief description of your role in the BMW CCA Foundation?
Michael Mitchell: I am the Curator for the Foundation. I am the original employee here. I was hired back in March of 2001 by the BMW CCA with the intent that I would be the Curator when the Foundation was formed. I started out as the Club Librarian for the CCA. Then the CCA donated their library to the Foundation when it was formed in 2002. I now manage the Library, Archives, and Museum items of the Foundation.
CM: What was it like in the early days? I can’t imagine all this stuff was here to start with.
MM: The collection started as two seven-foot book cases filled with magazines, books, VHS tapes, and some repair manuals. 16 years later, it has evolved into the building you see now, and we now have somewhere between 50,000 and 60,000 items inside.
CM: Your position must require an immense amount of knowledge and passion for the brand. How did your fascination with BMW start?
MM: My Dad, Rob Mitchell, is an early club member of the BMW CCA. He also spent his whole career at BMW North America. He bought his first 1600 back in 1970, shortly after I was born. He was also a collector of BMW memorabilia, literature, and models. I got the collecting bug from him for sure, and from there, it just took off. I would say I’ve gained a good deal of my BMW knowledge from spending time with him and other CCA members.
CM: Being in charge of such an esteemed project seems like a dream job. What is the best part about it for you?
MM: Two things. Now that we are able to display vehicles, we are getting some very cool cars and motorcycles in here. It is a lot of fun to bring this collection together and see the reactions from people when they come into our building. The other thing I enjoy is when we receive donations of literature, memorabilia, and other stuff. Opening those boxes can turn me into a little kid on Christmas day—you just never know what you will get!
CM: I’m aware that it might be hard to choose, but which car is your favorite out of the ones in the museum? You know, if you had to pick.
MM: There are so many cool cars on display here. You’re right, it is hard! Right now though, I would have to say it is the David Hobbs 1977 BMW 320i Turbo. This car is part of my first memory of going to Lime Rock with my dad on Memorial Day weekend. We watched David race in that car, and since then it just has a special place in my heart. Because of my job, I have met David several times in my adult life, and he has some great stories to tell.
CM: Are there any upcoming events or anything you’d like our readers to know about?
MM: We’ll be having an event to view the cars on Saturday, August 5th. After that, we will be doing a large open house on Friday, October 20th [registration is not open at this point, but will be soon]. I should also note to prospective visitors that we are not normally open on the weekend (only three of us are working here at the Foundation office).
CM: How can people contribute to the already massive collection you have here?
MM: There are several ways readers can contribute or help; they can volunteer to work with us at the Foundation and/or events for instance. We have some volunteers that are only interested in working as docents for open houses and other events, and we also have some that are willing to do anything from sweep the floors to sorting collections, to pretty much whatever. The other way people can help is through donation. That can take the form of cash, BMW vehicles (cars and motorcycles), or memorabilia and literature. For the last part, we take almost anything BMW related—brochures, books, magazines, press kits, repair manuals, posters, art, models, clothing, trophies—I could go on and on with that list! If someone is interested in helping or donating, they can call me at 864.329.1919.
It’s clear that a few of the main principles of the BMW CCA Foundation are to preserve, restore, and archive BMW history, but what you might not know is that they also play an enormous role in a nationwide safe driving program, Tire Rack Street Survival; a program that aims to give teenage drivers hands-on educational driving experience that enable them to be safer, smarter drivers. If you would like to know more about the Tire Rack Street Survival program, see the online archive, or learn about the BMW CCA Foundation in general, visit http://www.bmwccafoundation.org/.
A note of thanks: Thank you to Scott Dishman, Scott & Fran Hughes, Michael Mitchell, Kazz from the BMW Performance Center, and the rest of the Foundation team for the incredible hospitality.