SoCal Vintage Is Where You Go To Binge On Classic Bimmers
Photography by Alex Sobran
Of all the foreign badges you can have on the back of your car in America, the BMW roundel is the most likely to draw jokes about replacing your blinker fluid, how many spaces your car needs in order to be properly double-parked, and questions about proper rolling stop procedures near school zones. To gloss over the nuances and niches, BMWs have a reputation in the United States that started with the brand being recognized—when it was, for that matter—for their sporty saloon cars when they first entered US petrol pop culture with winners like the 2002. Then things changed, and the advent of carphones and the rest of the 1980s made the 3-Series the agreed-upon proof of rungs being climbed on the corporate ladder.
That’s more or less how the brand’s prevailing image evolved in this country, and from that shift onward BMWs became known by the average American commuter as yuppy wagens, to be driven by the kind of people who can’t be bothered to signal before any of their frequent multi-lane maneuvers. Enthusiasts that hadn’t already been paying attention to the cars for other reasons definitely took notice in 1975 when the factory came to campaign its CSLs in IMSA and subsequently took home a bunch of trophies that season, but to those who viewed cars the same way they did dishwashers, things like racing never carried much weight. And it didn’t matter how conservative or mature the styling of the simple three-box design was; getting cut off by a BMW sedan driven by someone in reflector shades channeling a Revenge of the Nerds villain was going to leave a certain kind of impression.
Today those once-sparkling-new E30s first financed by the up-and-comer crowd might be driven by hipsters who care more about “driving an old car” than trying to keep the paint in decent shape, and just last week I saw a red 325e gone pink with involuntary sunbathing and stuffed full of enough McDonald’s wrappers and mail to make it strongly seem like someone was living out of it. The point is, all kinds of people are behind wheels that say “BMW” on them, and regardless of what the models were or are known for, they now serve pretty much any function a car can, depending on who owns them these days.
This past Saturday, I attended the 10th edition of the SoCal Vintage BMW meet in Van Nuys’ Woodland Park, and amidst the rows of OEM perfection and beautifully-executed modifications (along with some questionable ones), I was reminded of the diversity that characterizes the enthusiast vintage BMW scene. Even within just a single model or generation you can find all sorts of loyal followers, and this show had them all gathered together, providing an accurate approximation of the larger fanbase. There was plenty of diversity in the grid of 2002s for instance, with the next car in each row just as likely to be a wide-bodied slick-tired track toy as an all-original one-owner time capsule. Of course, a few pastel-painted ‘02s weren’t the only things to look at, and in that vein I’ve tried to put together some pictures to represent all the different cars and approaches to personalization on display last weekend.