OLD SOLDIERS NEVER DIE
Eberhard von Kuenheim stepped down as BMW chairman in 1993, although he remained on the board until 1999. His replacement, Bernd Pischetsrieder, continued the company’s expansion, not always with positive results — the expensive and ill-fated acquisition of Rover Group being a key example. Since BMW had still not managed to equal Mercedes-Benz’s prestige, Pischetsrieder attempted to buy some, acquiring Britain’s storied Rolls-Royce brand effective January 2003.
After the E31 finally expired in 1999, BMW temporarily departed the big-coupe market, although the smaller 3-Series coupes continued apace. In the fall of 2003, however, BMW launched a new 6-Series, known internally as the E63 (E64 in convertible form). Based on the Chris Bangle-styled E60 5-Series, it was significantly cheaper than the departed 8-Series, no longer chasing the big Mercedes CL-Class coupes. Despite its controversial (we’d say hideous) styling, it was far more popular than any of its predecessors, although Mercedes coupes still held the edge in snobbery.
The E24 is an interesting study in how perceptions can shift over time. When it was new, critics generally derided the 6-Series as an overpriced exercise in style over substance; even Car and Driver publisher David E. Davis, Jr., one of BMW’s most vociferous American supporters, didn’t like it very much. By the mid-nineties, fans remembered it fondly as a paragon of BMW-ness. The E24’s competition career undoubtedly added to its luster, however irrelevant that performance was to the production cars, but we suspect that its greatest advantage was the lukewarm response to the E31, which made memories of the old 6-Series shine that much brighter.
The E24’s performance is quite ordinary by modern standards, but its styling has aged well — better, we think, than the early XJ-S or 450SLC — and it has a certain panache that separates the classic from the merely old. In its day, a 5-Series sedan was a much better value, but the “6er” will be collected long after the last E12 and E28 sedans have succumbed to rust. The passing years have highlighted its virtues, even as its original deficiencies fade from memory. Aging gracefully is not easy, for people or for cars, but the original 6-Series has managed that difficult feat surprisingly well.
Our sources for the history of BMW in the early seventies included Jan P. Norbye and the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, BMW: Bavaria’s Driving Machines (Skokie, IL: Publications International, Ltd., 1984); Richard A. Johnson, Six Men Who Built the Modern Auto Industry (Osceola, WI: Motorbooks International, 2005); and Bob Lutz, Guts: 8 Laws of Business from One of the Most Innovative Business Leaders of Our Time, Second ed. (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2003).
Other information came from The Unofficial BMW E24 Website (“dnd,” www.e-24. ru/ eng/, accessed 31 December 2009); Mike Covello, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946-2002, Second ed. (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2001); Frank de Jong, “History of the European Touring Car Championship & Other International Touring Car Races,” 2001, homepage.mac. com/ frank_de_jong/index.html [now www.touringcarracing.net], accessed 31 December 2009; L’Editrice Dell’Automobile LEA, World Cars 1979 (Pelham, New York: Herald Books, 1979); Andreas Müller, “BMW 5er Baureihe E12,”www.infinite-power. de/f-bmw5e12.htm, 24 June 2007, accessed 30 December 2009; the Productioncars.com Book of Automobile Production and Sales Figures, 1945-2005 (N.p.: 2006); and the Wikipedia® entry on the BMW 8-series (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BMW_8_Series_(E31), accessed 30 December 2009).
We also consulted the following period road tests: Ron Wakefield, “A New Coupe from BMW,” Road & Track June 1976; “Autotest: BMW 633CSi,” Autocar 16 October 1976; “BMW 630CSi Road Test,” Road Test July 1977; “Autotest: BMW 635CSi: Bavarian elegance,” Autocar 6 January 1979; “Autotest: BMW M635CSi,” Autocar 28 April 1984; Larry Griffin, “BMW 635CSi: Use it as a fast car is used in Europe: as a small plane,” Car and Driver February 1985; “Autocar Test Extra: BMW 635CSi,” Autocar 20 April 1988; and Jack Nerad, “Power Trip! BMW M6 vs. Porsche 928 S4,” Motor Trend April 1988, all of which are reprinted in BMW 6 Series 1976-1989 Ultimate Portfolio, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 2003); and “Road Test: BMW 630CSi,” Car and Driver, May 1977 (Vol. 22, No. 11), pp. 41-47, which is not.
Data on historical exchange rates of the mark to the dollar came from Harold Marcuse, “Historical Dollar-to-Marks Currency Conversion Page,” UC Santa Barbara, 19 August 2005, www.history.ucsb. edu/faculty/marcuse/ projects/currency.htm, accessed 5 December 2009. Inflation estimates came from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Inflation Calculator, data.bls.gov/ cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl. All figures are approximate and are offered solely for illustration purposes; this is an automotive history, not a treatise on historical currency trading or the value of money, and nothing in this article should be taken as financial advice of any kind!
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