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98 BMW M Roadster (II)
98 BMW M Roadster (I)
98 Infinity I30t
88 Toyota MR2-S
86 Toyota MR2
81 Toyota Celica
79 Datsun, (II)
79 Datsun,(I)
The Beginnings

August 17, 2006

2001, The return of the Racer: 1998 BMW M Roadster (Pre-DINAN)

BMW M RoadsterAs I said in my previous story, one day of November of 2001 I traded my Infiniti sedan for a 2-seater Bimmer. Ever since I laid my hands on a sexy 2-seater car, I fell in love with the concept and never felt comfortable in anything else. I already explained why I bought a sedan after my supercharged MR2.

Soon after BMW released the M version of the Z3 I went to a local dealership just to see it. I also bought a car magazine with the first comparison test featuring the M roadster; but that was the end of it and I deposited the memories in my subconscious and went about living my everyday life.

A friend of mine who lives (or lived, I lost contact with him) in Los Angeles, California is a fan of BMW cars and specifically, M models. At the time I had the Infiniti, I used to visit him on a regular basis and somehow we always managed to talk about cars. Most of the time we would talk about exotics which were clearly outside our budget; however, every now and then, we would get back to "more affordable" cars such as the M3. The topics would range from the quality and reliability of BMW to the impressive performance of these day-to-day cars. Naturally, all this talk would revive my memories of the little roadster I saw at my local BMW dealer's floor room. One day, while returning from a visit to LA I went straight to the dealership looking for a used... I meant, pre-owned model. There was none. On my way home I saw what would become my new ride at a dealer who specialized in pre-owned European cars. It was too late to do anything other than see it from the outside. Without having a firm conviction about trading my commuter (the Infiniti), I decided to visit the dealer next day during business hours. But the tale of the purchase is the subject of another piece I wrote: Tale of Two Salesmen. This story is about my experiences driving the car.

When I got it in November of 2001, the 1998 M Roadster had a little more than 43K miles. The previous owner had added aftermarket equipment, some of which I didn't care about, some others that got my attention such as a Dinan strut bar. I had hear that name before and vaguely knew they were performance turners of BMW cars. Because of the magazine review I saw years ago, I knew the car had a naturally aspirated inline 6 engine displacing 3.2 litters, rated at 240 bhp, acceleration enough to get the car from 0 to 60 in 5.4 seconds and the 1/4 mile in 14 seconds flat.

Before the end of the year I took the car to LA to show it to my friend, whose brother (another fan of fast cars) was visiting for the holidays. They took me and my car to Palmdale where a drag racing track had Amateur Friday nights events. I had never been in one of those events buy my friend's brother had, so, he gave me some theoretical advice and was riding with me for the first few laps. My best time was 14.72 in the 1/4 mile; not bad for a first timer. On my way home I decided to fin out if the speed governor had been removed (on that year model, it restricted the maximum speed to 137 mph)... It was! I was riding with the top down and the wind made me awfully aware of the speed. Therefore, I didn't find out the maximum drag-limited speed. To the date of this writing I have not yet reached again the benchmark I set that midday...

If the story of my supercharged MR2 was mostly about acceleration, this new chapter in my automotive life also has lots of it, and then more: high speed, hard cornering, and notoriety on a scale I never had in my glass-roofed MR2, since this new baby is a topless unit. even if in the wealthy USA, my mid-level ride don't have the same status that my MR2 had in Honduras. It was a whole new experience for me; both, good and bad (traffic school, etc.)

In a regular street (even if it is a expressway) you can't really have too much fun because the risk is just too high: slow traffic, on-coming vehicles, cross streets, pedestrians, bicycles, etc. The best I managed on some expressways was when I got to be first at a red light: Then I got to practice fast starts by hitting the 40-45 limit as fast as I could while trying to be easy on my tires (they are expensive and regularly don't last as much as the ones I had in my Infiniti). Even though the fun was over quickly, I always appreciated when I had the opportunity to feel the seat pressing on my back as I floored the pedal.

However, it is on the freeway that this baby shines (at least for me, since I am unwilling to modify it as required to race it on a track such as Laguna seca). Although you can't perform a 0-60 on an entry ramp, if you are first in line it is possible to take it from relatively slow (25-30 mph) to watch-out-for-the-cops fast and experience the tremendous acceleration that this car's second gear can deliver. Since its 1st gear requires a shift at around 37 mph it was best to had it on 2nd gear with the engine revving at around 3500 RPM before flooring the pedal. If the coast is clear, by the time I was shifting to the top gear (5th) I was going into 3 digit territory... To me, that is what M is all about. As exciting as high speed travel may be, nothing can compare to the feeling of the adrenaline rush you get from such a joy launch (except if you happen to be a US Navy pilot). One piece of fun that has minimal risk of getting a ticket is hard cornering on the entry/exit ramps. Since I used the entry ramp as a launching pad, I reserved the hard cornering experience for the time I exited. Topless cars are not as good here as their coupe brethren (due to chassis rigidity issues) but I still managed to have more fun that could be obtained with from a typical sedan.

In spite of the fact that I switched to this car as I was heading into the worst financial debacle I experienced in my life, I never failed to had lots of fun with it. I had to drive a lot in search of business to stay afloat; and I made sure that every occasion I had to hit the road was a driving experience and not a tiresome commute.

As I am writing this, I have once again, a stable (for now) routine and a very predictable driving route. However, keeping true to my "spirited driving" soul, every single day is an exciting experience, whether I coast on a sight-seeing windy adventure, or morph into Roger "Andretti".

In order to complete the driving experience, I got BMW M branded driving gloves and a leather cabriolet helmet! For the occasions in which I feel the helmet would be too bold of a fashion statement, I got a more mainstream, black M branded baseball cap which I usually complement with matching long-sleeved T-shirt. Finally, when the occasion calls for a finer appearance, I have a set of cuff links with BMW's roundel trademark. BMW M division's designers are obsessed with  imprinting in the mind of M cars' owners the idea that they own a very distinctive vehicle: I found 12 M logos attached on the car. One at the rear, two on each front side fenders, another two in each door's sill, one on each wheel, one on the illuminated shifter knob, one on the steering wheel and one in the instrument's panel. Against this backdrop, is it any wonder that I also wear M logos almost everywhere? And to top it all off, as if the 12 logos on the car were not enough, I replaced the tire's valve cap with M branded ones!

When people who don't know about cars ask me what the "M" stands for, I take pleasure giving them my bilingual answer: "Mas rapido" (in Spanish) and "More fun" (in English). People fluent in those languages will notice immediately that the answers are not grammatically equivalent as "Mas rapido" means "Faster" or "Speedier" and "More fun" means "Mas diversion". However, I always stress the point that conceptually, the statements ARE equivalent because, for enthusiasts of "spirited driving", Faster IS More fun (Mas rapido ES Mas diversion)

Also, because I usually do not leave my gloves in the car while doing errands, I get all kind of inquiries about my ride. In order of likelihood, these are:

  • Do you ride a motorcycle? These come invariably from people who knows little about cars.

  • What kind of BMW do you have? These people knows better; as they recognize BMW's roundel trademark (featured on my gloves' wrist).

  • What kind of M do you have? I get this one only every once in a great while, and it is a mark of a true connoisseur. Even though the M letter is missing, they recognize the tri-colored angled bar (which normally accompanies the letter M), sowed on the gloves.

Tired of explaining to the first two groups what kind of ride I enjoy (and, to a lesser degree, with the purpose of increase my own "marketability"), I prepared a two-sided presentation card which I now always carry with me in my wallet.

My Presentation Card

Vanity aside; In a typical day on a typical Northern California freeway, you can experience it all: initial acceleration, high speed, moderate to high cornering, passing acceleration and finally, if you dropped the top before starting the trip, a scenic cruise with ample sight seeing.

Almost five years had passed and now I feel confident to say that this car, in all likelihood, was not only my first topless model, but will also be my last; for several reasons:

  • I can't withstand high temperatures.

  • I like classical music a lot.

  • It bothers me to have to take my iPod, PDA and other items into the trunk every time I park.

  • I no longer have the time to detail the interior of my car and somehow find it hard to shell the cash for third-party service (which is never satisfactory).

All of the above notwithstanding, the sexy appearance of this car's lines makes me determined to keep it long after I retire it from daily use (not in the near term future). Despite all its shortcomings, it has an appealing that no coupe will ever have (at least in my eyes).

But the story doesn't ends here. There is no such thing as "Too much power"; and as powerful as this M Roadster is, it can still yield even more power and fun with the help of DINAN Engineering. When I got the car in November 2001 it already had a DINAN front strut bar, an aftermarket exhaust and air filter. When I had to comply with smog testing I was forced to replace the untested (and likely non compliant) aftermarket air filter with a DINAN element which included a carbon fiber duct and also required performance software. My financial situation prevented me from going any further but I became determined to take my little hot rodder all the way The story written here describes the car in almost stock condition. Since the full transformation requires more than 20K I decided to do it on stages. Furthermore, because of the car's age and mileage I am making upgrades according to its replacement needs. Not two months ago I replaced the original clutch with the performance assembly which includes a higher clamping light weight clutch assembly and light weight flywheel. Next in line is the already worn suspension which will be completely replaced with all the bells and whistles that DINAN offers for my model. That will happen this fall. The addition of the performance clutch and the suspension will put the car in another league and that will merit a chapter by itself.

The 1998 M Roadster saga will continue...

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