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
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,
ride a motorcycle? These come invariably from people who knows
little about cars.
kind of BMW do you have? These people knows better; as they
recognize BMW's roundel trademark (featured on my gloves' wrist).
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
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
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
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...