I had one of those strange moments today that only a car nut would understand. I was feeling truly at home in the car: not comfortable, rather, like the car I was driving was an extension of my body. It would do what it was told, go where it was told and innately know how to do it. The car was reading my mind.
Let’s start from the beginning…
I should tell you that I fancy myself an old-school guy when it comes to cars. I like American cars, manual transmissions and carburetors. Here’s a list of my list of prerequisites: ABS, airbags, heated seats, sunroofs – and once even heat – take a backseat to rear wheel drive, V8 torque and loud exhaust. I am the guy who thought it was a good idea to buy a 25-year old Volvo with a Ford V8. I am also the guy who drives a 1959 Oldsmobile with no seatbelts and a sharp, pointy metal dash in bumper to bumper traffic on the highway with no regard to safety. I’m weird with the cars….little things excite me.
Auto|One Group recently came across a 2003 BMW M3. It is the old E46 M3, with the smooth inline 6 cylinders producing a factory 333 horsepower. It’s rear wheel drive, has custom exhaust and intake and is in fairly good shape. I thought I would take it for a couple of days and see what I thought. I probably should have mentioned earlier that my current lease just expired and the Volvo is about as predictable as a rhinoceros strung out on crack so, yeah, I needed a car.
The M3 is rear wheel drive, has custom exhaust, wicked handling and is decently quick. The problem was the transmission. This BMW has the SMG transmission – the automated manual. No clutch pedal, just paddles behind the steering wheel. I drove the car for a couple of days and brought it back to work, disgusted with the performance of the car. I want a manual transmission! This thing suck: its clunky, not intuitive and an automatic!!! I was especially upset because the chassis was so willing to cooperate with my dirty automotive mind. In fact, three different people all told me that the M3 is impossible to get sideways in a corner – have I mentioned I love a challenge? I was really bummed out about this transmission.
My co-worker, quite smartly told me “You’re an absolute schmuck – the SMG is great”. This co-worker knows A LOT about cars and I really respect his opinion on them. He says he can never get an M3 because he will get in too much trouble with it. That is a bold statement. I just couldn’t figure this new technology out. Of course, I did the only logical thing and blamed the car (it is easy to blame things that can’t defend themselves).
My co-worker took me for a ride in the M3 one day and showed me how it is supposed to be driven. It was like being in a different car altogether. I actually felt bad for the M3 and how I was driving it prior to my tutorial. The car instantly went from “beast” to “beauty”.
Last week, I was getting on a highway after a long day at work. It was dark, the roads were lightly travelled but there were still some cars. I got on the highway, powering through the apex of the on-ramp. Then I accelerated past some slower moving vehicles and dodged a few transport trucks. Then I seamlessly slid into the express lanes… I didn’t realize that I had done any of this until I was buzzing along in said express lanes. I wasn’t tired, fatigued or racing. The car was simply intuiting where to go. I must have shifted two dozen times and modulated the gas and brake countless more. It felt so natural and so “right” – it didn’t even register. It was almost eerie…
Maybe I’m not the old-school rough-and-tumble car guy I once was. Maybe my M3 has shown me the light of new technology and the fine subtleties of effortless driving.