Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Kinship of the Marque

One of the funny quirks of riding a BMW is encountering drivers who didn't know BMW made motorcycles—which they have been doing since 1923, long before they ever made automobiles (something about the German aircraft industry, some 'Treaty of Versailles,' yadda yadda...the BMW logo represents a spinning propeller in the blue and white of Bavaria...the opposed twin boxer engine is a direct adaptation of an aircraft engine).

This is not to suggest there is any kinship or commonality between those who ride BMWs (machines known as BEE-mers) and those who drive BMWs (machines known as BIMM-ers) except on the margins. Fact is, I feel virtually zero kinship with the bimmeristas.

I guess at one time, BMW automobiles were known as light, nimble, reasonably-powered performance vehicles for the automotive purist; elegantly engineered and precisely crafted, they allowed a driver to experience driving with intensity and spirit. But they seem to have devolved into lumpen status symbols, toys of the grasping, acquisitive class, who have neither interest in nor skill at performance driving.

These once-proud machines have become lashed down, compromised and trussed-up by the timid, the awkward, the fearful, the insecure, the road-enraged, those with more money than they know what to do with and who are desperate for some affirmation. The first bimmer SUV, bearing soccer mom and entourage, was the nail in the coffin of the bimmer as fun. Tired, serious, humorless, dour, safe cars for people who are terrified of driving. Like Volvos, but more disappointing.

No, I don't feel any kinship of the marque with these sad lost souls. But there is a group with whom I feel a strong kinship—almost unto the kinship felt with any motorcyclist, like that felt by pioneering VW drivers in the days of old, when Beetles first crawled the earth.

Cooper Minis. Yes, Cooper is largely a BMW enterprise, despite their British heritage, what with corporate bloodlines being so convoluted and tangled these days. I think of Bimmers as estranged half-brethren to Beast, while Minis are favorite cousins.

And when I see a Mini, I think, "Wow—there goes somebody who wants to have some fun with their driving, rather than being obsessed with status and how they are perceived by their target demographic." Maybe not those exact words, but you get the idea.

Minis always make me smile when I see them, not because they are 'cute,' but because they look like so much fun. I'll wager they are fun to drive and fun to ride in. And while Bimmers conjure up images of soy-latte-sipping cellphone yakkers changing lanes without signalling, Minis make me think of doing donuts in the snow in the middle of the night in an empty parking lot.

And that, my friends, is what it is all about.

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