Now unlike our television counterparts, we don’t have the world’s automotive test fleet at our disposal, nor thankfully do we have any pre-imposed budget. The car that will be taking us coast to coast will be my daily driver. My criteria for picking the car was it had to be cheap (under $10k), AWD (for those winter trips to Tahoe), fast (200hp minimum), imported (sorry US car fans!) nicely kitted out (leather, AC, electric thingies) and manual transmission. Should be easy enough, right?
I came up with a shortlist :-
- Audi A4 Quattro
- BMW 3 series (xi)
- Subaru Legacy GT
Before heading to Hong Kong I ran a Legacy wagon, it was the first of the last shape, a totally unmolested 2005 model year manual transmission wagon with all the toys. I loved that car but it was clear that a decent one was out of my price range.
I couldn’t bring myself to even contemplate an Audi because I’d immediately be shot down as a hypocrite by Audi driving friends as for many years I’d mercilessly mock anyone for driving a jumped up Volkswagen. Also, $10k would not get me anywhere near a decent one that would last the 3-4 years of hard labour it’d need to serve after the road trip so that was quickly ruled out.
So that just left the 3 series. I love BMWs, I’ve had many of them but never before a 3. I have reasonably strong opinions about most things but when it comes to cars the opinions become fact. Irrefutable and incontrovertible fact. I’ve frequently doled out a serious amount of ire and ridicule at people who bought a 3-series. Cracks such as “Did they turn you down for finance on the 5 series?” came out thick and fast and I knew that unless I found a trump card I’d lay myself wide open to all kinds of abuse. Thankfully I already had a cast iron get out of jail free card for in late 2008 the wise, all-knowing, encyclopaedia of cars and purveyor of the world’s finest hyperbole, Jeremy Clarkson handed it to me on a plate.
Cocks now drive Audis, not BMWs.
I’d previously driven a friend’s ’04 325xi and had liked it a lot but it was just too slow, so I upped the ante to a 330xi and started my search. Finding a decent one for under $10k was proving a challenge. Most of the cars I’d seen at this price point were unnecessarily festooned with aftermarket wheels and body jewellry or had questionable history for their age.
A lazy evening perusing eBay after a couple of gin and tonics led to a flurry of email exchanges with a man called Tim, some high resolution pictures convinced me that buying a car from 8,000 miles away, sight unseen was a great idea. A couple of clicks later and a $500 deposit and the car was mine for the princely sum of $8,000.
The car itself is a 2003 BMW 330xi . It carried the exact specification I was after. Finished in Steel Grey and black leather with both Sport and Premium packages and the all too essential manual gearbox. It missed out being a six speeder by a few months as this was introduced in the 2003.5MY.
So why so cheap? Well the mileage is somewhat intergalactic having covered 189,000 miles in it’s short life. I am not scared of high mileage BMWs as I once owned a 525i some years ago that came to me with 440k under its belt and went onto over half a million miles with no real dramatics or financial ruin. The current owner of the car has his own European car repair business and as this was his personal car, with a full BMW service history until 2008 I considered it a safe bet.
Fingers crossed I’ve bought a good-un or this will be the shortest road trip blog in existence. Flew to Philly, didn’t buy a car, flew back to San Francisco. Doesn’t sound very exciting does it?