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Emancipated Navigators

Rodney was one of those couple visionaries who special ordered his S52 in steel gray before the color became officially available. I especially like seeing the color with hypersilver roadstar wheels and the S52 flat ///M badge. Here's his story:

On January 6, 1999 I attended the Los Angeles Auto Show and was about to become an "Emancipated Navigator." I had no idea what that was, and honestly, I still don’t. My very first BMW automobile was responsible, and here is the story.

We have all had the experience of coming upon a car that we have never seen before. Car shows or parking lots, the experience is the same. One moment you have never seen the car and the next moment you cannot get it out of your head. I had that moment at the  Auto Show. I remember it exactly. I was walking around with a friend taking little note of anything in particular when I walked into the BMW display. Small confession here, I was never much of a  BMW person. Having owned a series of Mercedes, I always felt (dare I say it?) that BMWs were wanna' be Mercedes. Didn't understand the brand.

All of that changed when I walked into that display. There it was, a 1999 BMW M Coupe in stunning Imola Red with black leather interior. My jaw dropped. There was nothing like it on the road, but it had the distinct echo of various other cars that I loved. Mostly it brought to mind the Volvo ES1800 wagon and the MG GT Coupe but injected with Bavarian steroids. I was knocked out. Everything about it appealed to me. It was hard to ignore the rear end of that car. Wide-ass tires so far apart they had different zip codes, four chrome exhaust tips screaming George Barris custom hot rods and an attitude that looked like it would kick your ass just because it could. It certainly kicked mine.

Inside, the car did not disappoint. Beautifully appointed leather interior with a display of small chrome-ringed gauges that reminded me of British sports cars of the 1950's. That type of excitement doesn't happen very often but when it does, it is fantastic. I had to have this car.

I immediately ran over to the BMW information booth to get some printed propaganda. The woman at the counter hesitated for a minute and looked me over like a customs inspector at the airport. I tried not to appear desperate but then she said, "Well we have a few brochures, but really only for serious buyers."  Serious buyers? I just about grabbed her by the collar to breathe fire down her throat. Serious Buyer had arrived. She sensed the danger and suddenly produced a very small ten page 6" x 9" black spiral bound brochure. I still have it today (did you really have to ask?). I must have read that little booklet fifty times. Every detail of the car was there. My favorite line from inside the cover: "No, its not for everyone. It’s not meant to be." What fantastic marketing. From page two: "…the fastest street-legal BMW ever." I was so hooked, I lived on the adrenaline for weeks.

For months after the auto show I tracked down every M Coupe in Southern California. Test driving became my favorite weekend activity. I even drove the non-M Coupe with an automatic, about as dull an experience as you can imagine. A vanilla sandwich with vanilla sauce and a side of white bread. Mmmm…

I know enough about myself to know that I enjoy the "courtship" of buying a new car as much as actually taking delivery of the car. Strange but true. I love researching every aspect of the car, every color combination, every option, in short, every compulsive detail. The result of this action is that I have never bought a car that I regretted. As proof, I offer my 1978 Honda Accord LX in original Metallic Maroon, still in my garage and still driven every week. Believe me now?

Months of courtship, research and test driving into my M Coupe revealed that I did not really like any of the colors that were available. Nothing seemed to suit what I had in mind. Mostly they were all too bright. Dakar Yellow II was too, too much and Arctic Silver too primer-like. Weeks of staring at the color chart resulted in no answer. I started to test drive different colors just to see if I could drive myself into a color I did not like. No luck. I called the dealer and said, "Okay, how much to factory paint the Coupe a Seven Series color?" The answer, $1,800 (list). My problem was solved.

I placed the order on January 25, 2000 for a Steel Grey #400 M Coupe with a sunroof. Little did I know at the time that it would be the only Steel Grey M Coupe with a sunroof produced that year. As car guys love to say, "One of One." The only other custom ordered Steel Grey M Coupe from that year that I have found has no sun roof and is now on its third owner with over 100,000 miles. Mine remains a single owner, 20,000 mile pristine original. Thirteen years later the fun has not evaporated.

How great is it when you get interested in a car and it does not disappoint over time? In fact, as time goes on, I get more attached to the car as it is so much fun to drive and you certainly don't see yourself in every parking lot. For example, recently, I went to a informal local car show. No pre-registration, no judging, just show up for coffee and cars. I looked around the parking lot and counted twelve (12) 300SL Mercedes Gullwings but only one (1) M Coupe. Not for everyone indeed, which brings me back to the "Emancipated Navigator."

In the 2003 book, "BMW Z Series - The Complete Story" by Mick Walker, the early history of the M Coupe is described. It was a car that was clearly a whimsical project for some BMW engineers. The poor marketing guys had no idea what to do with it once the green light for production was lit. It was a car design that divided people like politics. The most offensive description to me is the often used "Clown Shoe" moniker. Please, that would be one very stylish clown cruising the circus.

The marketing department was clueless as to who would buy this car. They clearly had not met me at that point. In the end the marketing guys said that the buyers would be "Emancipated Navigators."  I have no idea what that even means but somehow, it seems right. No where in the marketing description did it mention retired circus clowns or cobblers.

I have no plans to ever sell my M Coupe. It seems to only get better with age like a fine wine or an old master oil painting. With only 2,870 built for North America over four years, it remains a rare bird. Pristine examples are hard to find. Many have been altered beyond recognition and/or tracked to an early death. Most M Coupes are now third and fourth owner cars, and you know at least one of those owners abused the car. Think large dogs and smokers.

In the collector car world it is rarity, condition and performance that create value and desirability. The BMW M Coupe has it all, and the rest of my fellow "Emancipated Navigators" know this, which is what makes us emancipated, whatever that means.


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