Saturday, May 26, 2012

Bringing Out My Inner Redneck – Why I Traded a Perfectly Good 328i for a Mid-Size Pickup

Say hi to Tim Burdick. Tim joins the small but growing group who advanced from lurkers to commenters to TTAC writers. As usual, please show your hospitality by warmly welcoming Tim. 

I have been called a lot of things in my life.  Some good, some not so good.  Some labels I have grown into, and some I have grown out of.  Recently I have become a redneck (more on that later).  But one thing I have always been is a car guy.  One of my earliest memories is my dad buying me my first Matchbox car.  It was a red Porsche 911, and he handed it to me with such reverence and ceremony, I knew right then that cars had just become an important part of my life.  Ever since that day I have been obsessed with them.  My story is probably like yours – squandering enough money on go-fast parts and flipping rides every year or so, that I could probably bail out the economy of Greece today if only I had gravitated to a more sensible hobby like spoon collecting or shuffleboard.  But I chose cars.

As a kid, cars were all about the beauty of form: the sleek body of that red 911, the muscular angles of a 69 Mopar – I just couldn't get enough.  I collected matchbox cars, I built models, and I dreamed of the day I would finally be able to sit in that left front seat by myself and recognize true freedom – driving one of those machines wherever I pleased.  As an adult, form is still important, but after I got my license, I learned that experience trumps form – at least it does for me.

Screaming down the Autobahn in a borrowed Viper GTS; attacking North Carolina back-roads in my '74 Carrera Targa; hitting triple digits in a brand new Boxster running through Death Valley on the first day of a cross-country road trip.  These were my dreams fulfilled, and the experiences are part of who I am; experiences that I would never trade.

But I have also learned that true enjoyment behind the wheel doesn't have to come from driving fast.  Speed is fun, yes, but I have plenty of other fond memories behind the wheel that don't involve high performance sports cars.

The last ten years of my life have been good: I got married; I had kids; and I got better jobs.  As my jobs got better, my cars got better too.  With some nod to practicality, I have tried to limit myself to only one car at a time and this always presents a challenge when making a purchase– I want a sports car for back-road aggressive Saturday mornings.  I want something comfortable to sit in while creeping along in traffic.  I want something I can fit the kids into if the wife needs to be somewhere else and has the minivan.  What single car can fit every role that a suburban white-collar dad in his late 30's would want at any given time?  Well the answer, of course, is a BMW.

I guess I always wanted a 3 series because I am supposed to want a 3 series: I am a car nut, I appreciate performance and engineering, and the magazines keep telling me that this is one of the best cars on the road.  So a couple of Thanksgivings ago, I took the plunge.  I came across a cherry CPO 2009 3 series at my local dealership.  The car had been on the road for only 10 months, had less than 8k on the clock, and the price they were asking was ridiculously low.  The car was absolutely flawless, and as is often the case with me and cars, I didn't really think it through.  I wrote a check and took the car home.  After all, this is the car I was supposed to want, and I assumed I did.

The first few months of ownership were bliss.  I recognized that it was truly a fine automobile.  It was comfortable when cruising on the highway, and demonstrated more capability in spirited driving than I would ever tap into.  It really was a perfect vehicle in every category except for one: it just wasn't me.

I think the problem is that I am becoming a redneck.  It comes out more and more each year I spend wearing a white collar on Monday through Friday.  Perhaps I am finding the roots of my Southern family heritage, or perhaps I am just compensating for being a small cog in a very large machine at work, but regardless, I am OK with the slow transformation that is my life.  I make my own sausage, I shoot large caliber handguns for relaxation purposes, and I wear cowboy boots to the office on days I don't have to wear a suit.  Last year I started listening to country music, and I have taken to wearing a camouflage ball-cap while doing yard work.  While I was appreciating the relative merits of my 3 Series, last fall I began to realize that I was growing more and more disconnected from it.

What I really needed was a truck.  I heard that need in every Willie Nelson chorus emanating from my car speakers.  I was reminded of that need every time I pulled in next to a jacked-up Dodge Ram at the gun club.  You can fit a .30-06 bolt action rifle and a good sized target stand into a small BMW.  Trust me on this – It will work, but it doesn't feel right.

So, sometime last winter, I realized that I had enough equity still in my Bimmer where I could do an even swap for a brand new mid-sized 4WD truck, and I took the plunge.  The result defies logic, but has exceeded my expectations and I am loving the experience.

For the first time in a long time, when I get into my ride at the end of a hard day at work, I feel free again – free from a traffic snarled commute on a bumper-to-bumper I78.  Instead of staring at my Roundel in the reflection of the car in front of me inching along at 5 MPH (a painful metaphor for my career), I am blasting down the parallel washboard dirt roads of Bedminster in horse country.  I am John Wayne with the throttle wide open, my Flowmaster exhaust interrupting the breeding patterns of prize thoroughbreds.  I have even found out that I can drive off the back of the property at my office by cutting through the woods.  So now going home, I get to use 4WD and skip 10 minutes of bottleneck traffic leaving the campus through the proper exit.  If I could somehow include a river fording, I believe I would have a perfect commute.

I have learned that the 328 is the ultimate driving machine, but it just isn't the ultimate driving machine for me.  My friends think I am crazy, but deep down inside, I imagine Willie Nelson and John Wayne would approve.

from The Truth About Cars

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