I’ve sort of neglected the “Vehicular Amusement” category for a while now, and I’m not totally sure as to why this is so. I enjoy driving my BMW Z3 as much as any car I’ve owned over the last 40 years or so. I live in the middle of wonderful mountain driving roads and I can take off in any direction and quickly find myself lost in the tactile pleasure of driving.
Viewing the car as a “project” has pretty much ceased since I finished with the suspension work: new control arms, ball joints, harder bushings, new shocks and a fresh set of tires. I’ve added a cold air intake and an exhaust that I can actually hear. The stuff I need to do basically boils down to cosmetic stuff.
Part of the “fun” with every previous car I’ve ever owned that might have pretentions of being called a “drivers car” (or motorcycle) has been a never ending project waiting for my next modification to “improve” it. I’d rather drive the Z3 than be plotting my next improvement to it. I do love the way it looks, but I can’t see it when I’m in the driver’s seat. “Pride of ownership” is a very small part of my involvement with this car, but driving it always brings a smile to my face.
I love the steering. Replacing the soft rubber bushings had a major impact on steering feel. It’s a big part of the sense of involvement that driving the car brings to the occasion, along with the sound and feel of the inline six.
I love going into a corner and giving the car enough throttle (and maybe a little flick of the steering wheel) to where I can feel it start to rotate through the steering and power my way through the corner riding the creamy waves of torque and wonderful sounds from the engine.
The Z3’s torque curve has been criticized in a number of quarters for no being “sporting” enough, but it makes it super easy to “steer with the throttle”.
I have no concern if this isn’t the fastest way through a corner and I’m not taking lap times. Most of the time, I stop short of hanging the tail out and just add enough throttle to give the car a neutral attitude. It’s really fun to go at about a “seven tenths” pace. I think I probably went faster in my Miata over the same roads as you needed to keep the little four cylinder on the boil to keep the pace up to the point where the car was fun to drive. The Z3 is fun at most speeds and the motor has enough torque to make going up the mountain as much fun as going down.
The Z is also entertaining to drive at less than banzai velocities although I can go about as fast as I’m going to go on public roads if I want to. Sheer speed has lost most of it’s appeal to me at this point in life.
The other day, I found myself behind a Porsche Cayman with an aftermarket exhaust going over Wildcat Canyon Road, which is one of my favorite driving roads once you’ve got past the casino and the school. There was no traffic and when he spotted me in his mirror, took off in a cloud of glorious noise. For a while, the chase was on, and he had the extra power to pull ahead on what short straights do exist. Knowing the road as well as I do, I managed to reel him in in the twisty parts. I noticed he was often drifting into the other lane, probably trying to see a little further down the road, and I decided to back off and let him go at his own pace. We both ended up behind a mini van anyway and when we parted company at the end of Wildcat Canyon, he gave me a friendly wave.
I’m not trying to make myself look like a paragon of responsibility, it’s just that the capabilities of my car, beyond a certain point, have little to do with my enjoyment of it.
Back in the 80’s, I had a Honda VFR that I had to ride for miles to get anywhere I could use it’s speed and acceleration capabilities for more than a few seconds. It was a superb machine, but almost boring to ride in normal conditions.
The Z3 is faster than most of the machines I lusted after in my youth, like an XKE, a Stringray or a late 60’s 911s, or maybe a 1973 BMW 3.0 CSI. On the other hand, you probably could beat it on a track with any number of modern sedans, or maybe even a SUV or pickup. (You probably would NOT be having as much fun, though.) Attaching your ego to an automobile is a little bit of a lost cause. Or at least it is for me.
What is important is fun, which is something entirely separate from lap times for me. It’s much more of a subjective thing. A lot of people can’t grasp why people love their Miatas, often dismissing them as “chick cars”. Most of these people have probably never driven one, or feel a car with the personality of a playful puppy isn’t macho enough.
I’ve noticed that my interest in automotive magazines has faded somewhat. Few of the vehicles have much interest for me beyond mere technicalities. I’ve always preferred lighter vehicles and a two ton sports car has little interest for me, no matter how quickly it gets to 60 MPH.
The other day, driving home from band practice (the BMW being large enough to carry two guitars and an amplifier), Wildcat Canyon was nearly free of traffic beyond the Casino and it was about 70 degrees, sunny and calm. I found myself downshifting to 2nd gear for a couple of corners where I normally use 3rd for no other reason than to hear the exhaust burble on the overrun. I then turned off the traction control so I could get a little drift action through two of my favorite sections of the road without fear of the electronic nanny cutting in. I love the sensation where the car hooks up, straightens out, and then seems to shoot down the road.
Having worked the inner Hooligan out of my system, for the rest of the ride, I was happy to resume a more rational pace and enjoy the wind, the sound of the engine and the zen-like experience of driving briskly and smoothly.