A cult car is a bit like porn: not easy to define, but you know it when you see it. An eighties icon, a modern classic, is there a more aspirational car than this? Part pop culture, part sub-culture, part first love, the BMW 3 Series that came out in the eighties have a rabid fan base and a sporty purr that drives Beemer purists wild is. An almost-classic with strong links to the street, it’s not quite as out of grasp as a Lamborghini, yet it can make you feel like a million bucks.This article is published in the Third Rate Edition of the magazine. Photographs by Joke De Wilde
30, web entrepreneur
Lives in Brussels with girlfriend Marija and son Tom
Owns a 1989 BMW E30 red convertible bought in 2009 in Charleroi for €3,000
I bought my first BMW convertible when I was 20, but I wrote it off driving home drunk from a wedding. I had worked so hard to buy that car and it wasn’t exactly clean money, if you know what I mean. I grew up in a rough neighbourhood and I had a hard time as a teenager and I ended up in jail when I was 18. I was really influenced by hip-hop culture and the BMW 3 really was the car of that scene. It occupied a big place in street culture around that time. We couldn’t afford to buy a new BMW so we bought the ones that were a bit older instead and It represented success and achievement. It was an aspirational car.
Years later, after I got my shit together, I fell in love with a girl called Mae. I had never really had a serious girlfriend before. We decided one day to visit Charleroi, officially the ugliest fucking city in Europe. We were walking back through the car park of the train station and I saw two guys standing over a red convertible BMW 3 E30. And I stopped and I pointed out the car to Mae and I told her the story. I told her about growing up wanting that car, about its connection with the street, about hip-hop, about how this car was designed by Baur, how it was a piece of fucking art. It’s such an important car. It was the first time a car was built by a designer and not an engineer. These days everyone understands that. It has such a special shape. You can completely open up the car for a complete pure cut, a complete feeling of freedom. This car was kind of a revolution.
It sold so well that BMW tried to improve it, but they fucked up; they changed the engine on the E40, added lots of aluminium and plastic and it was a mess. It lost that nice sporty sound. But this one, this is a BMW for BMW purists. It did for BMW what Air Max did for Nike or the iPhone did for Apple. It made the brand. I went over to the car to check it out, just to have a look and I realised that one guy was trying to sell it to the other guy, but the guy didn’t seem that interested. He was complaining that it looked a bit old and I thought “What an asshole. He doesn’t realise it’s a piece of art he’s talking about.” So I asked the guy and smiled and I asked how much he wanted for it and he said €3000. I asked Mae if she liked it and she said yes. So we went to the bank machine and took out the money and came back and bought it off the guy. Then we drove back to Brussels together.
We drove home from the ugliest fucking city in the world in the most beautiful car ever made. I stopped driving it when we broke up because it reminded me too much of her, but telling this story has inspired me to get it back on the road. I’ll never sell it, that’s for sure.
Owns a champagne-coloured 1988 BMW 316 called Bubbles that she bought in 2013 for €1,600
26, online gallery owner (postuum.eu)
Lives in Antwerp with her boyfriend Georges
Me and my boyfriend took the train one Sunday morning to Mechelen. We had my license plates with us and I kept thinking, “This is the last time you’ll see me on a train, suckers!” It was the first time in five years my boyfriend took a train. As soon as we bought the car, we took it to a nearby car park where I could practice. It wasn’t really a success. We nearly broke up after I nearly hit the car of another couple who were also learning to drive. We got home safe and I booked some driving lessons. I’m not allowed drive it alone so I go and sit in it after work sometimes. It’s not that I love old BMWs, I just love my old BMW. It’s officially an old timer now, and I even joined the old timer club. They sent me the club magazine and a membership card. I think people love this kind of car because it looks exactly like the kind of car kids draw. My family thought it was very me to buy something unnecessary but very pretty. I bought it only for aesthetic reasons, like most of my belongings. What words do I associate with BMWs? Ha ha, fat Germans. Or lost European craftsmanship, product-love, real materialism. I can’t stop smiling when I’m driving her.
34, owner of a design studio Albino and aerial cinematography company Kopterman
Lives in Antwerp with girlfriend Suus
Owns a black 1991 BMW E30 320i that he bought in 2008 for €3,000
It doesn’t draw too much attention in the street – people aren’t like, “Damn that’s a nice car!” It’s just a really modest old car, an underdog old-timer with a design caught between modern and vintage. I’m not really a car freak but I hate the way new cars are designed. Modern car design is awful. The engineers are more in control and that’s why the design is no longer a priority. It’s not the safest car because it has rear wheel drive and no airbags or ABS and it’s old so it’s got issues like the cooling system sometimes breaks and things like that. But it makes a really nice sound when you go fast. It sounds sporty. When I walk to my car I feel good. It has more personality than the other cars on the road.
Lives in Ghent with girlfriend Delphine and son Juul
Owns a BMW E30 1989 convertible that he bought in 2003 for 2500
We’ve had this car so long it’s part of our story. We’re attached to it now. I met Delphine just after I bought it and people always joked that she was only with me for my car. I was studying at the time and there were lots of ‘johnnies,’ those guys who pimp their cars and add parts to it; but I wasn’t into that. I wasn’t a boy-racer, and I think pimped-out cars are ugly. I wanted an original one. Delphine loves to drive it, she feels very cool in it, and now that we have Juul, it’s even become a family car. I bought another one for €400 for parts, the same model, it had been badly damaged. Now my garage is full of spare parts…
29, interior designer and founder of Ycono coffee bar
Lives in Ghent with partner Roel
Owns a green BMW E21 318i that he bought in 2004 for €1,500
Her name is Heidi. Sometimes I catch people – especially Dutch people – taking photographs or filming my car with their phones. I understand why they are doing it. Lots of people are very passionate about BMWs. My love for this car is purely aesthetic. I studied interior design and I love the eighties and it was a very typical eighties car. People of my age or a little bit older are reminded of their youth when they see it – my mother drove one when I was little.