The BMW Bavaria, as the story goes, was a high-speed Americanization of the German firm’s European upmarket four-door. For the United States Domestic Market, BMW added a third sedan to their vehicle lineup, the low-luxury, big engined Bavaria. Up to 1971, large BMW sedans could be had with either a small, frugal 2.5 liter engine or a more powerful 2.8. The “2500” came with minimal trim and options and the “2800” came with all the trimmings, adding to the car’s luxuriousness, but detracting from its performance. With the Bavaria, BMW coupled their largest engine available without any of the weight-adding luxuries of the 2800 model. Power-hungry Americans gravitated towards this new model, announcing the American preference for a car comfortable with long trips on the nation’s high-speed highways.
As big and powerful the Bavaria might have seemed to even regular Autobahnfahrer back in West Germany, to Americans it was still a small sports sedan, and it was this identity that captivated me in my early years of car enthusiasm. The light, sporty BMWs of the 1970s had depreciated to a level that they could easily be found outside the garages of renter houses all over the young parts of my hometown in Northern California and they seemed to me to be a beautiful antithesis to another love of mine, the big, cheap 1960s Detroit coupe. I don’t doubt that dreams of counterculture European minimalism and refinement helped to sell BMW Bavarias since their debut here in America, an automotive rejection of gluttonous roadside steaks and the four thousand pound land yachts that drove people to them.
I certainly shared those dreams, but they had faded from my mind by the summer of ’09, as new appreciations for old American cars were fueled by the rusty, daily driven Dodges of lower Manhattan’s East Village. Back in Davis, CA for the summer, I found this brown BMW on a faraway side street on the far side of town ad I was so excited to finally meet back up with an old automotive dream of mine. The longing I once had for such a car was gone, and the meeting I had with this BMW provoked less of a heated adoration and more of a bittersweet nostalgia. I remembered the innocent desire I once maintained irregardless of maintenance costs or any other practicalities. The BMW Bavaria before me was just a shadow of its former self.
I now look back on that thought as very innocent in its own right – that a physical car might so plainly appear less real to me than how it existed in old dreams just sounds so wonderfully backwards. This gorgeously proportioned, beautiful old BMW still hasn’t quite worked its way into my mind, as I enjoy these pictures less for the subject than again for the memories. The washed-out summer heat, the searching confusion of my pictures, looking for some of that lost magic, these make up the appeal of the Bavaria.
Perhaps someday I will love out some of those fantasies and look out from that airy greenhouse onto a winding mountain road and recognize the real-world appeal of this great old car, but for now, it still exists as shifting, objectifying memories of beauty and nostalgia.