CALIFORNIA DREAMING. THE BMW SCENE ON THE WEST COAST OF THE USA.

The sprawling megacity of Los Angeles (aka LA) on the west coast of the USA hugs the shores of the Pacific Ocean and the hearts of petrolheads with equal closeness. No surprise, then, that LA is home to a mammoth community of historic car fans – or that classic BMWs are well represented. Ten years ago, a handful of enthusiasts began meeting up with their treasured BMWs. But soon they wanted more, a proper event indeed. And so the SoCal Vintage BMW Meet was born. SoCal is, of course, a popular abbreviation for Southern California, that much-hailed, mythical place where rain is apparently the rarest of visitors.

Thirty minutes north of downtown Los Angeles lies Woodley Park on Lake Balboa, the venue for the first of these get-togethers in 2007. In those early days, some 150 fans – all fairly local – came along with perhaps 60 classic BMWs; a nice little family gathering, you might say. However, word soon spread and things began to mushroom. The 10-year anniversary in 2017 was therefore quite the occasion.

City of Angels. And of cars.

The image of Los Angeles as a sprawling spaghetti plate of freeways, overpasses and intersections is familiar to many. And those transport arteries are, of course, covered with cars – a whole heap of them, stuck in a perpetual jam; no other US city is so closely entwined with the motor car. 
Rather fewer of us, though, are aware that LA became the modern megacity we know today courtesy of the railroads. When California was added to the list of US states in 1850, Los Angeles was little more than a minor outpost with a population of barely 4,000, a dot on the landscape compared to those far larger cities to the north, San Francisco and Sacramento. Incorporation into the Transcontinental Railroad in 1876 heralded a period of rapid growth which continued into the late 1920s.

The Roaring Twenties. America embraces its need for speed.

It was in the USA that the motor car first gained traction as a volume-produced machine for the masses. The Roaring Twenties transformed Los Angeles into the city it is today, the footprint of the automobile etched into its fabric. This was the period when the population of LA first topped one million – and that population resoundingly anointed the car (a still fledgling invention, relatively speaking) as the transportation solution of the future. Los Angeles was at the forefront of this movement on four wheels, and it also led the way in terms of automotive retail. Cars were selling like hot cakes, and it wasn’t long before the first non-American manufacturers were scrambling for a foothold in this lucrative market.

Americans love their Bimmers.

US sales of BMW cars may only have begun officially in 1956, but many had found their way to America before then. The cars’ distinct sporting flavour proved appealing from the word go. And today BMW lies 12th in the US sales rankings – a thoroughly respectable showing for a premium brand. Classic BMWs could almost be described as a fixture of the Los Angeles street scene nowadays. Seasoned 2002s, smart CSIs and, of course, a whole host of 3 Series (E30 and beyond) are a frequent sight on the freeways of this big old city.

Some owners bought their beloved Bimmers from new in the dim and distant past, and have no intention of ever selling them. Others are vintage car fans with a particular penchant for the design and direct driving experience they offer. And owning such a car is made that much easier by the fact that good classic BMWs are still available for reasonable money. They may be very different people in many ways, but the drivers of these cars are united by a deep affinity with their machines. Classic car events are a frequent occurrence in America, and BMWs are often centre stage. The SoCal Vintage BMW Meet, though, has become the largest of its kind stateside.

Ten years later...

What started off as a small-scale function 10 years ago has since grown into a slickly organised affair. 400 cars were entered for competition at the 2017 event. Visitors  submitted their votes via smartphone, these were then counted and various awards presented. The people at the event were from all walks of life and of all ages. Indeed, families with small children rubbed shoulders with major car obsessives – capable of musing endlessly over the finer points of their classic BMWs – and people just looking for a relaxing way to spend a Saturday.

You can hardly help but meet new people at meetings like this. Most are happy to wax lyrical about cars that have grown close to their hearts. But all involved also enjoy the sense of community with the other BMW drivers. And a new generation have now joined the fray, enthusiasts who not only enjoy looking at their cars but also appreciate them for their driving talents. Many of these drivers are actively involved in motor sport on closed circuits. In a place as strictly regulated as California, that’s a special pleasure indeed.

The 2017 anniversary meet was a great success and all involved are already looking forward to the continuation of a fine tradition over the coming year.