Bimmer Lite - October 2009
Deciding Vini's future is as stressful as real responsibility
by Marc Biunno (aka Bimmer Lite)
Reprinted courtesy of Marc Biunno and Roundel Magazine
Vini S. Cooper is about to turn five, or about seventeen in car years. He's racked up 70,000 miles and certainly seen his share of the country. His birthday is December 10th; I know this because his build date is engraved on his Whalen shift knob. Is that weird? Maybe, but I've always treated Vini more like family and less like heartless transportation.
For example, when I told my mom that I couldn't come over for dinner one weekend because I had to pick up Vini from Connecticut, she promptly responded with an investigative “What is my grandson doing in Connecticut?!” It's nice that she cares as much as I do. It's a bit sad, too, because she obviously yearns for breathing grandchildren, but it's also comforting to have family support in your over-the-top anthropomorphization of a car.
So if Vini is a “son” of our family, then it's natural that I'm trying to plan for his future. On this front, I used to be resolute. Upon delivery in January of 2005, my Mini would be my car forever, last for infinite miles, and defy the laws of natural erosion. He would be my committed ride, commuting, playing on weekends, and even attending the occasional track day. At that point, I was a one car man and the Mini was everything I'd ever want or need.
Then I went to a few track days and heard Vini whispering to me one Sunday evening on the way home from Lime Rock: “Marc, I'm tired! 25,000 miles a year and track days are really wearing me out. Get me a stable-mate; I wanna run, stretch out my stubby legs, be sporting...” Like the obedient owner I am, I listened and bought my family's E46 323i to assume the commuting burden. All was good.
Then I went to a few more track days and heard Vini whispering to me as we flew off the inside of Big Bend at Lime Rock: “Marc, you idiot, you can only run me on the track in stock form for so long! I need grippier tires, a stiffer suspension, not to mention the safety features I need to keep you protected from your inadequate driving skills. Oh, and if I hit that tire wall that's rapidly approaching, I'm going to kick your BEEP.” Once again, I obliged and bought a new suspension along with some used r-comp tires on lightweight wheels. All is no longer good. This suspension has vaulted me into a future planning mode which doesn't suit my carefree, bachelor lifestyle.
There are different levels of suspensions for the myriad uses people concoct for their cars. I had a mission from Vini, so I went with a track-oriented suspension with very stiff springs. This decision would render his ride raucous and uncomfortable. I'm not talking stock Cooper S uncomfortable, mind you – more like Radio Flyer hurtling down a rocky hill with no lawn furniture pad to protect your posterior uncomfortable. It's not the harsh ride, though, that has me up at nights.
The problem that has me all jumbled up inside is what the suspension leads to as the gateway drug of the automotive world. Change the suspension, enjoy the newfound lateral G's, and it opens up a world of new possibilities. We (Vini and I) are at an old fashioned crossroads: if we move further in this direction, he'll be a track-only car. If we stop now, he's just a curmudgeonly street car. I think we all know where this is going. Pretty soon I'll be pricing out roll bars, seats, harnesses, HANS devices, as well as looking into doing many more events per year, and eventually, CCA Club Race School. Shortly thereafter, he'll be stripped out, caged up, and battling on weekends as his ham-handed pilot keeps him out of contention.
Am I taking large leaps of the imagination, or am I being realistic? Here's what I know: I like driving schools; I'm improving slowly; I'd love for this hobby to turn into a sport one day; and Vini is the best car I've got for the job. Here's what I don't know: Will I ever be good enough to actually go to Club Race School? Will I be as interested in this hobby once I have the freedom to actually pursue it? Will I regret changing Vini into something completely different than he was intended to be from the factory?
Just as Holden Caulfield dreams of preserving the innocence of childhood by catching rascals in the metaphorical rye before they fall off the cliff into adulthood, a part of me also wishes to defend Vini's adolescence. Would I be doing him a disservice by using him as a track-only car, chopping him up and subjecting him to repeated abuse? And what are the prospects of really keeping a track car forever, as I professed I would on this page numerous times? And even if I make him a track car, what are the chances that I'll ever be a suitable track driver? What's a guy to do?
I fear that the gravity of the track and the lure of creating a sporty beast out of what's basically an athletic economy car will prove too difficult to overcome. I'm afraid I'm going to wake up in five years with a trailer, a truck to pull it, and a car that's illegal to drive on the street. The anxiety is killing me.
So what I need is an answer to this cry for help. Perhaps those with more experience can chime in with some timely advice about how to traverse this trail.
I'm all ears, people, and so is my mom. This is her grandson's future we're talking about here.
There is a forum discussion thread here. Please feel free to post your thoughts in the thread.