The Marine View Driver: My Very Brief Life as the Party Guest You Hate


In which the author reflects on the cost v. benefit of owning a luxury car.

by Mike Smith

Alpina1The one time I actually bought a car I had always wanted, and could simultaneously afford, I bought this BMW. It was a BMW 740i but was modified by a company called Alpina.

Alpina is to BMW what AMG is to Mercedes, or chopshops are to Honda. Alpina takes these cars from BMW and soups up the engines, adds some additional aerodynamic features and a really sweet paint job, and spruces up the interior a bit to the point of creating an almost original model of car.

I bought the Beemer Alpina from a customer of mine. He was pretty meticulous so I didn’t really even have to look at the car. But of course when I did, magic happened. Something about the engine crammed snuggly under that hood.

The Alpina had the little BMW emblem on the back but instead of BMW printed on the perimeter it said ALPINA. I remember once taking it to the emissions testing place and the guy at the booth kept walking around the car with a puzzled look on his face. He finally asked if it was a BMW and I told him what I just told you. He nodded, which is probably what you did, too.  The car passed.

In my experience most BMW owners do not even know what or who Alpina is. So don’t feel bad. If you’ve looked at the link I gave you above, you are well informed now. As you no doubt know, however, BMWs are referred to as “Beemers.” A clever little play on the acronym. Beemer is that pretentious little nick- name that gives the impression that you are at one with the magniloquent. It is a minor form of esoteric Tourette’s. It comes out as a burst of glib party jargon.

In its possessive form: “I drive a Beemer.”

In its covetous form: “Cool, look at that Beemer!” (As if to say “Beemer” made you sound cool, like an owner.)

Beemer is a reflexive affectation that BMW owners use to belittle the nescient. [Ed: I had to look that one up. Thanks for making me feel ignorant, Mike. Like when you picked me up in your Beemer Alpina.]

Like when at parties: “Oh, nice to meet you. What kind of car do you drive?”

“A Beemer.”

“Ooooh! Nice car. Must be expensive.”

This is where you roll your eyes to say, “Yes, it’s expensive.”

But try this at a party: “Oh, nice to meet you. What kind of car do you drive?”

“An Alpina.”

Lengthy and uncomfortable pause…

“Don’t you love these hors d’ouvres?”

“I’ve never had them before. I don’t hang out at these types of parties very often. (Hee hee.) Did I tell you my dress is rented? I came with that guy over there. I wonder if he knows what an Alpina is. I believe I’ll go ask him right now. Does this plate make my face look pale?”

“Oh look, my brother just walked in.”

Yes, it is that pretentious…

I was able to afford this car due to the failure of my business. One of the odd things about having a business of your own is that when it fails, you make a killing in tax refund land. So, I bought my wife this car. She actually was the one who drove it most often. Because it was used and the seller had already bought a new car he was anxious to get rid of it.

I did drive it once to work, but some of my co-workers got mad at me out of jealousy, no doubt. Of course I helpfully told them that it was used and that they had paid more for their minivan than I paid for this car you had to go to Germany to get. They thought I was a jerk for buying and showing off in my BMW. I tried to tell them it wasn’t a BMW, it was an Alpina. For some reason that did not satisfy them. So I drove the Honda. Only drove the “Beemer” but rarely.

Alpina3I learned a funny thing about myself when I bought this much ballyhooed and sought-after car. Despite its beauty and speed (and everything they say about the BMW/Alpina is true; it really is the ultimate driving machine) I found myself feeling very conspicuous in it. When I pulled up to a restaurant, valets fought over me. I even went to a funeral for a family friend and little kids were ogling my car. When I parked it in front of my house, my neighbors started talking to me differently than before. They tried using bigger words and asking if they could have their son mow my lawn. So I parked the Alpina in the garage.

In short, I felt like this car did not fit my personality. I am not this pretentious, and this car seemed to portray something I am not. I just thought it was a cool car when I saw it. But after I bought it, I realized that the dream was better than the reality.  The car looked great, drove great, was comfortable, quiet, and safe–it weighed over 5,000 pounds. But it is like the car show, or a trophy wife. Looking and dreaming is way more fun than owning.

Alpina2I spent about ten thousand dollars on maintenance. Three thousand dollars just on tires. The tires on the Alpina are different diameters in the rear than on the front. You can’t rotate them. You just have to replace them at $700.00 apiece. The dash board was digital but went blank a year after I’d bought it. It cost $1500.00 just to repair it. That involved the shop removing it, sending it to California where a specialist rebuilt it, and re-installing it two weeks later.

As much as I love cars, I suppose what I’ve really learned that I love the machinery and the workmanship. I like the sense of freedom that a car evokes. But what I did not realize is that, except for basic transportation, anything over the average aggregates to the price of vanity and excess.

Our culture likes to impress, and many are good at it and get a certain amount of joy and fulfilment from it. I have found that I don’t. I’m a regular guy who likes cars but is happy with point-A-to-point-B functionality.

I’m the Marine View Driver, and I love re-gifted cars salvaged from fields in Montana.

But it sure was nice to be able to see myself in a high-end paint job for a while!


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