BMW and the golden age of the BTCC

It is a miserable day today, in stark contrast to yesterday when it was sunny and bright. On days like these, I prefer to be either tucked up in front of the telly or in my car, but having gone for an extended drive around the Sussex and Kent countryside yesterday, I decided to spend today indoors.

On YouTube, I discovered some old footage of the British Touring Car championship. I used to avidly watch the BTCC highlights on telly in the mid-nineties when the series was in its undoubted heyday. With frantic and delightfully enthusiastic commentary by the inimitable Murray Walker, the nineties were a golden age of 2-litre touring car racing. Factory entries from BMW, Volvo, Peugeot, Ford, Nissan, Vauxhall made household names of Cleland, Soper, Rydell, Radisich and Menu, even in South Africa where the TV coverage was as popular as it was in the UK. My particular favourite was the rear-wheel drive BMW 318′s driven by steve Soper and Jo Winkelhock, to the extent that when I got the chance I bought a 318iS – in white – in honour of the team Schnitzer racers, and I have been a fan of the marque ever since.

When I came back to the country of my birth in 1998, I bought another one. A few years later, I traded it in for a 320i SE, seduced by its creamy six-cylinder engine. They were wonderful cars. Brilliantly-weighted feelsome steering, comfortable seats and climate control made for very enjoyable cars. They feel so capable at sustained high speeds and so comfortable and economical at low speeds. The 320i got written off after sliding into a ditch on black ice, to be replaced by a 323Ci.

After a few years recovering from dire financial circumstances, I recently bought an 18-month old 1-series. It’s a 123d coupĂ© – my first ever diesel and my first ever turbo. And I absolutely love it.

It’s not perfect – the steering is way too light and the steering wheel rim is too thick, but otherwise I am very happy with it. I wrote previously about it’s low-speed under steer, but I have subsequently decided that that was more me than the car, as I have yet to adapt to the (minimal) turbo lag and prodigious torque of this engine. And what an engine it is! Compared to my previous 323Ci, it has 201 BHP compared to 170, 400Nm of torque compared to 245, and is so far returning an average of 46mpg compared to 33. Awesome! It has the M-Sport pack as well so it has huge grip from the wider tyres.

I am planning on taking it on a track day in May, followed hopefully by a trip to the Nurburgring, which will fulfil a boyhood dream to drive the Nordschleife.

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