Readers Drives - A Love Affair with The M636 CSi
I was secretly hoping Peter would find time to put pen to paper for our Readers Drives. Without wanting to embarrass Peter, having coffee and a natter with him is like sitting through one of the best after dinner speeches. He has had a fascinating life with some amazing adventures. This short story gives you a little insight in to that colourful life. He fails to mention, he is also quite an experienced ex-race driver himself. Maybe Peter, will enlighten us with some tales from behind the wheel of his race cars. __________________________________________________________________________________ As a very ancient petrol head I remember well Peter Ustinov talking about his interest in cars from, as a small boy “being an Amilcar”, not pretending to be one, he was one,” and I used to drive into my classroom past my desk, and then reverse into it”.
When I was a boy I “was” a Riley, and after graduating bought an ex-Bob Gerard semi-racing Riley Imp, the best there ever was, with an Ulster racing engine. Apart from club events at Brands Hatch, with my first wife drove all over Europe with the Imp including Venice, covering 500 miles of German autobahn in a day with the straight through servais exhaust sounding like a low flying plane, especially over the Grossglockner pass.
The next major car investment was in 1959, while working with the Monsanto Chemical Co in New England , buying the first Alfa Superleggera 2000 Spider imported into the USA from the very successful American racing driver, John Fitch, at his Lakeville Connecticut Alfa dealership adjacent to the Lime Rock racing circuit. I brought the Alfa home as accompanying baggage on the Queen Mary, and still have it.
But now fast forward to spring 1990, when I was still buying new BMWs as company cars, enjoying at the time a 318is with 16 valve engine and useful goodies like special wheels and tyres.
Treated it as a poor man’s M3, and it did go like the clappers with good road holding. And as a valued BMW customer in May that year I was invited to a track day at the old original, and very quick , Silverstone circuit. No chicanes !! BMW had a fleet of M3s, 7 series, M5s, and these 4 stylish 2 door coupes I had never come across before, allegedly with M1 engines and labelled the M635CSi . I had experience of the basic 635 CSi in the States as a comfortable brisk tourer. But this was something very different and special. Chalk and cheese.
After demonstrating ABS by hosing part of the circuit and driving through a series of cones with brakes applied we were allowed to chose which delectable BMW we would like to drive. No competition, it would have to be one of the M635CSis. The deal was to be taken round Silverstone for 5/6 laps driven by a professional racing driver , and then let loose by oneself for the rest of the day. Happiness is ..........
So while my second wife Julie was being scared witless in an M3 driven round at racing speed , I climbed into the passenger seat of one of the M635CSis was treated to being taken round the circuit by a competent racer who knew just what he was doing, hurling this big coupe through Silverstone’s fast corners at racing speeds. Very impressive ! I was reasonably knowledgeable of what racing speeds through the old circuit’s corners might be, and this big BM being drifted quite flat through each was behaving like a racing car. So for the rest of the day I was free at BMW’s expense to take one of the 4 M635CSis and lap Silverstone as fast as I dared while keeping the car on the track. Feeling that it wouldn’t be very courteous to bend one of my host’s machines.
At the end of the afternoon I asked BMW’s Technical Director what they had done to set the cars up for circuit speeds, and was told “ we put 8/10 psi more in the tyres, that’s all”. So I was converted . I was going to have to have one of these, left over from the last RHD batch produced in February 1989, but at the time there was no way I could afford a new one. 5 years later I was able to buy my first M635CSi, a black second hand one with 17K miles from Frank Sytner in Nottingham and loved using it for 6 years or so including track days at Goodwood where it distinguished itself well despite being overtaken on one occasion by a Porsche and a Ferrari, one on each side, who then decided to use the same bit of road in front of me at the same time. Bits of red and silver cars flying all around. Looked like a rather expensive “racing incident”.
But I always had this idea in my head that because the M636CSis were so expensive at the end of manufacture in 1989 that one or two might have been “salted” into collections, and so the possibility of finding a new one. And so in 2002 that happened, spotting a 2 line advert in the Sunday Times which read simply, “ BMW M635CSi , 761 miles, and an Edinburgh telephone number”. Phoning the next day I asked if they had made an error with the mileage. No, it’s was in an extensive collection of the Chairman of the Drambuie Liqueur Company and Glenvarigill, the Scottish distributors of Ferrari, Porsche and Maserati cars , Crawford Hewlett, who was also selling an original mint Daytona spider at Bonhams Gstaad auction at the same time. A running negotiation was concluded late in 2002 despite Frank Sytner also chasing it, and G201TYX safely arrived in Maidenhead on a low-loader in December at the local BMW dealers , who asked if I might possibly allow them to valet it before taking it home.
Since then it’s been my weekend “pride and joy”, largely to Goodwood or for drives where there was known to be safe parking at the other end.
So at 30 years of age and after 18 years of ownership, my perfect car has now clocked up 22K miles , is as tight as a drum, and remains a thrill to drive every time every time a cross country trip “ticks all the boxes”.