The BMW Car Club of America has been around for 50 years. Founded in Boston in 1969 by a like-minded group of aficionados enthused about their 2002s, the club has grown into a 75,000-member organization that lays claim to being “the world’s largest owner-supported car club.”
To celebrate that 50th anniversary, the club’s sister organization, the BMW CCA Foundation, recently opened an exhibit at its museum titled Passion: 50 Years of BMW Cars and Community. The exhibit features not just any collection of BMWs from the past 50 years, but cars from BMW club members—including one previously featured in Hemmings Sport & Exotic Car. The exhibition means to celebrate the camaraderie of the club as much as the cars that brought the members together. Given the club’s 50 years, the selection includes some cars well known to members, the cars of some well-known members and an overall representative showing of cars from the 1960s through the current decade.
For the sold-out, opening-day event held on May 17, the Foundation invited Jackie Jouret, longtime editor of the now-defunct BMW magazine, Bimmer, and author of the companion book to the exhibit, to share her expertise and introduce each car and owner. Jouret made the rounds of each car on display, interviewing the owners and sharing just how each car was unique. Given the hands-on approach of many BMW CCA members, it’s no surprise that plenty of the cars on display were modified, but certainly not all.
Long-time club magazine contributor and 2002 expert Mike Self has loaned his 1969 2002, nicknamed “Wolfgang” by Self and his wife Carol, that he bought new 50 years ago, right around the time the club was being founded. By the early 90s, the tin worm had “overwhelmed” Wolfgang and Self set about learning bodywork and restoration skills to restore it, ultimately repainting in in 2000. Self is more than happy to share that the engine has never been apart and the rest of the driveline remains original to the high-mileage sports sedan. For many year, Self has been sharing his experience in the club’s Roundel publication.
Just two slots down on the museum floor sits an orange 1972 2002 tii owned by Bobby Rahal, who purchased the car and commissioned its restoration with the noted BMW expert Don Dethlefsen and his skilled staff at The Werk Shop in the greater Chicago area. Rahal purchased the car after he retired from racing as the car was exactly like the new one bought new while in college in 1972.
Longtime BMW CCA members were also treated to a very familiar site: a red 1981 M1 previously owned by the club’s first Executive Director, Gordon Medinica and now owned by BMW CCA Foundation president Lance White. The M1 is a veteran of the One Lap event, and a winner at that in the vintage class. White reported having taken the car for track events “all the time” until he had it repainted. That’s exactly the sort of passion the exhibit has on display.
The Foundation’s museum, which essentially sits across South Carolina Highway 101 from BMW’s massive assembly plant in Greer, South Carolina, exists in what was once a pharmaceutical warehouse, with exhibit space, offices, and a small gift shop. The Foundation has previously hosted exhibits titled “Heroes of Bavaria: 75 Years of BMW Motorsport” and “The ICON: 50 Years of the 2002,” both of which also featured companion books by Jouret published by the BMW CCA Foundation.
Though many car clubs participate in philanthropic activities, the BMW CCA Foundation occupies perhaps a sole niche in the space. Founded appropriately enough in 2002, the BMW CCA Foundation has an entirely separate board and operational staff from the club, and gets all of its funding via donations, sponsorships, and activities, with no club dues going to fund its mission. We spoke with Scott Dishman, Executive Director of the BMW CCA Foundation, who explained the organization’s mission to Hemmings: “The foundation is the philanthropic expression of the 75,000 members of the car club. We are a separate entity and we’ve got a separate set of goals. We’re a sister organization with the club.
“The two pieces of our mission are, number one, to facilitate Street Survival. We train about 2,500 teenagers a year in high-level car control. We teach them what driver’s ed and parents can’t teach, in about 55 different venues in about 110 different schools every 12 months in an all-day clinic. To date, since the program has launched, I think we are at about 1,200 schools and have trained more than 27,000 drivers. We are very proud of that piece of our mission.
“The second piece is what’s here today, which is the museum and archive. This is an old pharmaceutical warehouse that, believe it or not, is the world’s second-largest BMW museum and archive. We’ve got 45,000 plus BMW-specific items in this building. Not all are on display at any one given time, but it’s all here.”
Dishman shared the source of the BMW CCA Foundation’s funding: “We have hundreds of generous donors that make tax-deductible contributions to help us do what we are doing, which is supporting Street Survival and the museum and archive. We have many sponsors who dial up large dollars because they want to be a part of what we are doing. We have to find all of our money on the outside. So, it’s donations, it’s sponsorships, and it’s also student fees for Street Survival. We charge families $95, and $95 only, by the way, for a full day of car control clinic.”
Despite being dedicated to an automobile make—and the people who enjoy that maker’s products, the BMW CCA Foundation is not actively seeking donations of cars, though it does own a very small number, “probably six or seven cars,” according to Dishman, who adds, “We don’t have space and we want to make sure we have the ability to bring in a lot of rotation exhibitions, like the one you see here today.”
Some 50 years on, the BMW CCA has not only grown well past a group of like-minded ’02 enthusiasts from Boston, but also into encompassing a unique philanthropic arm dedicated to not only preserving information about BMWs and the club, but also in training new drivers so that they stick around to enjoy the club and have their own 50th anniversaries, and many more.
Passion runs through January 17, 2020 at the BMW CCA Foundation museum located in Greer, South Carolina. Admission is $10 for adults (13 and over), free for children (12 and under), with discounts for BMW CCA members, BMW employees, and visitors to the nearby BMW Performance Center driver training facility and vehicle delivery center. The museum is open Monday through Friday, 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.