It stands to reason that an enthusiast who is passionate about a marque would be at least a little interested in machinery peripherally related to said marque. I am referring to vehicles which don’t immediately come to mind when thinking or talking about a brand. A vehicular outlier, let’s say.
For example, a BMW car enthusiast could be interested in BMW motorcycles, but that would be too obvious. Our enthusiast would be excited about BMW-powered boats. The Ferrari geek in our group would get excited not about the latest Pebble Beach results, but rather a Lancia Thema 8.32, a generic sedan stuffed full of glorious Ferrari V8.
Take my buddy Erik, for example. Erik has a small fleet of BMW 325iXs (E30s) and enough parts to keep them pushing through the long Minnesota winters. The 325iX he drives most often used to be the painter’s interpretation of Lachsilber (tint and metal flake content are negotiable) but is now primer black, and has a sticker across the rear window reading “quattro ist für sissies.”
For a while collecting them was a mild obsession; he was constantly scouring eBay and Craigslist for the next car. I think he finally gave up after pursuing a pair, one running and one dead, in Connecticut or somewhere else not close to Minnesota.
Erik’s summer ride is a very rare 1991 BMW 325iC M-Technic. It’s a real M-Technic, as opposed to the later appearance package available in 1992 and 1993. Erik’s car features a lowered suspension, 15-inch BBS basketweave wheels, full body kit, and the cool M-Technic cloth and leather interior, all from the factory. Processed cow skin covers the center console and various other interior surfaces. Erik’s is one of only 18 finished in Sterlingsilber and with a 5-speed manual transmission. It underwent a comprehensive restoration after an unfortunate run-in with a guardrail in Colorado on the way to Bimmerfest.
Erik has a BMW 325Xi (E46) that is perpetually for sale. He also had a really horrible BMW 535is (E28) which, not being salable, wound up in a field somewhere. The E46 and the E28 are fairly mainstream, while the 325iXs and the 325iC are borderline-outliers in the E30 universe. The real outlier, however is Erik’s Vixen 21 XC Motorcoach.
Vixen motorhomes enjoyed a short life in the late 1980s. They featured all the usual motorhome amenities, such as a bathroom, kitchenette, and bedroom. The molded fiberglass body rode atop a full-length steel frame. Most of the underlying elements came from other manufacturers: the front suspension, self-leveling rear suspension, power steering and brakes were GM; the clutch master cylinder was from Ford; the 5-speed manual gearbox was sourced from Renault. The gauges, all seven of them, were supplied by VDO.
They were the modern stylish personal living conveyance, looking like no other on the road or in your garage. The latter point is interesting, as the Vixen would actually fit in a normal, car-sized garage.
The outlier tie-in is they were powered by BMW’s M21 turbo-diesel, more commonly found in the BMW 524td (E28). “Commonly” isn’t really accurate, since US 524td production was short-lived but was still greater than the 587 motorhomes the Vixen Motor Company spat out of its Pontiac, Michigan factory. The efficient diesel, combined with a slippery .30 Cd, returned over 27 miles per gallon on the highway. With 115 horsepower pushing around 5000+ pounds, however, you wouldn’t be using those gallons in a hurry.
Erik’s Vixen was purchased from a guy in Florida by another friend of ours, Chris (the guy with the Range Rover miasma). The seller had been using the Vixen as a catering vehicle, which is interesting since the smell emanating from it was more swamp and cigarettes than tea and cookies. It has a round trapdoor cut into the floor, probably made shortly after the toilet broke.
Chris bought it and had it flat-bedded back to Minneapolis with the hope of having something interesting to cart around his vintage Yamaha racing motorcycles. However, the Vixen only has two doors, neither of which is big enough to easily pass a bike through. And so it sat under his deck until Erik adopted it several years ago.
Once he got it home, Erik stripped the sad remains of the interior. Currently, it is a nearly-empty fiberglass box filled with wires, most of which are not connected to anything. The last report I received led me to believe it needed a radiator and maybe an engine computer or injection pump to be roadworthy.
Erik and I have sick fantasies regarding the Vixen. Some revolve around engine swaps: The Vixen can get out of its own way, but nobody else’s. An BMW M20 gas engine, in stock 2.5- or 2.7-liter form, could easily be made to work. For that matter, so could an 24-valve M50 or M3-sourced S50. Of course, we have no idea how much abuse the Renault transmission can take. A new ‘box is $5200, so finding out could be financially devastating.
My reoccurring nightmare is turning it into a Volkswagen Type II-style flatbed pickup, complete with storage boxes under the floor. Erik alternates between adding a 10-foot-long Webasto roll-back canvas sunroof and lopping the roof off entirely and installing a hot tub. We’ve talked about finding a GM 4×4 platform with the same wheelbase and dropping the Vixen bodyshell on it. Now that it is again Fall, I’m sure we will again discuss installing airbags in the suspension, allowing it to rest on its belly, and using it as a ice fishing cabin. Why not, since it already has a hole in the floor?
When I tell Erik he needs a 1984 or 85 Lincoln Mark VII diesel, which also used BMW’s M21, he just shakes his head and walks away. “Come on, Erik,” I call out. “It’s like a slow, ugly 6-series!” I think it would be a wonderful complement to the Vixen, don’t you?