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Enthusiasts’ Thoughts – Fall 2019: Adventures In Throttle Response


By Ron Acher

My Journey From American Iron to The Ultimate Driving Machine

When I bought my first BMW 11 years ago this month, the seller, Mike Perrino (owner of the late lamented Beverly Hills Auto Spa in Basking Ridge, the best auto detailer in NJ) told me that the throttle response on BMWs is different from what I might be used to from driving large cubic liter American V-8s.

It was, and is, a 1996 E36 328 automatic convertible, with a removable hardtop (which was the main reason I bought it, thus being able to drive it year round in New Jersey, though regrettably not on any NJ BMW CCA track).

He was right. It is a very fast car, capable of a speed-limited 124 MPH. But boy, do you have to lean into the pedal to get it to pick up! And it does, if you do.

But you have to know that I was coming off more than 30 years of driving two specific American cars, a 1970 Mopar 440 high performance unmarked detective car, and a 1977 440 high performance state police highway pursuit vehicle. Both of these cars were specifically designed for “spirited” driving in excess of 80 MPH (shifts out of second at 98 MPH), but they were also great for everyday driving between 30 and 70 MPH because they had gobs of torque at the low end. (For a long time in America after about 1971, you could only get real performance in a family sedan by buying a police car.)

I drove these cars in a very relaxed way, even at high speeds, by having the seat as far back as possible, being very light on the throttle, but expecting and getting instant response from the slightest “curling of my toes” on the throttle pedal, let alone actually depressing the pedal to any noticeable degree.

My 328 was different, and I’ve only recently come to realize why.

Firstly, all BMWs that came to America up through the 90s were routinely detuned at the factory (because BMW AG maybe thought that Americans didn’t know how to drive — after all, they drink coffee while driving!).

Secondly, European sports cars are designed for people who like to continuously take corners and shift gears, so throttle travel is designed to be much longer in general, thus providing more precise throttle control, especially when cornering hard under power.

And thirdly, I was forgetting that my beloved American big iron automatics had never heard of overdrive. Top gear was 1:1 – which is only 3rd gear in my 328. My 328 goes into 4th gear (overdrive) at 30 MPH around town. Even though the 328, at 192 HP, is probably quicker through the gears and at the top end than either of my beloved old Mopars (at 250 corrected BHP, down from the factory-claimed 350 of the 1970 car), I shouldn’t really have ever expected comparable throttle response under similar driving conditions.

So I set out to fix all this.

The first thing I did was to flash the DME with Jim Conforti’s Shark Injector, which made an immediate difference to power, torque, and throttle responsiveness.

The second thing I did was to learn to drop a gear when desiring to pass fast above 80 MPH – which made an astonishing difference at the top end. The car leaps like a shot out of a catapult if you drop a gear and floor it between 80 and 90 – precisely because power and torque are designed to be all the way up there, rather than having big torque at the low end.

But neither of these things really affected pickup in Drive between 40 and 50 MPH, where there is to be found the notorious BMW 6-cylinder torque “flat spot.” (Intake VANOS in 1996 helped, but it wasn’t until the 1999 TU and later E46 engine when exhaust VANOS was added, that this was relieved.) But only recently, and purely by accident, I discovered the final and most effective performance improvement technique of all for this car. And it’s totally free.

I just happened to be giving a ride to some friends with the top down, one of them tall enough that I had to move the seat considerably forward to give him sufficient room in the back seat behind me. It was then I noticed that, while my leg was a little cramped, the car was suddenly performing MUCH better, even with the weight of 3 extra people.

And so it hit me! If your leg is more tightly angled when you drive, your foot movements on the throttle pedal are sharper and more aggressive, and even a light touch produces more pedal travel. And presto! Much snappier performance!

Dear Mike, I love you. But when you told me about the pedal response, you forgot to tell me how to solve it.

Move the seat forward!

Enthusiasts’ Thoughts – Spring 2017: Performance Center Delivery


I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll always need some sort of practical vehicle in my life – something that can haul a lot of stuff and get us places in tough weather. We went a year or two without one after the kids got through school and Karin didn’t want to drive a “mommymobile”. She’s been driving her young and fun Mini Coopers since 2009 when she put her foot down and didn’t allow me to replace our first X3 with another one.

After two years of running to Home Depot and the town conservation center in a toy car (or the M3), I decided we had to have a practical vehicle and ordered a 2011 X3. We took Performance Center Delivery at the Factory in Greer, SC. Performance Center Delivery is what this article is really about, but I’m not ready to tell that part of this story just yet.

We leased the X3. It was a “loaded” 28i. I was never in love with it. It had an early version of the electric steering rack, and I’m happy to report that they’re much better today. In addition, it was one of the last applications of the N52 series engine. Frankly, a turbocharged four does a better job of getting a 4,000 pound vehicle off the line than a lovely naturally aspirated six that was designed to propel small sedans and fun cars.

This brings me to the X3’s replacement. When the lease expired in 2014, number one son had moved from Vermont (which reinforced my rationale for choosing a SUV over a more practical minivan) to California. Grandchild number two was also on the way. Since we were assured that California wasn’t a permanent home and they were likely to end up back in New England at some point, I weighed the situation and ran down to my local BMW store and ordered a 2014 X5 with the optional third row. You know, because it was practical and could hold my growing family. Oh, and one other thing – it was a diesel! And oh yeah, it gave me reason for another Performance Center Delivery! (The real reason for this article.)

This is the part of the story where I tell you that you’re crazy if you’re shopping for an X5 and you don’t at least consider the diesel option. The car is fantastic! The combination of low end torque coupled to an exceptional 8 speed automatic allows this heavyweight to glide through traffic. It doesn’t hurt that I get 34 mpg on most trips! It’s absolutely the best highway cruiser/ hauler I’ve ever owned (and I’m pretty old). For my purposes (long trips and occasional need for 7 passenger seating) there’s no better vehicle on the market. If I used this vehicle for mostly short trips and didn’t need the third row, I’d probably go for the 40e version (ask Chapter President Jeff Caldwell how he likes his), but the diesel is perfect for my needs. (This is the point at which I give a shout out to VW – thanks so much for screwing up the future of this wonderful technology. I’ll probably never forgive you. Here’s to you VW, and the horse you rode in on! I hope you choke on your particulates! They tried to get the X535d to fail an emissions test, but they couldn’t. Clean diesel does exist.)

Anyway, back to the original premise for this story. (I’m sure Bulletin Editor Jerry Faber is relieved that I’m finally getting to the point.) My intent was to buy the 2014 X5 when the lease expired. It really was. But there were a couple of options that I didn’t check off on that one, and I really missed them. Leasing allows a do-over on stuff like that. Mostly though, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to take Performance Center Delivery if I bought it out of the lease. When the dealer called me to let me know they could do a pull-ahead and a new one would have a lower monthly payment, I knew what the outcome would be.

On March 27th, a few short weeks after ordering it, we took delivery of our new 2017 X5 35d at the Performance Center in Greer, SC. The experience remains one of the great joys of buying a new BMW, particularly one that’s built here in the US. All you need to do is arrange it through your dealer when you order the car and then get yourself to Greenville-Spartanburg airport on the designated date. We flew in on a Sunday. We had instructions to call the Greenville Marriott when we arrived. They picked us up in a lovely loaded X5 50i and rolled out the red carpet when we arrived at the hotel. We had drinks and a very nice dinner on BMW and retired for the night. We were instructed to have the breakfast buffet on Monday morning and be ready to travel to the Performance Center at 7:45.

Photo #1 – Arriving at the Performance Center. Photo by Larry Engel

The bus ride to the Performance Center is always full of anticipation and excitement. As you arrive, several new vehicles can be seen in the delivery bays, which are glass walled cubicles in the front of the building. (This time we had an afternoon delivery, so ours wasn’t visible when we arrived. On our two previous deliveries, we could see our car through the window when we arrived. (You can look, but you can’t touch!)

Upon arrival you check in and sign waivers. You’re led into a classroom and they give you a short overview of the day. Next, you head out back to begin having fun! “Out back” is basically a test track/skid pad/ handling course where you’re guided through several exercises, most of which are driven in a vehicle similar to the one you’re buying. You get to use their cars because they want yours to remain pristine, at least until you leave the property. They lead you through an emergency braking exercise and a handling course that’s part race track, part autocross course. It’s tons of fun! (In the case of the X5, literally 2 ½ tons of fun! It’s unbelievable how well these things handle when you push them!) They also do a wet skid pad exercise with a 430i. The objective is to showcase the DSC system. You do a lurid spin with the system off and then they engage it and your fun is done, but the vehicle stays under control. They use a RWD 430i because the X-drive vehicles won’t spin.

When the driving exercises were done, we drove across the highway for a plant tour. It’s always amazing to see how cars are assembled. It’s such a complex ballet of high-tech machines and human effort. Watching the process really makes you appreciate how modern car manufacturing has evolved.

After the plant tour, we went back across the highway and did the off-road course in our borrowed X5s. It’s really fun to see what these vehicles are capable of. We drove through a 20 inch deep stream, climbed hills so steep the only thing we could see ahead of us was sky, and descended grades from which we were sure we’d slide off sideways!

Photo #2 – Testing the off-roading capabilities of an X5. Photo by Larry Engel

Next was a great lunch at the Performance Center, and then we were escorted into one of the delivery bays to see our new X5 35d for the first time. Part of the deal is to get a full explanation of the systems in your new BMW from a product expert. Since this was our second F15 X5, we concentrated on the updated electronics, which have made huge advances in just the last three years. After they answer every question you can think of about your new car, they open the front of the delivery cubicle and you drive out into the real world for your next adventure. Karin and I spent another night in Greenville and enjoyed a fantastic dinner at Hall’s Chop House before heading to Charleston for a few days and then driving home. For anyone considering a new BMW, and especially a SAV made in South Carolina, do yourself a favor and consider Performance Center Delivery. You won’t regret it!

Enthusiasts’ Thoughts – Summer 2016: The Rahal Story


By Dom Miliano

You would think that a rainy Saturday afternoon at a cold Pennsylvania race track would be a recipe for, at best, a head cold and damp shoes. However, add a cub reporter, a receding hairline, thick glasses and a gap-toothed smile and you have the makings for the Best Bobby Rahal Story I know.

Paraphrasing Dickens in A Christmas Carol, this story only makes sense if you know that every word is true…

I was sitting in the Marlboro tent at now-defunct Nazareth Speedway during a lengthy practice-session rain delay. As I sipped steamy sponsor coffee, wearing a jaunty Goodyear cap, a young man sat down next to me and introduced himself – let’s call him Ralph. “So what do you think of this track?” he asked. As a PCA instructor, I had actually driven the track once so I said it was smooth, easy to learn but hard to master. I didn’t notice at first that he scribbled down what I had just said. He then asked, who I thought was going to win the race on Sunday. I said that since Michael Andretti owned the track along with Danny Sullivan, they probably had an edge on the field, but you can never count out Emerson Fittipaldi. I think I added, that he’s probably the best driver in the field. That’s when I noticed he was furiously writing verbatim what I had just said. Still oblivious, he asked what my plans were for Sunday. I know the weather forecast was not good so, I said that I probably would sleep in and not even bother coming to the track. Now his pencil was scratching double time as he bent over his small journalist notebook. With furrowed brow, the light went on so I asked, sir, exactly who do you think you’re talking to? “Well, EVERYBODY knows who you are, Mister Rahal…” was his astonished reply.

The bad cherub on one shoulder whispered in my ear that I should say, “Hey, kid, if you really want a story, let me tell you about Mario, the three strippers and the double-jointed side-show contortionist at the Holiday Inn at Indy in ‘88. Then the good angel on the other shoulder dope slapped me and said if I did that, the Andretti clan could have me sleeping with the fishes. They have friends!

Reluctantly, I set the kid straight and he slinked away in total embarrassment – notebook and pencil securely tucked away. On the way home, I decided that to effectively tell the story, I would need a picture of me with Bobby Rahal. The next day, a photographer friend and I hung around after the race by the Rahal pits, camera at the ready, hoping to get the “money shot”. Just as the light was failing, Rahal came out from his enclave and we begged for a posed picture. Smiling, Rahal looked at me, looked at the camera, back at me and said, “I get it, look alikes!”

And that’s the best Bobby Rahal story I know, but if you have a few minutes, did I ever tell you the one about Mario in 1988? Definitely, NSFW…

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