Mark Bast ’92
Mark Bast ’92 of Grand Rapids, Michigan, visited campus this spring to celebrate a treasured recent acquisition: a 1983 BMW 320i, the same make, model and color as a car that he purchased in 1991 and drove as a student but had to sell following an accident. When he discovered it for sale online, from California, it was the first time after years of searching that he’d found a match. “I couldn’t believe it was real. And this one looked like it had been in a museum in Munich for the last 35 years,” he writes. “I now have four cars, with a one-stall garage. But despite a familiar logistics problem, this car’s going to be around for a while. This time I’m going to treat her right.” Please visit the college online to read an essay by Mark in which he recounts his experiences with the first car, and the journey of the second.
Additional content submitted by Mark Bast:
This is a story of heartache, loss, hope, and redemption. And a BMW. By 1991, I was 21 and had owned two cars, neither of which you’d call desirable. When I was 16, I inherited my dad’s 1975 Chevy Impala, which he had inherited from his dad. Not that this was an heirloom car. More like Elvis at that time, bloated almost beyond recognition from the sharp angular profile of earlier days. I remember thinking I could easily sublet the trunk to a family just starting out. A couple of years later I was optimistic when my dad and I found a 1982 Toyota Corolla SR-5 hatchback on a dealer lot. The black louvers on the back window indicated that it was sporty. And that I couldn’t see when backing up. Despite its low mileage and the brand’s reputation for reliability, less than three years later I was reduced to slamming the engine compartment with a rubber mallet to start it. At that point I gave the car to my best friend Tim. More on him later.
I had returned from out of town when my dad told me he had found a car for me. It wasn’t like him to even look. He told me it was a BMW. What? And that it had 186,000 miles. Are you crazy? But the car was mint and at that point only eight years old. “It will run forever,” my dad assured me, a man who knew absolutely nothing about engines outside of where on the vehicle to find them. I fell in love with it instantly. I pulled the 1983 BMW 320i into Tim’s driveway. “Is that your dad’s car?” he asked excitedly. I had arrived. I’d glance down admiringly at the BMW emblem on the oversized steering wheel often. Yep, I was still driving a BMW. This was my car? I was no yuppie, but I’m pretty sure I earned the nickname “Biff” at the lumberyard where I worked part-time based solely on this car. Tim and I took the car up to northern Michigan most weekends that summer, Workingman’s Dead being the preferred soundtrack. And of course Van Halen. These trips always included travelers. Road pops. Beer. This would turn out to be bad practice.
I got my first DUI the night of my 21st birthday in 1991 in the Toyota’s waning months. I got my second in that BMW six months later on a Sunday night after beers at a Mexican place with Tim. I knew I had a headlight out, and that’s how the East Grand Rapids cop got me, a few blocks from my house. I had nearly convinced him to let me go when he saw my prior. My license was revoked, and that left the BMW to the desolation of the garage, where it should have stayed.
The following November, I was a senior at Hope College in Holland. It was a Thursday night, and my roommate was driving to Grand Rapids to meet up with our friends. Did I want to go? “Nah, I’ll just hang here,” I said. And that’s what I did, over a few beers. At which point GR started sounding pretty good. Even though there was a massive snowstorm out there. And the BMW had no insurance. And I had no license. I grabbed a few road pops and headed east.
I never did catch up with my friends. There were no cell phones back then. So I gave up and headed back to Holland. Driving down Breton Road I saw a guy with a broken-down Volkswagen Bus in the Breton Village Mall parking lot. I had a soft spot for Busses. I had a ’68, and my friends had them, too. I pulled in to see if I could be of help. Not knowing anything of the actual mechanics of those things (my own seized up on the highway after I neglected to add oil to the leaky engine), I offered the guy a ride to work at the Grand Rapids Press downtown. The weather was getting worse. I slowed down on the Michigan Street hill, gradually coming to a stop to let the guy off at the curb. Bam! A Ford Ranger slid right into me, crinkling the BMW’s trunk like an accordion and shattering its back window. I was baffled as to why the guy didn’t use the open lane to the left to go around me, but I didn’t really want to stick around to argue either, being without license and insurance and under the influence. But the police station was conveniently located across the street, and help quickly arrived, wanted or not. I remember giving the officer my license, but he must not have run it, because he let me go. A moment of relief and good fortune.
The car was drivable, and I cried most of the way to Holland as the crisp winter wind whipped through the gaping hole of what used to be the rear window. As I exited the highway, I lost control of the car and put it in a ditch on the 16th Street offramp. I was beside myself as I started the long walk into town. I held my thumb up, but the few cars out at that hour all passed me by until a group of Hispanics let me jump into the bed of their pickup and got me into town. My brother was at a fraternity party, and I desperately sought his help. His buddies, most of the way through a half barrel, were more than up for the challenge. They grabbed some rope and a car and towed me back to the house where I could put the car out of sight but definitely not out of mind. Of course I couldn’t tell my dad. (My mom found out when I wrote this.) I sat in my room despondent. I remember the book I was reading for class: Evelyn Waugh’s The Loved One. My dad said it was funny, but it wasn’t funny to me. Nothing was. Not having a license or the money to fix the car, I eventually placed a classified ad and sold it for $500.
I quit drinking in 2008, but I never forgot about that car. Over the years I’d google “1983 BMW 320i.” I’d watch YouTube “walk-around” 320i videos. But I never saw one like mine. Until last weekend. The same year, the same options, the same sapphire blue. I couldn’t believe that car was actually out there and not just a figment of my memory. And this one looked like it had been in a museum in Munich for the last 35 years: a California car with three owners and 110,000 miles. A book of records, including the original bill of sale, about the size of your average family’s genealogy, came with it, as did the original brochure BMW used to market the car. I deliberated. It wasn’t practical. I already had an extra car in my Miata. But I also would never find one like this again. I might have to endure midlife crisis accusations. It’s not a Corvette, people! A few days later I bought the car online and had it shipped by enclosed trailer. I took it as a sign of the highest order that the driver’s name was Tom Bast, which is my dad’s name, and not a common one. And that the driver was from Queens Village, New York, where my mom’s from. Tom may have been more excited than I was, as he had never met another Bast in over 20 years of delivering cars.
Tracing the car’s provenance was easy due to the extensive records that came with it. I reached out to the car’s previous three owners, and all got back to me. Ed and Jackie, the original owners, were extremely helpful and gracious. Turns out Jackie gets the credit for keeping the Bimmer she named Binky in showroom shape. She drove it from 1983 to 2011, at which point it had 105,000 miles. She washed it every Friday after work and always garaged it. She lovingly shaded Binky with a car cover while she was at work. She had all the service done. Peter followed suit with meticulous attention to service during his ownership from 2011 to 2013. He loved the car but just didn’t have the room for it with a growing motorcycle collection.
Bill, from whom I bought the car indirectly through an online consignment sale, is responsible for putting together the binder of the car’s complete records in chronological order from 1983. If only my Trapper Keeper in junior high were as organized. Bill sunk some good money, cosmetically and mechanically, on key touches to ensure the car’s collector status remained unchallenged. Best of all, Bill bought the car for the very same reason I did: he had the same year, model, and color from 1986 to 2003, and he missed it. That I understood. But in a driveway littered with three Porsches, the Bimmer again got squeezed out.
When you know true love you just want to share it. You want to photograph it. From multiple angles. On a historic bridge downtown. In front of a giant mural. Up close. You want to tell people about the shark nose. About the legendary Hofmeister kink in the C-pillar. That German car smell. The 360-degree greenhouse visibility. About engagement, refinement, elegance, and sportiness that stand apart from the sameness of today’s cars 35 years later. Sometimes you get second chances. Things happen that you could never expect. It’s what makes life fun. And besides, like Alan Jackson said, “You can’t drive a check.”