In May of 1974, some friends who shared a passion for cars graduated from the University of New Hampshire. One of the friends, Mark Ruddy, had just bought a second-hand Porsche 911 that needed some work. He called his brother Mike, who ran a repair shop in northern California, to ask a few questions. When Mike found out what Mark had paid for the car, he was floored. "Do you know how much those cars are going for our here?!"
A light bulb went off in Mark's head. He and his friends (which included his future business partners Dave Wason and Peter Robart), decided they would drive Porsches out to California, sell them at a profit, buy "rust-free California cars" with the proceeds, drive them back and sell them at a profit in New Hampshire... and do some skiing along the way. (Hey, it beat getting a "real job.")
On one trip, Mark's dad, who also lived in California, asked them to keep an eye out for a BMW Bavaria, a car he had driven when he was stationed in Germany. The boys didn't know what a Bavaria was, but they found one and drove it west. It was love at first drive! (If you've ever taken an old 911 on a long trip, you'll understand why their ears and their bottoms were grateful for the Bavaria.) They began to specialize in BMWs and never looked back.
Eventually, tired of making cross-country drives, the friends opened a BMW repair facility, Bavarian Auto Service, on a traffic circle in Stratham, NH. ("The circle was our test track," says Mark.) As their reputation -- and their collection of junked BMWs -- grew, they began to receive phone calls from BMW owners from around New England looking for replacement parts. They decided to advertise their inventory in Roundel, the newsletter of the BMW Car Club of America, and mail the parts to customers.
In 1983, Bavarian self-produced its first catalog... on an IBM Selectric typewriter on Mark's kitchen table. Eventually they added some grainy black-and-white photography (taken, again, on Mark's kitchen table). Then they added an 800 number. Then a color cover...
Fast forward to the present: Bavarian Autosport, now based in Portsmouth, NH, is the leading BMW and MINI catalog and internet retailer in the world. This year, Bavarian Autosport will send out more than a million free catalogs to BMW and MINI enthusiasts all over the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. The full-color, 132-page publication has won multiple awards.
In addition, the company produces a free, tech-oriented newsletter called FastTimes that is sent four times a year to 250,000 BMW and MINI owners throughout North America. Every month, the company's web site receives about 200,000 visitors. Their three-story warehouse is stocked to the rafters with more than 400,000 individual BMW and MINI parts, allowing them to ship nearly 90% of their orders "complete" (i.e. without any backorders). The 18 enthusiasts who man the phones have, between them, more than 220 years of experience working on BMWs and MINIs. That's a lot of knowledge under one roof, and it's for the asking via the company's "Ask Bavarian Otto" program - a free Q&A-type of tech support, available by phone, e-mail or through the company's new blog.
As for Mark, Dave and Peter, 35 years later they're still friends, they still own the company, and they still don't want to get real jobs - they're having too much fun running Bavarian Autosport.
275 Constitution Ave.
Portsmouth, NH 03801