I began calculating the damage the moment I heard the xenon headlamp burst. A millisecond later followed the sound of a wheel breaking and the hiss of a punctured radiator. Not too bad, I thought. This BMW can be fixed. I was attempting to control the situation, placing a dollar amount on damaged or soon-to-be-damaged machinery. I figured if it could be saved, so could we.
Of course we were still traveling at 60 mph on rain-slicked freeway, sort of sideways. We would be hitting several more stationary objects before this 135i came to rest. As we spun out of control, so did my math. I was hearing unfamiliar noises: the snapping of airbags and side curtains firing, safety glass crumbling, steel twisting. My thoughts went from this car can be saved to this car is screwed. And we might be, too.
Despite the sensation that we were moving in slow motion, the entire event transpired over the span of a few seconds. The car came to rest in an upright position facing the traffic flow. Most drivers passed unaware anything had even happened. My buddy and I looked at each other simultaneously and uttered the same expletives.
I had been checking my handheld when all the fun started. I didn’t even look up until we made contact. Some idiot in the far left lane decided to cut hard right in an attempt to make his offramp. The maneuver was so extreme I doubt he could have made it with slicks in the dry. We were in the second lane from the right and my buddy was gradually reducing his speed during a sudden downpour. I’m fairly certain we hydroplaned the moment he clipped our front bumper. After that it was like a bumpy teacup ride at a carnival.
We gingerly checked arms and legs to see if everything worked. Perhaps the most uncomfortable sensation was from the seatbelt tensioners which had locked in place. We released them with a pop and got out.
I’d been in plenty of high-speed spins, mostly on racetracks. It’s always the same. You put two feet in and pray you don’t hit anything hard. Time seems to dilate. You just want to stop rotating, straighten out and hope you can get back on course before anyone sees. Although I wasn’t driving during this little foray, I doubt the outcome would have been different. Maybe a little more screaming on my behalf.
I had recommended my friend buy this car so the feeling of loss was perhaps even greater for me. I remember my sales pitch: The BMW 135i is a genuine hot rod, man a total sleeper. No one will expect something this size to be so fast. Plus, I doubt we will be seeing big, turbocharged engines much longer, especially something of this size. You gotta buy this car, man it’s a piece of history.
Yeah, I can really sell it.
We stood in the rain just staring at the BMW. I could tell it was pretty bad as a collection of fluids puddled beneath. It was dead.
On the other hand, we were both quite alive, absolutely unscathed. Every safety device BMW builds into its cars had come into play, from the crumple zones to active seatbelt tensioners to the airbags. Given the dynamics of the crash, I’m certain the side curtains saved our noggins from serious injury.
Some 20 years ago I was in an accident in my BMW 2002. I turned left in front of a guy and he punched me in the right-front/side quarter-panel. The force of the 40-mph impact spun the 2002 like a top. Although I walked away from this one, my passenger suffered a concussion. If the other guy had been going faster, it would have been much worse. Would side curtain technology have helped? Absolutely.
Like many performance junkies, safety features are typically the last thing I look at when reviewing a car. I’m more interested in torque curves and turbos than passive restraint systems. Luckily for us, it was already built into the BMW, technology that can be found in virtually all European brands as well.
No one plans to get into an accident (that’s why they’re called accidents). Then again, I didn’t plan on getting hit by lightning a few months ago. Perhaps karma is catching up with me. In any case, my thanks go to the BMW engineers who allowed me to walk away from this ordeal. I’d thank them personally, but a meteor or something would probably hit us.