This week, join us for a late night cruise sitting shotgun in Sébastien Defaux’s 1985 BMW 316 across the cobblestones and lamplit streets of Lille, France.
Like many young boys pushing toys around on the floor, Sébastien’s initial love for wheels came in the form of a firetruck infatuation. Obsessed with the vibrant red mobile extinguishers, it’s no surprise that Sébastien dreamt of growing up to become a firefighter himself one day.
That profession plan stuck for a while, but it all changed when he came across a model of a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL. “Bye, bye, firefighters, hello, backfires,” Sébastien quips as he remembers the moment of transition, admitting that the form of the scaled-down Benz was enough to sway him away from the path of battling blazes and onto the track of sporting automobiles that would eventual lead him to the Ultimate Driving Machine.
With a cousin already steeped in BMWs, not to mention an uncle who’d raced a 2002Tii around the Nürburgring, Sébastien became interested in the motorcars from Munich soon after that pivotal moment with the toy Gullwing, noting, “[My cousin] has owned a lot [of BMWs]. He’s an auto body mechanic, so he fixes a great deal of them.” Sébastien then finished school with his diploma in auto body repair after learning the trade under his cousin’s guidance. “This allowed me to get a closer feel for this brand's bodywork,” explains Sébastien, adding, “That's when the double grille managed to get me.”
The BMW bug had bitten, and it left a permanent impression on Sébastien. While he adores many of the marque’s masterpieces, it was a happenstance run-in with an E30 M3 parked on the street that really influenced him when the time came to buy his first car. “I instantly fell in love with that model,” Sébastien tells us, “I was there facing her, and I thought, 'This is the one I need.'"
While an E30 might seem like a perfectly suitable first car, many of us forget the chassis is 35 years old at this point. A lot has changed in terms of automobile safety, efficiency, and reliability, but Sébastien was set: only an E30 would do. Despite his parent’s initial skepticism and appeal to practicality, Sébastien remained determined, “I really wanted an old car to drive to school, 30 years late.”
Most older entry-level Bimmers have been driven into the ground by now, but there are lovingly cared for examples still out there, which is exactly what Sébastien was searching for, and exactly what he wound up with. While not the highly coveted Motorsport division homologation sports coupe that is the M3 that sparked his search, Sébastien did find a pristine silver 316 sedan listed in the classifieds, and it comes with its own unique charms.
The retired mechanic who owned the car had taken exceptional care of the fun-to-drive, well-rounded example of the roundel. Nervous it was too good to be true, or worse, that he’d been beaten to the deal, Sébastien “didn't want to miss out on it,” and so with his mother, father, and grandfather in tow, the family set off to see the car. “I entered the garage, turned my head, and there she was, glistening, the yellow front beams shining under the neon lights.” Only a single instant separated Sébastien’s first glimpse of the car from his deep longing for it.
After an extended test drive, everything checked out as advertised and a deal was made. “I knew she was the one,” Sébastien confidently declares, “I finally had my first car at the age of 19, and it wasn’t a random car. It was the car I had dreamed about. But, mostly, it was my first BMW.