BMW 635CSi: PH Fleet

It's a common urge among motoring journalists to make up a pairing or a trio of cars based on a common theme. I'm not sure why; maybe it stems from years of putting together group tests or something. Either way, I've spent... oh, minutes on end, at least, trying to draw a line between the cars owned by myself and two mates that we took on a pre-marriage, ambition-fulfilling road trip two years back.

The three musketeers!
The three musketeers!
I mentioned this trip in passing when I introduced the 6 Series, and before going any further with the car, though I'd expand on it, as it was and remains today the most memorable thing I've done in it thus far (apart from getting married, of course, if Mrs R's reading). The brief was simple: take the aforementioned trio of cars across France, to drive the Route Napoleon, hobnob around Monaco, nip into Italy and drive home, all in the space of five days.

No time for dawdling, then. And while, as I've said, I've struggled in vain to link our three cars in some way, it proved impossible, as you'd struggle to find a more disparate trio of enthusiast motors. Lining up alongside the BMW on the sunny September morning we departed were best man George's Jaguar XK drop-top, and a Renault Clio 172 owned by mutual friend and snapper Tom, whose work you'll have seen on these pages before.

Indeed, throughout the first day's motorway trudge down to Grenoble, the differences between the three came into sharp focus. With the top down, the Jag purred along effortlessly, leaving George to pose, while the Clio bounced Tom around noisily. And the BMW? It was sublime, sunroof open and creamy-smooth six humming along, earning admiring looks from passengers in passing cars; not quite as smooth as the Jag, but twice as classy.

What else to do on a deserted autoroute?
What else to do on a deserted autoroute?
That night in Grenoble, George and I enjoyed our beers while Tom nursed his tinnitus, but the next day, he'd have the last laugh. As we hit the Route Napoleon proper, the Clio snapped at the heels of the lumbering Jag, whose power gave it the ability to squirt away on the straights, only for the Renault to catch it again as it plunged its nose wide at the next bend.

The BMW was the biggest surprise, though. While its weight was undeniable, BMW's late-80s attention to suspension tuning was clear; the big Six rolled in corners to a certain point, for sure, but then it seemed to check itself, whereupon I found you could squeeze on the power progressively and lean on the grip of the chunky outer tyres to gain speed through the corner without upsetting the tail. In this way, it was capable of covering ground at quite an indecent rate, aided ably by the talkative, wonderfully progressive steering. Not to mention the gearbox's switchable '3-2-1' mode, which locks it into whichever gear you select using the shifter, and prevents it from changing up or down. Used in anger, this allows you to drive it much like a manual, albeit shifting a second or two earlier in anticipation of the slower change.

All three cars were outshone by the scenery, mind you. We deviated from the Route to take in the winding roads running down the banks of Lac de Serre-Poncon, its waters a barely believable shade of aquamarine and hemmed by steep slopes swathed in deep-pile greenery. From there, it was an equally breathtaking run along sinewy roads clinging to leafy hillsides to Digne, and then on via Castellane and Grasse to Nice, the sun growing hotter and the landscape drier and scrubbier as the miles passed.

Now we're talking
Now we're talking
I was sure the BMW's weight would decimate its brakes before long. Sure enough, by the end of the Route, there was a definite wheel wobble under heavy braking, pointing to a warp on at least one of the discs - although after six hours' reasonably spirited driving in such an old car, that that was the only notable effect was impressive.

The following day's bimble along the coast through Monaco was a delight and passed without a hitch. Then, after a night in San Remo, we headed back over the mountains, bumping into a Cars & Coffee meet at Mont Cenis, our now fly-spattered cars comprehensively outclassed by the Lancia Stratos, Lamborghini Countach, Alpine A110, and countless other bits of exotica that had turned up.

From there we stopped in Annecy, whose riverside old-town and lake-edge location make it one of France's nicest towns, for my money; and then it was home via another motorway stint and the obligatory stop at the old grand prix pits at Reims, the BMW again proving its grand touring cred with its smooth ride and effortless engine. It arrived back in the UK having put not one foot wrong, and neither has it done since, wearing those 2,000 miles of relatively hard driving remarkably lightly for a car just the right side of 30 years old.

Had to be done, didn't it?
Had to be done, didn't it?
But the BMW's road tripping won't end there. It's had a year or two off while weddings and house renovations have taken precedence. However, the new Mrs R is very keen to see what all the fuss is about - so another trip to the continent is planned for the 6 Series in 2018. More on which in good time.

[Apologies for the delay in getting this featured, Alex delivered the words in good time and we've simply slacked off in uploading - more to follow soon! MB]

1988 BMW 635CSi Auto 'Highline'
Run by: Alex Robbins
Bought: December 2014
Mileage at purchase: 100,895
Mileage now: 107,401
Last two months at a glance: Alex reminisces about the BMW's first big adventure - and looks forward to the next

Previous updates:
Hello to one hell of a 6 Series







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Comments (40) Join the discussion on the forum

  • 2 GKC 10 Nov 2017

    Main picture is superb. Best front end ever?

    Have we seen this car before?

  • sinbaddio 10 Nov 2017

    Brilliant, great car and fab route.

    Did similar this year from Grenoble to St Raphael, albeit it in a Hyundai Santa Fe, 7 people and a roof box! Stunning roads and scenery to die for!

  • cerb4.5lee 10 Nov 2017

    Always loved these. cool

  • V8 FOU 10 Nov 2017

    One of the best cars I have ever owned.
    Correct about the handling, unless you are on those awful TRX tyres.

  • culpz 10 Nov 2017

    I feel bad because, with respect to the Jag and the BMW, i honestly cared more reading about the Clio 172. I must have Renaultsport fever biggrin

    Sounds like an awesome little trip. I must say, i adore the 635CSI from the front and sides but the rear really lets it down for me.

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