The Ultimate Fishing Machine

While BMW USA does an excellent job of marketing their fine machinery to those who love driving, until recently they have ignored the large number of outdoor enthusiasts in their marketing and advertising efforts. Even considering the excellent reports on the performance of their new Sport Utility Vehicle, it cannot possibly match up to a 1985 318i as the Ultimate Fishing Machine.

Eagle Lake, California, where the average trout weighs four pounds - each way is six hours drive and fifteen gallons of gasoline in an SUV or pickup truck, or five hours and ten gallons in the Ultimate Fishing Machine. (This photo is 35mm, printed at standard 4 x 6)

Fly fishers typically spend five hundred to a thousand dollars or more on their favorite rod and reel, but most understand that they can enjoy the sport just as well with the cheapest old glass rod. It is just being there that is the reason we go, and we usually spend anywhere from one to twenty hours to get to the best places. The serious angler usually keeps an especially ramshackle and fully depreciated vehicle that we can scratch up and leave stinky things in without remorse. An old four-wheel-drive pickup is what most people have in mind, but comfort and efficiency in getting there can add hours of valuable fishing time by arriving sooner and in a rested and ready condition, and that adds immeasurably to fishing pleasure.

Four-wheel drive is essential for outdoor adventure access, we think, and pay dearly for it, with excessive fuel consumption, high initial cost even for a used Japanese 4 x 4 pickup, and for every minute of long drives on open highway. Even with a four cylinder engine, you don't forget that you are driving a truck, something that most people do for pay, not for pleasure. The mass invasion of sport utility vehicles smoothed some of these problems, with plush seats and cushy car-like suspensions, but even fully depreciated ones are not realistic in a fishing budget. And a non-fishing spouse or prospective date will not appreciate the mud, excess wear and tear, and lingering odors of fish and musty waders. You really need a cheap, seperate vehicle for a fishing car.

My first fish car was a 1965 Peugeot 404. It met all the important criteria with 30 miles per gallon, a sunroof to air it out and original equipment removeable roof rack, sofa-soft seats and an even softer suspension that allowed a good cruising speed on washboard roads. It's famous Italian designer Pininfarina might have designed it specifically as a fish car, as it is the only one of his designs that I know of with fins. It rolled halfway over in corners but its top speed kept me out of trouble, and was right in line with the nationwide fifty five that was in effect in the fifteen years I fished it. But after its twentyfifth birthday, the rarity of parts and mechanics that would work on it along with the difference between its speed and the new higher speed limit was cutting into my valuable fishing time. I let a friend talk me into his well-maintained Toyota four wheel drive pickup. It was the five speed and could cruise at 75 until you had to stop for gas, or came upon a surprise sharp corner in what appeared to be a straight section of road. I barely survived and thank the stars that it was the SR5; that's the sporty version.

I had a push in the right direction from Tor, a fishing buddy who had moved to San Francisco from Norway. Though I have been fly fishing for thirty years, fishing with him was a thorough education. A veteran of Atlantic Salmon fishing, he had the finest in tackle and was a rare angler who could get the most from it. He had no vehicle so I'd drive my pickup. One trip he said he'd pick me up, and that he wanted to show me his new piece of the very highest quality fishing tackle. A new rod? A new reel? He said he show me when he arrived at five the next morning. In my Oakland neighborhood there were no cars moving at that hour so the low-slung jet black mint condition low mileage 635csi had to be Tor. No other piece of tackle, he explained, can come close to a BMW in providng the benefit of more valuable fishing time.

A year later after twenty thousand miles on a four month project painting scenery and fishing throughout the western states, I did not want to drive another mile in the old truck. I wanted 30 miles per gallon at 75 miles per hour, in a comfortable and supportive seat. I did not need to haul a lot of gear; a backpack and fifty inch rod tube or small briefcase and tool case was all. I was searching for a faster and more modern fish car when my brother Pete, long active in BMW club racing said I should consider a used 318i from 1985. "They are cheap because BMW people only like the fast ones. It was the second year of the model so they had the bugs out; It will get 30 miles per gallon at seventy-five or eighty and the M10 engine is as reliable as you can get, with a timing chain instead of a belt. The ground clearance is about five inches, that's higher than almost anything you can get now. The parts are cheapest of all BMWs and they even stock brand new parts if you can't find something. Don't worry - if it needs any work I'll do it, just for the practice". That cinched it.

I found one that looked great but needed a clutch, for three thousand. I didn't want to bother Pete or take a weekend out of my own fishing time so I paid Bavarian Professionals to replace the clutch and go over it for another thousand. I lined up a three day work week of telecommunications consulting and have driven it all over the west on four day weekends. The very first weekend I had to put on tire chains over Donner summit but haven't had to in three years since. I found a magnetic roof rack so we can leave our rods fully rigged if we have to drive around a lake or up and down a river, searching for fish. On a trip to the Wind River Range in Wyoming, I saved almost a thousand dollars between the airfare and a rental car that would have sat at the trailhead all week, and drove all the way home in the cool of a single night. It has plenty of power for me, and feels comfortable and secure at seventy five or eighty mph. My favorite benefit is on unfamiliar back roads. When an unmarked sharp corner appears by surprise, I just turn the wheel and the car holds the road. I think it saved my life once or twice. I know it save a lot of valuable fishing time.

The 1985 E30 318i is the Ultimate Fishing Machine. The only improvement I can think of would be some fins.

 Wyoming's Wind River Range holds some of the best remote trout fishing in the country.  The Ultimate Fishing Machine saved four hours and fifteen gallons getting there and back from Oakland..

(This photo is high quality 120 film size, printed 8 x 10)


Copyright 2000 by Mark Vinsel

Mark Vinsel paints watercolors and flyfishes around the western USA. His art can be seen at He has recently moved to Juneau, Alaska, where his next fish car will probably be a boat.