With most car collectors, the sixteenth BMW E9 ever built would be sitting inside a shrine-like garage, seeing the light of day once in a blue moon... but 83-year old Murray Fowler has put enough miles on it to drive to that moon and back.
In the 40 years Fowler has owned his 1970 BMW 2800CS, he's rolled the odometer to 421,000 miles and counting. Except for Louisiana, Alaska, and Hawaii, he's driven through every state west of the Mississippi, across the wilds of Canada and deep into the heart of Mexico.
Fowler is an old school gent of the Greatest Generation, born in the year of the Great Depression, just down river from the native lands of Samuel Clemens. Like Mr Twain, he's got a million and one stories about America and he tells them by speaking softly and straightly. Not a single superfluous word escapes his lips as he regales you with tale after tale from his rich life.
After serving in World War II as a naval officer, Fowler returned to civilian life in the employ of the mighty Chrysler Corporation. His was a Chrysler Family, back in the heyday of American autos when customers stuck with one marque for a lifetime. But for Murray, everything changed when he set eyes upon a BMW 507.
That chance encounter set him on a quest to find his own kidney-grilled Bavarian jewel. The long search led him to an Atlantik Blau 2800CS, christened Max because of its German ancestry. The car's been with Fowler longer than any woman, and over the years his BLUMAX1 vanity plate has become something of a calling card.
At 83 years old, Fowler moves deliberately and walks with the aid of a brass duck's head cane, but once he slips behind the Bimmer's wooden Nardi he transforms into a bat out of hell. He has a habit of taking highway interchanges at 85 miles per hour, snick-snicking his way through the 5-speed with the precision of a Swiss clock.
Road trips alone aren't enough to max out the odometer. Fowler was also a life insurance salesman for many years, criss-crossing the country to visit clients. Whether for business or pleasure, however, Fowler always preferred what he calls the "blue roads," America's pre-interstate two-laners, drawn on maps in blue. Apparently, BLUMAX had another meaning altogether.
However, taking the blue roads can mean getting stuck in a snow bank in Colorado's Mammoth Park or driving 20 miles down a California ghost town dirt road towards Bodie. And that's what truly makes Fowler's E9 so incredible — the fact that it's racked up so many miles and looks indistinguishable from brand new.
Take, for example, the motor. It gives new meaning to the word spotless. Every bolt head is immaculately plated in zinc, nickel, or whatever element it was plated in when it left the factory. The only clue to its astronomical mileage is the hot-cammed 3.5 liter motor and enhanced cooling system — engineered with the help of a friend who had worked on the cylinder head of the BMW M1 supercar — which replaced the original 2.8 at 375,000 miles.
Purists might complain that an engine swap somehow diminishes Fowler's 421,000-mile feat. That would be true if the car looked like a rustbucket, but Fowler triumphs uber alles with a car that is absolutely pristine. Don't take our word for it though — his relentless maintenance has won him multiple concours trophies.
Even the original BMW tool kit beneath the decklid is in-tact and complete, right down to the spare sparkplugs, fuses and light bulbs.
If the devil is in the details, then BLUMAX is downright evil. Features like this pre-retractable seatbelt hook abound throughout the interior, which by the way still looks minty fresh after 42 years.
All of BLUMAX's interior trim and carpeting are original, as well as most of its exterior chrome. Fowler had it repainted once in 1991 in the correct Atlantik Blau, by chance finding a young painter who had just finished an apprenticeship at the Rolls Royce factory in Great Britain. Fowler says he has no idea what that Englishman put in the paint, but it's proven all but bulletproof.
Fowler's CS rolled off the assembly line in September 5, 1969 - the sixteenth BMW E9 ever built. That fact alone would have probably committed it to life as a garage queen with any other owner.
Each E9 was constructed by hand at coachbuilder Karmann but the styling was done by renowned Italian design house Bertone, a fact that has resulted in BLUMAX joining at the Concorso Italiano during Monterey's historic car weekend.
A US serviceman took delivery of number 16 in Munich and brought it back to the US, where Fowler purchased it two years later. He keeps grille badges of the BMW CS registry and the city of Munchen as a keepsake of BLUMAX's birthplace.
Since there's likely no other person on earth that's put as much seat time in an E9 as Murray Fowler, he's become an guru of sorts in the E9 community. Anyone who needs parts, an appraisal, or an entire car knows exactly where to go.
Since BLUMAX Fowler has owned several BMWs over the years, including two other E9s and the stunning Giugiaro-designed M1.
Today, his collection has been pared down to just three cars — BLUMAX, an E39 5-series, and a 1976 2002, also in Atlantik Blau. Fowler calls it LTLBLU1, the Little Blue One.
It doesn't have quite the history or the mileage of the E9, but Fowler nevertheless keeps it period correct with Hella H4 driving lights.
Inside, a rare MOMO Alpina steering wheel guides the vessel. It drives just as well as the E9, humming like a Singer and feeling like it just left the assembly line.
Note how the top of the hub is cut flat so that the instrument cluster is unobstructed.
Of course, we wanted desperately to know how Fowler keeps his cars so flawless, expecting some exotic cleaning products costing an arm and a leg. But no, he simply uses regular of-the-shelf wax available at any auto parts store, doesn't take it out in the rain, and dusts it off after every jaunt with a Pep Boys microfiber duster. "Everything I do is long term," says Fowler, "Being in the garage is my therapy."
Collectors constantly agonize over the drive-or-preserve dilemma. Enjoyment and provenance have thus far been seen as inversely proportional — each mile accumulated decreases value. Yet somehow, Murray Fowler has managed to prove that the two are not mutually exclusive, and that life with a great car is all about taking the blue roads.
Video: Murray Unscripted
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