The Wrong Side of the Tracks
This is a city of “reeking clapboard warrens where children cried and craven halfbald watchdogs yapped and slank.” In Knoxville, “every other face is goitered, twisted, tubered with some excrescence.” Here there is a horse named Golgotha and there are “wild street preachers haranguing a lost world with a vigor unknown to the sane.”
Sometimes it is a picture of hell, bloated and strained, only accessible through thick, gassy language, as when “troops of ghost cavalry clashed in an outraged sky, old spectral revenants armed with rusted tools of war colliding parallactically upon each other like figures from a mass grave shorn up and girdled and cast with dread import across the clanging night and down remoter slopes between the dark and darkness yet to come.”
But, like a Summer storm, always roiling on the horizon, the bombast disappears as quickly as it arrives, in images and feelings with the force of a knuckle on the head. Our protagonist reflects on the subject of these images: ”Remember her curves in the morning before they were shined, red, rampant, savage with loveliness. As if she slept in perpetual storm.”
I am, of course, stealing unabashedly from Cormac McCarthy’s dark and merciless semi-autobiographical river novel Suttree. Just out of frame in some of these pictures is a high-gravity beer tavern that is cynically eponymous. Though the vicious tale describes the city as it was over 60 years ago, much of it rings true. The tracks have always drawn the lost, the desperate, the reprobate. However, as Suttree makes clear, this node for the degenerate can also yield savage and merciless—but true and therefore beautiful—reflections of the city and her denizens.
I think Domino fits into McCarthy’s image of the city perfectly. He is dead; his childhood home is burned to the ground, but the savagery and grit about which he wrote so beautifully persists, and I take comfort in that.
If you’re a film buff, “M” is always for murder. If you’re a petrolhead, “M” has other connotations, though they are also loud and violent. In BMW’s case, though, any screaming you hear will be due to overloaded tires or passengers in the depths of an adrenaline rush and with death grips on the door handles.
The M cars sport many other tweaks to the base Z4 as well, including a wider front track, a stronger rear subframe, hydraulic power steering for better feel (the Z4’s is electric), 18-inch wheels and 225/45 front and 255/40 rear performance tires. The springs and dampers are sport-tuned, and the brakes are the same as those used for the old M3’s Competition package. Even the stability control system has been altered to be less intrusive. The car’s high-revving 3.2-liter inline six-cylinder S54 engine develops 330 horsepower and sends its power to the rear wheels through an exclusive six-speed manual transmission and a beefy limited-slip rear differential.
The best parts of this car can’t be found in numbers and statistics, even though the M Coupe is relatively lightweight (about a 3,200-pound base curb weight for the Coupe), has a near-ideal 50-50 weight distribution and can make 60 from a dead stop in 4.9 seconds. It provides some of the best thrills you can get from a non-exotic sports car, bringing out the driver’s inner hooligan with the power of the S54, the meaty steering wheel, and the driving position, which is near-as-makes-no-difference directly over the rear wheels. Every departure from a stoplight is an opportunity to hit 8,000 rpm, and every curve a chance for sweet, glorious over-steer.
Though not the quickest BMW M product, this one is arguably the most driver-centric. With just two seats, a modest trunk and no automatic transmission, the M Coupe gives the fewest concessions to the requirements of mundane life: no kids, no groceries, no traffic, certainly no speed cameras. What better place to take this no-nonsense beast, then, than the mountains of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, where there are no cross-streets, stop signs, stores, or law enforcement officers?
Well, that’s what my cousin and I did. Here’s a video to go along with the pictures.
The Tail of the Dragon, U.S. 129
Domino at Deal’s Gap.
BMW Z4M at the Dragon’s Tail
BMW Z4M, U.S. 129 (Deal’s Gap)