Bimmerwerks is a Korean car club on an unprecedented scale
When I was invited to Bimmerwerks it was sold to me as simply a ‘car meet’. When I showed up, though, it was clear there was a lot more to it. Hidden away in Hanam, about 40 minutes south-west of Seoul, is the Bimmerwerks garage.
That’s right, this club has its own workshop. It has an arrangement with the owner of the garage complex to occupy some of the facilities, the club operating two hydraulic lifts and a large service area.
It’s much more than enthusiasts meeting up at a car park on the outskirts of the city. Bimmerwerks is an organisation.
Shiny, mostly M-badged BMWs pour out onto the streets, while two cars are up on hoists with club members huddled underneath, helping each other.
It’s a friendly atmosphere, and we’re greeted by the club manager, who is simply referred to as ‘Stig’ (yes, as in TopGear Stig) by club members.
Stig explains the club is far outside the city to avoid noise complaints from modified exhausts and drift practice, and that all BMW owners are welcome, no matter what car they have. We soon learn there are multiple meets a week at this location.
I note how it's neat the club has its own lifts and facilities. Stig tells us the owner of the garage is instrumental in organising the club here. “The owner loves cars” he says. “In here, he collects classic cars."
Classic cars, especially imported ones, are ultra-rare in Korea. “These are mostly for the track,” Stig explains.
I ask him how many members Bimmerwerks has. “Around 50,000," he replies.
I'm taken aback… “only around 10,000 are consistently active,” he concedes. Still, the scale compared to a lot of Australian clubs is impressive.
Looking around, most of the BMWs are 1 Series to 5 Series cars, the majority M badged, with aftermarket exhausts and third-party alloys. “How many are modified?” I ask. “Most of the cars here,” Stig replies.
“People import parts and work on the cars here at the club” he continues, pointing over at the bustling hydraulic lift area. “Everyone gets involved, from tuning to simply fixing a small problem.”
“There is no shame in not knowing something about your car, everyone will work together to solve a problem, even helping you to learn to do it yourself,” Stig says. My mind wanders to punters at Australian car meets who could use some of this attitude.
The Bimmerwerks club was formed relatively recently, in 2012. I ask if the limitations to BMW enthusiasm before that date had to do with price or regulation. “Regulation mostly” Stig replies. “It was strict before, but those government restrictions are loosening up now.”
The Bimmerwerks meet also features BMWs in all kinds of colours. Even commercial vehicles stand out on the streets of Korea because they are coloured a simple blue. Most people drive white, black, silver or grey cars.
“A lot of them are just wraps,” Stig says. “Car ownership is so conservative in Korea, our members have their neighbours ask them why they own something so flashy.” Apparently BMW doesn’t bother offering its more exotic colours in the Korean market.
As we're chatting, club members are laying out cones in the centre of the complex. “We’re going to do a drift demonstration,” Stig explains.
I ask if this is okay in Korea. “It’s rare.” Stig says. “People will report you if you do this in the city, even in the quieter car parks.”
Only seasoned pros are allowed to drift at the club. It was interesting that Bimmerwerks was a badge-snob-free zone.
“You might not see many on the street, but the 86 is very popular with enthusiasts here,” Stig continues. “We don’t let just anyone drift here, just a select few members, drift experts who practice at the track.”
Imported performance modifications were a focus of members. Many of the cars present wore stickers and badges of renowned tuning houses.
As the 86 slides around its tight surroundings, Stig lets me know a little about the driver. “He really wanted to learn how to drive, so he practiced every day at places like Inje circuit.” The drift is applauded, then a US national called Eugene introduces himself.
He’s the only foreign member of Bimmerwerks, placed in Korea for work with the US Government, and couldn’t be happier to talk about the club.
“So, I was walking down the street one day, and there are all these BMWs parked up. I was like, is that a car meet? In Korea?! I was checking it out, and they said just to bring my car down, so I went and got my 760Li.”
From there on Eugene has been a member. He says, despite being a foreigner, the club has welcomed him with open arms, and even gone to lengths to work on his cars.
“I imported this gasoline (petrol) X5 from the US and they love it here!” All X5 models sold in South Korea are diesels. In fact, many of the cars at the meet were diesels, with many 420d and 530ds.
Apparently premium unleaded is hard to come by in South Korea. Many of the 4 Series cars were diesels.
“I wanted a digital dash cluster from later models installed, and one night some of these guys stayed up until 3:00am to get it working.” Eugene continues, explaining how the club has gone to the nth degree to help him out.
Bimmerwerks meets can last all day, and rather than have a prescribed time, club members simply come and go as they please. It’s super community-focused. As the night wraps up, a large take-away order comes for the remaining members. They all sit around a huge table and laugh and talk.
I ask Stig what's next for the club. “We are expanding, asking BMW to get more involved. We have a few vehicles on loan from them currently (he motions towards a brand-new M5), but we’re looking for more... advertising maybe, or garage support here.”
Club members do everything together, from fitting performance parts to fixing small issues on completely stock cars.
“The enthusiasts here are known to do better work than apprentices at service centres,” he muses.
I ask if other clubs like this exist in Korea, complete with the community atmosphere and garage set-up.
“We were the first like this in Korea, but most cars have a club,” he says. “We’re talking to other BMW clubs in South East Asia and China. Maybe we can work together, they can come here to our club and race with us on circuits like Inje. Our members can go over there and experience the same.”
Bimmerwerks was less a club and more of an institution. I couldn't help but wonder how long it will take for mainstream Korean culture to embrace such enthusiasm.
Bimmerwerks certainly gave me the same impression I received from other Korean enthusiasts. Not much was happening a few years ago, but in just a short time a lot has changed.
If anything, Bimmerwerks and its 50,000 members proves there’s a huge movement waiting to shift to the mainstream. The only question is, how long will it take mainstream Korean society to celebrate it?
Do you wish your car club had the same membership numbers or facilities as Bimmerwerks? Tell us what you think in the comments.