Photography by Ben Koflach
Despite the high-end classic and modern machines passing through the Munich Legends showroom, don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a stuffy money-making exercise – the entire team at ML are BMW fanatics through and through and can offer a great range of enjoyable services to any BMW owner.
‘Munich Legends’ is a term which no doubt stirs up thoughts of E9 CSLs and E30 M3s in all of us, and you may already be aware that it’s also the name of a UK-based firm that happens to know a thing or two about such machines. What few may realise, though, is that the firm itself is something of a legend – we delved deeper to find out more about what makes that so.
I should probably begin with a mild confession; I’ve lived not more than fifteen minutes away from Munich Legends for my entire life, and yet until the very end of 2012 I’d never walked through the front door, or indeed looked into what the company offers beyond a mightily attractive forecourt. For the past 20 years I’ve simply driven (or been driven) past the building, located on the picturesque Ashdown Forest in East Sussex (South East England), with my jaw open. It’s in fact a big part of what got me interested in BMWs, so when the opportunity came to meet the team and to take a tour of the Munich Legends HQ I jumped at the chance.
Munich Legends is in fact an Independent BMW Dealership, and without a doubt the UK’s only one with the kind of history that it can boast. It has a fully-fledged parts department, an impressive service workshop, purpose-built restoration facilities and of course, that offering of spectacular used M-power and classic BMWs sitting out the front which is no doubt what draws many customers in. It’s only when you have a thorough look around and meet the relatively small team of 15 or so staff that the Munich Legends magic really comes through.
“When I joined Munich Legends back in 2009 I knew it wouldn’t be easy – it seemed as if some of our greatest work was behind us. We needed to work hard to bring things back up to scratch, and to show the world we were back on top of our game.” MD Dan Norris told us. “It took a bit of time but I can confidently say that Munich Legends is now better than ever. I’d been a customer for 15 years before buying the business and so immediately felt at home and knew where I wanted to make changes.”
Once you know a little more about the prestige and history that Munich Legends has, you can understand that this is still a bold claim – one that Dan can confidently stand by though; he’s encapsulated all of the hard work done in the past while bringing the business right up to date.
The Ashdown Forest site was originally a sleepy village garage called simply The Ashdown Garage, until in 1967 the bold move was made to specialise in a new, virtually unheard of German brand – BMW, a company until then associated more with machines of destruction in the second world war than the Ultimate Driving Machines of today . The Ashdown Garage became something like the second BMW dealership in the country, and the first in the South East.
“I’ve worked here since just after it became a BMW dealership.” Senior Technician Mick Hope told us. “I was fifteen when I started my apprenticeship – I counted myself lucky to work with these strange German cars, which no one had really ever seen before. I learned my trade on 2002s and E9s and have worked on every vehicle since – E24s, E28s, E30s, E34s, E36s, right up to the present day models – I’ve been involved with them all from new.”
With the shift away from village locations to larger out-of-town sites, The Ashdown Garage eventually turned into Munich Legends, concentrating further and further on the rarer M vehicles and classic BMW, and creations from the likes of Hartge, Alpina and AC Schnitzer. “I can remember when E30s became really popular.” Laughed Mick. “We literally ran out of room for M3s, they were everywhere – I don’t think you’d see that these days.”
When Dan and his team- headed by long term ML staffer Stuart Draper – took over in 2009, it was part of his plan to keep that specialist title but at the same time to spread the message that there’s far more to Munich Legends than a collection of Bavarian exotica in the showroom. It has, to every extent, been a huge success, and the business has found a new wind thanks to a wider range of customers both geographically and with the types of customers and vehicles that are being seen.
Sales is of course the most visual part of the Munich Legends business; after all, it’s the first thing you’re greeted with when arriving at the place. It’s not just any car that you’ll find on offer either; Munich Legends has a well-earned reputation for offering only the finest of Bavarian beauties. The aforementioned E9 CSLs and E30 M3s go without saying, but that’s not to say that modern cars aren’t catered for – the 14-mile F10 M5 in the showroom surely proves that above anything else.
As well as those sought-after classics, mint E46 M3 CSLs, the aforementioned F10 and everything in between that comes on offer at Munich Legends, you’ll also find that a number of race cars have passed through the showroom – a Group 5 E9 Batmobile, Niki Lauda’s race M1 and many more– which brings us on to the incredible customer base that they have. Mainland Europe, the States, various parts of Asia; you name it and there’s been BMWs bought or sold there from this little place in Sussex, from first timers to some of the world’s biggest car collectors.
What’s more, thanks to the turnover and number of cars ML has, it’s often called upon to lend cars to some pretty high-profile clients. This includes a number of TV programmes, most notable among these being BBC Top Gear. Event organisers like Windsor Concours also often come to ML, but perhaps one of the most impressive facts is that BMW themselves have borrowed cars from ML on multiple occasions. A great example is when BMW used an E12 from ML during the launch of the F10, sitting the original Five against the latest. Of course, numerous car magazines also have close ties with Munich Legends, and Dan will bend over backwards to help these clients – he’s in it for the enjoyment right the way through.
The way in which cars most often come up for sale in the showroom is when customers approach Munich Legends wanting them to sell their car for them. Of course, not just any car will be taken on and each and every car that goes on the forecourt or inside the showroom will have been subject to a rigorous inspection, before being valeted and detailed, painstaking work carried out inside a relatively uninspiring building to the rear of the main workshops. Then they’ll be put up for sale at surprisingly competitive prices – considering the extra peace of mind you’re getting from the fact that the car has been fully checked over by Munich Legends’ technicians it’s well worth any extra outlay when considering your next purchase.
With any BMW, having your service book stamped up with a reputable name, and the peace of mind that comes with knowing that your steed is in fine fettle is of course desirable. You might argue that the main dealers’ stamps are the ones that you’d most want in your service book, but for the true M enthusiast it has to be Munich Legends. Nowhere else can boast the experience and the passion for BMWs that Munich Legends’s crack team of BMW trained senior and master technicians has. Senior technician Mick is possibly the most experienced BMW tech in the country, having spent almost his entire working life at the Ashdown Garage; he now runs the regular ‘Master Class’ sessions at ML, sharing his years of experience with a new generation of technicians. “We have the kind of experience that the dealerships just can’t offer,” he told us. “I’ve worked here since 1967, having learned my stuff on the very first BMWs to enter Britain in any number; some of our newer techs are straight from the dealerships and have had the latest training, so between us we have unbeatable knowledge.”
Dan also told us about the kind of service that can be expected at Munich Legends – with many a customer bringing their BMWs over from Ireland, Europe, the Channel Islands and further a field, knowing their pride and joy will get the kind of attention it rightfully deserves. Not only can they trust that their modern or classic BMWs will get the kind of expertise that only Munich Legends can offer, but the personal service that any customer deserves too – many-a customer spends a good deal of time good chatting to Mick and the team about their car when they come to collect it – we can’t imagine that happening anywhere else.
As well as all this, you’ll find that Munich Legends undercut many main dealer prices – for example, an Inspection 1 for an E46 M3 at a main dealer will set you back around £XXX, where as when you take it to Munich Legends you can expect to pay just £XXX – considering you’re getting what to many would be considered a far greater service, it’s a bit of a no-brainer. Of course, all genuine BMW parts and fluids are used and with the expertise of the team of technicians, you can’t go wrong.
An area in which Munich Legends can proudly say that they excel is the restoration of older models. To do this, a workshop that was previously a coachbuilders has now been turned into the restoration workshop. In the centre, a ramp, and to either side there’s purpose-built storage; the left for ‘clean’ items such as bodywork and interior parts, the right for ‘dirty’; the sometimes grubby mechanical components. When a restoration project is underway, this facility will be used for one car at a time, and never more.
This layout ensures that when a car is disassembled, everything can be painstakingly catalogued and that nothing can be damaged or contaminated. A full nut and bolt restoration is something that many customers’ cars have been lucky enough to receive; the list reads like a who’s who of car collectors, including Jay Kay, of Jamiroquai fame. These projects need time, and that’s exactly what Munich Legends give them – that and a lot of love, care and expert treatment. A great example of this is an E9 dash console which was painstakingly replicated by a local cabinet maker – it’s a part that’s becoming extremely difficult to come by and so this was sighted as the best option – anything less than perfection would not have been acceptable.
Currently there is a red E9 about to receive the aforementioned dashboard parts, while a customer’s Alpina B8 Touring (think E36 Touring but with a 4.6-litre V8 and you’re getting there) is away at the bodyshop, and is very nearly ready after a comprehensive mechanical and aesthetic refresh.
It may come as something of a surprise for you to learn that Munich Legends, despite being a relatively small operation, has a bigger parts department than most main dealers. It’s not just new parts that you’ll find stashed in the ‘Aladdin’s Cave’ of the ML building either – countless rare or obsolete parts that simply can’t be found anywhere else are tucked away in the stores.
The number of parts stored at ML runs into the tens of thousands – two floors of gearboxes, exhausts, oil filters and just about every engine component imaginable arranged into labelled boxes and on shelves that cover every single nook and cranny of the available space. It makes placing an exact quota impossible, but there’s certainly enough in there to keep any BMW lover in amazement for days on end; S14 rocker covers, crankshafts for just about every engine in BMW’s history and boxes upon boxes of rare intricacies. It’s this used part loot that often gets called upon to complete the restorations and bespoke work that happen elsewhere in ML’s facility.
Don’t think this extent of older parts mean that the focus is purely on them – Munich Legends has the same offerings of genuine BMW parts as any dealership, and Parts Manager Vic not only knows his stuff, but is one of the friendliest people you’re likely to ever meet. It makes for a far more pleasant experience when ordering your parts – much like the rest of the staff at ML Vic thoroughly enjoys what he does and is utterly passionate about it.
What more is there to say about Munich Legends? A lot, you may be surprised to hear. The entire place is just buzzing with enthusiasm and excitement for all things BMW and if that’s a mindset you share then you’ll feel right at home and probably, like me, you won’t want to leave. ML is set to go from strength to strength and nothing can get in its way; this bustling business has the drive and passion behind it that makes it unstoppable.