Like any fan of high-performance automobiles who also has access to a virtual treasure trove of rare cars, engines, motorcycles, memorabilia and more, Scott Dishman, executive director of the BMW Car Club of America Foundation in Greer, has his favorites among the collection of goodies that he oversees.
And of all those items, his absolute No. 1 is a 1937 BMW 328 that comes with a $1 million price tag (if it were for sale) - and a storied history.
The classic auto "was hidden in The Hague (in The Netherlands) during World War II to keep it from the Nazis," Dishman says. The 328 is one of just four on loan to the foundation.
Located next door to BMW's Zentrum and Performance Center off Interstate 85, the foundation includes a library, archives and a museum, and is the second-largest such BMW historic site in the world, behind only the first such facility in Munich, Germany. More than 45,000 items pertaining to BMW and automotive history are on display.
Since acquiring its property in 2013, the BMW Car Club (founded in 2002) has been a largely undiscovered gem of automobile history. Members of the 79,000-member club knew about it, of course. But until mid-2016, the "staff" of the facility only included a curator and a part-time employee. Since adding to the staff, some 1,200 visitors have toured the foundation site, which is free of charge and open weekdays from 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Dishman says a rotating exhibit schedule in 2017 is expected to become a must-see stop for automobile and racing fans visiting the SC Upstate. The BMW Performance Center, located next door, draws more than 3,500 visitors a year, including members of various car club chapters nationwide.
So what else can visitors see? The inventory includes other rare cars, motorcycles and racing engines, miniatures of autos, and such memorabilia as trophies, photos, even wine bottles and T-shirts, employee Andrea Galehouse says.
Another special draw, she says, is a BMW Z-1 sports car, owned by car club foundation trustee Scott Hughes and one of only 50 in existence. "It comes with handles that come off, so if you bought a red one and wanted a blue one, you could take the panels off," she says.
The foundation isn't just about old cars, though. Its Street Survival safe teen driving program, launched in 2002, offers hands-on training designed to "go beyond the typical high school driver's education program." (and ). The nonprofit, national driver education program, which was in 101 schools in 2013 and has taught 3,000 teens a year since 2002, aims to reduce the 5,000 teenage deaths per year in auto accidents.
The wealth of automobiles and related treasures are the main draw, and the foundation, which is a public charity, has everything for the "gearhead" fan. Many of the exhibits can be viewed at the website or the Facebook page.
Dishman understands the lure for enthusiasts. After all, he's one himself. "For anyone who's into cars at all," he says, "this is a chance to see the largest collection of BMW memorabilia that exists in North America."
"And," he adds with a laugh, "they can see it all for free."
190 Manatee Court, Greer