The Big Wheel was a low-riding, molded plastic, pedal-powerd tricycle invented in 1969 by the Louis Marx toy company. In addition to its inexpensive price, its bright primary-colors, and its nearly flip-resistant center of gravity, one of its most compelling features was the inclusion of a plastic-levered metal actuated handbrake fore of the right-hand rear wheel, the application of which allowed the junior chopper to perform awesome lockup turn and spinout maneuvers.
This vehicle came to mind quite readily recently, when we spent a couple days driving around Los Angeles in a S3R BMW 1M tuned by Bavarian-centric aftermarket speed shop Dinan. This mental correlation came about not only because, based as it is on the previous generation and limited edition M-massaged 1-Series, it is one of the few BMWs we’ve driven recently that still sports an actual hand-operated parking brake. Nor because, housed within its antagonistically flared rear wheel arches are a pair of eponymic big wheels: barbed 19” BBS black flanges sporting outrageous 295-series rubber that make the rear of the car appear as though it is digesting a typewriter platen.
The Big Wheel analogy came to mind more because, in the course of our driving, if we were chancy enough to disengage the traction control — regardless of location, road surface, manual gear ratio selection, or rate of travel — whenever we applied proper pressure to the gas pedal, we were able to induce a Big Wheel-like spin.
Dazing along at 28 mph around a sweeping cliff-side bend on Piuma Road in the Malibu Canyons? Spin.
Doing 50 mph in pre-rush hour traffic on Sunset Boulevard? Spin.
North of 70 mph en route to LAX on the 110? Spin.
We learned to keep the skid nannies engaged lest we end up a widely smiling casualty.
Compressing 444 hp and 450 lb.-ft. of torque in a car that weighs under 3,500 lbs. will do that. In Dinan's store $20,000 or so, plus the escalating price of a donor car, will get you that, and includes all manner of go-fast bits that would render any actual Big Wheel positively filicidal. Larger turbos, a free flow stainless exhaust, an upgraded air-to-air intercooler, a carbon fiber cold air intake, a high capacity oil cooler, and a stiff dose of springs, bars, bearings and links. (Also, a 4 year/50,000-mile warrantee.) The original 1M on which it is based produced 109 hp and 118 lb.-ft. less power, and still boasted a 4.5 second 0-60 mph and a 13.0 second ¼ mile. This one is faster. And even in stygian black, it is about as subtle as an order of Bananas Flambe on an airplane.
Given the prodigious thrust, we often felt like a medieval jouster, aimed luridly and recklessly at some sort of target — though this thing can also stop, turn, and change direction with alacrity unknown to any equine steed. But though it may have shaved years off the lives of our passengers, it also shaved years off our ours, taking us back to our childhood, and the joys of galloping down the biggest hill we could find, and at the last moment, yanking our Big Wheel’s brake. Spin. Smirk. Repeat.