When Did 55MPH Become So Slow?

I had an interesting experience in my late model BMW the other day.  It is a 2002 E46 M3 that I’ve owned and daily driven for a few years now (purchased used from a family friend) and I’ve got to set up the scene for our readers…and then ask a few questions.  It seems like a simple thing, but I had to drive the M3 at 55 MPH for 15 uninterrupted minutes on a SoCal freeway.  It was a excruciating and humbling experience.

First, I can’t tell you how much the S52 inline-6 in the E46 loves to be revved — forget everything you think you know about modern BMW engines and then add another 1000 rpm to the rev range.  This dual-overhead cam 3.2 liter pile of alloy wants to go.  It doesn’t like to sit and it doesn’t like to be passed by old ladies in minivans…but here I was, driving 55 in 6th gear and getting passed by angry semi drivers hauling loads of rocks. Normally, M3 drivers are passing people on the shoulder and changing lanes with reckless abandon…but I’m here stuck in the post COVID-19 highway, which looked like something out of a Mad Max movie.  Traffic was sparse (normally keeping the car above 55mph in a SoCal freeway would be impossible), but the few cars on the road were in hot pursuit of toilet paper and traffic tickets alike.  Perhaps those tickets would come in handy if you were out of toilet paper. but I wasn’t…I was just restricted to 55 mph for 15 minutes if I wanted to drive the car the next day…and I want you guys to tell me why.

At the end of the day I was successful in my errand, but I can’t imagine what it would be like to drive a stock Volkswagen Beetle or some other car that doesn’t want to maintain 70 mph on a modern highway, because the light traffic of the current Coronapoclypse has driven people to drive like madmen.  Thankfully I’ll be able to join them tomorrow and I won’t be restricted to 55…but you can guess the reasons in the comments below.  Stay safe, slow down, and wash your wheels.