Dynamic Duo: Keller brothers Eric and Evan at Enthusiast Auto Group
“We only buy cars we would own and drive personally considering all factors such as history, service regiment, and production specifications such as options, model year, specific transmissions, etc. If a car isn’t in the top 10% of what’s left on the road, it isn’t for EAG.” —Eric Keller, Founder, Enthusiast Auto Group
A few years ago during an internet search I stumbled upon Enthusiast Auto Group (EAG). Based in Cincinnati Ohio, EAG is the premier classic BMW M car dealer in the United States. Last year I purchased my 1988 BMW M3 from EAG. Their staff was prompt, courteous, and friendly and I had an extraordinary customer service experience. Most importantly, my 17,000-mile M3 was better than promised—literally flawless. Over the years I’ve built a friendship with EAG’s founder Eric Keller and he recently sat down with Turtle Garage for an exclusive interview.
TG: How did you get into early M cars?
EAG: Growing up in the farming industry, we learned at an early age how important it was to maintain your equipment. Our grandfather successfully ran a John Deere Dealership in rural Michigan for over 30 years with our father growing up in grandpa’s shop. Our father, Ernie Keller, later opened up his own independent farm equipment dealership in rural Indiana. Evan and I grew up sweeping the floors, cleaning the bathrooms, painting corn heads, assembling tillage equipment and working on countless other farm implements with the goal of improving the quality and condition in any way possible. When we were in our teens and of the age to work for others, he fired us and told us to go get a real job. I recently counted fourteen different jobs I had before becoming the first of our family to graduate college. Through these vast experiences I learned real world business and life lessons that I practice to this day.
Our family has always been quite enthusiastic about cars and our father would trade out cars every 3-6 months just for the fun of it and driving something different. Every time we brought a new car home, we’d go through the entire car ensuring everything was overly maintained to the “old school” standard, we called it a baseline reset. All our friends and family always wanted our cars when we were done with them and Dad always asked them to touch base with him before they sold off “their” car. His cars were always in the best shape around our small community. We convinced him to pick up an E34 540i nearly twenty years ago and from that point forward we were hooked. Some form of BMW has been in the family ever since. My freshman year at Xavier University I purchase my first BMW, a 1992 525i automatic sedan. I cleaned it up, reset the baseline and shortly thereafter sold it to one of my business professors for a tidy profit. That started things off officially; this is something I was proficient at and thoroughly enjoyed.
My first M-Car was a 1988 E28 M5. This started a love affair that quickly escalated into the full-blown addiction status you see today. The direct response of every input was unlike any car I had driven, which was a rather long list for my early age. The communication and visceral feel was intoxicating. It was with this M5 I learned the hard way about dishonest service centers and advantageous service writers. I was busy with school and over my head for newly discovered maintenance item called a “valve adjustment.” I took it to a local independent BMW specialized shop for an oil service and valve adjustment and $4,000 later my car was returned to me. I was quite upset (as any enthusiast would be) and knew this was not how to conduct a successful and healthy service shop.
Throughout my education I worked on business development and applied every assignment towards growth of my endeavor. It paid off in the form of earning a healthy entrepreneurial scholarship which defrayed much of my college tuition. This windfall allowed me to invest in more cars. We were taught at an early age if you don’t have enough cash in your pocket, you’re not ready to buy it. We’ve bought all our cars outright since day one with no floorplan or outside investors.
We only buy cars we would own and drive personally considering all factors such as history, service regiment, and production specifications such as options, model year, specific transmissions, etc. If a car isn’t in the top 10% of what’s left on the road, it isn’t for EAG. We’ve taken every chance to upgrade our stable along the way…this is now the collection you see offered on our website.
TG: Can you talk about what makes the early M3, M5, and M6 so special?
EAG: So many articles, blogs and books have been written on the topic, I don’t know where to start. For me, it is the pure analog feel, sounds, smells and overall driving experience. You are one with the car.
TG: The E30 M3 has seen a stratospheric rise in value over the last five years. Is this sustainable? How far do you think quality low mileage original E30 M3’s can go over the next decade?
EAG: The fact that they were made in relatively limited numbers and had such a high rate of attrition, it’s not hard to see why values have had such a surge the past 5-6 years. To many people’s surprise, these values didn’t rise overnight, they have been steadily climbing since 2009/2010. Using our sales data as our guide, between 2010 and 2014 we experienced about a $10,000 annual increase in value on cars with average mileage of 65,000. The past two years we’ve seen a larger surge in selling prices across the market, especially in the strong #2 and #1 condition examples.
TG: Of the 5,200 E30 M3’s delivered to North America, how many left do you estimate are still investment grade cars?
EAG: Just a handful. The rate of attrition on E30 M3s has been extreme. They are such great driving and performing cars and at their low point could be had for $7-15K for a decent driving car. This made for a fantastic track or HPDE car and we built many of them for clients early in our career. The majority of what is on the market today outside of EAG’s circle are former track cars or dual purpose cars with considerable track time. Given the market values, many are reverted to stock, holes for the roll bar and all. Another major concern is rust. With well over half of the country regularly using salt and other corrosive chemicals during winter, so many E30’s have fallen victim. This is a non-starter for most as it should be. If I had to estimate, I’d say only about 10% or 500 examples would be worthy of investment grade status.
TG: What is the highest price you have ever sold an E30 M3 for and can you tell us about that particular car?
EAG: EAG’s highest sale to date is $200K for a very significant 1991 US-Spec M3. It was the very last VIN number produced for North America and has a special history with Lime Rock Park…not to mention only 6K original miles. As I’m writing this, I’m currently working on a Sport Evolution with delivery miles for double this number. We have also sold a handful of very special E28 M5s and E24 M6s for six figures in the past few years.
TG: Do you think some of the more modern M cars will be collectible two decades out? If so which models do you have your eye on? What should we watch in the coming years?
EAG: Some M-Cars have already risen to collectible status. We call these “Modern Classics”. In the past few years several models have more than doubled in value if they are late production, low mileage, top condition, desirably optioned including color combination and have solid verified history. We have seen this with E39 M5s, E46 M3s, Z3 M-Coupes, E36 M3 CSLs, and Z8’s to name a few. When a rare high quality M car meets or exceed EAG’s standards it can often sell for six figures.
TG: The Z8 has been a rising star. Is it one of the BMW all stars of the post-war modern period?
EAG: It surely is. A manufacturer only builds a handful of “Halo” cars and the Z8 is this by definition. The Z8 has had its ups and downs but they are now here to stay. Finding the right one is much more difficult than most car enthusiasts expect however. In my experience nearly 40% of them on the road today suffer from slight to severe frame fatigue. There was a small glitch in engineering and given the design of the front aluminum space frame geometry coupled with terrible early to market run flat tires, it isn’t uncommon for the frame rails to tweak inward pulling the fenders closer to the hood most noticeable above the foggy original headlamps (all headlamps will need changed in the next few years due to fogging issues, also a production shortcoming).
TG: What is your favorite BMW of all time?
EAG: Monday: Business Man’s Ride to mentally prepare for the week ahead: E28 M5
Tuesday: Lots to get done, need to get there fast: S54 M-Coupe
Wednesday: Hump Day: E39 M5
Thursday: Weather report all sun: Z1
Friday: Busy week, I’m tired: M2
Saturday: Cars and Coffee: E30 M3
Sunday: Family day with the kids: Wife’s F31 M-Sport wagon
TG: Tell us about you shop, your services, and your business.
EAG: We have grown to over 20 team members, none of which are sales staff. The EAG team mainly consists of technicians skilled in making excellent cars next to new. We learned at an early age if you want it done right, you have to do it yourself. Today we perform every function of vehicle reconditioning in-house. This ensures when we buy one of our cars back from a client the corrective and preventative actions stand the true test of time. If there is a good, better and best way to upgrade a system or component, we always select with the best products available, which typically are the most costly for good reason.
We have a large service and maintenance department serving our region. We also operate a full paint, body and collision center that expertly addresses everything from repairing front bumper due to wear and license plate bracket holes drilled to collision and frame repair for our local clients when the unexpected happens. We regularly have clients ship their prized possessions to EAG for our expert services, repairs and performance upgrades. EAG consistently is one of the top selling Dinan dealerships in North America. I’m very proud of the team we’ve grown to become and we work and treat every car that comes through our door as if they were our own personal vehicles.
EAG only invests in top condition cars with great service history that are without a story or drama. If something negative requires an explanation we will typically pass. We are not storytellers. We are car enthusiasts striving for the best of the best. We believe in our product and process so much that we ask our clients for a good old fashioned handshake agreement that EAG will receive the first right or refusal to make a market correct offer to purchase our cars back from our clients. I feel this is the strongest form of confidence one can have in this business. We have purchased the great majority of our cars back over the years and this is indicated on our website as *Repeat Visitor*. These typically are the best cars available respective of their mileage given the number of times they have gone through the full EAG rejuvenation program.
The great majority of our sales are conducted out of state, sight unseen. We gather and provide a very comprehensive file of information including detailed photos including blemishes and undercarriage, history report, build sheet, service history and most important, our comprehensive PPI report and work order which is included in the selling price. This covers every last detail ensuring all our cars are delivered turn-key. Once sold, we conduct a very thorough test drive and final check out process , a full tank of fuel and full detail using state of the art products. We manage all logistics internally and have forged lasting relationships with the best and most timely fully enclosed carriers in the industry. We can deliver a car to its new home anywhere in the country inside of 7-14 days. Each car sold by us are verified by EAG—the most specialized and experienced BMW team in North America.
TG: Thank you Eric!
1987 BMW M6 (Photo: Car and Driver Magazine January 1987)
For a BMW enthusiast EAG’s parking lot is a field of dreams!
Two rare lightweight E36 M3’s. EAG owns a pristine delivery mile example.
EAG Collection E28 M5 with only 7,000 original miles.
A gaggle of M3’s at EAG.
The BMW Z8 has seen a meteoric rise in value over the past three years.