(Note: This piece originally appeared on BMW Blog on January 8, 2015. You can check it out here.)
“What the hell do you call that paint?” “Is it hard to take care of?” “Is that a car wrap?” “Is that just paint without a clear coat?” “Are you nervous washing it?” “What if you scratch it?” “If a bird craps on it, do you freak out?” “Is that paint expensive?”
Life with my 2013 E92 BMW M3 Frozen Limited Edition has been a little, well, conversational. Because everyone asks about it, wherever I go, whenever I go. Some personal history: My wife and I picked up an Alpine White 2010 E92 M3 Coupe in Munich through the BMW European Delivery Program in May of 2009. I adored the car but as the normally aspirated E92 era came to a close, I began to consider getting a final build-year version as a swan song. In January of 2013, my local BMW dealer, Baron BMW in Merriam, KS, called to let me know they’d won the lottery and been allocated a special edition car (chronicled in this very blog). Might I be interested? I was. Six months later, the car arrived on the transporter and my relationship with “Frozen White” began.
The particulars of the E92 M3 have been previously documented, and this final example came standard with virtually every special feature in the BMW Performance catalog, in addition to arriving from the factory in “Frozen White.” I still couldn’t help myself, though, so along with adding a few absolutely essential additional carbon fiber parts I also added the M Performance exhaust (as one of my few criticisms of my earlier car was the relatively muted exhaust note). And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is how you option an $87k E92 M3.
From the moment I pulled up at the dealership to see the car, a steady stream of customers, technicians, and employees approached me about it. “Is that yours?” And then, always: “That color is [superlative of choice].” Always. Every time. My salesperson, Gregg Griswold, handed me a cup of coffee and said, “I’m glad you’re here. I could have sold that car a dozen times in the last two hours.”
How to describe BMW’s Frozen White paint? It’s satin but with a luster. In the right light, it’s almost pearlescent. It’s matte but not. It changes ever so slightly with the angle of the light, a visual Doppler effect that sometimes makes sections gleam while making other sections seem muted, like a sharkskin suit or the iridescence of a butterfly wing. It makes you want to pet it. It’s alluring and odd and compelling and quite lovely, and really unlike anything else.
As with most things automotive, when I wanted to learn about care and feeding I began with the enthusiast forums. What quickly became apparent was that there was a limitless supply of self-proclaimed experts who had likely never even seen a BMW with a frozen finish, much less tried to care for one. But with perseverance, I found several worthwhile articles and videos that outlined the proper way to care for the unique surface (with two of the best being here and here).
The finish does have a clear coat; the chemistry of the clear coat itself, though, is tuned to actually absorb some of the light rather than be purely reflective, as in most glossy car finishes. In fact, the “frozen” clear coat meets all the same performance standards as a typical glossy clear coat. It’s absolutely as protective and durable.
My first stop, on literally the day after I brought the car home, was to my friendly car detailer. I’m fortunate in that one of my area’s premier detailing shops is located in the garage of my office building, so I was interested to get the opinion of Michael Madrigal, owner of Madrigal’s Elite Detailing, in Kansas City, Missouri. Mike and his crew have cared for my vehicles for several years and he’d done his homework on the BMW frozen paint. He admits that he was initially a bit skeptical about the finish, especially in the varied and harsh weather conditions we have in the Midwest. But in the end, the finish won him over. “It has more than exceeded my expectations,” said Mike. “This is an incredible product; it’s very low maintenance.”
His cleaning regimen is only slightly different on my car than most. “To start, we make sure to not use any silicone-based tire dressing, but instead use a water based dressing. And before we pull your car [into the wash bay], we cool our water to about 120-degrees, which is a bit lower than usual. That seems to give the best washing results.” Mike’s view of the frozen paint seems a little counterintuitive for a professional detailer. “The less you touch it, the better it is. The weekend car-wash guy will find out the frozen finish takes about half the time to clean as a normal gloss-coat vehicle.”
There are a few wax products on the market designed for matte paints in general, but I haven’t seen the need to explore one. As Mike Madrigal said, “After I look at your car under the lights when I’m done cleaning it, it doesn’t need a thing.”
So to recap when it comes to care: Use a citrus-based pretreating spray on areas such as bumpers where there are dried bugs or tree sap. Rinse the car liberally with warm water (ideally in the 120-degree range), and then use a lambswool mitt (never a sponge!) to wash the car with a gentle automotive soap. Rinse the car well, blow off panel gaps with compressed air or a leaf blower, and then gently wipe away any remaining water with a chamois. Don’t use any buffing compounds or any other abrasive compounds on the finish; those products will only level the frozen clear coat and make it more mirror-like, ruining the affect of the lustrous finish. And of course avoid waxes or products with a silicone component, and never use a mechanical buffer or even a hand-buffing action. In that way, caring for frozen paint is actually much simpler and less time-consuming than a traditional gloss finish. It’s a very Zen approach to car finish care: Less is more.
At the end of the day it’s the bones of the car that makes all the difference, and the E92 M3 Coupe is one for the ages. The song of its 8300-RPM V8 is one we likely won’t hear again from a BMW or perhaps any production car. The age of forced induction and alternative propulsion is upon us, and while technology surely marches on, these soon-to-be relics of automobiledom still have the power to pull the heartstrings like no others.
The Frozen White on my particular example provides just that much more uniqueness, and serves as a worthwhile wrapper to the end of the E92 era. Would I buy a car with this finish again? Absolutely.