A Dream Realized: Bengt’s 1974 BMW 3.0CSi
Written and photographed by Courtney Cutchen Photography
Every once in a while, I am brought into the path of a person who is so unique and so full of life that it makes me re-examine my own personality. Bengt Kolnes is one of those people. Coming from a childhood lived on a Norwegian farm to eventually settling here in the Bay Area, Bengt has seen a lot in his time and has stories to match. As fate would have it, he’s also a true blue BMW fan.
We met out on an oceanside cliff in Half Moon Bay, which at low tide, revealed miles of heavily rocky terrain. Later, those rocks farthest into the water would be crowded with basking seals, many of which were stacked on top of one another. The air was crisp and salty and the winds, biting at times. Pulling into the parking lot to see Bengt and his beloved ’74 3.0CSi seemed to be the most appropriate sight at the time.
Bengt is a warm person, the kind who always greets you with a smile and a firm hug. If I were ever in a bad mood, a good 10 minutes of talking to him would probably be enough to cure it. The Fjord Blue E9 sat as beautiful as it had every time I’d seen it prior, and it seemed to radiate the same kind of positivity that Bengt did. The two look like a perfectly iconic pair—almost as if they’d been set up by a marketing team.
Not wasting any time (or light), my husband and I hopped in the E9 with Bengt and we were off. Bengt was familiar with these surroundings already, as he has many regular stops dotted up the coastline in the area. A quaint barn with lush greenery all around was our first stop. Old knick knacks filled the windowsills inside, an assortment of potted plants were resident out front, and the exterior wood paneling had a charming patina.
This photo session was a casual one. I wanted to document Bengt and his car in an honest light. On weekends and in the evenings during the week, he spends his time driving. Oftentimes he can be found cruising Highway 280, cutting over to Skyline and up past Alice’s Restaurant. Other times he explores San Francisco beaches, and travels all the way down through Half Moon Bay. The consensus of Bengt’s driving hobby is to simply enjoy the drive. There rarely is an absolute destination when he gets in the car for these outings. I think there's a life lesson in there somewhere.
When Bengt was first introduced to the E9, the car had been purchased by his then-employer. It sat in the shop where he worked and he always had a lingering feeling that it was meant for him to own from the beginning. His employer bought the car with the intention of selling it to a customer, but he never specified anyone in particular.
“It was love at first sight,” Bengt said. “I knew that if I drove that car, I would never let it go.”
With that said, several months and one dip into the savings account later, the blue BMW was his. However, this encounter with the CSi was by no means his first love affair.
“Since I was old enough to know what a car was,” he started, “I have been obsessed with BMWs.” As mentioned before, he grew up on a farm in Norway. When he talks about his childhood and years spent in Norway, you can almost see it yourself. He speaks vividly and with a childlike excitement when he recalls those youthful years.
“My mom drove a 1969 BMW 2000CS. She used to play music from the time and always sang with my siblings and I in the car.” Recanting the smell of fuel in the cab, the specifically raw sounds that only carburetors are talented enough to produce, and the recollection of being a happy child enjoying a ride with his family—Bengt can remember clearly. You want to imagine that the sun is shining as the CS rolls steadily down a dusty road, gravel popping beneath it.
“My twin brother and I always brought old junkers home to the farm to fix and sell, but most of the time we got attached to them.” These early memories of his fascination with cars and their inner workings helped to spur his love of the old Bavarian machines. Being a child of the seventies, he already found himself attracted to BMWs largely from that era and into the eighties. However, through any other cars the family owned, the E9 has always held a special place in his heart.
We can surmise that BMW was meshed into Bengt’s very livelihood at a young age, with much of that influence from his mother. “The E9 brings back the best of my childhood memories,” he explained. As a nod to his past and a life well loved, he named his E9 after his late mother who - even in the years since she has passed - taught him so much appreciation for the cars. Now, when he opens the garage to see Anny Sofie, he smiles.
With the weather being generous with its cloud cover, we decided to move on to the next location. It wasn’t long before Bengt pulled off the road to another place he had stopped to take photos before. In his role as a wandering driver, he has amassed quite a list of spots for quick photo opps.
A sprawling plain of seaside grass and flowers was our next scene, where I couldn't help but think, "Man, I really need to get out more."
Bengt positioned the E9 in a flat clearing and it looked nothing short of picturesque.
It’s a sentimental feeling for me to see the happiness in someone who owns their dream car. Sure, it’s just a machine—the culmination of metals, glass, rubber, chemicals, and fabric. But they’re also more than the sum of their parts in the way that we associate them with human feelings. Pride, frustration, nostalgia, euphoria. They can quickly mean more to someone than numbers printed coldly on a price tag.
“I feel lucky to have a chance to own this car,” he confided. “If I ever have a bad day, I can just take it for a drive to the coast. Every worry gets left behind.”
With Bengt, everything is about feeling lucky, or humbled, or fortunate. Most often when I talk to him about his cars and his position in life generally, he is quick to say that he is grateful for all that he has. Humility and a strong, directive happiness are what emanate from his message—which again, I think most of us could learn from.
“There’s a really cool area up the road a little bit,” he pointed out as I finished shooting at the current spot. As long as we had light, I was going to keep the camera on. Piling into the car once more, we jumped back on the pavement.
What is it about your favorite car that you just can’t get enough of? Is it the series of sounds it makes? The body lines? Interior design? Handling? For Bengt, it’s everything.
“The E9 has the most elegant lines,” he swooned. “Every part of the car is just so practical and beautifully made.” I have to say, I couldn’t agree more. The E9 more than qualifies as one of my own dream cars, and for many reasons. At face value, it is inarguably one of the most beautiful cars ever produced. Its topline is elegant and far reaching down into a regally sloped nose, and the nostalgic lack of a B pillar is a big win. It is the poster child of BMW’s heritage in luxury and performance - it is no more one than it is the other. A supremely balanced, well designed, flawlessly executed piece of automotive art. But, perhaps I’m biased.
We rounded off a few hours of shooting with one of the most beautiful lookouts I’ve seen. This is one of Bengt’s favorite places to stop when he drives through town, and it’s obvious why.
On his hobby of exploration: “Some people say I spend way too much time on my cars; anything from working on them to taking pictures to driving them.” The counter that Bengt offers to this argument is simple: that everyone has something that they truly love doing. There’s no master plan in mind. There’s no goal other than to just enjoy the vehicles that he works hard to maintain.
Bengt’s love of driving is actually so extensive that I recommend you take a look at his Instagram account to get a better idea. You can find him at @bengt.kolnes and you’ll see that his whole feed is basically just a stream of him documenting where he’s been with his cars. It’s inspiring and flows with the now coined “Get Out and Drive” mantra of Magnus Walker.
One of the most important things that I’ve learned through my friendship with Bengt is that there is always something to appreciate. Whether it’s your car, your house, your partner, your health, or a place you enjoy visiting. There is always something to be grateful for, and always a reason to be positive. With that, Bengt’s closing words relate:
“Through my Instagram account and my cars, I have had the chance to meet some amazing people and make new friends throughout the world who all share the same love and passion for BMW, and cars in general. For any enthusiast out there, your dreams can be achieved through hard work and focusing on what you want.”
Personally, I am always thankful to Bengt for being a source of positivity in my life. On the grand scale, he drives the hell out of his cars, and I think that’s something we can all appreciate.