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Family Heirloom: Dad's BMW M1

Words and Photography by Courtney Cutchen Photography

How often do you hear stories of parents and grandparents having cool, classic cars from back in the day? You know the ones—it’s most often anecdotes of dad’s rumbling Camaro, mom’s sporty 240z, or how your best friend in high school had that old Ford pickup that you caused too much trouble in. Whatever the memory, it’s safe to say that you probably didn’t experience cars like JP D’Avila and his family did from the 1970s onward. Actually, I kind of guarantee it. 

The love of cars is generally a family affair, passed down from parents to their children. Late nights spent tinkering in the garage with grandpa, or going for cruises around town with mom. JP inherited his automotive obsession from his father, John, who certainly did not take cars lightly.


“From what I know,” JP told, “he raced a Porsche 356 in autocross and track events in the 1960s. Unfortunately, he passed away at 53—when I was in my early 20s—so I never had the opportunity to ask what ultimately got him hooked on being a gear head.” 

From as far back as JP can remember, his father was very involved with cars, while his early work in the Silicon Valley tech field was his career. John had started his own circuit board manufacturing company in Mountain View, and the business ultimately took off. With contracts for companies including Lockheed, Northrup, and Boeing, the work only grew larger in scale. The first boards for Apple were built by John’s company, and JP’s older brother can even recall one of John’s good friends, Steve Jobs, riding his bike to the shop while decked out in cut off jeans. 


As the years passed and John’s success grew, he decided to start up a small race team, with which they competed with a Triumph Spitfire in the G/Prod class. While he wasn’t a driver on the team, it was clear that John’s involvement with cars and motorsport was growing stronger.

It was a natural progression, because in addition to his racing team and tech endeavors, John had been intermittently importing cars into California since the late 1970s. While the inception of his import career isn’t completely clear, JP believes that his father was inspired by a local, Palo Alto based importer by the name of Jim Loose Imports. 

“As kids, our dad used to take us there to check out the cars on the lot that were coming into the country via grey market. Mind you, there were no dealers here at the time, so his place was a candy store for all of us,” JP explained. It’s from these experiences that John started his own import company, Nor-Cal Imports. JP says that John brought in some of the first Porsche 930 turbos, Mercedes 560 SEC/SEL AMG cars, a Contach, a Ferrari 308 GTS, and three BMW M1s.


While John was importing a healthy number of cars, he certainly wasn’t hoarding them. He drove them, enjoyed them, and ultimately sold the ones that he didn’t love enough to keep (which was most). JP maintains that his father wasn’t a collector, but rather someone who simply liked experiencing what all of these different cars had to offer. Among all the vehicles John owned, though, the one that stuck around is this M1. 

The car, which is now coated with Alpine, was originally Inka Orange. Of the three M1s that he had, two were orange and one was blue, so we can only assume that John just really wanted a white one, too. 

As it sits, this motorsport icon is pretty much entirely stock. It’s maintained by Canepa and stored by the family when it’s not out being enjoyed. The rarity of the car isn’t the only thing that surprises people, though—it’s the family story that lives behind it, and the continued celebration of it, too. 

I love to see the looks on people’s faces when the car is out lurking. Driving definitely adds to the importance, and it really is a nice car to drive.
— JP

The ideas of sentimental value and preservation can sometimes hinder someone from truly enjoying a classic car, but it doesn’t stop JP from enjoying his father’s old favorite. In many ways, it’s probably one of the best things he can do to remember his dad. When he gets behind the wheel, he can relive those childhood memories of John pitching the M1 from side to side, in a way that people will only know through the stories that are told. 


If we’re lucky, there are mementos left behind by loved ones who have passed on—things that we can remember them by. For some it’s a home, and for others, it’s as simple as coins or photos. In JP’s case, he and his family have the M1, which is the most suiting heirloom to remember their father by.