Last week I described the road trip to the Vintage, concentrating on caravan member Jordan Berube’s belt-related cooling-system troubles with the Black Shark, the 1985 635CSi I’d just sold him the week before. With the rash cojones that come with youth, he took the unsorted car on the 2,000-mile round trip from New England to Asheville.
After Jordan read last week’s installment, he reminded me that I’d left out a crucial detail: the fact that when I advertised the Black Shark, I’d said that there was “just enough time to sort it out and drive it to the Vintage” right in the ad. So it was my fault.
It’s always my fault.
I also forgot to say that Andrew Wilson, who had organized the caravan down from New England and was answering questions on Facebook about it, paraphrased a line from Fast Times At Ridgemont High, saying, “Rob’s a repairman; he’s got this ultimate set of tools.” Andrew was both joking as well as assuaging the concerns of the newbie BMW owners in the caravan, and that’s fine. I’m glad to do what I can. That’s part of the advantage of a caravan: Safety in numbers. No driver left behind.
Other people will be writing about the Vintage and the Icon exhibit at the BMW CCA Foundation, both here and in Roundel magazine, so I’m going to concentrate on the road-trip repairs. I do, however, need to say four things about these two events. First, any serial attendee of the Vintage knows that it may start off being about the cars, but it quickly becomes about the people. My brother-from-another-mother Paul Wegweiser wasn’t there this year, as he is receiving chemotherapy
for Hodgkin lymphoma. I spoke with Paul last night. He’s doing well, and plans to make it to Oktoberfest in Pittsburgh. But I badly missed Paul and the surrounding chicken-related attacks on my ride: hiding feathers in the car, strange visitations late at night by a guy in a chicken suit who Paul swears is not him…. It’s a long story, and I don’t quite understand the motivation myself, but we are nothing without our traditions.
Second, I was scheduled to give a talk at the BMW CCA Foundation at the opening of their exhibit “The Icon: 50 Years Of The 2002.” (Louie, my ’72 2002tii, is one of the cars on display.) I zipped down to the Foundation in Greer South Carolina on Friday morning, as did many Vintage attendees. Right before I was handed the microphone, however, I was told that there was a surprise in store for me: I was stunned to be presented with the Friend Of The BMW CCA award by BMW CCA North Central Regional VP Tim Beechuk and Foundation ambassador Amy Allain-Lester.
I was, for a moment, speechless. Despite the fact that I write these pieces and blather practically non-stop on Facebook, I’m a bit shy about tooting my own horn, and thus hesitated whether to write about the award here, but I wouldn’t want anyone to read the wrong thing into its omission. I was deeply moved by this award, and I am immensely proud to be a Friend Of The Club. Here’s hoping I can be your Hack Mechanic for another 34 years!
Third, at the Icon exhibit at the Foundation—spectacular, by the way—Louie was parked next to former Roundel editor Yale Rachlin’s 2002tii (YALE R) in a two-car section highlighting the way the 2002 has connected club members. In a world where so much is wrong and so much is needed to make it right, this simple sight made me very happy.
Last, I finally got to meet former Bimmer magazine editor-in-chief and Roundel contributor Jackie Jouret, who wrote the Icon book that is the companion to the exhibit, and who also spoke at the event. Jackie and I took to each other like two long-lost friends and chatted quite a bit over the weekend, the only issue being that it was difficult for anyone else to get a word in edgewise (we’re both talkers!).
The Vintage itself was wonderful, as it always is. Although the weather forecast was bleak, the rains held off and the clouds kept the temperature down.
At about mid-day, Billy Revis from Motorsport Connection appeared with a windshield-wiper motor to replace the one that failed on Andrew Wilson’s 3.0CSi on the drive down. The connector was in the wrong place, but Billy said that you can open the motor up and “clock” the connector. As he and Andrew were doing so, an internally-soldered ground wire broke off. I was able to crimp on a small ring terminal that they then screwed to the body of the motor. Andrew was glad for the working wiper motor when the skies opened a few hours later.
During the deluge, Carl and Kari Pardue gave me shelter under their pop-up canopy. For about fifteen minutes, the wind and rain were so heavy that Carl dropped the legs on the windward side of the shelter, raking it to keep the weather from blowing through. Still, it was a great day.
As our four-car caravan prepared to leave on Sunday morning, I learned that Jordan had had more belt-related issues with Black Shark; while returning from dinner on Saturday night, the car’s power-steering belt broke, which then took the fan belt with it. This was especially serious because on a Motronic 635CSi, as on the E28, there is no conventional vacuum-assisted power-brake booster; instead, the brake boost comes from the power-steering pump. So no power steering belt means no power steering and no power brakes.
Fortunately, this being the parking lot of the Vintage, we didn’t have any trouble finding a kind soul with spare belts (thanks, Greg Flint!). Because of the Black Shark’s low air dam, it was a bit challenging getting the power-steering belt installed and tensioned without jacking up the front of the car, but I managed to get it buttoned up. Jordan didn’t have any other belt or cooling system-related problems on the drive home.
I, however, most certainly did.
Although I bought Sharkey, as I call my silver ’79 Euro 635CSi, about three and a half years ago and drove it to Sharkfest in Chattanooga in 2016, it’s not a fully sorted-out car. That is, it’s a car I went through and fixed what was amiss, but it’s not a car on which I performed prophylactic maintenance and replaced things that weren’t broken. After it ran hot on the Chattanooga trip, I installed a new aluminum radiator and left it at that. The improved cooling system worked fabulously; even in hot weather while running uphill with the a/c on full, the temperature never even reached the halfway mark.
However, on the trip home, my, um, halfway measures came back to bite me.
Here’s what happened: The crew and I stopped for fuel somewhere in southern Virginia. I opened up my hood to check my oil, and was stunned to find that the mechanical cooling fan had failed; it had lost two fan blades, and one of the remaining blades was caught on the lip of the upper radiator tank, preventing it from turning. The fan was free-wheeling on the bearing of the fan clutch, which had a lot of play in it. It wasn’t clear whether the fan had disintegrated and, once out of balance, wobbled and allowed one of the remaining blades to catch the radiator lip, or whether the bearing in the clutch had enough play to cause the fan to clip the radiator, breaking the blades.
Even though the problem was completely asymptomatic—the engine wasn’t running hot and nothing was making noise—something had to be done. At a minimum, the fan and clutch needed to be removed before things failed catastrophically and took the belt, water pump, and radiator with them. But more important, a car with a mechanical cooling fan needs a mechanical cooling fan to pull air through the radiator at low speeds. You can get by on the highway without it, but get caught in traffic during hot weather and the lack of air flow through the radiator can send the temperature gauge right into the red. On an in-line straight-six engine like Sharkey’s M30, do that and you’ll likely crack its long, straight, aluminum head.
I hoped that the fact that the car had a new aluminum radiator and a new electric auxiliary cooling fan in front of the a/c condenser (connected to a switch so I could turn it on at will) would allow me some margin of error. Unfortunately, looking at the broken fan, I realized that I had a problem—well, two problems. Later M30 engines like those used on the E28 have an updated water pump and fan clutch; the nose of the water pump is threaded, and the fan clutch has a 32-mm collar nut that screws onto it. Sharkey, however, is an E12-based car that uses the earlier design: The water pump has a nose piece to which the fan clutch attaches with a single bolt through its recessed center.
The first problem was that there was no way to remove the broken fan and clutch without removing the radiator. The second problem was that although I put out a “Hack Mechanic down Hack Mechanic needs assistance” post to Facebook, the odds of anyone having the older-style fan and clutch were slim, since people usually update to the newer-style water pump, fan, and clutch when they do a cooling-system service.
My traveling companions ran to a nearby auto parts store for a catch basin so I wouldn’t dump antifreeze all over the parking lot of the convenience store in which we were parked, then helped me pull the radiator. It was at this point that I reminded them that the “Rob’s a repairman; he’s got this ultimate set of tools” joke notwithstanding, I wasn’t in the caravan as a favor to them. This time, they were doing the favor for me. Safety in numbers. No driver left behind.
I soon had the fan and clutch removed and the radiator reinstalled and refilled. I drove the car about a mile on local roads, and the temperature gauge didn’t seem any different with the fan removed. I then let it idle for ten minutes in the parking lot with the auxiliary electric fan turned on. Even though the aux fan is in front of the condenser, several inches from the radiator, it still seemed to provide non-trivial air flow through the radiator while parked. The temperature crept a little above the halfway mark, but then it seemed to stabilize.
Okay, I thought, this should be enough to get me moving. We’ll start heading north. Maybe someone will see my Facebook post and bail me out.
Sure enough, offers for help began to come in. The first call was from CCA Tips Rep Paul Muskopf’s sister Melissa; she said that she and her husband Bruce had two E24s at the house. She sent me pictures of the fan clutches. Unfortunately, both were the newer spin-on style.
A while later, with zero traffic and the car running cool as a cucumber, Luther Brefo called. I’d met Luther a few years back at the Vintage. He’d recently started his own repair shop, and the work load prevented him from coming to Asheville this year, but he said that a mutual friend, Brooklyn Taylor, had cued him into my problem. Further, Luther said he’d chatted with Paul Muskopf, and he had a solution. He didn’t have the old-style fan and clutch, either, but he had everything for me to convert to the newer-style: water pump, clutch, fan, pulley, everything.
Boy, I liked the sound of that.
As the caravan approached Luther’s exit, we stopped for gas. I took the opportunity to torture-test the car and simulate being caught in traffic. With temperatures in the upper 80s, I parked Sharkey in the sun, turned the air-conditioner on (and with it, the aux fan) to increase the load, and let it idle. The temperature got to perhaps the ¾ mark on the gauge, then stopped. Not bad.
I estimated that even though Luther’s shop was perhaps only a fifteen-minute detour off the highway, by the time we stopped there, I replaced the water pump, and we got on the road again, it would be at least three hours. With my aluminum radiator and electric aux fan, I thought, maybe I’m good. Maybe I should just go for it and drive home. Maybe, even if there is heat and traffic, I’ll be fine.
I took this opinion to the caravan. They all disagreed. I believe it was Andrew Wilson who said—this is a paraphrase, but it catches the spirit of his response—“If you don’t at least stop at Luther’s and pick up the parts in case you need them on the road, you’re an idiot.” I try not to be an idiot. So on to Luther’s it was.
When we got to Luther’s, he already had the parts all laid out. I hesitated for a moment, began to explain how the torture test looked good, and how I was thinking about just grabbing the parts and heading for home. Luther nodded, looked at my cooling system, and gently said, “You do know that your expansion tank is cracked in two places, right? I have an un-cracked one from an E28 we can adapt.”
Okay: Car already safely located in front of a repair shop. Friend offering me parts at cost (“Just ship me a new water pump”). Any tools I don’t have are on the other side of the shop door. Conclusion: I’d be an idiot not to knock this out right now and be done with it. I did the water pump, and left the expansion-tank adaptation to Luther, who cajoled it into hanging there with copper wire.
Between the water-pump replacement and getting the expansion tank to fit, I was short in my three hour estimate. My traveling companions, to their immense credit, hung with me for my second repair of the day. Luther joked that while he couldn’t go to the Vintage, with two E24s, an E9, and a 2002 rolling into his driveway, it was as if the Vintage had come to him.
It was a great time. It was everything this wonderful hobby and this wonderful club are about.
When we were done, we left together and headed to a nearby hotel, ordered in-room pizza, then slept the sleep of the dead. The next day, we made it back to New England without incident (well, largely). And every time we were caught in hot traffic, I thought, right decision.
We stopped at the Charlton Service Plaza on the Mass Pike where our trip began, and said our goodbyes. Jordan (whom, in the last installment, I referred to as the Kid), was effusive. “That was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “And you guys are awesome.” Sometimes edging up on 60 ain’t so bad.
So: What began as an excursion with a few asterisks on it turned into a deeply resonant and satisfying trip. Old friends, new friends, me helping people, people helping me—and Friend of the Club. What more could you ask for when you get into a car and drive it 2,000 miles?
When I got home and unpacked Sharkey, I found feathers under the gas pedal and in the trunk. Paul Wegweiser, although absent from the Vintage, clearly had his minions working for him.
Then, that night, on Facebook, Brad Day posted this:
I had three thoughts. The first was: “You wouldn’t understand; it’s a Vintage thing.” The second was that I guess I need to believe Paul when he says he wasn’t the guy in the chicken suit.
The third was, if this guy was ever at the front of the car, that might explain the broken fan.—Rob Siegel
Rob’s new recent book, Just Needs a Recharge: The Hack MechanicTM Guide to Vintage Air Conditioning, is available here on Amazon. Or you can order personally inscribed copies through Rob’s website: www.robsiegel.com.