Oktoberfest 2018: There And Back Again

Last week I talked about my attempt to resurrect Bertha sufficiently to drive her to Oktoberfest, and taking it right down to the wire. When the attempt failed, I had essentially zero recovery time—and thus I found myself hastily packing Kugel, my Chamonix ’72 tii, the night before my departure.

My packing for a road trip is normally a thoughtful and well-organized affair. For example, if I’m going to pack a spare water pump (and why wouldn’t I?), I also pack everything needed to change that water pump in a CVS parking lot, including two gallons of pre-mixed antifreeze, RTV, a single-edged razor blade to scrape off the old gasket, and, if I have the room, a catch basin for the old antifreeze.

In contrast, my O’Fest packing effort consisted of basically taking the nearest 50 pounds of crap in my garage and throwing it in Kugel’s trunk.

Fortunately, Kugel is a very well-sorted car, and on the 600-mile drive down to Pittsburgh, I only had two problems. The first was that the car was running a little lean, at least as measured and reported by the air-fuel meter I installed a few years back. (Air-fuel meters are great for dialing in a tii, enabling you to futz with the so-called “verboten” screw so you can get the mixture in the area of a 13.5:1 air/fuel ratio at wide-open throttle, taking careful notes each time you tweak it by a quarter turn. Once you’ve done that, to set the mixture at partial throttle, you monkey with the pinch point on the throttle shaft that comes down from the “tuna can.”)

I’ve played with this adjustment before, but on the way to O’Fest, on the long hillclimbs in Pennsylvania, the air/fuel meter was reporting the car running as lean as 15.5:1, which, considering the load the car was under, made me wince. So at one point I stopped, popped the lid off the tuna can, loosened the two 10-mm bolts at the pinch point, and rotated the half-moon cam just slightly to the left. This made the mixture richer, dropping the air-fuel meter’s reading to about 15:1 under load, which made me feel better. (The car probably thought, “He’s stopping to futz with me for this?“)

Even after tweaking the mixture a little richer, though, the car still felt light on power going up hills. I made a note to check the ignition timing when there was a convenient shady location in which to do so.

It’s not bragging if it’s true.

The other minor hiccup involved the air-conditioning. Kugel’s a/c was my laboratory for seeing how cold I could get the air in a 2002 if I threw absolutely everything at it; It not only has the obligatory rotary-style compressor, big parallel-flow condenser, and big fan, it also is charged up with good old-fashioned Freon R12. The system produces meat-hanging 32-degree vent temperatures.

So I was winging along in the tii across Pennsylvania, the air so cold that it nearly made my face hurt, livin’ the dream, when, about 70 miles from Pittsburgh, I noticed that the air flow had become anemic. It was still cold, but the amount of air had dropped drastically. Was the blower motor dying? And then I looked through the vents of the a/c evaporator assembly, and inside, it was white.

I realized that I was looking at a block of ice.

The evaporator core had frozen up! This isn’t supposed to happen, as the temperature probe is supposed to sense this and switch off the compressor, but there it was. So I had to shut off the a/c for most of the last 70 miles and wait for the iced-up evaporator to thaw. I suppose it was a happy problem to have.

The drive itself was a joy. When I hit I-80 south of Wilkes-Barre and headed west, I remembered it from my trip to MidAmerica 02Fest in Kugel a few years back. “This is the stretch,” I recalled, “where Americans know how to put the go-pedal down.” If you’re not going to drive 80 mph at least some of the time when the rest of the left lane already is, why do you even own a tii?

If you’ve never been to Pittsburgh, go. It’s a beautiful city (read Satch’s End Piece in the July Roundel). But the tangle of rivers, bridges, and hills does make it challenging for the uninitiated. These days, I resolutely follow the smartphone app Waze wherever it tells me to go, but this time it really outdid itself. It dropped me into Pittsburgh at 4:20 in the afternoon using a route on which I only encountered traffic for the last two miles. All bow to Waze!

When I arrived at the Sheraton at Station Square in Pittsburgh, there was no question that it was the right hotel, as there were three 507s parked out front. But perhaps there was some other hotel in Pittsburgh that just happened to have, you know, six million dollars’ worth of vintage BMWs parked out front. No? I suppose not.

Pro tip: This is how you know you’re in the right place for Oktoberfest.

My departure had been delayed a day due to my attending the funeral of the mother of my best friend in junior high school, so I missed Monday’s welcome dinner and the opportunity to sell books in the vendor area, but as soon as I hit the hotel lobby, I found myself surrounded by old friends and kind CCA members who thanked me for my 30-plus years of Roundel columns (such compliments, for the record, never, ever, EVER get old). I’d particularly like to thank a gentleman named Miles who’d read my July column about my father’s tools and consoled me over the loss of the Heathkit amplifier my father built but one of my kids accidentally discarded.

On Wednesday morning, I headed out for the concours at Heinz Stadium, a spectacular location near where Pittsburgh’s three rivers—the Ohio, the Allegheny, and the Monongahela—come together. (Well, actually, the Allegheny and the Monongahela come together; that junction is the beginning of the Ohio.) The high-dollar cars that were actually competing in the concours were up near the building, but the rest of us unwashed rabble (the “display class”) were down on the water—and by “on the water” I mean practically in the water.  Concours worker Lou Ann Shirk advised that I take a piece of driftwood and block one of my rear wheels. I couldn’t tell if she was kidding or not, but I complied;it wasn’t the kind of thing I wanted to be wrong about.

2002s at Three Rivers: We wanted to be ON the water, but not IN the water.

Among the lovely display-class cars was Ben Thongsai’s gem, the 1971 BMW 2002tii that was used as the U.S. EPA test car. It’s got a Euro VIN but is outfitted largely as a U.S.-spec car. And it’s got—wait for it—42,000 miles on it. Ben rarely brings it out, but there it was, one of the rarest and potentially most valuable tiis in the country, several cars over from mine, just another display-class car. Unbelievable.

Ben Thongsai brought his incredible 42,000-mile tii EPA test car.

After we’d been at the display-class location for about an hour, a man and a woman kayaked up to where the cars were parked and asked us what was going on. I explained about BMW CCA Oktoberfest, how these cars were BMW 2002s, and how this O’Fest was commemorating the 50th year since their production began. The couple said that the car’s poppy 1970s colors looked absolutely spectacular from out on the water. I asked them if it might be possible to give them my phone and have them snap a few pictures. “I’ll just use mine,” the woman said. “It’s already in a waterproof enclosure. Just tell me your e-mail address and I’ll send them to you.” Sure enough, that evening, some lovely photos showed up in my in-box.

The 2002’s M&M colors looked great as seen from a kayak. (photo by Meghan Roman)

Although I enjoyed the egalitarian vibe in the almost literal waters of the display class, the pricey real estate was up near the stadium. It isn’t often that you get to compare the 507’s influence on the heritage-based design of the Z8 using an actual 507 and an actual Z8, but it was that kind of an event.

Fat kidneys? I got yer fat kidneys right here, pal. You didn’t think YOU invented them, did you? Damn kid. Get off my lawn!

On both Wednesday and Thursday, I was privileged to be part of a 2002 question-and-answer session chaired by my old friend from my Austin days, Terry Sayther. I don’t see Terry very often, so it was an absolute joy to not only hang out with him, but to do so in a peer-to-peer professional setting. I reminded Terry that we first met in Austin in 1982 when I was trying to rebuild the transmission in my first 2002, and had parked Maire Anne’s Volkswagen bus with the 2002’s transmission inside it outside his shop and kept running inside, asking to borrow special tools. “Why you let me get away with that, I never knew,” I said.

Terry replied, “Even then, I was very impressed with you. You had absolutely no fear, and you saw things through.” You could’ve knocked me over with a feather.

My days of track driving are long behind me, so I didn’t do any of Oktoberfest’s high-performance driving events. Instead, on Thursday, I drove out to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s iconic Kaufman house, Fallingwater; tours there had been organized as part of the Oktoberfest schedule. I met my driving group at the appointed hour near the hotel, and was handed a set of printed directions. As a lone driver, the odds of my being able to follow dozens of lines of printed directions that say things like “go 7/8 of a mile and turn right” are nearly zero, so I latched onto T. Ladsen Webb and Kristin Webb in their M3 convertible, knowing that I wanted to follow the car with the married people in it, the one that had the wife reading the directions.

At one point, in a stretch of spirited driving, I found myself behind Satch Carson in his to-die-for Z8. As the road became twisty, the space between the cars contracted, and I came uncomfortably close to the Z8’s high-dollar butt. I imagined the headline: Former Automotive Writer Crashes Into Ex-Editor’s Retirement Plan, and put some distance between me and that alternate future.

I won’t gush endlessly about Fallingwater, but I could. There’s the danger of failed expectations in meeting your heroes, or in seeing natural or man-made structures you regard as iconic. Instead, I was blown away; Fallingwater is so much more than simply a house built on a waterfall. The degree to which the interior design is a unified whole, with unexpected details everywhere you look, moved me nearly to tears. Long road trips in fumy vintage cars aren’t Maire Anne’s thing, so she didn’t accompany me to Pittsburgh, but this was one of those times that I really wished my wife was with me to share the experience.

Add Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater to the list of things that are not overrated.

On Saturday, I went to the BMW Corral at the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix (PVGP). It was beastly hot and humid. I tried to keep close to my car so that I could sell the books I had arrayed on the hood, but at regular intervals I needed to seek the shade of the BMW CCA hospitality tent. During one such sojourn, I ran into former Bimmer magazine editor and current Roundel writer Jackie Jouret, and we queued up in the lunch line for some barbecue. We began having a conversation that was quite animated. The gentleman in line in front of us recognized me, mistook our degree of animation for the intimacy of a married couple, looked at Jackie, and said, “So you’re the lucky lady.”

The look on Jackie’s face was priceless. “Yeah,” I said, “lucky she’s not married to me!

Although I’m not really a motorsports guy, watching the PVGP was very compelling. The BMW Corral was located right where a long uphill straightaway ends at a right-hand near-hairpin turn. Seeing cars flying up the hill with the hammer down, their drivers late-apexing the turn and booting into the corner with all the adrenaline and upper body strength they had, was pretty addictive. The older and more rickety the car was (MG TC, for example), the more compelling it was. And when the 2002 group came through, seeing 26 2002s going at it made my round taillights swell.

“Not a motorsports guy” was pretty captivated by the PVGP. But damn, it was hot.

When I returned to the hotel from the PVGP, I found myself parked in a shady space, and took the opportunity to check Kugel’s ignition timing. According to the timing light, I had only 27 degrees of total advance, a good five degrees fewer than even a conservatively-timed tii should have. No wonder it felt low on power! I reset it to a total advance of 32 degrees, which is a reasonable baseline.

Well, THAT will certainly transfer some exhaust resonance to the body of the car.

Sunday’s drive home was blissfully uneventful. With the properly advanced timing, Kugel’s power on hills felt much better. The only issues were some annoying resonances that gradually became almost comically loud. Eventually I crawled under the car and found that one of the rubber exhaust hangers had failed, causing the exhaust to intermittently contact the rear subframe. In addition, the heat shield around the resonator had broken loose. I replaced the rubber hanger and put a large hose clamp around the heat shield, and the car became quieter than it had been in months.

So: a great trip. A fabulous Oktoberfest. Any sting from Bertha’s absence was salved by Kugel’s 32-degree vent temperatures. And Kugel actually came home running better than when we left.

But next time, Bertha shall not be denied.—Rob Siegel

Rob’s new book, Just Needs a Recharge: The Hack MechanicTM Guide to Vintage Air Conditioning, is available here on Amazon. His previous book Ran When Parked is available here. Or you can order personally inscribed copies of all of his books through Rob’s website: www.robsiegel.com.

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