The E36 Is Alive!

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Finally, Cassie, my beloved but overly ostracized 1996 328i, has found her freedom. Just in case you have not been following my escapades this year, there is an enormous thirty-foot dumpster sitting in my driveway. It will remain there until The Great Basement Project of 2018 and Possibly Beyond concludes (the name keeps growing along with the amount of money and months required to finish the project). Saying the dumpster is “sitting” in the driveway is much like saying that the Great Wall is just sitting on the northern border of China; that dumpster is a nigh impenetrable barrier that keeps the daily drivers from parking in the garage and the fun car from escaping. Having been an involuntary inhabitant since last autumn, Cassie’s imprisonment had to end. Time to get out the tape measure.

You may be asking, “Why free the car now, after so many months have already passed?” Well, the motivation was simple: the local European Auto Show was scheduled for that weekend, and I wanted to go in my European car. The show also attracts some fine machinery—and often a smattering of good ol’ BMW Car Club friends. But first, the car needed to be extracted.

To start, I measured the car to check the length, then measured the space in the driveway to see what I was up against. Cassie is stored in a third-bay with a single and fairly narrow garage door as the only viable exit. With the dumpster on the other side of the driveway blocking a good two-thirds of the area directly behind the car, I would have to cut the angle perfectly to prevent shredding the side of my ride. No pressure then.

It turns out that an E36 (sedan or coupe, actually, even if the hood lengths are different) is one-hundred SEVENTY-four inches long. I emphasize the “seventy,” as I initially wrote down one-hundred FIFTY-four, then measured the distance from the garage to the dumpster—are you freakin’ kidding me?! I could have easily got this thing out with plenty of clearance! Luckily, rational thought prevailed, and I decided to measure twice before backing out the car. And it turns out that a nearly two-foot difference can be pretty important. Wow, this is going to be really, really close. Maximum effort.

I cannot recall ever spending so much energy and concentration trying to move my car little more than fifty feet. The mental strain and stress of preventing a major paint catastrophe was every bit as difficult as whipping a car through Madness at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in the pouring rain on tires with questionable tread depth. It’s a good thing that I had a spotter! Unfortunately, after my wife and son took off to run errands, only my four-year-old daughter was left to help me extricate the car. “Okay, Winnie, if the car gets too close to that big metal thing, holler loud enough that I can hear you. Got it?”

Luckily, my daughter is not known for being quiet, and it turns out that she has quite solid spatial awareness, too. After a few failed attempts, I was getting frustrated and made a more determined run at clearing the dumpster only to hear an ear-splitting, “Daddy, you are going to hit it!” Yup, she was right, and I probably owe her a decent upgrade when she gets her first car, assuming that she ever remembers her heroics. (And, yea, now that I think about it, I probably shouldn’t be documenting this in writing.)

The good news is that after an exhausting hour consisting of lots of experimenting, some swearing, and a minor amount of manic cackling—but no sci-fi lightning that I am aware of—Cassie was alive and ready to be set out into the world! Helper Winnie hopped into the back of the car, strapped into the booster seat (which is more like a mini racing seat, really), and we were ready to head off to the European Auto Show.

“Daddy, your car is very dirty.” Right, the ridiculously thick layer of dust deposited over time was still coating the outside of the car—and there is absolutely zero picture evidence of my neglect, and I like that way. But the situation got worse, as the outdoor hose faucet was not turned on, and the water on-off toggle in the basement was pretty much inaccessible. Off to the do-it-yourself car wash, I suppose… but I had no cash, so to the ATM first. And then, finally, the ordeal of reviving my car was complete, and my daughter and I could drive to the European Auto Show!

Do you know that one friend that no matter how long it’s been since you’ve met up, it’s like you never spent a minute apart? That’s the feeling I get every time I take my car, Cassie, out for the first time each year—even if it’s, ahem, in July. Having been driving almost exclusively turbocharged cars lately, the dearth of low-down torque required few minutes to recalibrate my expectations, but the top-end rush and throttle-response were just as I remembered: exhilarating and immediate. The steering is on another level to most modern BMWs, too, allowing pinpoint accuracy and providing all sorts of wonderful feedback without being fatiguing. Sure, copious amounts of caster angle, enabled by aftermarket parts helps, but the soon-to-be-old-school E36 chassis represents a rather sweet spot in the long history of BMW.

We really couldn’t have asked for better weather: sunny, seventy-five, a few scattered fluffy clouds, and a gentle breeze. Or better people: several Car Club members were in attendance, including Cindy and Tim Wing. Cindy had her brilliant ’73 2002tii on display, which brought back many fond memories of learning to drive a stick shift in my dad’s ’71—even the color is a match. I also ran into one of my original HPDE instructors, Craig Danielson, from years past. He helped me brave Mid-Ohio in some nasty raining, sleeting, windy weather. If I recall correctly, that otherwise miserable Sunday was the day that I learned to love driving fast in the wet—thanks again, Craig!

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Cindy Wing stands next to her exquisite 1973 2002tii.

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That’s a clean engine bay for a forty-five year old car.

After refueling our bodies with copious amounts of ice cream, my daughter and I met up with my good buddy, Adam (the kind gentleman that shared his 328xi with me earlier this year), and we soaked up the sights. We took an excessive amount of pictures to capture the highlights of the show, though upon reviewing them, I have a sneaking suspicion that Winnie will eventually stray from the BMW brand. I mean, I understand a first-car upgrade is due her way, but I don’t think that includes any Prancing Horses!

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Would someone please tell my daughter not to get too comfortable next to the Ferrari!

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VW rarities were roaming the grounds, too.

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No European Auto Show would be complete without Porsche.

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I have always wanted a roadster….

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An Alpina Z8 would look lovely in the garage, too!

The only last challenge of the weekend was getting Cassie back into the garage. There was no way I was going to lock her back in that single-bay, so I went with a more creative solution, even if the inefficient use of space would make any respectable engineer cringe. Her late reward is a garage nearly all to herself, at least now that much of the basement accoutrements have moved downstairs.

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With some creativity, I can finally park Cassie in a manner that lets her out of the garage.

One of these days, I will gather the courage to add up all of the costs from The Great Basement Project of 2018 and Possibly Beyond and see what automobile I could have bought instead (any sensible automotive nut would do the same!). Making life more comfortable for my family and me is certainly well worth it, but couldn’t we all be comfortable in a nice Bimmer, too? Oh, wait… my significant other has corrected me. That should be which car my wife and I could have bought. Her hard-earned dollars went into the basement, too, even if she did get to buy the last new car. Just sayin’, honey, it’s my turn next. Whatever it could have been, I am sure it would be fast and fun. Until then, I have my Cassie, and we’ll be heading to as many auto shows together as we can!—Chris Doersen

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