I’m a big believer in pay-it-forward. Oh, to be sure, when I have a car or a part that’s worth real money, I want real money, but for parts that have been sitting in my garage for decades, I’d rather bask in the karmic glow of give-away. Twice I’ve had cleaning exercises in which I’ve told people, “Free 2002/E9 parts come to this address at this time absolutely no shipping” and put stuff in the hands of folks who were thrilled to get it.
The first such event was a few years back when my mother asked me (for the third time) to remove the old parts that had been in her basement and under her porch for over 30 years. More recently, when I bought back Bertha from my friend Alex, it came with a parts hoard including six four-speed transmissions in unknown condition and doors and fenders that had some rust but were not yet unusable. They all found homes—something that never would’ve happened if I’d been seeking money in exchange
And as you give, you shall receive: In the resurrection of both Louie and Bertha, I was blessed to be the recipient of a number of parts sent at no charge by folks, including some I’ve never met, who saw my pleas on Facebook. This is a beautiful thing.
Of course, certain friends, like Paul Wegweiser, Lindsey Brown, and Mario Langston, and I regularly help each other out with parts and tools. And Lance White bailed me and Louie out not once, (producing a clutch master cylinder out of thin air on a Sunday) but twice (taking Louie back to Cincinnati from the Icon exhibit to save me from having to drive him through snow and salt). I’m sure that this camaraderie exists in many automotive communities, but the vintage-BMW CCA world is exceptional in terms of people having your back.
My friend Tom Samuelson and I have a particularly satisfying history of doing each other favors. He’s the one who hauled my ’79 Euro 635CSi home with his truck and trailer after I bought it in Connecticut. A few years later, I sold Tom a Gertrag 245 five-speed I had and didn’t need, for a price under market value. Two years ago he welded up the cracked engine mounting ear on Kugel’s front subframe. Then, a couple of weeks ago, Tom asked me if I had a 2002 steering box, explaining that during the required annual inspection, the great state of Massachusetts had failed his 2002 due to finding play when they jacked up the nose and twisted the front wheels. (I know that inspections have gotten stringent, but I was stunned by this.)
I recalled that I did have a steering box kicking around, although I couldn’t remember where it came from and hadn’t a clue of its condition. I laid my hands on it in a long-unopened box in the storage area off the garage. It seemed tight, so Tom came over and grabbed it.
“What do you want for it?” Tom asked.
“Nothing,” I said. “Besides, I think our account balance still has me in favor deficit.” I laughed as I said it, but Tom balked. “I’m not sure you realize how rare good 2002 steering boxes are,” he warned. “Are you sure one of your 02s doesn’t need it? I’d be more comfortable if I paid you for it.”
“It’s been here forever,” I protested. “I don’t need it—at least I don’t think I do. Please just take it.”
“Okay,” Tom acquiesced. “Anyway, it’ll be a few weeks before I install it, in case you change your mind. But if you ever need another car towed, my truck and trailer are at the ready.”
So, funny story: As I’m sure you know, I’ll go and look at nearly every well-priced 2002 within a few hours’ drive. Most of the time, the cars I find at the shallow swampy end of the price pond are rotted, and I pass, but there’s no way to know unless you go and look. About a year ago, I answered a Craigslist ad for a ’73 2002 for two grand. The ad candidly said, “For parts or needs complete restoration. Not running. HAS RUST and no seats.” Normally that would ward me off, but one of the photos showed what was unmistakably a tii engine.
I contacted the seller and tried to find out whether the car was actually a tii. I quickly learned that the seller didn’t really know all that much about it. I explained to the him that a tii has a different engine, front strut housings, brake booster, calipers, and rear trailing arms, and that the VIN starts with 276. I also explained that there were “faux tii’s” or “tribute tii’s,” and if it was one of these, its value as a parts car depended on how many of those things it had. But he didn’t know. So rather than continue to ask questions, I beat feet to get down to Brockton to look at it myself.
What I found was that it was a 2002 that someone had done a partial tii conversion on. If I remember correctly (and I may not; this was a year ago), I measured the bolt spacing on the calipers and found that it was 3.5 inches, which meant that it had tii calipers, which meant it had the tii front strut housings. I also recall that it had the big tii brake booster (and presumably the master cylinder), but not the boxed rear trailing arms.
I told the seller that folks want a lot of money for used tii front strut housings (they’re no longer available new, and list price on rebuilt ones from BMW is more than $1,500 per side), so even for parts, the car had value. However, it was too far gone for me to consider for resurrection, and I don’t have the time or the inclination to part out cars. I wished him well, and that was that.
Until last week, when I received an e-mail from an address I didn’t recognize. It said, “Hey, Rob, I had put my 2002 on Craigslist and you stopped by my house in Brockton. I am ready to get rid of it if you are interested.” It took me a few moments, but the neurons began to fire, and I remembered the seller and the car.
I responded, “Thanks for contacting me. At the moment, I have eleven cars, and I’m trying to get my 1974 Lotus Europa up and running, which means I have like zero money, so I think I’ll have to pass. If that changes I’ll let you know. Thanks and good luck.”
But then he replied, “It’s free for you. I just want it to go to someone that likes BMWs.”
As Gilda Radner/Emily Litella used to say on Saturday Night Live, “Oh, well, that’s different.” It seemed that this was my karmic pay-it-forward reward for the unbiased information I gave the seller last year about what he had and the value of certain tii parts.
Normally, when I look at a car, even if I pass on it, I take photos and put them in a clearly-labeled folder on my computer that’ll jar my memory when I read the folder name (something like “faux tii in Brockton”) because a) the pics often come in handy for articles, and b) you never know when, years later, someone will contact you about a car you once looked at.
But when I searched on my laptop, all I could find was the Craigslist screen grab below. If you look at the right-most thumbnail, you can almost make out the metal intake plenums of the tii engine.
I have surprisingly little recollection about the specifics of the body, and that’s odd, because I can still tell you exactly where frame rails were rusted on cars I looked at ten years ago. It must’ve been pretty awful for me to not even consider making any offer on the car at all. And I remember absolutely nothing about the car having a blue body and a red replacement hood as it appears in the ad. I do have a vague memory of the engine being left exposed as opposed to well-sealed, but I don’t recall the details. And what I told the seller last year—that I don’t part out cars—is still true.
But free is free, and those grilles, driving lights, and front bumper look pretty appealing, right? I mean, this is one of those Great Automotive Powers That Be tests: You say “no” to a free faux tii and you’ve just thrown away your karmic “tenth haircut is on the house” card.
So I said yes. Wouldn’t you?
Of course, everyone knows that a free BMW is like a free boat, meaning that it doesn’t really exist. At a minimum, you need to come and get it, and then drag its rusty carcass home. Moreover, if it’s not only dead but sitting in someone’s back yard, getting it extracted and onto a trailer and home can be a substantial logistical operation.
Looking at the photo, I recalled that the car was in the part of the seller’s back yard that was on the other side of the house from the driveway. I recalled how, after I agreed to buy Bertha back from my friend Alex last year, I found that the car had flat tires and seized wheels and was marooned in a garage that faced the back yard and had no access to the street, creating a week-long barrier separating “agreed to buy” from “had car in my driveway.”
If you want to move a car quickly and efficiently, you hire a flatbed and they maneuver it into position and drag the car, in whatever condition its in, onto the bed, and then drop it in your driveway—but that costs money. It’s often well worth doing if the car is only a few miles from your house, but the mileage charge quickly adds up, and this car was about 40 miles away.
To do it cheaply yourself with a borrowed truck and a rented U-Haul auto transporter often requires un-seizing brakes, installing wheels with inflated tires, and winching the car up the ramps. It’s usually neither quick nor easy, and I’m not as eager to enter these operations flying solo as I used to be.
I pulsed the seller on these questions. He replied, “It rolls but not that smoothly. One of the tires is flat, but we can add some air. I moved it and it’s under a canopy, but we may need a winch to get it onto the trailer.” Could be worse.
With that as the backdrop, I called my friend Tom, described the situation, and asked if I could take him up on his truck-and-trailer offer. He jumped at the chance to help, and described how his trailer has a winch inside and how it should be easy to back it into place and drag the car into it. This sounded way easier than me trying to get the car onto and then off a taller rented U-Haul transporter by myself.
So that’s where things are. Tom and I are heading over there on Sunday to pick up the car. I’ll know more next week. Will it be it the parts car I swore I wouldn’t have on my property, or will it become yet another in a long line of 2002s I’ve resurrected? When I know, so will you.
I was offered a free faux tii. I said yes. I passed the test. We’ll soon see what class I’m actually enrolled in.—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.