After the mania of the past month—which included buying Hampton the 48,000-mile ’73 2002 and towing it back from Long Island, preparing Kugel my Chamonix ’72 2002tii for sale, driving Kugel down to Oktoberfest in Greenville, Oktoberfest itself, delivering Kugel to its new owners, getting up to Cincinnati, retrieving Louie my other ’72 tii from storage, finding it had a cracked head, repairing the head with J-B Weld, and road-tripping the car back home—I needed to decompress. Some would regard what I’d just done as a vacation, but it sure didn’t feel that way. When I got back, I felt like I needed a vacation from the vacation.
The first stop on my, er, vacation, was dealing with the aftermath of Louie’s cracked head. But I didn’t. Know why? I was on vacation. I blew right past this stop. (Due to spending my formative years in Amherst, Massachusetts, my brain is paraphrasing Amherst native Emily Dickinson: “Because I could not stop for this cracked head…”) Seriously, I’d planned to get the car home, put in the dead spot in the garage, and yank its head off, but a) I haven’t found a replacement head yet, and b) the car is running fine the way it is. I want to wring all of fall out of it before I decapitate it.
So I began with a quick evaluation of Hampton. I’d gotten the car insured and registered before I left for O’Fest, but hadn’t driven it more than a few miles around town. This time, I took it up onto the highway. I planned to run it just one exit up I-95, but it felt so good that I kept going. I left with five miles on the trip odometer. It read thirty when I got home. In addition to good old fashioned stress-busting recreational motoring, there was strategic purpose to the drive: I wanted to get a sense for whether the car felt ready for a 50-mile trek out to Fitchburg where I store cars. With the calendar rolling over to November, I need to think through which cars will be where over the winter. I’ll want Hampton at the house during the winter months to prepare it for a spring sale, but in the short term, for a few weeks I need the space in the garage.
But one thing that came out of the drive in Hampton was that I could not live one more mile with the rattling door lock rods. When the three nylon grommets holding the ends of the two rods in each door place dry up, crack, and fall out of their holes as they are guaranteed to do after 46 years, the rods rattle in the holes and make it sound like the door is packed with loose coat hangers. As soon as I got back from the drive, I pulled both door cards off and re-grommeted the lock rods. The grommets for the push-down rod and the lock handle are trivial to install, but to access the one for the latch on the side of the door, the Phillips-head screws have to be removed, and with nearly five decades of adhesion, the heads often strip. Fortunately, due to this car’s low mileage and life-long garaging, they unscrewed easily, and I had both sides done in short order.
Next, I planned to go to a Cars and Coffee at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline. I looked forward to taking WARP9, my ’73 E9 3.0CSi, as the car had seen virtually no sunshine or road time all year. If you recall, I’d gone down the rabbit hole rebuilding its air conditioning, but then fall came, and it was a struggle going the last mile and putting the thing back together. I got the console back in, but stopped at the faceplate and radio. 15 years ago, without knowing it, I’d bought a Bavaria faceplate without realizing that it doesn’t really fit correctly, and installed a CD player in it. I’ve regretted the choice for years. Since the faceplate and radio were now both out of the car, I resolved to buy the correct faceplate and a period-correct Blaupunkt and get it looking right (ah how I’ve changed over the years), but haven’t pulled the trigger on buying anything, so all the wires were still hanging out of the center of the console.
Because of both the hanging wiring and a sketchy weather prediction, I went to bed Friday night thinking I’d leave the E9 in the garage and let Hampton strut his stuff at the Cars and Coffee instead, but on Saturday morning, the weather forecast showed brightening skies. Screw it, I thought, and pulled the E9 out of the garage. I piloted it though a modicum of fog and mist to Larz Anderson. True to the forecast, the skies cleared, and when the sun hit the E9’s base coat / clear coat Signal Red paint, it just lit up, as it always does.
I have to say that as much as I love our BMW world and the single-marque events I drive thousands of miles to attend, I really enjoy these flash-mob-style low-impact in-by-eight-out-by-eleven all-makes-all-models Cars and Coffee events. I ogled a beautiful Morgan Plus 8, a Jensen Interceptor, a Vixen TD21 that’d had its BMW M21 turbodiesel replaced by a little Cummins 2.4 that looked like a Borg spaceship, and a mint Citroën SM (the one with the Maserati V6) proudly displaying its Green Hydraulic Spheres of Death under the hood.
The day after the Cars and Coffee, I ran Hampton the 50 miles out to Fitchburg and retrieved Lolita, the ’74 Lotus Europa Twin-Cam Special (a.k.a. the Love that dare not speak its name). I make no apologies for how smitten I am with this psychotic little British bit of a thing that weights 1600 pounds soaking wet. I’d put it out in Fitchburg as part of the run-up to the Oktoberfest road trip, swapping it for Kugel when I needed to do some check-out and sales prep on Kugel, but I now wanted her back at the house, both for autumn leaf-scattering fun as well as for over-winter work. There’s a long list, including my first post-engine-rebuild valve adjustment. This is a shimmed valve train, like the S14 from an E30 M3. I want to do it slowly and carefully.
One of the other issues with the Lotus is that, since it’s an ancient mid-engine’d car, the shift linkage is ridiculously long and sloppy, and getting it into 5th gear has become more and more difficult. When I headed home from Fitchburg and hit the highway, I tried multiple times to get it into 5th, and each time I found the clutch slipping and spinning the engine to 5000 rpm in 3rd instead. When life hands you 3rd gear, take the back roads. Completely unplanned, I wound up having the spectacular foliage-framed fall drive along New England twisties I’ve always wanted to have in this car. It was 90 minutes of sheer bliss.
The next day, since the weather was still gorgeous, I did another shuffle. I currently have one fewer garage space than I need, so one of the cool cars has to sit outside. That’s sure as hell not going to be the E9. Or any of the 2002s. Or the Bavaria. The Lotus is mostly fiberglass, but getting it wet risks angering the Lucas gods. So, going down the list, the task of sitting outside falls to the ’99 Z3 M Coupe and the ’79 635CSi. Certainly the M Coupe is new enough that exposing it to a little weather isn’t a crime against humanity. But the shark is right on the line. I haven’t been driving the shark much the past few years—it’s barely seen air and asphalt since coming home from the Vintage in 2018—so I’d brought it home a few weeks ago to suffer exposure duty as well as for me to have it around, drive it, and decide if I wanted to part with it. I thought that while I had it at home, I could put it up on the lift and photograph the undercarriage, just in case I decided to float it for sale.
As I left the storage area and piloted the shark through the streets of Fitchburg, I was reminded that it’s a far cry from the light snappy cars I prefer. Then, when I got it up onto the highway, that all flipped around to appreciating what an excellent interstate inhaler it is. But the real tipping of the scales was simply having the thing parked in my driveway. Every time I sat at my computer in the dining room and looked out the window, the big coupe was perfectly framed in the driveway, its long silver body broken up and visually lowered by its black stripes. I thought “It’s okay to have one car that I candidly admit I own largely because I love the way it looks, and it’s this one.”
So, not a bad little vacation. I’ll get back to work (whatever that is) next week.—Rob Siegel
Rob’s new book, Resurrecting Bertha: Buying Back Our Wedding Car After 26 Years In Storage, was just released and is available on Amazon here. His other books, including his recent Just Needs a Recharge: The Hack MechanicTM Guide to Vintage Air Conditioning, are available here on Amazon. Or you can order personally-inscribed copies of all of his books through Rob’s website: www.robsiegel.com.