Last week I wrote about putting Hampton, the 48,000-mile ’73 2002, back in storage for a bit, and swapping it for Louie, the ’73 tii that’s the subject of my book Ran When Parked. I described how even though Hampton is the prettier 99-and-44/100% rust-free car, its low mileage makes me hesitant to drive it, and its bone-stock nature underwhelms me a bit when I do.
In contrast, I’m not in the least afraid of using Louie, and the car’s ineffable tii vibe, combined with its upgraded suspension (H&R lowering springs, Bilstein HDs, and thicker sway bars) make it a joy to own and drive.
A few days after I submitted that piece, Maire Anne and I were getting pandemic isolation fever and wanted to get out of the house, so we went to the Tower Hill Botanic Garden out in Boylston, about a 45-minute drive out toward central Massachusetts. Plants in general and Botanic gardens in particular aren’t really my thing—when I was a kid growing up on Long Island and my parents said we were going to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens for the day, I would make such a sad face—but hey, a walk through the woods with my wife, pretty colors, and an excuse to drive Louie? I’m in.
So we drove out to Boylston. It was mostly highway, but the last leg was scenic leafy roads. I wasn’t hard on Louie—corner-carving isn’t Maire Anne’s thing—but the beautiful early September day, being with my lovely wife, the drive in the car, and the pretty flowers set all right with the world for a few hours.
After leaving the botanic gardens and before getting back on the Interstate, we stopped at a farm stand to pick up some corn. We saw that they had an ice-cream window, so we indulged ourselves with something cold and sweet after the walk, and as we were sitting eating our ice cream in an appropriately socially-distant fashion at a picnic table not far from Louie, we noticed that the car was attracting a bit of attention. It wasn’t the only cool car in the lot—I was actually ogling a powder-blue ’64 Galaxie convertible with whitewalls that had just pulled in (there’s a car to go out for ice cream in)—but I could see two 60-something guys pointing at Louie, and overheard snippets of “the one I had” stories.
Then a car with three people in it drove past us. The youngest of the three cried out, “Dad, that’s a 2002!” The dad made a U-turn and drove back to where we were. The three got out and looked at Louie.
The father, a guy maybe in his mid-40s, and I chatted. He said that he’d owned a round-taillight 02 in the ’90s that looked very similar, also Agave (green) with basketweave wheels, except his were silver. I explained that in the ’90s, silver basketweaves might have been dedicated thirteen-inch 2002 wheels or thirteen-inch E21 320i wheels that sat a little further outboard, or fourteen-inch wheels from an E30, although the latter were still pricey in the ’90s. I said that the gold ‘weaves on my car were those same E30 wheels, except the gold ones came only on late E30 convertibles, and that I was still on the line regarding whether they were too blingy for this car.
The fellow said, with the misty nostalgia in his eyes one gets when one sees a car that one loved and sold, that it must be cool owning the 2002 and being able to pull it out and drive it on such a beautiful early fall day. I agreed that, yes, it certainly didn’t suck—but added that, as I’m sure he understood, keeping an older car like this is a commitment. This started a conversation about the challenges of owning vintage cars in the New England climate. He said that, back in the 90s, he’d foolishly used his 2002 as a daily driver, so it got reduced to rust.
I nodded sympathetically and said something like, “I write about this sort of thing. Vintage cars need to be kept garaged. It doesn’t matter if it’s a high-dollar Italian exotic, a 2002, or a Beetle; if you don’t keep it dry, you’ll kill it. So you need something else as a daily driver. And a garage. And most people, when they’re young, can’t afford to garage a fair-weather car. So the cars get killed. Or get sold. Or get killed, then sold.”
“You’re a writer?” he asked, mentally spooling back and processing the first part of the monologue. Before I really had the chance to answer, he looked again at Louie. Something clicked, and his eyes went a little wide. “Is this the car from Ran When Parked?” he asked.
I laughed with surprise. “Yeah, this is Louie, wearing different wheels.” (Louie is shod with steelies on the cover of the book.)
“This is Louie,” he said, mostly to himself, not quite believing it. “Wow. And you’re that guy.”
“Yeah,” I said, “on a good day I’m that guy. But really, I’m just like any other car guy—except that I never shut up.”
As we talked more, I learned that he had been a BMW CCA member back in the day. I told him how to find these BimmerLife articles online. I asked how he’d found Ran When Parked. He couldn’t remember, but said that the book’s story—the idea of finding a vintage car you want that happens to be in a distant zip code, buying it sight-unseen, swooping in, getting it running, and road-tripping it home—resonated with him to the point that he’d finished the book in a couple of sittings.
We talked about 2002 values and how it’s getting more and more difficult to find well-priced solid cars. Finally, he said that all this is clearly rubbing off on his son; in addition to his yelling, “Dad, that’s a 2002,” he was also now reading ads on Bring a Trailer.
When they finished their ice cream, we said our goodbyes, and they got in their car and headed off. I smiled and waved as I saw the son, who had barely said a word during all of this, staring at Louie for as long as it was within sight.
When Louie was in the “Icon” exhibit at the BMW CCA Foundation a couple of years ago, the synopsis card on the stand in front of the car was titled “The Power Of Community” and talked about how the purchase, resurrection, and road trip of Louie were all enabled by a web of contacts, mostly within the BMW CCA, with people I’d either never met, or at most, had a ten-minute conversation with once at the Vintage. It’s gratifying to know that Louie is still playing the role of ambassador of 2002 goodwill.
But I’m not sure if I should be jealous of the fact that I can travel unrecognized, but my car can’t.—Rob Siegel
Rob’s most recent book, Resurrecting Bertha: Buying Back Our Wedding Car After 26 Years In Storage, is available here. on Amazon. His other books, including 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. His new book, The Lotus Chronicles, will be available in September.