It’s been a long strange year for all of us. One non-world-altering but still disconcerting effect of the pandemic is that I haven’t had a look at another car in over a year, and frankly, it’s beginning to drive me a little nutty. (In fairness, I did buy back Zelda, my old Z3, but as much as I like the car, that doesn’t count in terms of wanting a “fresh rattle,” or at least setting eyeballs on another set of curves for an hour.)
And speaking of ogling, with spring now here, a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of car events. As much as I treasured the day trip with the Nor’East 02ers last fall, my rhythm felt broken from missing my annual road trip to the Vintage—the big vintage-BMW soiree in Asheville, North Carolina—last year. Like nearly all large events last spring, the Vintage’s regular May gathering had been cancelled. They tried to keep it alive by rescheduling it for October 2020, but they had to bow to realities and cancel that as well.
As the calendar rolled into 2021, Vintage event coordinator Scott Sturdy sent around an email with new dates of May 20–22. I immediately called the event hotel (the Clarion Inn Asheville Airport) and made reservations, obviously not knowing whether I’d be able to keep them. But with COVID-19 mass vaccinations beginning in early January, I was hopeful.
Then we hit a snag. The vaccine rollout in my home state of Massachusetts was rocky. My wife was part of the Phase 2 schedule (65 and older), but she spent hours online every day for nearly three weeks trying to book an appointment. A date for the Phase 3 opening for 62-year-olds like me hadn’t even been announced yet. I made some estimates for when I might get an appointment, factored in the 28 days between first and second vaccine shots (and the waiting time after the second vaccine for full efficacy), looked at the late May Vintage date on the calendar, and wasn’t optimistic.
I realize that we don’t all think uniformly about this stuff, and that none of it is black and white, but my bottom line is that first, after living like a hermit for a year, I’m not going to blow it in the final stretch; and second, I’m not going to do anything that my wife is uncomfortable with.
When the October 2020 Vintage date was still on, I tried to quantify my risk in attending. I decided that I had no issues with the drive and staying in hotels, and that milling around outside at the Vintage while masked was probably manageable—I could always back away if I didn’t feel safe—but I couldn’t resolve the question about dining with friends. Even if I thought that “I’ll only eat outside at uncrowded venues” was an acceptable answer—and I was far from certain that it was, since you doesn’t always have control over such things—I could tell that the subject gave Maire Anne the willies. So I was, in fact, relieved when the October date got cancelled.
But then the log jam broke. Massachusetts announced Phase 3 (eligibility for 60 years and older) beginning on April 19. I parked myself at the keyboard first thing that morning, and in about 40 minutes I was able to schedule my shot. On March 24 I received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine; my second shot is scheduled for April 22.
CDC guidance says that the vaccine’s 95% efficacy in preventing infection is achieved about two weeks after the second dose. Looking at the calendar, let’s see: compensate for daylight saving, convert to the Mayan calendar, carry the one, and… we’re good! I’m going to the Vintage! Woo-hoo: Road trip! This time, the timing slots in perfectly.
Now I can spend the remaining weeks deciding which car to drive, which is surely the happiest of problems. Hmm: There’s a decently-priced 733i here in New England that I’d go look at, except for space constraints—which are getting worse.
There are nine cars that need to be kept out of the elements (the six vintage BMWs, the Z3 and the M coupe, and the Lotus). Three comfortably fit in my garage in Newton; another one can be squeezed on wheel dollies over the winter, but it leaves no room to work. Four more stay in rented spaces in Fitchburg. When I bought Hampton, the 48,000-mile 2002, and then bought back Zelda, my former Z3, it created a problem last winter that I only survived because I bartered two spaces in a friend’s Garage Majal by helping him sell his 2002tii on Bring a Trailer.
I’ve been renting the four spaces in Fitchburg for years. A few months ago, the landlord warned me that he was thinking of putting the house on the market. Well, it just sold.
My lease on the spaces there runs out at the end of July, and whether the new owner will continue to rent them to me, and at what cost, is unknown. As I’ve written, Maire Anne and I have been looking for a car-centric home, but we haven’t found anything yet to make us upend our lives. We’re hoping that once we’re both fully vaccinated, we can feel relaxed about spending a few weekends in southern Vermont and Western Massachusetts and get boots on the ground where so far we’ve only been searching online.
Absent a move, my calculus is that if I lose Fitchburg, I can get by with the four garage spaces in Newton over the summer and fall (e.g., garaging the 3.0CSi, Bavaria, 2002tii, and Lotus, and letting the other Fitchburg cars (the Z3 M coupe, the Z3, the 635Csi, and Bertha the ratty ’75 2002) sit outside. Of course, if I lose Fitchburg and we don’t move, come winter I have a big problem.
I didn’t include Hampton, my 48,000-mile survivor 2002, in my list above, because, after three episodes of The Hose Clamp Follies, I decided that the time had finally come to submit the car to Bring a Trailer. On the one hand, classic investment advice is not to sell an appreciating asset if you don’t need the money, and as a 48,000-mile survivor 2002, Hampton is clearly an appreciating asset. However, my space issues are only getting worse, and when I bought the car, I always viewed myself as a short-term owner. Due to the car’s low mileage, it’s a car that I try not to drive much anyway, so selling it now takes some of the space pressure off me.
So I completed the photography of Hampton and uploaded everything to BaT. I wrote about the BaT process in the January Roundel as well as for Hagerty here. In the first part of the process, you fill in text fields such as “What makes the car unique?” in BaT’s template. I said, “It’s a very original 48,000-mile survivor car that I bought from the original owner,” and uploaded scans of the service booklet and repair documents. A few days later, BaT contacted me, saying, “Thank you for the submission, and neat 2002! Very cool that this stayed with the original owner so long. Regarding the mileage, from the records you sent over, I see we have records confirming the mileage through 1980, and then again in 2004. Is there any documentation from the ’80s and ’90s, or from 2004 and on?”
It was a perfectly reasonable question: You don’t claim that a car has 48,000 miles without being able to prove it, and the proof from the records is a little thinner than I’d like. There’s the dealer service book showing the 24,000-mile stamp on 10/1980, then nothing until a record from Northumberland Engineering in Southampton showing 46,397 miles in 1/2004, then nothing. So you need to believe that the car accrued 22,397 miles from 1980 through 2004, and that it only accrued about 2,000 additional miles since 2004.
I’d already written up a lengthy full description to send to anyone who asks for it once the car goes on BaT, and it contains a detailed section on how the mileage claim is backed up by the car’s overall condition and the presence of things such as a working door-and-ignition buzzer, intact EGR plumbing, un-crinkled chrome on the door cards, original plug wires and rugs, even the presence of the fragile little plastic covers on the hinges of the vent windows. Further, there are still Southampton stickers on the windows documenting the history of the car as a beach car, and a 2012 New York registration sticker reinforcing the story that the car had been in storage about a decade when I bought it. I also sent a photo of me with the previous owner documenting that I’d actually met her and heard the full story (I spent about eight hours with her and the car). I figured they’d either accept all this or they wouldn’t, and if they wouldn’t, I’d try to sell it myself.
A day later, I got a short response from the curation specialist at BaT that made me smile. It said: “Fair enough. Let’s give this a shot.” They accepted the car. The auction should start to run in three or four weeks.
So, some changes are possibly afoot here. We’ll see what comes down the pike. But, hey, with spring, vaccination, and a road trip coming up, I’m feeling pretty chipper.
I wonder if the a/c in that 733i works?—Rob Siegel
Rob’s upcoming book, The Best Of The Hack Mechanic: 35 years of hacks, kluges, and assorted automotive mayhem from Roundel magazine, will be out in the spring. His other seven books are available here on Amazon. Signed copies can be ordered directly from Rob here.