Bertha and Louie

It was just two weeks ago that I wrote a positively giddy piece explaining how getting my first COVID-19 vaccine and seeing how the date for the second shot enabled travel to the Vintage—the big vintage-BMW soiree in Asheville, North Carolina—in late May made me almost feel the light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel shining on my face. So, like many of you on the Vintage’s mailing list, I was stunned to receive the email from Vintage fest-meister Scott Sturdy and learn that the Vintage will not occur the weekend of May 18 after all.

Sturdy’s email says, “Last week I was talking with my contact at Hot Springs Resort and Spa [where the actual 600-car Saturday event is held], and they said that the mayor of Hot Springs—and also the spa’s insurance provider—are hesitant about any large event in May. The only thing I could do was reschedule the Vintage… again. There were not many fall dates to pick from, but they did have September 18 available. Soooooo, the Vintage 2021 is officially rescheduled to September 16–18, 2021. If you are upset by this news, just realize that I am twice as upset as you.” (Note that the BMW CCA Foundation is still hosting the final day of its “Genesis” event on Friday May 21st; click here for more information.)

Having the road trip to the Vintage unexpectedly yanked left me reeling. To salve the wound, I decided to follow up on a Facebook post I saw on the Nor’East 02ers page regarding a spring drive. As I’ve written before, the Nor’East 02ers is a CCA-sympathizing—but not directly CCA-affiliated—group with a delightfully accommodating motto: “If you can drive it, you’re in!” There are no dues or meetings—just a mailing list, a Facebook page, a few seasonal drives, and the wonderful knowledge that there are folks in your area who share your passion and have your back.

As it happened, the spring-drive-related post I saw was spontaneous even by NE02er standards, sinceit wasn’t even coming from the group’s “leaders.” Instead, it was one guy—Kevin Whalen—asking, “Anyone interested in a South Shore Massachusetts driving tour on Saturday, April 10? Meet in Hingham at 8:00 a.m., take coastal roads through Cohasset, Marshfield, Duxbury, end in Plymouth. Then clean the carbon out on Route 3 northbound in early afternoon. I’m happy to host/coordinate if there’s interest. I know you’re all dying to wake your cars from winter slumber. Who’s in?”

Suddenly, it was clear that this was the thing to hose off the Vintage three-postponement blues.

However, I didn’t have a 2002 here at the house. Well, that’s not true: I have Hampton, the 48,000-mile survivor car that’s about to go live on Bring a Trailer, possibly within the week. But rightly or wrongly, the idea of taking the car on a spirited drive so close to its auction date raised risk flags with me. The cars I’d usually take—Louie the ’72 tii with the recently-updated suspension, and Bertha the hopped-up ’75 with the Weber 40DCOEs and hot cam—have both been sitting out in my storage spaces in Fitchburg all winter. Clearly, the thing to do was to run the Lotus out to Fitchburg and grab one of the 2002s.

After all, the Lotus had been here at the house all winter. I had just completed yet another attempt at dialing in the car’s fussy rear alignment, and it was time to turn that page and give other cars some garage and seat time. Plus, I hadn’t been out to Fitchburg since late fall. In addition to the two 2002s, the Bavaria and the ’79 Euro 635CSi are out there, and I looked forward to giving them each a quick run up to the New Hampshire border and back to spin the flat spots out of the tires.

The Lotus is banished to the ‘burg for a bit.

I began with Bertha. This ratty beast that I moved back with us from Austin 1984, turned into a tribute 2002ti, daily-drove in Boston for four years, sold to my friend Alex in 1988, bought back in horribly deteriorated condition in 2018, resurrected, and drove to the Vintage in 2019 is always a loud-and-proud guilty pleasure to drive. The spin from Fitchburg through Ashby and across the state line was glorious.

Bertha always looks so joyfully anarchic.

I moved on to Louie the ’72 tii, figuring that I’d drive him before subjecting myself to his swaggering M30-equipped big brothers, but when I rolled the cover off, I immediately noticed that the inspection sticker had expired in October (yes, I do have an Excel file with the month of the stickers of all twelve cars in it, but I hadn’t checked it because shut up). This wasn’t really that big of a deal, since there are inspection stations in Fitchburg. However, when I fired up the car, I immediately heard an exhaust leak under the center, and there was little chance that the car would pass inspection that way.

I skooched under the running car and looked at the joint between the headpipe and the resonator. It wasn’t physically separated, but I could feel hot exhaust gas on my hand, so there was no doubt that this was the source of the leak.

Can’t hide that.

And then I remembered: After my initial resurrection of Louie for the whole Ran When Parked adventure in early 2017, I did another round of work prior to driving the car to the Vintage that spring, and replaced the exhaust with an Ansa non-sport resonator and muffler, but re-used the car’s headpipe, since it appeared completely solid. The only problem was that the flare on the Ansa resonator was a bit larger than the one on the headpipe it needed to mate to, and the metal sealing donut that sits between them was swallowed without doing the flare-to-flare sealing it’s supposed to.

At the time, I did kind of a silly kluge and simply inserted two donuts, carefully tightening the three nuts and bolts while keeping the two donuts square against each other and centered in the flares. It did provide a seal, and was fine for nearly four years. Why it suddenly began leaking is unknown. Maybe it had gradually grown louder last year and I hadn’t noticed it. Or maybe I lost and then regained my hearing.

I thought that I’d stashed a floor jack and stands in Fitchburg to deal with things like this, but I apparently was mistaken. I did have my small road-trip tool box with me, so I took a 12-mm and a 13-mm wrench, jammed my body under the car, loosened the flange, and tried to re-align the donuts, but was not successful.

Barely accessible. I wanted my lift. Or at least a floor jack and stands.

As much as I hated to drive the car the 50 miles back home with a blazingly expired inspection sticker (being from last year, it was ticket-my-butt yellow as opposed to the red 2021 stickers), the lure of being able to do this while sitting upright under the car on my mid-rise lift instead of wedged under it in an unlit storage bay was irresistible. Fortunately, I made it home without engaging law enforcement.

I put the car up on the mid-rise, disassembled the flange, pulled both of the sealing rings out, and then recalled another crucial piece of history: After I’d assembled it this way four years ago, I researched and found a slightly larger sealing ring you can use that makes up the difference between the different-sized stock and Ansa flares. I had a hunch that I’d probably bought it and stashed it for next time.

I looked in my new-uninstalled-parts box, and sure enough, there it was. I installed and had a tightly sealed exhaust in no time.

Snug and quiet!

I did a quick check-out of the rest of the inspection-necessary systems, found them all compliant, then snuck the car down to the service station that I usually use for inspections. The gentleman who works the register shook his head. “The state inspection system has been down all week,” he said. “Try again Monday.”

It’s not that I didn’t believe him, but I went to another station, and was told the same thing.

“Damn,” I said. “The car’s been in storage since last fall. I was hoping to use it tomorrow for a pleasure drive.”

“Go ahead and use it,” the gentleman said. “Because no one can get an inspection, police aren’t checking stickers right now.”

“Is that official?” I asked.

He nodded. “You can find it online.”

I drove home and looked it up. Not surprisingly, it’s not that simple: The inspection systems are currently down because of a malware attack, and the state isn’t done testing the repaired system. The Massachusetts motor-vehicle-registry website says that they have “advised law enforcement that compliance with the safety/emissions inspection requirement has not been possible since March 30,” and stated that “Motor vehicles with expired inspection stickers from March 2021 (‘3’ sticker on windshield) should be granted until April 30, 2021, to obtain an inspection.” So the grace period is only for March stickers, not a blanket get-out-of-expired-inspection-jail-free card—and even for March, it doesn’t even carry the force of law.

So what’s a guy with three 2002s to do? I could drive back out to Fitchburg and get Bertha, who is inspected. I could risk a ticket with Louie, maybe scrape the old sticker off so at least it’s not screaming LOOK AT ME I’M WEARING LAST YEAR’S YELLOW STICKER AND I’M NOT AFRAID TO SHOW IT. Or I could not treat Hampton (who is also sticker-compliant) like such a prima donna and instead just drive him like you’re supposed to do with a 2002. It actually would be a fitting final chapter for the car to get a decent final drive and a chance to commune with other 2002s after sitting in a barn in Bridgehampton for ten years.

Hmm. The living hell that is my life continues unabated. Tune in next week?—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 seven other books are all available on Amazon, and signed copies can be ordered directly from Rob here.

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