Hampton

Two weeks ago I wrote about driving the Lotus out to Fitchburg to swap it for Louie (my ’72 2002tii) and going on a Nor’East 02ers spring drive. I flirted with taking Hampton instead—that’s the 49,000-mile ’73 2002 that was about to go up on Bring a Trailer—thinking that Hampton, who’d spent a decade in a barn before I purchased and revived him, and whom I’ve driven very little, would probably enjoy frolicking with his 2002 friends.

Now, normally-relaxed Hack-Buddha me can get surprisingly preoccupied over very small things, and the night before the Nor’East 02er drive, I slept poorly, obsessing about which car I should take. It was a classic left brain/right brain schism, with the rational risk-averse side of my wetware whispering, “Don’t even think about taking that car; with the auction about to run, if it dies or gets hit, you’ll create a big problem for yourself,” and the more lyrical side singing, “But it’s a much better ending to the story of your time with the car!”

I didn’t make the decision until I began pulling cars out of the garage that morning. Louie was positioned nearest the door. I backed that one out onto the street, thought about parking it and pulling out Hampton, but instead just kept driving. So Louie it was.

The drive was great; kudos to Kevin Whalen for putting it together and planning the lovely coastal South Shore route (he joked that it’s our mini-version of Monterey’s Seventeen-Mile Drive). I was certainly more relaxed driving Louie than I would’ve been with Hampton.

Starting in Hingham, we headed to Duxbury and drove across the Powder Point Bridge that connects the cape section of Duxbury Beach to the mainland. We then wound south along the coast to Plymouth and grabbed lunch at the Lobster Hut. Sitting outside, overlooking Plymouth harbor and eating lobster rolls with other car people, it felt like an antidepressant was washing over me. I thought, “Man, I need to do more of this sort of thing.”

Twelve tasty 02s are silhouetted against a cloudy sky at the parking lot of Duxbury Beach at the end of the Powder Point Bridge.

I sat at a table with some folks who own some fairly high-dollar cars, at least by my standards (Kevin actually owns the 1965 3200CS that’s in the Genesis exhibit at the BMW CCA Foundation Museum). The conversation turned to the impending auction for Hampton. The opinion of those at the table was that I was on a glide path to make some serious coin, at least by my bottom-feeding standards. Finally, home Louie and I went, rejuvenated by a few carefree hours with people and their 2002s in the great outdoors.

As I wrote last week, when the auction for Hampton went live on BaT, it hit $20,000 within about fifteen minutes, and soon after that I was the beneficiary of a comment by the original owner’s brother saying that my claims of the car’s provenance and mileage were true. Then there was a comment from 2002 expert Delia Wolfe saying that my spin of the car as a 49,000-mile original survivor passed muster with her. Even Satch chimed in, blessing the combination of the car and me as a trouble-free package (since when have I ever been trouble-free?). As my friend Scott Aaron said, you couldn’t ask for a better set of tailwinds.

But then the wind died—and the auction stalled. No other bids came in until six minutes before the close. The offers inched up to $25,000, short of the reserve. Granted, $25,000 is a fair chunk of change, but I was expecting more.

I was stunned.

Hampton

So, what was it? Is Tuesday at 2:10 p.m. just a low point in the automotive biorhythms? Did I fundamentally misjudge in my do-no-harm strategy of preparing and presenting Hampton as the best version of the 49,000-mile survivor that it actually is? Did my hyper-honest description showing the two rust holes in the spare-tire well and the seam rust at the bottoms of the doors scare people off? Do people say that they want an original survivor car (or as Porsche guy Rob Sass calls it, “a right car“), but when push comes to shove, prefer to chase prettier, shinier objects? Would I have been better off not obsessing over hose clamps and instead making the engine compartment pretty by repainting the air cleaner and brake booster and spending money getting the engine dry-ice-blasted, or even dipping a toe into the waters of restoration? Or was it just a quirk that the digital money wasn’t in the virtual house? Probably a little bit of all of the above.

I’m still kind of shell-shocked. A ton of work goes into preparing a car for sale—even more so for a BaT auction—and the mechanics of deciding when to sell, pulling the trigger, waiting for the process to play out, and counting on having the space when it’s over are non-trivial.

With the unexpected no-sale, Hampton is still here, and probably will be for a while. As I’ve written, when I repurchased Zelda the Z3 last fall, it raised the number of should-be-garaged cars to nine. I have space at my house in Newton for three—four if I put one on wheel dollies and slide it sideways and pack in another, but that’s really only good for winter, because when I do that, two of them are locked in.

I got out of this problem in the short term by bartering two over-winter garage spaces from my friend Mike in exchange for selling his Colorado orange ’73 2002tii for him on BaT; my 3.0CSi and Z3 M coupe have been sitting in his Garage Mahal since fall, but that needs to end. In addition, the house where I rent the four garage spaces in Fitchburg has been sold, and I haven’t yet heard from the new owner whether he’ll continue my inexpensive rent, double it, or kick me out.

Part of the calculus of selling Hampton now was that it was intended to relieve some of this space pressure, since if I lose Fitchburg, I can put the three cars with the highest shelter needs (the 3.0CSi, the Bavaria, and Louie—but not Hampton, unless I do the sardine-packing thing) in my garage in Newton over the summer, leaving the others (ratty Bertha, the ratty fiberglass Lotus, the 635CSi, the Z3, and the M coupe) in the driveway for a few months, if necessary. When the snow falls, obviously it’s a whole ‘nother set of issues.

All of this is fuel for Maire Anne and me looking for another house with more storage space, but we’re ploddingly deliberative about the process.

It’s all got me thinking.

I don’t like to think of myself as a money guy or a flipper, and really, I’m not. I own these cars because they give me pleasure (the fact that they also give me content to write about is a happy bit of dovetailing). The major rhythm is that I hold onto the ones I connect with, sell the ones I don’t, and every once in a while I have to sell something that’s dear to me in order to keep the family finances afloat. Some cars stay longer than others, some worm their way into my heart and will likely never leave, and some have generated book-long stories. There’s the trio of Louie the ’72tii (Ran When Parked), Bertha the ’75 2002-turned-ti-tribute car (Resurrecting Bertha), and the ’74 Lotus Europa Twin Cam Special (The Lotus Chronicles).

In contrast, what was the story with Hampton? As its name implies, its original owner used it as a beach car in the Hamptons and put it into storage in about 2010. I bought it and tried not to booje up its originality during a fairly straightforward resurrection—and yes, I had dollar signs in my eyes for the kind of windfall profit that I never get.

During my ownership, I tried not to drive the car; I was afraid of rolling it over to 49,000, then 50,000 miles running it back and forth a hundred miles at a time to Fitchburg. It stayed in my garage all fall, winter, and spring as I readied it for auction, obsessing over hose clamps. I shied away from taking it on a Nor’East 02er spring drive when my heart told me that that’s what I wanted to do. It zoomed up to good money on BaT but didn’t meet my reserve. I was disappointed.

Seriously, what the hell kind of a story is that?

Hampton

I’m not someone who believes in either karma or fate, but I do believe that sometimes it’s productive to interpret events with the spin that maybe the universe is trying to tell you something.

If you read my original article about purchasing Hampton, you’ll see that there was something akin to original sin in my purchase of the car. I’d been contacted the by original owner’s brother, and then the owner herself, about sussing out the car and possibly helping to sell it, but the owner kept saying that once I saw it, I’d want to buy it myself. She and her brother discovered that the brakes were stuck, so it couldn’t even be rolled out of the barn. I agreed to go down to Bridgehampton (which is on eastern Long Island, and thus is a bit of a schlep from Boston), try to unstick the brakes, evaluate and photograph the car, and represent it for her on BaT for a flat thousand-dollar fee. Hypothetical “what might you sell it to me for” numbers were thrown around, and they and the photos were enticing enough that I borrowed a truck and trailer to enable the possibility of my buying the car and dragging it back.

When I saw the car, I marveled at its nearly rust-free condition and its interior, but I wasn’t entirely sold on the “intact survivor” part due to black coating in the engine compartment that I feared could be hiding accident damage (it turned out to just be Ziebart rust inhibitor). After a lengthy negotiation in the barn, we settled on a number.

But then I did something stupid: I said, “Or, we could talk about profit-sharing.” It was an idiotic thing for me to have spit-balled. The seller seized on the idea of my taking the car off her hands, fixing it, and splitting the money when it was sold.

It was entirely my fault. I tried to walk it back. I reiterated over and over that if she wanted all the money, we could go back to the original the-car-stays-here-and-I-rep-it-for-you-on-BaT-for-a-fixed-fee deal, but she wanted to both maximize the money and have me trailer it up to Boston and relieve her of the responsibility for dealing with a dead car with monthly storage fees in the Hamptons when she lived in the city, and I suppose I can’t blame her. Even after a handshake agreement for a straight purchase, she had misgivings, and I gave her until I began loading the car on the trailer in the morning to change her mind. I did buy the car cleanly, and she did send me whatever records she could find, but I think it’s likely that to this day, she believes that I took advantage of her.

So, with that as Hampton’s story, and with my never really bonding with the car because it’s too original and too soft and too slow compared with Louie the tii and hot-cam-and-Weber-equipped-Bertha, with my being afraid to drive it and add mileage, and with my thinking of the car as little more than a cash cow, really, is it any wonder that the Automotive Powers That Be bitch-slapped me with a big, wet, stinking dead fish in the form of a stalled auction that didn’t meet a reasonable reserve?

Sigh.

I had two immediate visceral and somewhat diametrically-opposed reactions. The first was to drive the goddamned car. The second was to get it out of my precious garage space in Newton and give the two of us a vacation from each other. Both of those could be achieved by running it out to Fitchburg and swapping it for one of the cars that could sit outside for a bit.

As it happened, on Thursday I had my second COVID-19 vaccine scheduled in Worcester, which, like Fitchburg, is in central Massachusetts. Perfect, I thought; I’ll drive Hampton to get my shot, scoot north to Fitchburg, and swap it for another car. I checked the weather and it looked good.

A beautiful spring morning in Newton with Hampton, the azaleas, and condensation in the exhaust from the car having sat.

I was driving Hampton out the Mass Pike. All was well except for the squirminess and flat spots of the new-looking and un-cracked but still twenty-year-old rubber on which the car sat in the barn for a decade. (This is one of any number of areas that show why the whole “fresh-from-the-barn” thing is at odds with drivability. I figured I’d leave the choice of expensive rubber like Pirelli CN36s or el-cheapo rim protectors to the next owner, but if I’m going to actually drive the car more, I really can’t keep putting off buying tires.) There were also a few minor rattles that the traditional frantic laying on of hands managed to isolate as the glovebox, the driver’s-side mirror, and the plastic defroster vents—but the car ran fine and elicited many smiles and thumbs-ups from other cars on I-90. One guy in an E30 convertible tried to have a conversation with me at a stop sign.

But then, as I approached Worcester, the air temperature dropped, the skies darkened, and I saw something very strange: small white particulate matter approaching the car. Seriously? Yup, it was beginning to snow. I thought, You have GOT to be kidding me (only I didn’t say “kidding”). I take this car out for one pleasure drive, and it freaking SNOWS?!

To be clear, the white stuff was extremely minor flurries, zero accumulation, zero effect on traction, zero moisture jamming itself into Hampton’s virgin crevices. It was, in fact, pretty funny, and it actually felt incredibly good, and not in a vindictive “You want exposure? I got yer exposure right here, pal!” way—more like a slice of life, this-is-what-happens-when-you-actually-drive-a-car way.

I got my second vaccine, continued north through slightly-increasing flurries up to Fitchburg, and swapped Hampton for the Lotus. I’m certain that I was the only car buff in Massachusetts making that particular automotive exchange on that particular day.

Yes, I put the cover on Hampton before closing the door. I’m not a monster.

So: Hampton is now put away in Fitchburg. I think we just need a little space from each other so I can decide what the next move is.

As a writer, I am entranced by the idea that I have the power to change the ending of a story. I’ve combined that mechanism with my mechanical skills (“wrenching talents” has some odd connotations) and produced experiences that are immensely meaningful to me, such as l’affaire Brian Ach, where I couldn’t fix a tii that died on the way to the Vintage, decided that was the wrong ending to the story, and told the car’s owner that I’d fix it for free if he had it towed up to Newton.

To be clear, I have no mechanical spin on Hampton’s alternate future; I’m not going to drop an LS1 engine into the car and use it to break the ten-second quarter mile, or do a Cannonball Run in under 24 hours, or anything. But maybe, as a car that was a beach car for much of its life, instead of being cooped up, its mileage hoarded like virginity or Bitcoin, it needs to visit the Hamptons, maybe even with its original owner, in order to set both its spirit and my odd corner of the automotive world right.—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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