Last month I wrote about my storage issues (when aren’t I writing about my storage issues?), saying that the pressure was building up and something had to give. Well, no automotive tectonic plates have shifted, thrusting cars through the ceiling of the garage or anything, but I still feel like there’s pressure that needs to be relieved.
One thing, however, has been resolved: We’re not moving. At least not now. My thrice-daily Zillow searches have ceased.
There were two main reasons. The first was that in an environment where thrilling properties seem to sell in a week, realtors were advising that I needed to have financing lined up in advance of even looking at houses, and it turns out that even having paid off the mortgage on our house here in Newton and co-owning (along with my sister) my mother’s paid-off house in Boston, mortgage qualification is still a very income-driven process, and given my writer’s income, that was a problem. This left us in a position of needing to sell before we bought, and I’m simply not willing to do that.
The second reason was that the more Maire Anne and I talked about moving somewhere with a big building for the cars, the more it became clear that while we shared the image of paradise that included a thrilling house and a front porch with a thrilling view, she was increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of being several hours from friends and family. This introduced another circle into the Venn diagram of requirements, and the overlap of space, thrill, affordability, and distance became vanishingly small. So for now, we’re staying put here in Newton.
Unfortunately, that automotive sword of Damocles is still hanging over my head in regard to the four spaces I rent in Fitchburg. As I mentioned, the house where the garages are in Fitchburg has been sold; my lease for the spaces ends in July, and the new owner has yet to contact me and tell me whether she intends to continue to rent to me at the low $75-a-month-per-space rent, increase it, or throw me out.
I’m a guy who really likes to have a Plan B, and the lack of one was stressing me out.
Fortunately, on Facebook Marketplace, I found someone advertising storage in central Massachusetts. The ad said. “$30 per month for each 10 feet of vehicle length. Cars are $60 per month. No heat, access restricted.” The photo in the ad showed a cavernous space with boats and RVs in it.
I messaged the fellow explaining my situation. He said that he had plenty of space for cars, and the access wasn’t that restricted, but that he has an unofficial policy that the cars have to be, you know, interesting.
I rattled off my inventory, from the Lotus Europa through the vintage BMWs up to the Winnebago Rialta. He responded, “Cool. I’m storing my uncle’s 2002 and I have a ’67 Europa S1 myself. My daily driver is a Citroën CX diesel wagon. I drive a ’69 Citroën Mehari when I’m feeling particularly invincible. And there’s a small flock of Simca coupes. I do not have a French-car problem. A friend has a Renault 15 and a 17 here. In my other business at this complex, I have a well-equipped shop where we can fix or build practically anything.”
So clearly I had found the right guy.
The warehouse is about twenty miles farther from my home than the Fitchburg garages are. However, it’s a straight shot out the Mass Pike, so driving times are similar.
So now I have a Plan B that, if need be, I can pull the trigger on. With that, a sense of calm has settled on me—if anything about my demeanor passes for calm. However, the fundamental space crunch caused by owning twelve vehicles still exists, fueled most recently by my buy-back of Zelda the Z3 last fall and the failure of Hampton, the 49,000-mile 2002, to make reserve and sell on Bring a Trailer last month.
As much as the “which car would I sell” game is starting to feel like a tired, hackneyed one, I had to once again resume the process. But I hate having to re-make decisions; I’d already decided to sell Hampton, and going through the time-consuming preparation, then wait for the soup-to-nuts month-long BaT process to play out, only to still have the car , at the end of it and not have either the garage space or the money, is simply depressing.
Plus, with the highly-visible BaT auction and its 18,264 page views and 1,078 watchers, a buyer’s mindset can take root in which people look at the stalled auction value and say, “Well, clearly, that’s the market value of the car; don’t pretend that it’s anything higher.”
I did have some folks contact me with interest, and my consistent answer was, “If someone offered me stupid money, I’d sell it,” but no one did (or even asked me what I considered “stupid money”). For now, I’m just going to sit on Hampton while I decide what to do.
So, for the nth time, I stepped through all the cars, giving them a quick thumbs up, neutral, or down. Four of them were out in Fitchburg. Two of these needed to be inspected anyway, so I drove out and gave them all a spin.
I’ve flirted with the idea of selling the ’79 Euro 635CSi several times before. With its shorty Euro bumpers and factory black striping, it’s gorgeous, but it’s really a big touring car; it excels at long road trips, but it’s just not a car I hop into to pleasure-drive or carve corners. And, as I’ve written, this car lost its correct M90 engine and dogleg five-speed several owners ago, and it has about 220,000 miles on it, so it’s never going to bring all the money.
Still, sometimes, the way we feel about cars we own is cyclical, and after a twenty-minute romp north of Fitchburg, I was reminded how much I enjoy its sport seats and taut suspension.
Bertha was next. This is the ’75 2002 that I bought in Austin shortly before we moved back to Boston in 1984. It served as my daily driver for years, while being transmogrified into something of a 2002ti tribute car with every modification you could order from Roundel in the 1980s, including a Koni suspension and a Wink mirror. I sold it to my friend Alex in 1988; he drove it for a while, but it then got stolen, vandalized, and recovered, and then sat for 26 years. I bought back in 2018 and resurrected it.
With its 10:1 pistons, 300-degree cam, and dual Weber 40DCOEs, it’s a loud, snotty hoot to drive, but the extreme patina and the sneaker-size hole in the floor behind the pedal bucket cap its value. Plus, I’m not sure why I bought it back and did all that work resurrecting it if I was only going to sell it.
And then I drove the Bavaria.
Make no mistake, I love the Bavaria. Unlike most of the other ’70s BMWs, into which I’ve installed Recaros to facilitate back support on long drives, and smaller steering wheels to make you feel like you’re not driving a bus, the interior of the Bavaria is still completely stock, and it hangs together as a piece of vintage early 1970s German automotive interior decoration. I’ve never been bowled over by the car’s Sahara (beige) paint, but it does get you the Tobacco Brown interior, which I adore.
I bought the Bav in 2014. A few years later I updated the suspension, leaving the stock springs intact but installing Bilstein HD shocks and Suspension Techniques sway bars. The effect is that the car still feels like its big boaty self, but throw it into a corner and it goes, “Okay, you want to do that? We can do that,” and stays pretty flat. Unfortunately, yank that steering wheel, and you slide right out of those big flat burgermeister seats.
The Bavaria had been sitting in Fitchburg all winter, and was maddeningly difficult to start, as carbureted cars sometimes are when the float bowls are dry, but it eventually caught and fired. I took it for a drive and had a surprising reaction: I love it. I love the sound and feel of the big carbureted M30 straight six; I’ve had a great time with it including two trips to the Vintage. But I have other 1970s-era BMWs; I prefer the ones with sport seats and a firmer suspension, and if need be, I could live without the Bavaria.
So I brought the Bav home to Newton to begin clocking through an if-I-want-to-sell-it punch list. I’m not saying that it’s going on the block; I’m just saying that I’m taking steps to enable that possibility. And anyway, sell or keep, it’s long overdue for a little love. Plus it feels reassuring walking into the garage and instead of seeing the interloper Lotus Europa or the love-it-but-damaged Z3 being greeted by what I’ve long called the Nixon-era triplets: the ’72 2002tii, the ’73 3.0CSi E9 coupe, and the ’73 E3 Bavaria. It feels like I’m looking at the core of my passion.
So: No earthquake, sinkhole, or tsunami has hit. Just some standard evaluation and potential shuffling. As the woman says at the beginning of the Tom Petty song Even The Losers, “It’s just the normal noises in here.”—Rob Siegel