The big sweep of my automotive storage situation has been:
- 1984–1992: Occupying both bays in the two-car garage of my mother’s house in Brighton.
- 1992–2005: Living with the one-car rusting, leaning WWII-era corrugated metal garage in Newton. It held my recently-painted 3.0CSi; everything else had to sit outside. So I didn’t own a 2002 for nearly fifteen years. (Actually, at one point I bought another well-priced 3.0CSi. I had to put it somewhere, so for six months I rented inexpensive garage space not far from me in Newton. I never found nearby garage space anywhere close to that price again. Actually, that’s not true. When I bought the ’82 Porsche 911SC in 2002, I had nowhere to put it, and begged my neighbor for his unused garage. I had it for two years for $50/month. But then he moved, the new owner wanted the garage back, and the Porsche sat outside, which nearly killed it the winter of 2014 when water got through the Targa top and froze around the ECU that’s mounted on the floor.)
- 2005: Finally building an attached three (four in a squeeze) car garage in Newton, I immediately went out and bought a tii, then other cars that filled the garage.
- 2008–2012: Having to pinch myself because my engineering job moved into a 12,000-square-foot warehouse that was largely unoccupied. This was when my car-buying really ballooned. But when the company abruptly closed it, I had to sell what was in it, which included a ratty runabout 2002, an ’85 635CSi, my 1992 Toyota Land Cruiser, and the 911SC—right before the big run-up in air-cooled Porsche prices.
- 2012–2019: The 1,500-square-foot industrial space my job had moved into had room for me to store two cars over the winter, but as the work load plummeted, I changed to consultant status, and other employees left; it was increasingly obvious that they’d close this building, too, with very little notice, so I voluntarily weaned myself of the space lest I get caught with cars with nowhere to go in the middle of the winter.
- 2014: I discover that if I looked outside Route 495, garage-rental costs were much cheaper than in suburban Boston. I found an individual bay in a five-car garage for $60 a month in Fitchburg. I asked the owner if more bays were available. “Not right now,” he said.
“Well, let me know when they are,” I said, “because I’ll rent all five.”
- 2014–2020: I gradually acquire four of the five spaces in Fitchburg. This works out great, as it’s less than an hour’s drive, and hopping in one cool car on a Sunday morning, going for a nice drive, swapping it for another cool car, and being back home two hours later is fabulous.
The fifth space was, by complete coincidence, rented by another BMW guy I know. The rent increases to $75 a month to help cover roof-repair costs. I could handle that.
- 2019: I acquire two more cars—Hampton the 49,000-mile 2002 and Zelda my former Z3, bringing the total of must-garage cars to nine. I make the space work by bartering two over-winter spaces from my friend Mike in his Garage Mahal in exchange for selling his ’73 2002tii for him on Bring a Trailer.
- Autumn 2020: In the heart of the pandemic, I hear from the Fitchburg owner that he’s putting the house on the market. My wife and I begin looking for a dream house out in the boonies with massive amounts of car storage.
- January 2021: The Fitchburg house is sold. I anxiously await contact from the new owner to learn whether my lease will be renewed, my rent will be tripled, or I’ll be thrown out. The search for a new house with car space goes into overdrive.
- June 2021: The idea of moving to the country crashes and burns due to financing issues (even though we own our home, we have little income, mortgage applications are still an income-driven process, and we’re not willing to sell our house with nowhere to go), and with my wife and me not fully agreeing on an acceptable distance from family and friends.
- July 2021: My lease at Fitchburg expires. I am apoplectic with stress. I unearth Plan B: renting space in a big warehouse in Monson, Massachusetts, on the Connecticut line. I speak with the owner. He has lots of space. I relax.
- August 2021: I finally hear from the new owner of the Fitchburg garages. She agrees via text message to continue to rent to me at the existing rate, but there’s no lease—I’m a month-to-month tenant at will. Coincidentally, the renter of the fifth space contacts me and offers to sublet it to me. I finally rent all five Fitchburg spaces.
That is the landscape against which I announce that the sun has officially begun to set on my little Fitchburg automotive-storage-space empire.
Last week the new owner contacted me and said that she needs one space back by the end of December. In the text, she also said that the main reason she bought the property was for the garages. I thought that she was joking, but I asked for a meeting so that we could do the human-to-human thing.
She and her husband live not far from me. We had a friendly twenty-minute meeting. They explained that they not only own the house in Fitchburg with the garages, but another house up the street divided into condos. One tenant has asked for a garage, and they would like to offer the other bays to their other tenants, but it doesn’t have to be right now.
I explained that I did have Plan B—the warehouse space I’d found in Monson—but that my main concern was avoiding uncertainty, and not being thrown out with no warning while the snow is flying and the salty roads are carnivorous to rust-prone vintage cars. We agreed that I’ll vacate one garage by the end of the month and the other four by the end of March.
It wasn’t news that I wanted to hear, but sometimes, even with bad news, clarity is preferable to uncertainty. I contacted the guy with the warehouse in Monson, committed to one space immediately, and confirmed that he didn’t think he was going to run out of space by March.
So, with winter weather forecast for the weekend, the “by the end of December” part of the Fitchburg-to-Monson shift began Friday, December 17. I grabbed an auto transport from U-Haul and used the mostly-no-longer-mouse-infested truck to move one car. Yes, I could’ve instead asked Maire Anne to accompany me and then drive me back, but she had other plans. Plus, why do I own this truck, if not to tow cars? Besides, I wanted to dry-run what I may have to go through with the other cars.
But it immediately begged the question which car do I start with? The five cars that were in Fitchburg were Bertha, my repurchased ’75 former track-rat 2002; Hampton, the 49,000-mile survivor 2002 that didn’t meet reserve last spring on Bring a Trailer; the ’99 M coupe; the ’73 Bavaria; and the ’79 Euro 635CSi.
I had already worked through the calculus to bring the cars on which I want to work over the winter here to the house (the 3.0CSi; Louie, the ’72 2002tii,;and the Lotus), but I didn’t expect to have to conduct a second evaluation on which cars would run the clock down for a few more months in Fitchburg (24-hour access but unheated, not bone-dry, and some evidence of rodent activity) versus Monson (heated, dry, not 24-hour access but not “Don’t even think about talking to me until Memorial Day,” either) over the next few months.
I thought about the question of which car should be the first to move to Monson versus which ones to leave in Fitchburg from a number of angles: was there a possibility I might need or want to sell it over the winter, would I bring it back to Newton to work on it first, etc. While I was heading to Fitchburg in the truck, I tossed it around in my head, framing it from this standpoint: Which car is the one you’re the least likely to sell, and the one that you’d like to most protect from snow and salt if, for some reason, you had to get it out of Fitchburg unexpectedly (say the March deadline changed and the truck died, or a U-Haul auto transport was unavailable) and didn’t want to either drive it to Monson or have it sit outside in the driveway in Newton?
My answer surprised the hell out of me: It was Hampton, the survivor 2002 that I’d kept at arm’s length for years—the car that for two years I didn’t really like because it was too original, too nice, and too slow. The car that I viewed as just an investment that was sojourning with me until I cashed out of it, and now thank my lucky stars that it didn’t sell on BaT. That’s quite a turnaround.
So onto the trailer and out to Monson Hampton went.
We rolled up to Hampton’s new home in a 275,000-square-foot multi-use warehouse in Monson.
It’s a pretty interesting space. Jim, the owner, is an engineer who owns the building in support of both his business (irrigation) and his car passion. We parked Hampton right next to his Lotus Europa and a row of his Renaults.
Jim then gave me a quick tour of the place. It’s huge. There are easily over a hundred cars in it, and that’s not counting the boats, buses, RVs, and trailers. One client alone has more than 70 cars stored there.
I chatted with Jim about the economics of a place this size, and how many folks have advised me to buy a warehouse, store my cars in it, and pay for it by renting the unused space. We both laughed at how people love to give advice about things that don’t involve their own money. “The cost of repairs on this building for things like heat come in $10,000 increments,” he said, “and you don’t really make that back with $70 a month space rental.”
Even out in western Massachusetts, the cost of commercial real estate is still quite high. Jim said that if I was interested in a building, he knew of a large, old decrepit mill with 100,000 square feet on the first floor for two hundred grand, but that he’d be worried about the upper floors caving in. I said that I think I’d confine my acquisition for “fixer-uppers” to cars.
I wrote Jim a $210 check to cover the next three months, and practically wept thanks and gratitude for his being Plan B incarnate. I then headed back to U-Haul with the empty trailer, and then home.
The time-and-money accounting of this dry run were elucidating. It’s normally about 50 minutes from my house to Fitchburg. Google Maps says that it’s about an hour and a half from there to Monson, and about an hour and a quarter from there back home—but everything’s slower when you’re towing, and every loading and unloading step eats up time.
I figured it’d take me most of the day to move one car, and I was right. I left my house at 7:00 a.m. to pick up the trailer at U-Haul, got to Fitchburg by nine, was rolling to Monson at 10:30 (since I had the truck, I also cleaned out a stash of old bumpers I’d stuck in Fitchburg while I was there), and arrived at the big warehouse at around 11:15. I spent over an hour and a half there with Jim. By the time I was back at U-Haul and heading east on the Mass Pike, it was almost 1:30 as I approached Boston, and Friday traffic settled in. After returning the U-Haul trailer, I got back home around 3:30, putting a little under 200 miles on the truck.
Money-wise, the trailer rental cost was about $75 including taxes and insurance. I haven’t topped up the truck’s 34-gallon diesel tank yet, but it burned about half of it; the tank is about a hundred-dollar fill-up, so maybe fifty bucks. Add the tolls and a cup of coffee, and the rough order of magnitude estimate is about $150.
I’m not sure that I want to multiply that by four for the remaining cars. I could probably get two cars swapped per day if I’m efficient, which would save on the trailer rental. Or I could hope for a warm dry spell near the end of winter, requisition four of my local friends, tempt them with post-errand pizza and beer, drive us out to Fitchburg, put the keys in a bowl, and watch them fight over them and do the 1960s Le Mans running start.
I’m sure that the next three months will fly by, and before I know it, the Fitchburg chapter will be closed. Once the cars are all moved to Monson, there won’t be that much of a time difference getting back and forth. In some ways, it’ll be easier, since it’s just a straight shot out the Mass Pike, the entrance to which is about two miles from my house. It will be different, however; it’s not individual garage bays to which I have the keys and at which I can show up at any hour. Instead, I’ll need to coordinate access with Jim. The degree to which I’ll be able to make a snap decision on a Sunday morning, like “I think I’ll drive the M coupe for a few weeks,” go out and get it and be back in two hours, will certainly be lessened.
Part of me feels like I had a window of opportunity to avoid all of this had we moved, but rewinding the tape, I don’t see how I could’ve made the decisions differently. I remind myself that the last thing this is, is hardship. I’m blessed to have these cars and affordable storage for them.
Rob’s new book, The Best of The Hack Mechanic, is available here on Amazon, as are his seven other books. Signed copies can be ordered directly from Rob here. Plus, five of Rob’s books are on sale for the holidays (cheaper from him than through Amazon).