Zelda Z3

Well, I did get the 2002tii’s head to Machine Shop No. 1 to have the crack repaired, but I then had to pick it up and take it to Machine Shop No. 2 for the valve job, a transportation task performed while the sky was producing every kind of precipitation possible, some of them simultaneously. And yes, I could’ve had the first shop do it all, but I’m very loyal to the second machine shop, since it’s local and just a few minutes from me.

So, after that snotty display of winter weather just four days ago, without a head to reassemble, and with Friday’s 52-degree temperatures and clear blue skies, what’s a guy to do?

Awaken Zelda. Drop the top.

Many of you know the tale of Zelda, my ’99 Z3 2.3i. This is the car that I bought inexpensively about nine years ago, drove for six years, enjoyed the hell out of, and then sold only because I ran out of storage space and had nowhere to put it.

Convertibles eventually leak if left outside, and leaving one you love to the mercy of the elements is perilously close to an act of violence against the car, so I agreed to sell it to my friend and neighbor Kim only after she finagled over-winter storage from a neighbor. Then, in late 2020, her son ran the car into a median strip, bent the control arms and wheels, and shattered the front bumper cover (what most people would call the air dam).

I bought the car back to prevent it from being totaled and parted out. I repaired the suspension damage, replaced the clutch and the howling throwout bearing, and happily drove it all through last year. I still haven’t repaired the front bumper cover; the new aftermarket one I bought was so flimsy that I returned it, and the used OEM fiberglass one that I bought, unbeknownst to both me and the seller, was from a four-cylinder Z3.

However, as we headed into this winter, I was again tripped up by my need to store the car. After all, I’d sold it because I didn’t have space for it, and that hasn’t changed. The car initially got a pity reprieve; it spent the previous winter in my garage because I was doing the suspension and clutch repairs. But once they were complete, I put it in my driveway. Last spring I bought a used CoverCraft cover, and it fit so well that it appeared to be immune to blowing off, like the cheap generic covers which even under-strapping would not hold in place, but I discovered that it wasn’t a panacea to the problem of weather protection: After Zelda sat covered at the sunless end of my driveway during last year’s rainy summer, when I uncovered it, I was greeted by a bloom of mold and mildew.

Covered, yet breeding mildew, wasn’t helpful.

I never really made an actual decision to let the car sit outside over this winter; it was more a matter of acclimating to a situation for which I didn’t have any other good options: Given the choice of selling the car, paying to store it indoors, or letting it sit, the latter was the do-nothing option I kind of slid into.

I did briefly consider selling it (again), since Z3s in this condition are cheap, making the car easily replaceable, but whenever I entertain selling a car for a price so low that I’d probably buy it if I saw it advertised, my own logic stays my hand.

Before the snow fell, I put a cannister of DampRid inside the Z3, threw on the CoverCraft cover, parked it in front of the Winnebago Rialta (that is, high enough in the driveway that the cover gets sun), disconnected the battery, and hoped for the best. I resolved that I’d uncover it in sunny weather and drive it as often as possible to keep the interior dry, but with the rarely used and formerly mouse-infested truck sitting behind it, that didn’t happen.

And then, of course, winter eventually did its thing. My driveway is like a stovepipe, with the house on one side, the neighbor’s high vinyl fence on the other, and the Rialta blocking the ability to blow snow into the back yard, so there’s not really anywhere to put the snow. These days I’ve gotten lazy and just shovel or blow out the top part of the driveway, even if it means that the Rialta, the Z3, and possibly the truck get snowed in until there’s a good melt. Unexpectedly, that came this week, literally hot on the heels of a blizzard barely a week ago.

The Z3 had been left sandwiched between the truck and the RV, but the snow had melted—mostly.

I felt the cover, made sure it was dry, and rolled it up. With a fair amount of trepidation, I went to open the door, and was immediately reminded of a problem that appeared last year that made the function of the outer door latch worse and worse, to the point where it now rarely works, and I need to open the car using the passenger door. (Hey, add it to the list of spring projects.)

Inside I went.

I was afraid that the interior would look (and smell) like a scene from Swamp Thing, but to my delight, it was mildew-free and dry, except for a little condensation on the underside of the top.

And… it’s good!

I twisted the battery-disconnect knob and turned the key, and the car started instantly, reminding me how much I appreciate this facet of modern cars, even though I repeatedly profess my love and fealty to vintage models that couldn’t do this trick if their lives depended on it.

As I looked at the dash, I was immediately reminded that the Check Engine light is still on due to an unresolved P1477 code. But other than that, the car seemed no worse for wear. Up the driveway and down the street I went, hitting the brakes to clear the rust off the rotors. The only thing amiss was the long-standing “rev hang” issue, in which the engine rpm stays high for almost a full second while you shift. Over the years, I’ve tried several solutions, and have put a few more on the list for the spring.

The Boston Green Z3 is nice-looking car—as long as you can’t see the front bumper cover.

Then came the choice: top down? It was certainly warm and sunny enough. The only issue was how pliant the plastic rear window was. When it’s cold, I really get the heebie-jeebies folding the top, and with it the rear window (I’d hate to crack the plastic). But it passed an informal pliancy test, so down it came.

The obligatory top-down-in-front-of-mound-of-snow shot.

For the next 40 minutes, I busted some stress. I didn’t want the drone of the highway, but I was hesitant to take my usual drive along the narrow tree-lined roads to the west, as the shade can leave a lot of snow, and with it comes salty run-off, and I didn’t want to deal with getting either a face full of that or the windshield-washer fluid needed to clean it off. So I just kind of tooled around Newton, with, as Chuck Berry said, no particular place to go.

It was the sun-on-the-face, wind-in-the-hair slice of bliss that I didn’t know I needed.

That’s the partially frozen Charles River in the background. Yes, that front bumper cover looks like hell, but it serves a purpose.

The following day, with the temperature was still in the 50s, I did it all again—this time a longer drive—and it was even better, because the day after that, we were back to this:

And the seasons, they go round and round…

The nose of the car still bears the median-strip damage to the front bumper cover (it’s still splintered and held together with packing tape), but in an odd way, that’s helped to keep the car in my possession: If I fixed it and the car looked whole and intact, I might start to think it was worth something and wonder what else I could do with the money and the driveway space. This way, it’s the best beater six-cylinder Z3 on the planet—it’s the one I own and enjoy, even though, on paper, I don’t have the room for it.

Zelda’s still got it goin’ on. And I’ve still got Zelda.—Rob Siegel


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.

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