BMW Lotus

Well, the idea that I’d get the injectors for Louie (my ’72 2002tii whose head I just redid) back from the diesel injection shop I sent them to for cleaning and testing, and have things buttoned up by the end of this week, evaporated like rain on a hot exhaust manifold. Sometimes I need to remind myself that there are many things are out of my control (which makes the things that are in my control, like the taillight fix on my E39 last week, all the more delicious).

I’m planning on driving Louie 3,100 miles round-trip to MidAmerica 02Fest during the last week of April, but that’s still almost six weeks away. There’s plenty of time, even considering certain calendar-shortening events such as a trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, the week before MidAmerica 02Fest to see my middle son Kyle and a short road trip in my singer-songwriter garb to New Jersey to do a house concert shortly before that, both of which conspire to require that Louie receive the Hack road-trip-ready seal of approval in more like three or four weeks. But still, there’s a comfortable amount of time—I think.

Louie has his nice clean intake manifold attached, but with the intake plenums still off because they can’t go on until I thread the injectors back in.

So I’m waiting—and watching the weather carefully to see if March is really going to do the out-like-a-lamb thing or the you-put-away-the-snowblower-SUCKER-nyuck-nyuck-nyuck thing. Because what is bearing down on me is the clock that’s running down on my time in Fitchburg.

As I wrote several months ago, the Fitchburg house where I rent five garage spaces was sold last year, and the new owner asked me to vacate one space by the end of last December and the other four by the end of March—which is now less than two weeks away. The remaining four cars in Fitchburg (the M coupe, the ’79 Euro 635CSi, the Bavaria, and Bertha, the snotty-looking former-track-rat ’75 2002) will need to go to their new storage in Monson, a town near the Massachusetts-Connecticut border. The part of me that likes to have control and do things without relying on anyone else thinks that I should do what I did when I moved the first car (Hampton) in December, which was to rent a U-Haul auto-transport trailer and use the formerly mouse-infested Silverado as a tow vehicle.

Fitchburg and Monson are both west of me, but they’re northeast and southwest of each other. It takes longer to drive from one to the other than from either to my house. When I moved Hampton in December, the trip from Fitchburg to the new space in Monson took about an hour and a half. Factoring in the pick-up of the trailer and loading and unloading time, I figure I can get two cars moved in a day without killing myself, so two days for all four cars. However, with the cost of diesel fuel right now, it wouldn’t be cheap.

Ironically, the other way to do it—roping four friends into driving the cars—flips the issue of the cost of fuel on its head: Rather than being concerned about it, I want to burn as much fuel as possible. During the years the cars have been at Fitchburg, I’ve had 24-hour access. I can show up at 7:00 a.m. or 11:00 at night and swap cars. For all these years, I’ve stored the cars with full tanks of fuel—meaning 10% ethanol gas, as that’s the only pump gas available in Massachusetts—because ethanol attracts water from the atmosphere, and the fuller the tank , the less “atmosphere” there is in it above the gas. (And please, spare me the “pure-gas.org shows 30 Pure Gas Stations in Massachusetts” lecture. It’s misleading to the point of being untrue. Every one of those is a motorsport shop, an airstrip, a marina, or a small-engine repair shop selling race gas or aviation fuel in one- to five-gallon containers for like fifteen bucks a gallon, probably more right now. None of them are drive-up pumps at gas stations where you can buy the ethanol-free pump gas that’s available in other parts of the country.)

I’ve never used fuel additives simply because I’ve never found them necessary. Keeping the cars in storage for three to six months at a time, I’ve never had starting or running issues correlated to stale gas or water in the fuel. However, part and parcel of that is my being careful to not let three to six months of storage turn to a year. I drive the cars as often as possible, which helps ensure that old gas is burned and fresh gas is added.

When the cars are moved to Monson, however, I won’t have easy access to them. They’ll be deep inside a warehouse, and I’ll need to coordinate visitation with the owner of the space. I expect that the cars will sit longer, and that I’ll be swapping them less often, so I’m going to need to think more seriously about the issue of the fuel getting stale or absorbing water.

With the cars soon to be farther away, thus less accessible, and driven less frequently, the idea of pulling them out of Fitchburg, loading them one by one onto a trailer, towing them to Monson, and sticking them in a warehouse filled with the same gas they’ve had for three to six months isn’t sitting well with me. So unlike the notion of towing the cars, where I’m concerned about the cost of diesel, I’m thinking that I want to drive them—precisely because that will let me use up the gas.

I’d like get the four cars in Fitchburg here to Newton—ideally, to drive them here to Newton—give them whatever R&R they need, and then drive them out to Monson. That’ll burn the better part of a tank of fuel, at which point I can refuel them and dump in a fuel additive (e.g., Sta-Bil or Star Tron) before they sit in their new storage. Of course, I don’t really have room for four more cars here at the house; two more cars in the driveway fills it to capacity. I live on a dead-end street, however, and can put two cars in front of the house for a week or two, as long as I move them on trash day.

So that’s my plan. (Everyone say in unison: “Yes, Doctor Evil, it is a good plan.”) However, even though we’re in Daylight Saving Time, and things are starting to bloom, and it really does feel like spring, it is March. March is capricious, and there’s still a scary amount of salt on the roads. So I’m waiting. I’m hoping a good hard rain comes through and rinses things down (I’m thrilled that rain is forecast for tomorrow), and that it stays warm enough that there’s not another freeze or another snowstorm that causes another salt assault on the asphalt.

Right now AccuWeather is giving me decidedly mixed messages, showing at least 50-ish-degree weather for the next ten days, while also displaying an alarming red banner that says “EARLY OUTLOOK: Major severe weather threat along with possible blizzard developing for next week.” Because of this, I felt that all I could do this week was nibble around the edges of things.

The Lotus Europa had been up on the mid-rise lift all winter, during which time I resealed and adjusted the transaxle, installed a set of adjustable rear links to dial in the camber, slotted the front control arms to make them adjustable, and began to pull the heater box to deal with a mouse smell until I found an old mouse nest in the console and abandoned the heater-box removal. In the meantime, my precious red E9 has been sitting in the spot in front of the Lotus in the garage, awaiting its turn on the lift so that I can install those adjustable camber bushings I was lucky enough to snag when they were sold for 80% off list price.

The Lotus has been occupying the precious lift space all winter.

So today I pulled the E9 out of the garage (man, I never get tired of how even old electronically injected cars fire right up with the twist of the key), took the Lotus down off the lift, and swapped their positions. I then carefully drove the Lotus in ever-widening circles, stopping to check for coolant leaks in case I’d forgotten to tighten a hose during my retreat from the heater-box removal. Now I need to use my do-it-yourself alignment tools—the trammel bar and the camber bubble gauge—to do the best DIY alignment I can, and see if all that adjustability buys me the stability that the car has lacked during high-speed lane changes. Once I replace the front strut-tower bushings in the E9 with the adjustable ones, I’ll need to do the same things with it.

The E9 enjoys some brief sun…

…before being backed onto the mid-rise lift so that I can pull the front struts off and install those K-MAC adjustable camber bushings.

The other thing on the agenda is the vehicle at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Lotus: the Winnebago Rialta RV. Two of the weak points on these vehicles are the rear bearings and the transaxle, since neither was uprated from the standard components on the Volkswagen Eurovan on which it’s based. Prior to a trip last summer, I replaced the left rear wheel bearing, since that was the one that began rumbling; I still need to do the right-side bearing. I also bought a transmission cooler that I need to install before we take the little RV anywhere hilly.

Right now the Rialta is at the very end of the driveway, where it sits with cancelled registration during the winter months when it’s not used. There’s very little side access down at the end of the driveway for working on something like a wheel bearing, but I have verified that the right wheel is parked in front of the never-used side roll-up door, and that with the door open, I have lots of clearance.

Yup, that’ll work.

So: I’m waiting for injectors for Louie, for a good hard rain, then for clear weather to drive the four cars in Fitchburg about 45 miles home, then about 65 miles to their new home in Monson so that I can burn off the fuel in their tanks—at a time when gas is tickling five bucks a gallon.

Makes sense to me.—Rob Siegel


Rob’s most recent 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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