It is done: The Great BMW Evacuation of Fitchburg is complete. It was less traumatic than I thought, and the aftershocks will be interesting.
As I wrote last week, I was hyper-aware that the sand was slipping through the hourglass on the rental of my storage spaces in Fitchburg. The house had been sold, the new owner wanted the spaces for her tenants, and I had been asked to vacate one of the five spaces in December and the remaining four by the end of March. I’d already moved one car (Hampton, the 49,000-mile 2002) to new warehouse space in Monson, Massachusetts, and over-thinking the logistics of moving the other four cars was beginning to wear a groove in my brain.
For a number of reasons, I decided not to directly transport the cars from Fitchburg to Monson, and instead to temporarily bring them home. Oddly enough, I, who am usually obsessed with process and want to have the ducks lined up before I pull the trigger on things, didn’t let the fact that I don’t actually have space for four more cars (why do you think I’ve been renting those garages for all these years?) deter me.
Bringing the cars home to Newton made sense to me on four different levels. First, it decoupled the “leave Fitchburg” part from the “put the cars into the new space in Monson” part. The former was the one with the ticking clock on it. The latter really doesn’t have to have a timetable (other than before the snow flies next winter and minimizing general weather exposure before then), since I’d contacted the owner of the Monson warehouse and he confirmed that with the RVs and boats being rolled out, he has gobs of space.
This neatly cleaved the logistics into two parts, and I needed to deal only with the first part.
It’s a 50-minute drive each way to Fitchburg; my wife, Maire Anne, could easily run me out there. We could get two cars moved a day without breaking a sweat. This meant that I neither needed to rely on a posse of friends to help drive the cars nor pay to rent a U-Haul auto transport and buy diesel for the truck.
Second, driving the cars allows me to burn the gas in them. Although I’ve never had problems with gas getting stale and causing starting or drivability issues during the cars’ three- to six-month storage periods, and thus have never felt the need to use fuel additives, I’ve been careful about not letting three-to-six-months turn into six-months-to-a-year. But once the cars are farther away in the Monson warehouse, and with that space’s new requirement for coordination of access (instead of me simply showing up and swapping cars), the cars may well sit longer, and the idea of fresh fuel and a stabilizing additive was appealing.
Third, there’s nothing like driving your cars to remind yourself of what you love (and maybe not love) about them and what they need, punch-list-wise.
Although I didn’t routinely work on the cars in Fitchburg garages (no heat, no electricity, and they weren’t in my garage with all my tools in it), I’ll likely never work on the cars in Monson, so the idea of driving the cars, seeing what they need, and giving it to them prior to what might be a longer stay in Monson made a lot of sense to me.
Finally, I felt the need to confront my own excess.
With the cars distributed between several storage spaces, as they’ve been over the years, it’s easy to forget that thirteen cars is a big number when you live on one-sixth of an acre in suburban Boston. What that confrontation would produce, I didn’t know: perhaps I would have a come-to-Jesus moment when I thought, “What are you doing? This is nuts!” Like the oft-quoted anecdote of the frog in the pot of water who never jumped out as the temperature was slowly increased, I wanted a temperature check.
And so it began. I waited for a good rain to wash most of the salt off the roads, then had Maire Anne run me out to Fitchburg. I grabbed the M coupe first.
Then we came back in the afternoon and moved Bertha home. The operation was laser-like in its precision. Had we tried to fold Monson into the mix, it would’ve made for a much longer and more tiring day.
No big punch-list issues appeared with either car. The M coupe’s driver-side window regulator still popped and snapped when rolled all the way up, and its wheels and tires need to be rebalanced badly—I wasn’t going to do it because the tires are old, and I wasn’t going to replace them because the wheels need to be refinished, and I was wasn’t going to deal with that because I wasn’t prepared to spend the money. But there wasn’t any front-burner issue requiring at-home repair before a trip to Monson.
We then paused for a few days, waiting for rain to pass. My friend Alex, the former owner of Bertha, said that he was available to help, and was champing at the bit to drive the Bavaria, so Maire Anne drove Alex and me to Fitchburg, enabling us to knock off moving the last two cars in one trip
The main punch-list issue that arose was the fact that the automatic choke on one of the Bavaria’s Webers sticks open, making the car difficult to start and warm up. I was aware of this, but it had worsen over the winter. In addition, Alex reported an issue I’d forgotten about: The car hesitates and buffets when driven at even throttle. It’s fine when you stab the accelerator, so it’s likely either a carb-synchronization issue or a lean-jetting issue. Both of these definitely warranted attention before a drive out to Monson and storage there.
I drove the ’79 Euro 635CSi home. I made note of an incredibly snotty little rattle from the interior mirror, and the fact that there was no heat due to the way I’d kluged the heater hoses before and during the car’s trip to the Vintage in Asheville last September.
There was a bit of minor housekeeping needed before I vacated the Fitchburg spaces. I never went out of my way to work on the cars in Fitchburg, but in case they wouldn’t start or had a flat, I had a few boxes of support equipment out there, stuff like a basic tool kit, a small floor jack, a portable electric compressor to inflate tires, jumper cables, starting fluid, etc. We loaded the boxes in the Bavaria’s cavernous trunk.
Finally, I did a few things to help ensure that my security deposits are returned. I swept the spaces clean with a broom we’d brought, and fixed the sometimes-jamming lock on one of the roll-up doors that had vexed me for years.
And with that, the Fitchburg Era was over. As I say in one of my songs, endings should be sharp and clear. It wasn’t C.S. Lewis’ “Giant, make an end” in the last book of The Narnia Chronicles, but it was an end.
It really was wonderful while it lasted. I was paying only $75 a month per space for 24-hour access. I could decide to swap cars at seven in the morning and be back home by nine a.m. Along with inexpensive agreed-value insurance from Hagerty (when the agreed value is low, so is the premium), it was the major enabling factor in allowing the number of cars to creep up to thirteen.
On the other hand, there’s a reason why the Fitchburg spaces were inexpensive. In addition to the lack of electricity and heat, you can see from the photo that this was not exactly Class-A garage space. Further, although I have an odd soft spot for Fitchburg, it is definitely not a leafy affluent suburb, and even with that preamble, this was not a great part of Fitchburg. I told Maire Anne that once, while moving cars, I got a lovely proposal from a young red-headed sex worker. And with the economic effects from the pandemic, the area certainly didn’t get better.
Over time, I stopped leaving the 3.0CSi out there to forestall the possibility of vandalism or theft of my prized automotive possession. Whenever I went there to swap cars, I tried to get in and out quickly and attract as little attention as possible. But I’m a friendly guy; I chatted with anyone who asked me questions, and I can’t imagine that the immediate neighbors didn’t know that one guy was storing five very cool vintage BMWs in those garages… whose doors were secured with nothing but the flimsy locks on the rotary knobs. Now that the end has come, I can’t help thinking that, while it was the right space for the right price for the right period of time, I was fortunate that it concluded without an incident.
Stepping back for a moment, I think a lot about the larger issue of car space from a standpoint of economic inequality. Because I own all these cars, many folks assume that I’m a wealthy man. I’m not; I’m a self-employed guy from resolutely middle-class roots who has spent decades trying to enjoy cars without being a moneyed collector.
Moneyed collectors have warehouses. They either own them outright, rent them, or have the space as part of a business they own, and the cars are part of shared use. Until the warehouse is full, there’s no real cost for each additional car.
Regular schmos like me don’t have space like this.
Plus, moneyed collectors can buy best-of-the-best cars, store them, and reap the benefits of blue-chip appreciation. Hey, add it to the long list of unfair advantages that the rich have.
I’ve looked into buying a warehouse. In Massachusetts, it’s commensurate with the cost of residential property, so that’s not going to happen. I could rent one, but it’s commensurate with the cost of a mortgage, so that’s not going to happen. At some point Maire Anne and I may move, which would be an opportunity to either buy something with indoor storage space or build on the property, but for a number of reasons, that’s not in the cards right now.
So I do what I can.
I had cheap space in Fitchburg with 24-hour access. I’ll be moving to cheap space in Monson, a little farther away, and without 24-hour access. This isn’t hardship. I’ve got nothing to complain about.
I said that bringing the cars home temporarily made sense to me, since it allowed me to see what they needed before I put them into what could be longer-term storage in Monson. Another factor is that I have the trip to MidAmerica 02Fest coming up at the end of April. Right before that, Maire Anne and I are going to Santa Fe for a week to visit our son Kyle. And right before that, I have a mini-road-trip to New Jersey to play a house concert. So, looking at the calendar, I only have the first two weeks of April to finish the head-installation work on Louie the ’72 2002tii and put the car through its paces before the 3,100-mile round trip to MidAmerica. Whether the cars get shuttled out to Monson before or after I get back from MidAmerica will likely depend on how much of my time it takes to button up Louie.
I also said that one of the reasons I wanted to bring the cars home was to confront my own excess. With twelve vehicles at the house (all of them except Hampton), there was a lot to confront.
I tried to map out the storage plan in advance. The right side of the driveway runs along the outside of the garage, giving it extra length, but the Winnebago Rialta RV and the Silverado occupy much of that space. With three cars in the garage, three in the driveway in front of it, the RV, the truck, and my E39 already behind it on the right, there was no way four additional vehicles were going to fit.
I’ve long known that one unintended advantage of having the mid-rise lift in the garage is that I can raise a car on it and tuck the nose of another car under it. I’ve previously taken advantage of this to fit two of the longer cars in the garage. That is, the garage’s 31-foot length easily allows two little cars, like 2002s or the Z3 and M coupe, to fit nose-to-tail, but longer cars like the 635CSi and the Bavaria don’t fit without this two-level overlap.
But this time, I didn’t just inch a car forward and overlap a bit so that I could roll the garage door down. Instead, I pulled the Lotus Europa under the E9 on the lift and slid it as far forward as it would possibly go, until the E9’s wheels were practically tickling the Lotus’ fenders. This allowed me to pull another car halfway into the garage behind it, which in turn allowed an extra car to fit on the left side of the driveway.
Clearing out some of the crap that had accumulated behind the RV on the right side of the driveway allowed me to move it a few feet back, and inching the cars down bought another space there. Together, this allowed ten cars to fit in the driveway and garage.
Fortunately, I live on an odd little dead-end spur of a street that’s technically a private way. There are only two houses on it. There’s nothing to prevent me from parking and leaving two cars in front of the house, and I have virtually zero concern about anyone running into them there. With the 635CSi and the Bavaria proudly staking out their positions directly in front of the house, I thought that I’d settled on a workable situation in which the cars could sit for a few weeks until I move four of them out to Monson. A walkthrough video can be seen below.
I have to say that I was proud of getting the cars out of Fitchburg and winning the game of Tetris at home.
My pride lasted only a few hours.
The first thing that happened was that Maire Anne went grocery shopping. I’d forgotten that to unload, she parks on sidewalk directly in front of the house. Plus, she reminded me that on trash pick-up day (Monday), the trash and recycle trucks have to burrow down past our house to pick up from the neighbor on our left. Clearly, my parking two cars there was not the weeks-long solution I’d thought.
Next, that night it rained—hard. The idea that having these formerly-garaged cars sit out in the rain for a bit wouldn’t give me heartache was immediately tested. The one whose moisture exposure gave me the most pause was the Bavaria. I reconfigured things, pulling the Lotus out and putting the Bavaria in the garage. This allowed me to begin working on Bav’s two carburation issues. But it also put the Lotus out into the weather (yay, Fiberglass body! Boo, Lucas electricals!) and effectively cost me a parking spot, due to the Bavaria’s extra length and its not being overlapped as the Lotus had been.
I threw a cover over the Lotus and begged forgiveness from the ghost of Colin Chapman.
I posted this insanity to Facebook, and a friend of mine, a guy not unlike me except that he’s a professional mechanic who works out of his house about a quarter-mile from me, replied that he rents a bunch of $50-a-month outdoor spaces at a nearby business and offered me one for a few weeks. I jumped at it, and immediately moved my beast of a truck over there.
This is such a good solution that I might semi-permanently snag a truck space for myself. With that reconfiguration, all eleven vehicles fit in the driveway.
So, yeah, I can currently walk out my front door and drive one of five 1970s BMWs, the Z3, the M coupe, the Lotus Europa, plus the daily drivers, without having to go to Fitchburg or Monson. It’s equal parts insanity and bliss.
Anything that you call “passion” should be a little out of control. It won’t last, but right now it’s a lot of fun. I have confronted my excesses, and have found that they’re kind of awesome.—Rob Siegel