Last week, I wrote about the preparation of Louie, my ’72 2002tii, and the two-day, 1,500-ish-mile drive southish to MidAmerica 02Fest in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Nothing went wrong, but I left out two bits whose importance wasn’t clear until after I’d arrived.
Let’s start with Marta Davies.
Marta is a recent 2002 owner with a lovely Granatrot ’76 (Judy). She’s also the executive officer to the commander of the U.S. Air Force 932nd Airlift Wing Operations Group, as well as the owner of a ’67 Mustang, which means that right out of the box, she’s cooler than I am.
A few months ago, I swapped several messages and phone calls with Marta regarding alternator replacement. When I saw online that she was traveling solo to MidAmerica, I let her know that she could call me if anything went wrong. Unfortunately, it did: While I was driving south, she called and said that there was squealing from the engine compartment, and that a couple of motorcycle guys looked at it at a gas station and said that it sounded like a bad water pump or alternator bearing.
“I suppose that’s possible,” I said, “But it’s far more likely that the fan belt is just loose.” I talked Marta through checking it, and to no surprise, it was the problem.
Marta is not a mechanic and had no tools with her, but I advised that any gas-station mechanic with two 13-mm wrenches (or, if they were metric-challenged, two half-inch wrenches) could tighten it. It turned out to be a little more complicated, however, as the cause was that the nut and bolt on the tensioner arm had rattled out and were completely missing. This, along with an exhaust issue, delayed her arrival, but by Friday she was among the 2002 faithful at the Best Western in Eureka Springs.
I said that nothing went wrong on the drive down, and that’s true, but there were a few annoyances that I hadn’t mentioned. The first was that, as I described several months ago, between my installation of the Clardy a/c system last summer and the head-replacement work, a resonance crept into the car. This isn’t unusual when there’s something new bolted to the engine or when the exhaust position has been changed, but it really bugs me, and I haven’t been able to isolate and eliminate it.
When I last came to MidAmerica in 2014, I was driving Kugel, a nearly identical ’72 2002tii. On that trip, I stopped somewhere in Ohio to address a loud resonance/rattle, and I found that the bolts holding the bracket for the newly installed Sanden a/c compressor to the block had loosened. I was keenly aware of this when I installed the a/c in Louie, so I used both Loctite and lock washers on the bracket bolts, and lock washers and Nyloc nuts on the tensioner bolts—I hate to use Loctite on tensioner bolts that I may need to loosen in order to re-tension a belt—and prior to this trip, I double-checked them all.
The second minor issue was that during the drive, even though the weather was cool, there was a brief window where the sun came out and it got hot enough for me to turn on the a/c. To my surprise, it didn’t blow cold. When this happens, the odds are strong that it’s due to the refrigerant having leaked out. This happened to me last year when I drove my 635CSi to the Vintage, because one of the hose fittings on the compressor had loosened up.
On Saturday at MidAmerica, while folks were milling about in the hotel parking lot prior to the group picture, it got hot enough that I thought I’d look at the a/c so I could have it working on the drive home; there was an O’Reilly’s about a block from the hotel, where, if necessary, I could go to buy R134a refrigerant.
I reached down and grabbed the fittings on the compressor hoses to see if they were tight, and found that I could move the entire compressor. What the—?!
I crawled under the car, where I was stunned to see that both of the tensioner nuts and bolts were missing, and both of the pivot bolts were loose!
Fifteen minutes and $12.32 later, I had the proper packs of M10-1.5 bolts, nuts, and lock washers. I tightened them—and the pivot bolts—with a dying strain, and made a note to check them repeatedly on the drive home (they stayed tight).
Of course, the irony is that it never got hot enough to use the a/c on the drive home. But at least the compressor didn’t fall off.
After I fixed the problem, I found Marta Davies in the parking lot and shared the “My belt-driven accessory tensioner bolts vibrated out too” story, just to show that, despite preparation, things like this can happen to anyone. I joked that Louie was clearly suffering in empathy with her car. She later texted me “Judy and Louie sittin’ in a tree…”
You see what you miss when you don’t come to these things?
MidAmerica is like my other favorite event, the Vintage, in that it’s not a “car show.” That is, there are no white-coat-and-glove-clad judges swiping their index finder in your car’s private crevices looking for dirt, no holier-than-thou gatekeepers of correctness and originality pointing out that you have the wrong hose clamps. Instead, it’s just folks who love these cars hanging out together for the weekend.
Yes, there was a schedule of events—parking-lot tech sessions, technical presentations, a group drive, door prizes (and I laughed when I saw that “Car Show” was listed on the schedule, since this was simply parking-lot time), but really the weekend is built around hanging out with other folks who share your passion for these wonderful little cars, walking the parking lot and basking in the glory of nearly 80 2002s that all originally had the same canvas and have since become personal expressions of each owner’s individuality.
The smart event veterans pack folding chairs and set them up in the shady treed section in the back part of the parking lot behind the hotel. You can walk down the street to any number of restaurants, but sponsored Friday and Saturday cookouts were part of the event, meaning that you didn’t even need to interrupt the schmoozing and car talk for physical nourishment.
Ideally, I would’ve been at every talk and tech session, but the need for sleep and having to keep up with writing assignments had a mitigating effect on my full attendance. You’ll notice that I’m listed on the schedule above for a Friday evening a/c talk. Funny story: Event organizer Bo Black had emailed me back in March asking me if I wanted to give a talk. I tossed out the idea of an a/c presentation, but never really followed up on it with Bo, or looked at the schedule to confirm it. As I said last week, before leaving for MidAmerica, I was in Santa Fe for a week with my wife visiting our middle son and had less than twelve hours at home before hitting the road in the tii, and the subject of preparing an a/c talk slipped my mind.
I saw my name on the orange event schedule above in the hotel lobby when I went to breakfast on Friday morning, had a moment of panic, locked myself in my hotel room for a few hours, pulled out the laptop, found an a/c presentation I’d given at Oktoberfest in 2018, edited it to make it as 2002-specific as possible, and rejoined the festivities.
The talks I attended were all terrific. Barney Toler and Ed Zinsmeyer discussed DIY restoration. Barney is well-known for his posts on bmw2002faq.com on the project-management aspects of tackling a restoration. He began by warning folks that taking a car completely apart is not for everyone, and that many if not most people would be better off doing a “rolling restoration.” This bought instant credibility with me, who knows that his limits stop well short of fully disassembling a car.
Terry Sayther had thirteen M10-block cylinder heads, from the earliest to the latest, arrayed on tables. He stepped through them, highlighting the differences between models and what can go wrong. I was especially horrified at the spectacularly burned exhaust valves on one head; that’s the nightmare scenario if valves are adjusted too tight and don’t fully close.
Paul Wegweiser talked about his techniques for interior and exterior trim restoration, and shined a few pieces of chrome using very fine steel wool.
Mike Self delivered a thorough and extremely informative presentation on where 2002s rust, why it happens, and what you can do about it, using photos primarily from rust remediation work on his own cars.
And yours truly delivered his hastily-customized 2002 a/c talk.
There were several Q&A sessions with expert panels, although the line between the panel and the audience was at times almost nonexistent.
In keeping with the fact that MidAmerica was listed this year as a BMW CCA regional event, CCA’s physical presence was strong, with CCA executive director Frank Patek, president Eddy Funahashi, and Central Region VP Jeff Gomon attending. Hal Boyles, president of the CCA’s “2002 Forever” chapter, presided over a discussion of how to increase awareness and membership of the chapter.
But as I said, really, much of the joy of the event was simply walking the parking lot and looking at the cars, so here’s some of the eye candy.
I loved this Taiga tii with fender flares and fat rubber, owned by the positively telegenic couple of Blake Henrich and Lainie Pasquini.
Nick Bristow’s Mazda rotary-powered 2002 with the repainted-and-sanded finish drew a lot of attention.
On Saturday, the main event was the group drive to Rogers, a chance to not only run these insanely well-banked roads but to do so as part of a line of 2002s. If you’ve never done this, seeing the silhouette of your beloved car stretch both before and behind you is absolutely intoxicating, a multicolored pearl necklace of validation of your passion. Truly, livin’ the dream.
And then the dream crashed to a halt.
No, I didn’t run into the car in front of me, or have a mechanical breakdown; it was something more invasive, more horrible. It was a violation of all that is good and decent about road-tripping enthusiast cars.
It was that @#$! Taurus.
I could see in my rearview mirror that some white mid-size car was aggressively jumping the line of 02s and cutting in. I watched helplessly as it flew around me and implanted its Taurus-butt self between me and the perky round taillights I had previously been ogling. I quietly seethed as it stayed there for the next ten miles.
Now, I get it: The locals probably see caravans of motorcycles and vintage cars every single weekend in the tourist destination of Eureka Springs, we’re the out-of-towners, they live here, not us—but my knee-jerk reaction was that I did not drive 1,500 miles to go through the twisties looking at the butt of a @#$! TAURUS!
The stop-over in Rogers for lunch brought more chances to ogle cars.
The drive back to the hotel included traversing a beautiful wood-deck one-lane suspension bridge.
Saturday brought more tech sessions, but the major action was arranging the cars for the outdoor group photo. Event co-organizer Keith Kreeger has historically taken the shot from the hotel balcony or roof, but this year he pressed a drone into service. Unfortunately, I don’t have the footage, so you’ll have to contend with my ground-based shots of the linearly-arrayed cars.
Near the end of Saturday night’s festivities, the coveted Iron Butt Award for the most miles driven to the event was announced. Bo said that there were about 75 cars, 02 enthusiasts from 23 states, and 43 drivers who made a one-way trip of over a thousand miles. At my only other time attending 02Fest in 2014, I won the IBA. Then Andrew Wilson began attending; he travels down from Maine, and I believe he won three years in a row until he was bested by Doug Riparetti from California, who beat him out by ten miles.
Andrew has since graciously withdrawn from the IBA competition, leaving this year’s winner: my traveling companion, Bob Sawtelle, who bested me by 53 miles.
The most poignant part of the event occurred when organizer Bo Black was presented with the BMW CCA “Friend of the Club” award. The award had actually been conferred several years earlier, but owing to the cancellation of MidAmerica due to the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, it had not been presented. The official name of MidAmerica is MidAmerica 02Fest: The True Friends of Alex Von Falkenhausen—he, of course, was the designer of the 2002’s M10 engine. In secret preparation for the presentation of the award, the other event organizers, unknown to Bo. had orange shirts with a photo of the car and the words, “The True Friends of Bo Black” written around it. I’m not a great photographer, but sometimes position and luck are everything. I found myself behind Bo and his wife Barb when the applause broke out, and snapped this with my phone.
The other highlights were the 2002 quiz (which included both a written section and a table full of parts to identify; even in its multiple-choice format, I was humbled to the point of incompetence) and the awarding of a mound of door prizes, from official sponsors as well as individual contributors. I won a 2002 water pump that Paul Wegweiser donated. Afterward, Paul confided to me that it was his road spare, and it had accidentally wound up with the to-donate parts when he unpacked his trunk. I tried to give it back to him, but he said that I had to keep it, because if he had a cooling system failure, that way I’d have it on my conscience.
And then it was over, which left only another dawn departure and the long drive home.
Bob and I barely broke a sweat when we knocked out the two 750-mile days on the drive down. The first leg of the two-day drive home was also easy (we again made Columbus, Ohio), but for some reason, from the get-go, I felt like the final day was run on one cylinder.
Not the car—me.
The Konig (Recaro-style) driver’s seat in Louie is very firm and supportive. I carry a Tempur-Pedic back pillow, but when I run down to the Vintage (two 450-ish mile days), I rarely need to use it. For the three days of the drive home from MidAmerica, I slipped it into place for the last hour or two. For the final day, I needed the pillow from the start, and even with that, back and neck pain were constant.
This routine, combined with traffic, heavy rain, and low visibility in Connecticut (why is it always Connecticut?) drained me, and combined with I-84’s lane-merging and the insane speeds being driven by many motorists, put me right on the hairy edge of feeling that I had neither the mental bandwidth nor the right vehicle to push through. I love vintage cars, but I’d never choose to be driving one in rain, dark, and traffic; it made me feel like I was in danger of wrecking the car. If the weather app on my phone hadn’t shown clearing, I would have opted for a hotel, even though I was only a few hours from home.
Fortunately, it did clear, and I eked out the last leg home.
So: Again, thanks so much to Bo and Barb Black for putting on such a fabulous, passion-affirming event. But with less than two weeks before I need to leave for the Vintage, I hope that my road burn-out fades. And that Marta’s car, Judy, doesn’t psychically link again with Louie and, uh, loosen his bolts.
Unfortunately, that odd resonance persists—something for the post-MidAmerica to-do list.—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.