Last week, my precious 3.0CSi, Rene—my favorite car ever—and I arrived safely at The Vintage. Nothing broke on the 900-mile drive down, my air conditioning worked, and it didn’t rain, so I hit the E9 trifecta.
I did, however, still need to get home. And before that, I had to get through the Wickets of Wegweiser.
If you don’t know the story, well, it’s a pretty strange one. But it is entertaining. For reasons unclear to me, my “friend” Paul Wegweiser has been pranking me and my car at The Vintage since I first showed up with the Bavaria in 2014. I’m not sure what it was about the Bavaria that kick-started Paul’s demented imagination, and I’m a little unclear which came first—the chicken or the eggs.
Okay: Checking photos from old Vintages, I see that it was the chicken.
Late one evening, after I was asleep, a guy in a chicken suit appeared in the parking lot of the Hawthorne Inn, and—I’m not sure how to say this—appeared to be performing an unnatural act on my Bavaria.For years I assumed that it was Paul—considering that the man has been photographed wearing a unicorn suit, that’s not an unreasonable assumption—but he swears that it wasn’t he. In 2015, I drove the Bavaria to The Vintage again. I was standing next to the car on the streets of old Winston-Salem, heard this odd sound like a kid jumping into the plastic ball tub at Chuck E. Cheese, and turned just in time to see Paul dump an entire bag of plastic eggs through the Bavaria’s open passenger window.
Later that night in 2015, Paul apparently went full-on chicken on my car, because in the morning, I came outside to this:
I’m still finding chicken feathers in the Bavaria and in the plastic tubs of tools and spare parts that I bring on road trips. And in insidious places, too, like between the Fluke multimeter and its rubbery wraparound holder that you’d only ever take off if you need to change the battery, which I did, five years later.
In 2016, I drove Kugel, the Chamonix ’72 tii, to The Vintage, and for some reason, I had a reprieve from Paul. I thought that perhaps it was only the Bavaria that was triggering him in this odd way. As long as I didn’t drive it again, I’d be safe, right?
In 2017, I took Louie, the ’72 2002tii from Ran When Parked, and caught Paul red-handed attaching a rather bawdy license-plate surround.
In 2018 I drove my ’79 Euro 635CSi. That year Paul was being treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and wasn’t at The Vintage. The man in the chicken suit, however, was, finally convincing me that it wasn’t actually Paul inside the suit. Chicken Man did, though, have a certain, um, affinity for my shark.When I returned home that year and went to unpack the shark, to my stunned surprise, I found chicken feathers fluffing out from under the driver’s-side rug. I’m still finding chicken feathers in that car. I mock-seriously confronted my wife, Maire Anne, and my son Ethan, and they both denied any knowledge. (It wasn’t until years later that Maire Anne admitted that Paul had contacted her, sent her the feathers, and asked her to put them in the car to rattle me. They were a devious pair, my “loving wife” and my “friend.”)
In 2019 I drove Bertha, my ratty 2002, and for some reason this triggered the Great Gorilla Attack. It began with the bananas (which would make a great introductory line to a dystopian novel). Paul bought bunches of them and handed them out to people, instructing them to, when they saw me, eat a banana slowly while looking me in the eye. It was very unnerving.
When I went out to my car the Saturday morning of the event at Hot Springs, I found the exterior covered with bananas…
…and the interior decorated with an odd assortment of things including hair, Mardi Gras beads, and a butterfly net. Oh, and a gorilla mask.
But when life gives you bananas, make a banana smoothie, right? It’s like how when a bad nickname attaches to you, you might as well call yourself that and own it. As I was driving into the event that year at Hot Springs, I put on the gorilla mask. Event co-organizer Brad Day snapped the photo below.
When I drove, masked, onto the Hot Springs field, I was behind a woman in an E30. She had two young daughters in the back seat. I kept thinking, “Turn around! I’m wearing a gorilla mask! IT’S FUNNY!!” Eventually they did turn around, looked at me wide-eyed, and tugged on Mom’s sleeve. We parked next to each other, and met when I took off the gorilla mask. The woman was Stephanie Smithwick, with whom I’m now friends.
Clearly, the fact that I was wearing a gorilla mask required some explanation. She listened intently as I explained about Paul and the history of pranking that led up to this insanity. When I stopped talking, she asked, “And why does Paul do this?” so reasonably and non-judgmentally that it made me briefly realize how crazy the whole thing must sound.
“Really, I have no idea.”
“And what do you do to get him back?”
I thought for a moment. “Nothing,” I said. “Absolutely nothing.”
“That must be completely unnerving him.”
“Well, I bloody well hope so.”
In 2020, the pandemic canceled The Vintage. In 2021, I attended the thrice-delayed Vintage (held in September that year instead of May), but Paul did not. So by Vintage 2022, there was apparently a lot of pent-up energy in the part of Paul’s brain that’s dedicated to tormenting me, and it was just itching to burst out.
Last year Paul bought a Bavaria of his own and did a lot of work preparing to drive it to The Vintage. Somehow he was under the mistaken impression that I was taking my Bav again. As I wrote last week, I wanted to drive my E9 for the first time in nine years, but I was veering toward not going at all until Jackie Jouret asked me if I wanted to share a book-signing table with her at the BMW Foundation’s opening of “The Power Of M” exhibit.
Paul then began telling me on Facebook that I’d ruined his careful plans to prank my Bavaria.
You have to understand that this is all in good fun, that people tune in on Facebook for what some call “the Rob and Paul show,” of which the pranking at The Vintage has become the spectator-sport highlight, and that folks who have never met either of us know all about the feathers. So when Paul read that I was driving my red E9, Star Trek red-shirt-related memes began appearing on my and The Vintage’s Facebook pages. This was one:
After I arrived at The Vintage this year and first saw Paul, he came up to me, put his arm around me, and asked, in a genuinely concerned tone, “Rob, how’s the paint adhesion on the E9? It was painted, what, over 30 years ago? So the paint isn’t in any danger of flaking, right?”
I looked at him and wasn’t sure if he was messing with my head or not. I chose my words carefully. “Paul,” I said, “when you say things like that, it makes me want to say, ‘Would you just give it a rest?’”
Paul’s significant other, Wendy, was right there. She came up to me and said (loud enough for Paul to hear), “I would never let him hurt your car.”
“You I believe,” I said.
That evening, as I was walking back from the restaurant next door, I saw a large oil stain under the nose of the E9. Great, I thought. This is either Paul pranking me, or I parked in a spot with an oil stain, or the car is actually leaking oil. I’ll deal with it in the morning.
Saturday—the day of the actual Vintage event in the field at Hot Springs—I walked out to the E9, zipped on the Tyvek suit, skooched under the nose, and looked above the ominous black oil spot. Nothing was dripping. So either the spot was already there, or this was Paul’s prank. In either case, everything was fine. And in either case, I felt like I’d dodged a bullet and thought that my little would you just give it a rest speech had had the desired effect.
I unlocked the car, got in, slid into the seat, and began to fasten my seat belt. And then I looked down.
And that was just the beginning. Everywhere I looked, Paul had put copies of a strange photo of himself. He was very thorough. There were three sizes. They all were laminated and numbered on the back, with the numbers running into the hundreds (not the actual number of photos, just the numbers, which struck me as nothing short of intimidation). They were on the instrument cluster, the mirrors, the seats, and coming out of the vents. For the full effect, watch the video below.
About an hour later, I ran into Paul on the field at Hot Springs. I gave him a hug and said, “That was perfect.” He explained that there must be a limited number of key codes for the cool “dimpled keys” that the Bavaria and the E3 have, and that it was manna from heaven (at least for him) when the key that he borrowed from Clay Weiland’s Bavaria was able to unlock my doors and my trunk as well.
He then pulled out his phone and showed me a photo of a huge Star Trek logo that he said he’d made to stick on the trunk lid of my car. I still couldn’t tell whether or not he was joking.
The other widespread and well-planned pranking that occurred was directed by Vintage co-organizer Brad Day and his wife, Anne Marie Vincent, at long-time attendee Jim Gerock. Jim’s high-school photo is legendarily nerdy, and Brad and Anne Marie made hundreds of little stickers—half in true color, the other half with the BMW blue-and-white motif superimposed on Jim’s face—and handed them out. They actually made them for The Vintage 2020, which was, of course, cancelled due to the pandemic. When asked about it, Brad said, “We will wait for years if necessary for this stuff. We are relentless.” Jim was a great sport about it, even putting one of the stickers on the back of his E30 318is.
Me, I have a set living in the E9’s glovebox. I’ll forever smile every time I open it.
Okay, yes, there were things at The Vintage 2022 other than epic pranking. After The Vintage 2021 was slightly subdued due to the rescheduling and the final non-traditional September date, this year the parking lot at the Clarion (the event hotel) was rocking in full swing. Registration was over 500 cars. One guy did a nighttime parking-lot turbo installation. It was like coming home to friends and cars. It was absolutely fabulous. Any hesitation I’d had about going was washed away in a sea of hugs and beer.
The event field at Hot Springs was a thing of beauty. There were fifteen E9 coupes present, including a beautiful Turkis car.
By far my favorite car was a ratty, unrestored right-hand-drive E9 3.0CSL with the City Package and a tandem bicycle bolted to the roof.
At around 3:00 p.m., the clouds rolled in at Hot Springs. Cars began leaving, but I stayed, because I was chatting with people. I had a lengthy conversation with a guy who had bought a Bavaria as a parts car but found its body too good to part out. Unfortunately, the engine wouldn’t rotate freely 360 degrees around, and he was asking for my advice. As I talked about the litany of head, timing chain, cylinder, and crank-related obstructions it could be, I saw that his wife was scribbling down very complete notes. “Buy this woman dinner!” I ordered. Only a steadily-increasing drizzle curtailed the conversation.
At about 3:30, a big bolt of lightning and a crack of thunder directly overhead drove me and my friend Brian Ach, who was also still there, to our cars. The skies then opened. Brian checked the weather app on his phone and estimated that if we waited until four, most of the rain would be gone, and we could drive back to Asheville before the next band hit. His estimate was pretty good. It was no fun winding our way back up the switchbacks at 25 mph in the rain (especially in an E9), but it had lightened up a lot. In total, the rain probably lasted less than half an hour, and we did nearly make it back to the hotel before it began drizzling again.
Sunday morning kicked off the two-day drive home with my caravan companions, Jose Rosario and Matt Thompson. After an event like this, it’s easy to feel a sense of letdown, that the fun’s over and now you just need to pound out the part that sucks, but unlike the 3,100-mile round-trip to MidAmerica 02Fest just two weeks prior that left me physically and mentally drained and popping four Advils a day, this trip home was not only easy, it was enjoyable. As I said last week, the stretch of I-26 that heads over the mountains near Asheville is absolutely spectacular, and never gets old.
The first time I stopped for gas, however, I was met with a surprise: There was Wegweiser’s face under the gas flap. It was the first of many auxiliary non-cockpit Pauls I found.
As we headed north, it was clear that we were approaching sketchy weather. We kept driving into ominously dark skies, but whenever I was prepared to bag it, take the next exit, and find a hotel for the night, the road and the weather would break in our favor, either with the rain already having come and gone, or with us swinging over to the pre-rain side of the front. Finally, after a 650-mile day (more than 2/3 of the drive home) we stopped for the night in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. After finding a hotel, we walked to the restaurant next door. While we were inside, the skies opened. So we couldn’t have timed it much better.
Leaving Wilkes-Barre the next morning, the road rose and fell through the Poconos, accompanied by glorious multiple layers of clouds and scattered sunlight. Knocking out the last six hours was anything but a chore. It’s often hard to live in the moment and feel the “livin’ the dream” thing when you’re just trying to get home, but it was all there.
When I got home, I realized that I’d forgotten to remove the pricy Alpina center caps from the wheels and store them in the trunk prior to the drive (I’ve had them fly off before). When I checked all four wheels, I was glad to find that the caps where still there—but on the right rear, I found that something else had survived the ride as well.
Once home, I told Maire Anne the whole story of the pranking, the photos, the big Star Trek sticker that was never attached, and how I wasn’t sure whether he was kidding about it or not. She said that Paul had actually messaged her, asking how she thought I’d react. So, was it restraint or a systematic messing with my head? You be the judge.
Yes, it was a fine Vintage 2022: my favorite car, clear skies, dry roads, working air conditioning, no back pain, and fulfilling my online entertainment responsibilities for a small passionate community. Whatever life holds in store for me, I will never forget these words: With great power comes great responsibility. This is my gift, my curse. Who am I? I’m half of the Rob and Paul show.—Rob Siegel