Last week I described buttoning up the ’72 2002tii that I’m helping sell for the original owner’s widow. Once I fixed what needed fixing and got it photographed, I submitted everything to Bring a Trailer, and they accepted it, I had nothing left to do with the car but wait. I intentionally put it in the least-accessible space in the garage—the spot in the rear left corner where my Lotus Europa sat for six years—so that I wouldn’t be tempted to continue to drive it, since doing so would gain me nothing but additional risk.
But since I’d been working on the car fairly intensively for weeks, shutting off the tap of work so abruptly left me wondering what to do with my automotive time.
Now, obviously, with all the vehicles—the six vintage BMWs, the M coupe, the Z3, the Lotus Europa Twin-Cam Special, the Winnebago Rialta mini-RV, the sort-of-formerly mouse-infested truck, the E39 daily driver, and Maire Anne’s Honda Fit—there’s a never-ending punch list of needed work. Yes, I can do small round-robin hit-and-run repairs on multiple vehicles, but the big slugs of work get done when a single vehicle has my undivided attention.
Such was the case during the winter, spring, and early summer. I rebuilt the head of Louie, my ’72 2002tii, before road-tripping it to Mid-America 02Fest. Then I happened into Carter, the well-priced ’76 2002 that turned out to need rod bearings. Then I did another round of work on the Lotus, building and installing a set of adjustable lower control arms and slotting the bolt holes in the front wishbones to make them adjustable. Then I made a big push on the Rialta, replacing the rear wheel bearings with uprated heavy-duty versions, rebuilding the rear brakes, and installing a transmission cooler and a temperature gauge. I spent a day tinkering with the Lotus’ alignment, and a quick two-day beach trip in the RV unearthed an issue in the freshwater pump that needed to be resolved, but there was no obvious Next Big Project.
There’s also the issue that not all the cars are at the house at any given time.
Currently, all three 2002s, the Bavaria, and the ’79 Euro 635CSi are in the warehouse in Monson, Massachusetts, so even though I wanted to turn my gaze back to Hampton, the 49,000-mile ’73 2002, it’s not here. What’s currently in the garage is the ’73 3.0CSi, the Europa, and “the baby” (Jim and Chris’ nickname for the ’72 tii).
There is a minor project that I need to do on the M coupe: figuring out why the window regulator is banging when I roll it up. I assume that the regulator needs to be replaced, but I’d rather not spend the $240 until I pull things apart and am certain that that’s the problem. So this repair really needs to wait for the garage space.
While I have no explicit agreement with Chris that “the baby” has to remain garaged while we wait for the Bring a Trailer process to play out, it’s a car that was garaged continuously for over 25 years, so I don’t feel right about leaving it in the driveway for more than short periods.
So what’s a guy to do? I took a drive in the E9.
On paper, the impetus was that a hallowed, cherished store in Amherst Massachusetts—A.J. Hastings, a newspaper and office-supplies store that had anchored downtown Amherst for 108 years and where many kids I went to junior high school with had memories of sitting on the back stairs reading comic books—was closing, and I wanted to be there for the final ceremonies. But in addition, I just wanted to go for a drive in my favorite car.
It’s been hot here in Massachusetts, with temperatures in the mid-to-high 90s. This is about the limit of the E9’s retrofitted air conditioning, but it worked well enough to keep me comfortable. Prior to the car’s trip to the Vintage in May, I had new tires mounted, and on a good road, it still feels like it’s riding on glass. Because I’m so rust-skittish about the car, it doesn’t see as much use as it should, but a 200-ish-mile day trip under zero-chance-of-precipitation skies is an easy choice. There are times when, driving the E9, I’m so in the zone, so grateful to be living this odd life and being able to enjoy these cars, particularly this one, that it literally makes me cry. Heading out the Mass Pike through the verdant Massachusetts hills, then snaking my way along the back roads to my old stomping grounds in Amherst, was one of those times.
Since my rented storage in Monson is pretty much on the way to Amherst, I thought about stopping there and swapping cars, but I kept it simple. Besides, I’m convinced that as soon as I put the car in storage, I’ll get an email from La Jolla Independent BMW Service telling me that E9 lowering springs are back in stock.
I had a lovely drive out, attended the store’s closing, then drove around Amherst, visiting the two houses I used to live in and deeply inhaling the fumes of my adolescent and college past.
On the drive back home, I took the Shutesbury Shute, a set of switchbacks that leads up to the town of Shutesbury, where Magnus Walker and I got tagged by the police while wringing the absolute snot out of my M Coupe. As was the case with Magnus and the clown shoe, the church at the top of the hill in Shutesbury center proved an ideal photo op for the lovely red E9.
I did want to come to better closure on the Lotus’ alignment issues, so even though it was beastly hot, I resolved to find a dead-level spot in a parking garage and take some readings with my little camber bubble gauge. But when I got in the car, my nose immediately reminded me that one of the other unresolved issues with the Lotus is the rodent smell. This is a car that sat in a storage container for almost 30 years, then sat as a coffee table in the lobby of a foreign-car repair shop for four years, then sat in the back of my garage for six years before I finally finished rebuilding the engine and got it back in the car.
Three years ago I peeled back the first layer of the rodent-smell onion with simple vacuuming, then did a second attack by removing and cleaning all the ductworks. With the windows down, the smell was okay, but when I drove the car late last year, rolling up the windows and turning on the heat, the smell got quite a bit stronger. I snaked an inspection camera into the heater box and didn’t see anything mouse-related, but it doesn’t take much. So last winter, one of my projects was to pull the heater box and clean it. Doing so required pulling the center console, and when I did that, I unearthed an actual mouse nest. There were no desiccated bodies, but there was a collection of turds sandwiched between the carpeting and the padding. At the time, I vacuumed it up as best I could and treated the area with enzyme-based cleaner, but obviously there was still another source of contamination.
So I took a morning and did a mini-decon. I sniffed around and it seemed like most of the smell was coming from the passenger side footwell. I’m really hesitant to yank every bit of rug out of the car, because in most places it’s still glued to the padding, and it’ll just shred into unusable fragments if I try to remove it. So I tried the arthroscopic method and peeled it back from the top, looking for more of the kind of turd waterfalls that I found in the console. I found one at the base of the footwell, where a deposit of mouse poop from a little shelf cavity in the fiberglass body was spilling down behind the rug. I cleaned it up, treated the area with enzyme cleaner, and then ran the ozone generator for a few hours. The smell still isn’t 100% gone, but it’s much better.
At some point I may need to strip the entire interior, but I’m hesitant to go down the rabbit hole of interior restoration unless I have to. Old cars never look right to me with replacement rugs in them.
The last little repair tidbit this week had to do with the E39’s air conditioning. Maire Anne and I took the car to a family function, and we noticed that the a/c on her side of the dual-sided climate control wasn’t cold. I’d never noticed it before, because I’m usually the only person in the car, and having the driver’s-side vent aimed at my face keeps me plenty comfortable.
I did some reading and learned that the cause could be the heater-control valve sticking open and overwhelming the air conditioning, or the system being low on refrigerant. Since the a/c on the driver’s side was good and cold, I discounted the a/c theory. The idea of the passenger-side heater control valve being stuck open made sense to me, although the majority of the posts I found on it seemed comment on the valve sticking closed and not supplying any heat.
I looked at ordering a new control valve or a rebuild kit for the old one, but then thought of a simple test I could perform: I could pinch the hose going to the passenger-side heater core and see if it made a difference. I even had a recently purchased set of actual hose pinch clamps, because I needed them to squeeze off the coolant lines in the Rialta when I was removing its original coolant-fed transmission cooler.
Then I realized that I could do a test that was even simpler.
I figured that the a/c must get cold much faster than the coolant warms up, so the first thing in the morning, when the car was dead cold, I started it and ran the a/c. If the cause was a stuck passenger-side heater valve, the right-side a/c should start cold, then warm up as the coolant heated up and overwhelmed it. This didn’t happen. Instead, the passenger-side a/c was warm from the get-go. Ergo, the problem was not in the heater-control valve.
So even though I didn’t think it was low on refrigerant, I hooked up my refrigerant gauge set and shot most of a can of R134a into it, monitoring the passenger-size vent temperature with my hand. Sure enough, it began to blow cold. Live and learn.
There still isn’t an obvious Next Big Project, but things like that can turn on a dime. We’ll see what next week brings.—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.