Last week I said that after finally getting Hampton, my low-mileage ’73 2002, running smoothly, I wanted to get him out and let him play with his BMW brothers and sisters. Although I’ve written a lot about Hampton during the three-and-a-half years I’ve owned the car, very few people have seen it. One of my local friends in the Nor’East 02ers group even intimated that the car was an urban myth. BMW Day at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in nearby Brookline seemed like the perfect opportunity for a coming-out party.
The Larz Anderson Auto Museum, or Larz, as the locals call it, hosts Sunday lawn events May through October. These are informal show-up-by-nine, leave-by-one gatherings, perhaps slightly more organized than flash-mob-like Cars & Coffee events. I go to several of the Larz shows every season. I’ll usually take my 3.0CSi to German Car Day and/or BMW Day, because folks always like to see it, and because shooting the red car in front of the beige Larz Anderson castle is too good an opportunity to pass up.
A few years ago, I even drove my Winnebago Rialta to Larz’s German Car Day on the thin but defensible excuse that it’s a Volkswagen Eurovan with a Winnebago body on the back, making it essentially a Volkswagen camper on steroids. (This is actually truer than you’d think: The U.S.-spec Eurovan campers weren’t converted by Westfalia like the earlier ones, they were done by Winnebago.) The response was incredible; the little RV got more traffic than the 300SL Gullwing parked next to it.
But I digress.
With the remnants of hurricane Ian passing over New England the weekend of BMW Day, I hedged on paying Larz’s online registration fee, since a rain-out was a distinct possibility. But when I woke up Sunday morning and checked the weather forecast, it showed only clouds. So, with a cup of coffee and a bagel in me, I ventured out to the garage and fired up Hampton, almost giddy that my small repair from the previous week—adjusting the choke to rotate it further closed when cold—was still bearing fruit in terms of making the car fire up instantly after years of hard-starting problems.
I drove the eight miles to Larz, arriving extremely early. Despite years of going to these things, for some reason I had it in my head that it started at 8:00 a.m., not nine. Maybe I was channeling the dear departed Bavarian Autosport Show & Shine in New Hampshire, where if you didn’t arrive two hours early, you’d be parking in Maine.
As the clock ticked toward 9:00 a.m., a long line of cars queued up behind me. At the appointed hour, the field was opened—and being the first car in line gave me the opportunity to choose any spot on the field. I picked one next to the exit road in case my back pain made a hasty retreat necessary.
Not long after I parked, a black 635CSi backed in next to me. The owner got out and said, “Hi Rob.”
“I’m sorry, do I know you?”
“Yes. We went to high school together. And this used to be your car.”
It was a surprise to come face-to-face with a bit of my recent past. The car was the Black Shark, the ’85 635CSi that I’d received for free in the late summer of 2017 from my son’s former girlfriend’s father. He was mainly a Mercedes guy, but he bought it and had his Mercedes mechanic service it. He bailed on it when it died on him for the third time and the mechanic couldn’t fix it.
When I got the car, the glovebox had been removed so that the ECU could be accessed, and part of the harness had been peeled back from the ECU connector so that the pins could be back-probed. I often scratch my head at this sort of an Alldata-driven approach that directs someone, in the event of a no-start, to check for voltage on some ECU pin when the cause is far more likely to be something simple.
In this case, the contact in the middle of the rotor was missing, making it unable to receive and distribute the spark from the coil. I replaced the rotor and cap, and the car started. To get it running well, I found a used airflow meter and a set of rebuilt injectors. I sold the car in the spring of 2018 to a young man, who then announced that he wanted to drive it to the Vintage in Asheville with us. With a few roadside repairs, the car made it there and back, but he didn’t keep it for long. I believe that he sold it to help fund the down payment of a house. It was cool to see the car again, as well as an old acquaintance from high school.
The population at this year’s BMW Day skewed heavily toward modern cars, with quite a number of F80/F82 M3s and M4s. There were perhaps half a dozen 2002s, and for the first time in recent memory, no E9 coupes. My red 3.0CSi would’ve had all the E9 lust to herself.
A downside of the easy-going nature of these events is that there’s not always pre-planning for similar models, or cars of similar eras, to be parked together, unless they drive in together. So the relatively small number of vintage BMWs wound up either alone or in scattered small pockets. Another 2002 managed to nudge in and nestle next to Hampton for warmth.
But at the opposite end of the field from me, I spied something white and decidedly different. When I walked over, I was astonished to learn that it was a 1935 315/1.
The owner, Dan Tobin, explained that it had belonged to his father, Herb Tobin, who was a 60-year member of the Vintage Sports Car Club of America (VSCCA) and passed away in 2017. I later learned that I was probably one of the few people in our circle who was unaware of Herb and the car, since there was a sidebar on the car in the most recent issue of The Ultimate Classic, the magazine of the BMW Classic Car Club of America. The car was also featured in Issue #1 of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car, and Herb and his collection had been in an episode of Chasing Classic Cars with Wayne Carini.
After I picked my jaw up off the lawn, I told Dan (pictured below in the jacket and plaid shirt) how wonderful it was to see a car like this in unrestored condition. He gently corrected me, saying that his father had painted the car himself decades ago, and that the interior had been recently redone.
Dan explained that the larger context was that his father had been very active with the VSCCA, but put his passion on the back burner to raise his kids. I later learned that a friend of mine, Tom Kinney, had helped Dan rouse the 315/1 from its decades-long slumber and get it running and road-worthy after Herb’s passing. Kinney also corrected me on my “unrestored” observation, telling me that the car had enjoyed a restoration 45 years ago. Still, it fills me with joy that cars like this exist, and that the market forces that cause merchants to sell their businesses because the land is more valuable than the business, and cause people to sell cars because they can’t afford the cost of the restoration that others tell them the car deserves, don’t automatically swallow up everything.
“How did you get it here?” I asked.
“I drove it.”
If that isn’t the most Boston thing ever. I probably would’ve crashed whatever I was driving if I’d seen this thing tooling up Morrissey Boulevard.
Oh, Hampton’s coming-out? Totally upstaged by the 315/1—and rightly so. But folks I know through the CCA and the Nor’East 02ers marveled at the Chamonix 2002’s survivor condition, especially its original paint and interior, with its original uncut door panels whose linear horizontal trim strips still have the chrome-like Mylar coating intact. Hey, it’s not a 315/1 driven from Dorchester with the top down on an overcast Sunday morning, but it’s still cool.
Seeing Dan show off his father’s car gave me some important perspective. In another 25 years, maybe one of my kids will be pulling my 3.0CSi out of storage, reviving it, and bringing it to an event. By then the car’s outer-body restoration will be nearly 60 years old. Gee, maybe I should start sitting them down now and explain my logic in having the Polaris car repainted Signal Red, and add that the interior is out of a ’75 that came over from Saudi Arabia, the engine is from an ’83 E28 533i, the injection and five-speed are from an ’81 E12 528i; yes, regular gas is fine, and if you roll down the passenger-side electric window you’ll have to help it get back up. Oh, because of the 205/55s on the sixteen-inch Alpinas in the front, even though the fender lips are rolled, you still need to be careful turning the steering wheel all the way to either side when parking, and occasionally you need to pull up the wire to the left rear parking light and hold it there with duct tape to get it to stay on if you’re driving at night, and—
I’ve been talking about all this for 35 years, but I don’t think they’ve been paying attention.—Rob Siegel