Last week I wrote about Hampton, the 49,000-mile ’73 2002 I’d largely squirreled away eighteen months ago after it didn’t meet a reasonable reserve on Bring a Trailer. It had something of a coming-out party when I took it to BMW Day at the nearby Larz Anderson Auto Museum, and that started my mental wheels turning. After all, my wife, Maire Anne, and I were planning on driving to Vermont the following weekend; I thought that maybe I should continue this trajectory and let Hampton have—gadzooks!—an actual road trip.
Every autumn for many years, Maire Anne and I have gone to see our friends Jon and Eileen in Manchester, Vermont. Jon, Maire Anne, and I were in a band together for twenty years before he and Eileen moved north. A few years ago, Jon began playing with a band there, one member of which works at the big Orvis building just outside Manchester Center.
Due to the peak fall foliage, Indigenous People’s Weekend is one of the big tourist weekends of the season, and Orvis has events in and around their building, including fly-fishing demonstrations, a how-far-can-your-dog-jump-into-water contest (hey, it’s Vermont), and live bands. Three years ago, Jon and his band asked me to sit in on a few songs. Last year I wrote about loading the 3.0CSi with guitars and an amp, going to Vintage at Saratoga on Saturday, and then heading to Manchester on Sunday to play the entire show with the band. This year I was again asked to join the band for the gig, but it competed with Vintage at Saratoga—they were both on Saturday—so I had to choose between them.
While I love spending the day around vintage BMWs, I love playing music even more—please don’t burn me in effigy—so Manchester it was.
Even with Vintage at Saratoga out of the picture, I’d driven fun cars up to Manchester several times before, so combining the music and leaf-peeping with a vintage BMW certainly wasn’t out of the question. However, the weather report for the weekend looked rainy, and while I love road-tripping the old cars, doing it in drenching rain is anxiety-producing for the driver and rust-producing for the vehicle. Pitted windshields, wipers that move as quickly as a 90-year-old man picking up the mail, side-to-side braking bias that announces itself only when things get wet, and the lack of ABS, traction control, and airbags do not a relaxing drive make. So I was resolved to take the 2003 E39 530i stick sport, which is about as far from hardship as one can get.
However, when the Friday morning of our departure dawned and I checked the weather radar for Manchester, the heavy bands of precipitation were predicted to head well north. A little intermittent sprinkling and spitting is very different from hours of drenching rain. And that meant…
However, road trips in a vintage car are not exactly my darling wife’s cup of tea, since her hypersensitive sense of smell instantly picks up on any fluid or exhaust leak. However, the 150-mile drive up to Manchester is a far cry from, say, the 1,500-mile drive to Mid-America 02Fest, and since the route has only a short stretch on the Interstate, it’s the kind of drive that we can do her way, stopping at every antique store and yard sale we see, rather than be the kind of forced march I do to pound out 800 miles a day. I posed the question to her, and she was supportive of the idea of taking one of the cool cars.
You may be surprised that I did not automatically default to Hampton. Instead, I headed straight for the red ’73 3.0CSi (Rene), which had seen very little road time since her run down to the Vintage in Asheville and back this past May. In addition to the car simply being the gorgeous unending automotive joy of my life, its red exterior and tan interior have always been in lock step with the New England foliage colors.
With glee, I cleared all the crap off the floor that blocked Rene’s exit from the garage. Unfortunately, when I pulled the cover off the car, I came face to face with an inspection sticker that had expired at the end of September. I remembered that during the trip to and from the Vintage, a rust hole in the 37-year-old Prima Flow muffler had yawned open. This meant that getting the car legal would probably require something more than simply running it down to the local inspection station for a sticker. I put the cover back on the car and turned my eyes to… Hampton.
Okay, it’s all you, buddy. Forget my 3½ years of not wanting to add to your then-48,125 and now-49,057 original miles. Road trip!
Into the trunk went the Tech21 amplifier. Onto the back seat went the Peavey T-60 and Taylor GS guitars. Assorted stands and bags of cords and pedals were stuffed wherever they would fit. I felt like the clock had been wound back 40 years, and I was going to a band rehearsal in North Austin. (I actually used to move a pair of near-washing-machine-sized Electrovoice Eliminator PA speakers in that 2002, one on the back seat and the other hanging out of the trunk.)
Okay: Nostalgia is fine, but some level of preparation vis-à-vis tools and parts is necessary. 150 miles (300 round trip) is a Goldilocks-like distance; it’s far enough to feel like a real road trip, so I felt it appropriate to take the small toolbox and a modicum of spares (cap, rotor, points, condenser, belt, fuel pump), but it’s a short enough journey that I left the floor jack, the spare water pump, the two gallons of antifreeze, the timing light, and the dwell meter at home. I did bring the battery jump pack to jump the car, just in case its hard-starting problem returned.
We left on a flawless morning. Our route had us heading west on Route 2 (the road I’d burned out and back on between Boston and Amherst probably a hundred times during my college days) onto a short stretch of I-91, up into Brattleboro, and onto Vermont Route 30. (I had forgotten that there’s a cutoff you can take in Erving, run the back roads up to Brattleboro, and avoid the Interstate entirely.)
About 75% of the drive up was picture-perfect, flawless autumn, with the windows down and the sunroof open, just livin’ the dream. However, as we approached Manchester from the southeast, we saw the weather whose radar profile I’d seen online, and Bromley Mountain was surrounded by clouds as ominous as Saruman conjuring the weather in The Lord Of The Rings. The temperature dropped fifteen degrees, and I rolled all the windows up. Remarkably, though, we hit zero rain.
That evening, the band had a rehearsal. All of Jon’s equipment was already over in his work/rehearsal space, so we threw his guitar on top of my two on the back seat and both drove over to the space in Hampton. Driving to a rehearsal in a 2002! The Wayback Machine connecting present-day Manchester to those days in Austin 40 years ago couldn’t have been stronger.
The next morning, we began to mobilize the equipment to get to Orvis. Hampton was blocking Jon’s truck, so he needed to be moved. However, to my surprise and embarrassment, the car cranked but wouldn’t start, despite my thinking that I’d solved the hard-start problems once and for all. For the moment, we simply rolled the car out of the way, but the problem was in the back of my mind throughout the day.
The gig outside Orvis with Jon’s band was great. Before we started playing, the band’s drummer (who knew that Maire Anne had played drums with me and Jon for all those years) asked if Maire Anne wanted to sit in for a couple of songs, so when we were about to launch into the Smithereens’ “Behind The Wall Of Sleep”—a song that the old band used to play—I asked him if I could use the Maire Anne free-spin sit-in card. The bass player had somehow been left out of this loop; he thought she was coming up to sing, and was very surprised when she sat down at the drums. I counted it off, and she pounded it out. Afterward, he said to me, “Wow, your wife is really good!”
When the gig was over, I needed to deal with Hampton’s starting issue. Although I’d gotten it to cold-start reliably in Boston with one stab on the accelerator to squirt fuel and set the choke and fast-idle, it had gone back into fussy problem-child mode. I couldn’t find anything obviously wrong with it; the choke was rotating fully closed, and the accelerator pump was squirting fuel. The battery jump pack came in handy, because repeated attempts at starting were beginning to drag the already weak battery down.
By trial and error, I got the started by holding the throttle fully open. I drove the car later that day to get gas and pick up pizza, and the hard-starting problem was evident even when the engine was warm. Fortunately, the pedal-down-while-cranking trick worked while it was warm as well.
But that was the only problem Hampton had. It was utterly minor in the overall vibe of the car seeming palpably happy to be seeing actual sun, wind, and road.
I’ve written previously that one of my issues with Hampton is that, as a nearly bone-stock 2002, its performance isn’t that exciting in comparison to Louie the ’72 2002tii and Bertha the former track rat with the hopped-up engine with the 10:1 pistons, dual Weber 40DCOEs, and hot cam. I’ll admit that Hampton required a stiff mashing of the accelerator to keep pace with traffic on hills, whereas the tii would’ve just required a little goose, and the handful of times I wanted to pass someone, Hampton’s stock engine and Weber 32/36 didn’t hold a candle to the air-and-fuel-sucking ability of Bertha. But other than that, the car did just fine; it behaved exactly the way a stock ’73 2002 is supposed to, and that’s nothing to scoff at.
But perhaps my favorite part was that I never looked at the odometer—the thing I’d been so fixated on not wanting to add to, or heaven forbid roll over. Hampton was, after at least a decade in storage with its original owner and years of being cloistered by me, on a road trip—and that felt just wonderful. It was liberating for the both of us. I can’t say that I’m going to drive the car to some event in California, or even to the Vintage in Asheville next spring, but this was its moment, and it was perfect.—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.