Thanks for all the comments about the needy six-speed X3, and for not egging me on to do something that didn’t make a lot of sense. As it happens, I did buy myself a Christmas present. It’s just smaller.
My ’75 2002, Bertha—the car that I bought in Austin in 1984, moved up to Boston with us that summer, drove away from my wedding in with Maire Anne, daily-drove for several years before I turned it into something of a 2002ti tribute track rat, sold to my friend Alex in 1988, and then bought back in 2018—has a Recaro interior with that quintessentially 1980s “orange spectrum” fabric. The pair of Recaro LS front seats and the 2002 rear bench seat also upholstered in the orange spectrum fabric were in a tricked-out but ratty ’74 tii that I briefly owned. I swapped the interior with that of Bertha before selling the tii.
Bertha’s history included the car’s being stolen in 1990, then recovered with damage. When I bought Bertha back from Alex, it had been sitting for 27 years in a garage that backed onto a pond. Both the storage and the humidity from the pond did a number on the car, including the seats. The once-zingy fabric had already been worn by use (even before he’d bought the car from me, I’d loaned it to Alex and his wife to take on their western road-trip honeymoon), but the troika of mildew, spider webs, and broken glass from the car’s theft had left the once-cool fabric in rough shape.
As part of reviving the car, I cleaned up the seats as best I could.
Unfortunately, the existing wear combined with the humidity left the fabric as fragile as Kleenex, and after I drove the car to the Vintage in Asheville and back in 2019, the fabric on the driver’s seat had worn away to shreds. I swore that I had recent photos, but I can’t find them, and the car is now sitting for the winter in outlying storage, so I can’t just pop out to the garage to take a picture of how bad the seats now look. Just take my word for it.
Now, it’s not like the seats are the only thing holding Bertha back from winning a concours. Quite the contrary; the car is a running and driving testimony to its own decay, with dinner-plate-size rust blisters on the hood. The orange spectrum fabric does appear to be available, albeit pricey—Relicate.com has it for $340 for an 84-by-55-inch piece, although there are ads on eBay for inexpensive reproduction fabric as well as ads from a vendor in Bangkok for what’s claimed to be new old stock (NOS).
But it’s not like the seats need only the spectrum pieces, the black bolsters are threadbare as well. I’ve done a bit of Hack reupholstering, replacing bottom straps and bolster foam, but I’m sure that if I tried a whole seat, it’d look like a saggy mess. And paying someone to properly do the ones in Bertha never made sense to me.
However, I do keep my eye open for well-priced Recaro, Konig, and Flofit seats, so I sat bolt upright in front of my laptop when on December 23rd—the day before Christmas Eve—I saw that an ad had been posted 37 minutes earlier on Facebook Marketplace for a rolling office chair on which was proudly perched a Recaro LS seat, upholstered in orange spectrum fabric. If you don’t know, all Recaro—and Konig and Flofit—seats have a standard sixteen-inch side-to-side bolt pattern on the bottom; sliders, adapters, an electric base, or a rolling office chair base can all be bolted to that standard pattern. So if you find something like this and want to put it in your car, you simply unbolt the office-chair base, bolt on the adapters (or their aftermarket equivalent) that were used for E21 320i factory Recaros, bolt the 2002 sliders to the adapters, and Bob’s your uncle.
The seat appeared to be in good condition, with a solid headrest that matched what’s in Bertha (some of the gradient-upholstered Recaros had see-through mesh headrests). And the asking price was a very reasonable $250. And it was two days before Christmas.
Let’s all just admit it: There’s nothing a car person likes more than buying himself or herself a Christmas present that no spouse in the world, no matter how perfect, would know to pounce on when it shows up.
Unfortunately, the location listed in the ad was Haddam, Connecticut, about halfway between Hartford and New Haven. The odds of my getting down there before Christmas were zero, since Maire Anne was sufficiently under the weather that we’d canceled our Christmas plans. I immediately messaged the seller, “Hey, someone will probably grab this before I get down there, but I have an old BMW 2002 with two Recaros with this pattern, both horribly frayed with age, and would love to get this. Would you take a PayPal deposit to hold it? I’m up in Boston.” The seller responded quickly saying that that was fine. I PayPalled him a hundred bucks and smiled at my good fortune.
Now, it’s about two hours from Newton down to Haddam. (As an aside, it’ll be fun to drive there if only because I remember it from the Wallace Stevens poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” I read in college. It’s mentioned in the line “O thin men of Haddam / Why do you imagine golden birds? / Do you not see how the blackbird / Walks around the feet /Of the women about you?” I was astonished when I later learned that Haddam wasn’t some mystical destination in the Middle East, but a bedroom community in Connecticut).
A four-hour round trip to grab the seat isn’t that big a deal, but I kept thinking, boy, if I could combine it with looking at a car or a guitar, or picking up a set of wheels or something, it’d make a lot more sense. So I kept putting the drive off, hoping that something else would pop up.
And finally it did.
You may recall that my ’99 Z3, Zelda, the car I bought back after selling it to my neighbor and after her son put it up on a median strip, needs a front bumper cover (what most folks would call the front air dam), since the curbstone encounter shattered it. It’s been held together by a combination of Gorilla Glue and packing tape ever since. In early 2021, I clicked and bought a $180 aftermarket bumper cover on Amazon, but when it arrived, I found it so flimsy that I returned it.
Then, on the way home from the Vintage in fall of 2021, I picked up a purple Z3 bumper cover from my friend Luther Brefo, but I didn’t realize that it was from a four-cylinder car, and while it would fit, it has a narrower front opening than the six-cylinder version, so I never installed it. The perfect find would be a front bumper cover from a six-cylinder car like mine, already painted Boston Green so I wouldn’t have to pay someone to paint it or try to rattle-can it myself, and located close enough that I wouldn’t have to pay for shipping, but finding one has been like threading a needle in a haystack (he says, channeling his best Yogi Berra).
So imagine my interest when I saw an ad on Facebook Marketplace for a guy out near Springfield, Massachusetts, parting out a couple of Z3s, and one of them appeared to be Boston Green. I messaged him, confirmed the color, and asked him about the condition of the bumper cover. He replied that, unfortunately, it’s cracked, and sent me the photo below.
I looked at the photo carefully. Because the radiator opening in the bumper cover for the six-cylinder cars is larger than on the four-cylinder cars, the structure below the opening is thinner, and therefore less beefy. I looked on eBay and found that some of the other six-cylinder bumper showed similar damage. Still, the cover is the right color, and is in much better shape than the one that’s on Zelda. I thought about it, and messaged the seller that as long as the top part of the bottom opening isn’t cracked and hanging, I’d give him $100 for the bumper cover and both of the inner fender liners, which were also shattered in Zelda’s accident, and could pick it all up this weekend. He accepted.
So this weekend I headed on out in the E39 with its fold-down rear seats and picked up these parts for what is shaping up to be the Great Bolt-On Cosmetic Rejuvenation of Cars I Sold And Bought Back. It was a bit of a puzzle fitting them in the Fiver, but it was much quicker and less expensive than taking the giant catalytic-converter-resurrected truck.
Not a bad haul for six hours, 320 miles, and about 3/4 of a tank of gas. It’s not as exciting as buying another car, but it’s a lot less expensive—and way less trouble. And it doesn’t take up as much space in the driveway.
As to whether the orange spectrum Recaro LS seat will find its way into Bertha, who knows? Maybe I’ll actually use it as an office chair—but maybe it’ll also be the impetus for me to order the $30 Chinese orange spectrum fabric and try that in Bertha. Or maybe I’ll pull the fabric off the back seat and use that on the fronts, which I’m amazed that I never thought about until this moment.
It’s a new year, and it’s rife with possibilities.—Rob Siegel