Due to the wonders of Facebook, I am being deluged by memories of where I was this weekend last year, two years ago, five years ago, thirteen years ago. They all point back to the same event: the Vintage in Asheville (formerly Vintage at the Vineyard, held in Winston-Salem), North Carolina.
And I’m not there.
Why not? It’s a good question, since this is the event that caused me to crawl out from under the BMW social rock where I’d been hiding for fifteen years and that made me feel that I’d found my people like the bee girl in that Blind Melon video.
I have, as they say, “reasons.” Some of it is back pain; the idea of subjecting my still-recovering back and its attendant set of nerves to a jarring 2,000-mile round trip gives me pause. Even thinking about walking around the event field at Hot Springs and hoofing circles around the parking lot at the Clarion Hotel tickles my sciatic nerve, and not in a good way.
Some of it is family; my sister and I are gearing up to put the house in Brighton we inherited on the market. She lives there, so she’s handling most of the clean-out, but I’m the guy with the truck, so if she says that she’s decided to give such-and-such to so-and-so, I am duty-bound to make it happen. There are some other family issues as well that make it better if I’m here rather than gone for nearly a week.
And some of it is my own mental health.
The stable of cars from which I would’ve drawn a driver is sitting in the warehouse space I rent in Monson, on the Massachusetts-Connecticut border, and I hadn’t been out there yet this year. I certainly could have made something happen, but I reminded myself that in the past seven years I’ve gone to the Vintage, my weekly writing deadlines for BimmerLife and Hagerty have made me hole up in a hotel room on Wednesday night of the drive down and the Friday night when everyone else is partying in the parking lot. I look at the years when I was also writing the Roundel article about the Vintage AND releasing a new book, and think, “How the hell did I do that?” Sometimes you just need to cut yourself some slack. So I did.
Now, as I write this, my old Facebook posts are taunting me, reminding me how much fun I’ve had every year, and the torrent of new posts from friends who are there right now are showing my Vintage family having Vintage fun, and I’m second-guessing myself and wondering why I didn’t just suck it up, hop in one of the cars, and go.
But it’s okay. I told myself that I’d allow myself this vacation from the vacation as long as I got stuff done, which is in stark contrast to how I often fritter away big parts of a day pounding on Facebook Marketplace looking for cars and not buying anything because I’m out of space.
In fact, if may psychoanalyze myself for a moment, the prior sentence is a window into my present state of mind. With eight vintage BMWs and a Lotus Europa, plus my wife’s and my daily drivers, plus the truck and the RV, there are thirteen vehicles. Five—Louie the 2002tii, Bertha the ratty ’75 former track rat, the Bavaria, Sharkie the ’79 Euro 635CSi, and the M coupe—are gathering dust in the Monson warehouse. The Bavaria and the M coupe were last driven around Thanksgiving, but the other three haven’t moved in over a year. On the one hand, why would I even think about allocating six days and a thousand bucks in expenses to go to the Vintage when I’m not even driving the cars locally? On the other hand, if I’m not using these cars to drive to events like the Vintage, why do I even own them? I’m being overly dramatic, but these are the bumpers that the pinball of my brain is bouncing off.
Sharkie the Euro 635CSi was particularly vexing to me. I drove it to the Vintage in 2021, the year the event was held in late September after the pandemic cancellation of 2020 and a postponement from its usual weekend-before-Memorial-Day date. On the way to the BMW CCA Foundation’s Z Car exhibit, Sharkie’s air conditioning died. I got home, found a loose fitting on the compressor, and tightened it and leak-tested the system, but by that time it was cool in New England, so I never recharged it. So I, the a/c guy, have a car that literally “just needs a recharge” but has been sitting in storage.
It was all starting to drive me crazy.So rather than prep to go to the Vintage, I began clocking through a punch list for cars that were staying here—sort of a Hack Mechanic stay-cation.
First was the Lotus Europa. I’d begun a brake master-cylinder replacement several weeks ago, but my new goal became completing it so I could drive the car out to Monson and swap it for one of the BMWs. One of the aims of the master-cylinder replacement was to give the Europa a brake-fluid reservoir on which I could use my Motive power bleeder, because none of the caps I had would thread onto the original Girling reservoir. I pressed an ATE reservoir from a 2002 I’d parted out decades ago into service. With its darkened patina, it looks like it’s always been there.
Then, early last week, I finally got out to the Monson warehouse. The Europa still had some air in the brake lines, so I drove out in Hampton, the 49,000-mile ’73 2002.
I found that of my five cars in the warehouse, four of them had expired inspection stickers. Great, I thought—I’ve now officially crossed the line to where I’m a negligent hoarder. This shall not stand!
Fortunately, there’s an inspection station about a quarter mile away from the warehouse. The Bavaria (Vintage 2014 and 2015) was the first one out. Once I attached the front plate, it passed with flying colors.
On the way back to the warehouse, I stopped for fuel, flipped down the flap that hides the gas cap, and was greeted by the feathers that Paul Wegweiser hid there in 2015 as part of the epic series of pranks he’s played on me annually at the Vintage. I’ve intentionally left the feathers there as well as in the other places Paul stashed them in the car, and smile whenever I run across them. This time the wind caught two of the feathers and carried them away to parts unknown, something that made me oddly happy.
Next was Bertha (Vintage 2019). I was aware that the back-up lights weren’t working, but I rolled the dice. They came up sevens. Loud-and-proud Bertha is now again a legal menace to society.
Next was Louie, which held a surprise. After I drove it out of the warehouse, I noticed that the brake-warning light was on, which is an automatic inspection fail in Massachusetts. I made sure that the handbrake lever was fully disengaged, but that had no effect. Of course, on a primitive car like a 2002, it’s easy to make the brake-warning light go out; you can always just pull the bulb out from the back of the cluster. But first I opened up the hood to check if pulling one of the wires off the brake-fluid reservoir would do the trick.
When I looked at the reservoir, I was stunned to find that the fluid level was down below that of the clutch pipe.
I drove back inside to where it was parked and checked for puddles of brake fluid, but didn’t see any. Did I actually drive the car in there over a year ago this low on brake fluid? Another tally in the “negligent hoarder” box.
I hopped in another car, drove to an auto-parts store, bought brake fluid, topped Louie up, and got him stickered and legal. The brake diagnosis will have to wait for another day.
The fourth member of the uninspected quartet was Sharkie. Unfortunately, he was not only uninspected, but the registration in the glovebox had expired. I was certain that I’d renewed it, but the papers and sticker were probably in Newton.
I left Hampton there and drove the ’99 M coupe (the only one of the five cars with an unexpired sticker) home, since I’m toying with selling it, and Job One is getting rid of the eighteen-year-old tires (did I mention that I’ve become a negligent hoarder?).
That night I finished bleeding the brakes in the Lotus, and the next day I drove it to the storage facility. The Lotus had been to my old spaces in Fitchburg multiple times, but this was its first trip to Monson. It felt right at home, since the owner has two Europas there.
Finally, with an up-to-date registration on the front seat and a “24” decal on the plate, it was Sharkie’s turn for inspection. Some jury-rigging was necessary to attach the front plate to the bracket on the front bumper whose hole spacing is for a Euro plate, but I cobbled something together. Sharkie’s exhaust is throaty in a maybe-it’s-a-hole kind of way, but the inspection tech didn’t give me grief about it.
So, with no more uninspected cars, with Hampton and the Lotus now ensconced in Monson, and with the M coupe about to get its eighteen-year-old tires replaced and Sharkie about to get his a/c recharged, I’m feeling on top of things again. I also have some long-delayed routine maintenance tasks scheduled for my E39 530i stick sport. I’m gettin’ stuff done. I’m kickin’ butt and takin’ names. Maybe not such a lost weekend after all.
But damn! I wish I was at the Vintage.—Rob Siegel