Anyone who worked on enthusiast cars in the YBI (years before internet) knows how absolutely indispensable personal relationships were. In the YBI, we actually called people up on telephones—land lines for God’s sake—and had actual conversations with them. We got their names from community, either in printed format like Roundel magazine or the chapter newsletters, or via word-of-mouth. Nowadays, with folks putting up their old parts stashes on eBay and in Facebook Marketplace groups, relationships have slid somewhat in practical importance, but anyone involved in this hobby / passion / madness knows that there are still times when you need to call someone you know and ask “Hey, any chance you have one uncracked intake plenum from a ’72 tii” or whatever your immediate object of need is. You’ll get a yes, or a no, or a “I might, I’ll have to call you back,” but of course the best part is that you then get a 45-minute-long conversation about cars and life from someone who is just like you.

This week I was saddened to learn of the passing of one such person—Jim Dowd. I never met Jim face-to-face, but I spoke with him dozens of times over the decades. Jim was originally from Manchester , Connecticut, but said that he “came to Cape Cod looking for a summer job after graduating from college, and I have been here ever since.” He bought a house in Orleans in 1973 and lived on the mid-cape for 50 years. He was a nurseryman, working at his own and other people’s nurseries for his entire adult life.

But in addition to that, he was a dyed-in-blue-and-white BMW guy, having purchased his first 2002 and joined the BMW CCA in 1973. “I had to learn to service it myself,” he said, as “the car was as rare as hen’s teeth on the Cape at that time, and parts and service were hard to come by.” As many of us have done, he then applied that hard-won knowledge by taking a spin at having his avocation turn into his vocation, opening Bavarian Restorations in Orleans in 1980. This, he said, “coincided with the Yuppie boom and flourished,” but in 1988 he closed the shop and went back to being a full-time nurseryman.

However, he continued to run the other aspect of his BMW business—his used-parts location service. Mining both his own parts hoard as well as his network of relationships, Jim hunted down and supplied parts to BMW CCA members and other BMW owners. For many years, if I needed something that wasn’t widely available, I’d call Jim, and if he had it, because he was just down on the Cape, it usually arrived in a day. He priced things fairly, and they always arrived carefully packed, unlike parts I sell which look like a meth-addled raccoon threw them in a box with a dead cat for padding. I kid, but reading Jim’s obit, there was a comment from one of the nursery directors who said “Jim liked things done right,” and I immediately thought “I could tell that by the way he did business, right down to how he packed parts.”

And it wasn’t just 2002 parts. When I bought my E28 533i in 1990, I went to Jim to rid myself of the TRX wheels. And when the hydraulic brake booster system began failing, it was from Jim that I sourced the leaky piece that sits between the master cylinder and the firewall.

When I read about Jim’s passing, I immediately pictured his business card. I’m not great with keeping detailed repair records of cars, but if something finds its way into a folder, it stays there forever. Sure enough, in the folder for my 1973 3.0CSi, I found the card. It’s shown above, and alert viewers will note the lack of a space between “BMW” and “CCA” indicating its age and pedigree. You also have to love the “2002” at the end of the 800 number. I also found a receipt for two (two!) original E9 alloy wheels, $50 each, $10 shipping.

Ah, those were the days.

I don’t know how long it had been since I last called Jim about parts. It probably had been quite a while. But his name continued to be mentioned in northeast 2002-related circles as someone on the “you might think about calling” list, and I’m damned sorry if the fade-away didn’t have proper appreciation for all he did.

Enjoy your car, but also remember to enjoy and celebrate the people in the community who make it possible. Jim was one of those people.

I think I’ll answer yet another email about whether or not you can remove a ballast resistor in a vintage BMW (answer: yes, if the resistance across the two small coil terminals is at least 3 ohms), then call Terry Sayther on the premise of asking if he has some obscure part, and then talk with him for 45 minutes. It’s the least I can do to help keep the flame of community alive.

Rob Siegel

(Quotes in the above piece are taken from Jim’s obituary in the Provincetown Independent.)


Rob’s newest 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.



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