As I write this, I’m down at The Vintage in Asheville with both Hampton and the Bavaria.

Wait, what?

I didn’t want to jinx it by writing about it, but for a while I’d been thinking seriously about driving Hampton, my survivor ’73 2002, down to The Vintage. You probably already know the backstory, but when I bought the car from its original owner five years ago, it had only 48,000 and some change on it, and I’d been hoarding the mileage like virginity or bitcoin, laboring on this foolish notion I had in my head that since most 2002s have had the pants driven off them, having a sub-50,000-mile car was some sort of prize that would be worth something if and when I sold the car. But when I actually tried to sell it on BaT a few years ago, the bidding topped out at $25k, indicating that people say they like survivor cars, but what brings the bucks on BaT are pretty shiny vapor-honed cars that present the image of being a finished product. I decided to keep Hampton, but being a largely-stock 2002, it wasn’t as zippy or as snappy as Louie the ’72 tii or Bertha the modified former track rat. It took a while, but Hampton slowly worked its charms on me. It’s not fast, but it’s a remarkably solid thunk-clunk-and-rattle-free 2002 with its own fabulous vibe.

Hampton had one short road trip to Vermont a few years ago, and the mileage had been creeping up just running the car back and forth to the storage I rent in Monson MA. Two weeks ago it was within a hair’s breath of 49,900 miles. I had made hotel and event reservations to go to The Vintage months ago, and a couple of things were pulling me to drive Hampton. One was that if it’s going to roll over anyway, why not have it happen while you’re doing something big and memorable? The other was that part of Hampton’s origin story is that the seller and I didn’t part on flawless terms, and the part of me that occasionally throws his lot in with the cosmic side of things felt like a real road trip was needed to flush out the bad original-sin juju. However, due to back pain and other issues, I was uncertain whether I was going to go at all. But if I was going, as I described a few weeks ago, both the ’72 tii and Bertha the former track rat had an unsolved brake fluid loss issue, so the choice of a Vintage car came down to the E9, the Bavaria (which hadn’t seen a road trip since it was used a few years ago in that short film shot in upstate NY), the shark, or Hampton. Yeah, I know—happy problem. On the one hand, Hampton is the only one of my vintage BMWs without air conditioning, so a/c-centric me picking this car seemed to make no sense. But the pull to drive the car to The Vintage, to initiate into really being one of my cars instead of something I’m hoarding, won out.

So I took Hampton on a drive an hour out the Mass Pike and back to test both the car and my back, and we both passed, other than the car pulling slightly to the left on hard braking. I yanked both calipers off and, sure enough, one piston in the right front caliper was sticking. I found a rebuilt caliper on eBay, bought it along with fresh pads, and got them installed last weekend. Everything was go. The car now was 25 miles from the big rollover.

The plan was to meet my road trip companions, Bob Sawtelle and Jose Rosario, in our usual spot of the Charlton Service Plaza on the Mass Pike, but two days before departure, Jose called me saying that he’d had work done on his 2002 and it was returned to him barely running and he didn’t think it could make the trip. He could take his recently-purchased E46 M3, but the car is sitting on impossibly-stiff coil-overs and he thought the drive would shake the fillings out of his teeth if not rearrange his internal organs, and not for the better. Over the next few hours I thought about it, then contacted Jose and offered him the Bavaria. After all, I’d exercised the Bav a few weeks ago, and other than a dead battery and some low-rpm buffeting from the imperfectly synchronized Webers, there was really nothing wrong with it. I repeated the offer the next day to make sure he knew I was serious, and he took me up on it. There was a lot of appeal in bringing the Bav, as it hadn’t been down here since The Great Paul Wegweiser Chicken Feathers incident of 2015, and the feathers still greet me every time I flip the plate to access the gas tank.

Still funny.

While there was nothing obviously wrong with the Bavaria, it’s still an 1800-mile trip (more like 2000 if you count the trip to the BMW CCA Foundation and other side-errands), so I’d be an idiot not to bring spares. Unfortunately, I can’t say that I’m organized enough to maintain an inviolate box of spares for each of the cars. The Bav still is running on its original water pump with the obsolete bolt-on nosepiece. I dug around in the back of the garage and found the new unused NLA spare water pump I’d bought in 2014, as well as the box of road spares that I do maintain for the E9. Then I took a trash bag and literally stuffed every new and used hose I had in my garage into it.

So it was on. Hampton did The Big Rollover on the Mass Pike before I’d even crossed over I-495. It was like jumping directly into cold ocean water instead of wading in a little at a time. Over. Done. Virginity lost. She’s a road trip car now. No, she’s my road trip car now. I ain’t saving nothing for the next owner. (The video, with its vocal accompaniment of the requisite Paul McCartney / Wings song “Let Me Roll it,” can be seen here.)

The deed is done.

My road trip companions met me at the Monson warehouse. We dropped a fully-charged battery in the Bavaria, then transferred Jose’s road stuff from his M3 into the car. That stuff included a door from Margo Potheau’s (wife of club founder Michel Potheau) 2002 race car that a local old-school ‘CCA member had found in a brick-a-brac store. It was being donated to the BMW CCA Foundation, and Jose had agreed to take it down there. Fortunately, the trunk in the Bavaria is huge. It swallowed the door without even needing a chaser.

Note the bag-o’-hoses. Underneath it all, wrapped in a blanket, is Margo Potheau’s door.

I gave Jose a little pep talk on the Bavaria, telling him that the M30 engine’s torque and the four-wheel disc brakes would spoil him. Then we hit the road with me thinking “Great, now I’m responsible for not one but two 50-year old cars, and I’m driving the one without air conditioning? Half the fun, double the stress? WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?”

A fine road-trip crew.

We took local route 32 south into CT until it hit I-84, stopping first for fuel. I asked Jose if there were any issues with the Bavaria, and he alarmed me when he said that there was a sweet coolant smell inside the car. I had completely forgotten that I experienced this two years ago when I drove the car out to NY for the movie shoot. As I did back then, I watched the coolant level like a hawk, and as happened then, the smell dissipated without any coolant loss.

Once it was clear that I didn’t immediately needed to tie Hampton’s heater hoses together to bypass the heater core, both the pre-trip stress and the additional Bavaria concerns melted away, and I was in the road-trip zone. Even my consternation about driving a non-air-conditioned car turned out to be a non-issue, as the first day’s drive was mostly through light rain that kept the temperature down. Hampton may only have 50k on it, but the foam on the flaps of its heater box is as deteriorated as on any 2002 that hasn’t had the box rebuilt, so even with the flaps closed, there was a constant flow of cold air onto my shorts-clad bare legs. I actually switched the heat on for a while. I started off running the caravan in the right lane at about 65 mph, then switching to the 70 mph-ish center lane, then feeling in the swing of things and adopting the left-to-pass-return-to-center rhythm. We took “the high road”—staying on I-84 straight over the Hamilton Fish Bridge in Newburg NY and avoiding all the congestion of the shorter routes that head closer to the city. It made for a relaxing start to the drive. We knocked off the 500-ish miles to our traditional first night’s destination in Winchester VA without event.

As we were preparing to go out to dinner, my phone then rang. It was my mechanic friend Paul Wegweiser, telling me that a friend / customer of his was stranded with a dead 2002 not far south of where I was. He gave me the gentleman’s contact info. I called the fellow (Michael) and learned that he’d driven down from Philadelphia and the car ran fine until it ran worse and worse, lost power, would restart and go for a bit, then died completely. The important part was that he and the car were safe at a gas station / convenience store, so he wasn’t in need of an emergency rescue. Since he was about 30 miles south of us, we’d be heading that way in the morning, and there was a hotel right behind the gas station, we agreed that it made sense for him to get a hotel there and for me to look at the car in the morning.

So after breakfast, we drove the half hour down to Woodstock VA, and quickly found Michael and his little red ’73 2002 automatic in the parking lot of a shell station. Nearly every “car-dies episode” in a vintage car is either no-spark or no-fuel. I went for spark first. I pulled off the distributor cap and checked the points while he cranked, and, sure enough, they were just barely opening. Usually it’s pretty easy to readjust the points to the proper 0.016-inch gap by putting a screwdriver in the slot at the edge of the base of the points, resting it on one of the two nubs that straddles the slot, and twisting it one way or the other to open or close the points, but these points appeared to not go to this distributor, as the slot wasn’t between the two nubs. Plus, they didn’t seem to be seating quite right in the distributor. It took me at least a half an hour to  to get the point gap set.

It’s not a road trip unless someone’s points close up. Photo by Bob Sawtelle.

Michael then cranked the starter, and the engine announced itself with a backfire-like bang-and-belch that surprised all of us. Michael said that he had pumped it quite a bit trying to get it started the night before, so it’s possible that the BOOM was just from the engine being flooded. After that, it seemed to idle happily. He took it for a short spin on local roads and all seemed well, so we deemed it cured.

Believe me, I get as much of a thrill out of saving someone by getting their car running as they do getting saved. Photo by Bob Sawtelle.


So with the wolf pack now up to four, we continued on down to Asheville. All went well until a rest stop where Michael reported that the temperature gauge in his 2002 was creeping up. It was the classic combination of an old radiator, the higher speeds that we’d been carrying, the hills, and the fact that the sun had come out. The exact same thing happened the first time I drove the Bavaria down in 2014. I moderated my caravan-leading behavior, hanging out in the right lane behind a line of trucks. I knew that Michael’s temperature was fine when he began pulling into the left lane as a signal that I could pick up the pace.

The new improved slightly larger wolf pack.

When we got off I-81 and onto I-26 and began heading up and over the mountains into Asheville, I took the reins off Hampton even more. Over the years, Jose and I had developed a bit of a tradition of enjoying ourselves on the long downhill sweepers into Asheville. By coincidence, Bob and Michael got caught behind a couple of slow trucks while Jose and I ran away. With the scenery of the mountains of Asheville, the cars running flawlessly, the speedometers edging past 80 mph, and the feeling that Hampton was saying “Oh thank GOD I’m out of storage and someone is driving me like I was meant to be driven,” I literally laughed with joy.

Now THIS is “let me roll it.”

The only traffic we hit on the entire trip was on the final leg on I-26 leading to the Clarion hotel. When Jose and I pulled into the parking lot and got out of our cars, he said to me “Everything you said about this Bavaria is true. It is going to spoil me for my 2002!”

So not one but two of my cars had a flawless trip down, and yet there was still enough drama both before and during the trip to get a legitimate article out of it. The perfect trip.

Of course, We still need to get back.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Rob Siegel


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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