I have a cousin who lives in Nahant, Massachusetts, an island just north of Boston connected by a causeway to the town of Lynn. The relationship between Nahant and Lynn is well-described in the song I’m From Lynn What Can I Say? by my singer-songwriter friend Don White: “I’m from Lynn, what can I say? People from Lynn just act this way. I don’t talk slick like I’m from Nahant. (Oh what is in Nahant, you might ask? Well, it’s a little island full of incredibly wealthy people that must have done something evil in some other life because God has cursed them and put them on this little island where they can’t go anywhеre—without traveling directly through Lynn! [maniacal laugh] Ah ha ha ha ha!”

I mention this because my cousin is a member of a private club in Nahant that, in the summer, has weekly guest speakers, usually authors or filmmakers. To my surprise, she asked me to speak. She gave me three constraints. First, she asked me to open with a specific song. I don’t usually intertwine my car-guy life and my singer-songwriter life, but I have a recently-released song, We’d Talk About Cars, that she thought would be a good jumping-off point for the talk. Second, she said that this was a talk ONLY—that is, no PowerPoint presentation like what I’m used to giving at BMW CCA chapter and other automotive events. Third, she asked that I bring “one of your interesting cars” as a prop. And, to sweeten the deal, she offered my wife and me her waterfront house in Nahant for a few days. Obviously I said “yes.”

If the weather forecast was favorable, “the interesting car” was going to be the the jewel in the crown—the 1973 E9 3.0CSi I’ve owned for 38 years. After all, having the E9 there as a prop made it easy to tell the story: how the car was a dead, lightly-crashed piece of junk; how I got it running; how I had the nose and fenders replaced and drove it that way for two years; and how I took out a bank loan to pay for the $4,000 glass-out color-change paint job in 1988 (you can read about it in detail here).

Yes, this is what the poor thing originally looked like.

Giovanni wet-sanding the car after painting and color-changing it in 1988. Go ahead and laugh at the overspray. I don’t care. It was already more than I could afford back in 1988, and if I’d listened to people then about “doing it right,” I wouldn’t own the car today.

But there was another reason to channel Don White and drive the E9 through Lynn to get to Nahant. Giovanni, the guy who painted it in 1988, originally had his shop in Peabody, MA. But not long after the paint job, the shop moved to—you guessed it—Lynn. Less than a year after it was painted, the car was briefly in the Lynn location for some post-paint follow-up. Then, 25 years later (about ten years ago), I brought the car back to Giovanni’s for some more serious touch-up work, as it acquired a small scrape on the right rear fender lip and numerous chips in the paint. I parked in front of the small shop, went inside, and asked “Is Giovanni here? He painted my car 25 years ago.” A young man said “I’m Giovanni.” I was taken aback. He was Giovanni’s son and namesake. All work in the shop stopped as everyone came out and ogled the beautiful red E9 that their boss’ father had painted in 1988. I walked through the needed work and asked him if I could leave the car with him. He said that it would be his honor, but at the moment, the shop was too booked up. And he’d need to order the Signal Red paint.

We swapped emails and phone messages, but it never got scheduled. Time passes, and ten years later, I thought I’d try it again. Obviously I could take it any number of places, but the idea of bringing the now-valuable car to working-class Lynn and leaving it with someone who would enjoy laying his hands on his father’s work had a lot of appeal to me.

The talk was a week ago last Tuesday. The weather report showed the possibility of thunderstorms on Friday. I decided to not be “that guy” and bail on taking the car I wanted on the basis of potential weather. Nahant is only a 45-minute drive from my house in Newton. I wasn’t like I was going to be road-tripping it a thousand miles. So on Tuesday afternoon, my favorite girl, my favorite car, and I headed off to be the center of attention at a talk, and have a mini beach vacation to boot.

The “club” where the talk was was a large old house with a long front porch on a rocky bluff on Nahant’s north shore. My speaking spot was with my back to the Atlantic. The car was parked in the front yard at the other end of the porch. It was amazing.

My cousin and I before the event began. I thought I did a pretty good impersonation of an “author.” It’s the sport coat, right?

One guest with a recently-mangled knee grabbing an early chair.

The real star of the show.

As my cousin requested, I opened with the We’d Talk About Cars song. The irony that the church-basement coffee houses in which most folk music takes place couldn’t hold a candle to this “venue,” and that I was actually here to talk about cars, was not lost on me.

Yeah, let’s play the song about talking about cars, and then talk about cars.

I then spent about an hour telling car stories—how a nice Jewish boy from Long Island became a car guy because there weren’t Ferraris in Old Bethpage but there were Corvettes. And how I got bitten by the BMW bug because, when we lived in Amherst during my junior high school years, a Hampshire College student who owned a 2002 lived with us for the summer. And how I then worked for the former Hampshire student and got to drive his ’79 733i over hell and creation. And how I’m not a “collector” because I don’t seek out the best of anything and instead look for what I can afford and what speaks to me. And how if you’re relentlessly faithful to your spouse, you can get away with a lot of car-related passion.

And, obviously, I told the whole story of the E9 that was sitting just 30 feet away, and the fact that it was painted by a shop two miles down the causeway and now operated by the son of the man responsible for making it so pretty 36 years ago.

For the next two days, my wife and the beautiful red E9 drove around the affluent north shore communities of Nahant, Swampscott, and Marblehead (two other towns Don White makes fun of in his song). Everywhere we stopped, the car triggered conversations. I joked with Maire Anne “We could almost be mistaken for belonging here.”

Taking in the lighthouse on Marblehead Neck.

On the third day, the weather report changed from mere thunderstorms to severe thunderstorms with the possibility of hail. Not wanting to be “that guy” rapidly changed to “I want to get the car back in my garage in Newton right now before this hits.” But on the way home, I stopped at Giovanni’s BMW Auto Body in Lynn, expecting to make an appointment (or, if appropriate, leave the car there) to complete the big circle of life and have the son of the guy who painted it 36 years ago touch it up.

But, unfortunately, Giovanni’s was gone, replaced by a body shop that looked, well, like it had the reputation of Lynn from Don’s song hung around its neck. In truth, I like low-rent places, as I completely appreciate how low overhead usually translates into lower costs to the consumer. But without the son-of-the-guy-who-painted-the-car secret handshake, there was nothing about this shop that made me even want to stop and ask about touch-up work on the jewel in the crown of my not-a-collection.

Yeah, no.

The 3.0CSi and I then beat it back to Newton in time for me to return to Nahant in the E39 and watch a truly spectacular thunderstorm over the ocean with my wife. Including, yes, hail.

So, no son-of-Giovanni. No big-circle-of-life touchup on the E9 by the son of the original painter. And that’s really too bad. I hate to bring it to someone who’s going to try to get me to repaint the whole car—I can’t afford that, as what cost me four grand back in 1988 would probably be at least twenty grand today. And it’s not necessary. I’ll try to find some other unpretentious out-of-the-way place to do it. And if that’s unreasonable or unrealistic, tough. I mean, I’m from Newton. What I can I say? People from Newton just act this way.

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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