Feel Special for $800

May 16, 2013 at 11:46 pm

It’s not often you see a Saab Special Performance Group (SPG) 900 in the wild, let alone one that’s sitting idle waiting for the next sadistic fool to take his chances on this Swedish chariot. But points must be given to the current owner of this broken banger for having the foresight to store it indoors for at least part of its hibernation.

I don’t know much about Unity, New Hampshire but I’m assuming its namesake doesn’t apply to the status of this car’s most important bits. They’ve been scattered a bit like ashes, with the body kit removed, a dead fuel pump and a blown turbo. Perhaps it’s unified in its project car status, or maybe united in its goal to bankrupt subsequent owners.


Whatever premonition the car’s location supports, there’s no denying its significance as a crowning achievement in the Saab lineup. The 160 bhp 16-valve motor made for spirited performance, but this one’s faulty components – primarily responsible for fuel delivery and delivering the turbocharged-rush Saabs are famous far – let down what is otherwise a truly special car.

It baffles me sometimes how cars can be torn down in what seems like a valiant attempt to bring it back from the dead. Unfortunately, whether life gets in the way, bills pile up or the spouse gets cranky, many cars lie dormant, victim of their owner’s ambitions. With only 7,000 SPGs imported into North America, its rarity is well documented – but will this one get out of a shed in remote New Hampshire town to return to the ranks of its limited production brethren?

Hopefully, time moves a little slower in Unity.

Finding the Fairest of Them All

May 8, 2013 at 11:25 pm

Why do people tear apart perfectly good cars in the name of making them better? Why? What level of self-confidence do you possess that you somehow determined your concept of suspension, or your perception of suitable contact patch, and yes, your feelings on engine internals, are better than the instincts of a highly-trained and well-compensated engineer?

This question has been wracking my brain for days as I pour over listings for E36 M3s. So many of these magnificent cars have been gutted, both figuratively and literally, of any cohesiveness they once possessed as a new car. What I mean by cohesiveness is the feeling that every screw is still in the correct location and that when you open a glove box or move the shifter, each movement evokes a sensation that only a motorsports engineer could create.


Now, I have to admit in fairness that I’m living in a bit of a glass house at the moment. I have modified my cars, thrown out the stock parts and done what I felt was a  bonafide improvement. But as I would learn, the Becks-chugging geniuses in Bavaria, Zuffenhausen and Wolfsburg actually know a thing or two about vehicle dynamics. They just may have built an entire chassis around schematics and designs based in years of study and evaluation, giving them at least some credibility to sell you a car that is just what it needs to be. And nothing more, nothing less.

So, as I click on yet another classified ad that divulges yet another M3 loaded with Dinan equipment, slammed on TC Kline coilovers and riding on staggered 19″ BBS basketweaves, I start to wonder just how many more times we’re going to take what was once great (and still largely is) and improve it for the sake of saying, “I was here.”  If you want to make your mark and leave a lasting impression, become a street artist. But leave the E36 M3 alone.

In the words of Billy Joel: Getting closer

May 2, 2013 at 10:27 pm

I drive the E30 to work most days now, and it reminds me why I enjoy this car so much. It’s just so damn visceral, and despite the discomfort that comes with the rattles and bangs and clunks found in a car with 27-year-old door and window seals, the E46 stays in the garage more often than not.

This could be the reason I’m trying to unload it at the present moment, in hopes of accelerating the body restoration of the E30 with the influx of money left over from a potential sale and replacement with an E36 M3. Of course, this is all pure fantasy at this juncture as multiple planets would have to align in fairly dramatic fashion, but it hasn’t stopped me from turning my eye to what will be needed to complete the E30’s rehabilitation.

As some of you know, the original carpet went bye-bye after a poorly repaired front passenger floor revealed a water leak that, for years, allowed moisture to sit trapped underneath foam insulation. You can imagine that this not only led to a strong odor of mildew but it also to rust holes developing in the passenger rear floor. If I am able to pull my plan together and get the car to a body shop this summer, I will need this:


Carpet! Oh yeah. OEM, factory carpet for black interiors with all foam insulation still intact. Fun fact, it’s not supposed to come off in bunches like mine did. Apparently, when it stays dry, it remains one piece. This will need a basic steam cleaning but for the price paid, it’s totally worth it – especially with factory mounting holes and pre-formed to an E30 coupe interior layout. As my friends can recall, trying to corral a new carpet with no intention of conforming to the car’s interior is about as pointless as politely asking Lindsay Lohan to quit drinking. I almost slept on this thing the other night I was so psyched.

Now, my other purchase was equally necessary but a bit daunting as to how it will go in. The dashboard in my car suffers from the usual E30 cracking phenomenon, with basically the VIN tag all that’s holding it together. I did find a crack-free dash with some light sun fading issues from a friend who’s paring down his collection of parts.


I have no idea how or when this will get installed, but similar to the carpet, it’s a vital final piece to bringing this car back from the dead. Although I’m sure I should be knocking on wood as I say this, it feels  good to be thinking more about the E30’s cosmetics for a change and less about its likelihood of imploding on the way to work.

A Place For My Arm, a Holster for Cups, and a Cubby for Tapes

April 24, 2013 at 11:42 pm

When you own an older car, the list of improvements you can make may appear odd to most consumers. Things like navigation, side airbags and interior vacuum cleaners just aren’t on my radar screen. But you know what I’m looking forward to most this weekend? Cupholders, an armrest and cassette storage.


A company from Wilton, Connecticut called Husco made an OEM accessory for 1980s BMWs that combined an arm rest with cup holder, and mounted directly to the factory console. In what can only be seen as a barometer for where most car shoppers’ priorities (or expectations) lay, not many E30s came equipped with this marvelous contraption. After some message board investigating, I found one for sale with a matching console that had the mounting holes pre-drilled. Believe it or not, I think this was pulled from a car that had this nifty piece installed at the factory, given the clean drilling job into the fragile console plastic. It’s brilliant, and I can’t wait to use it.


The next OEM accessory I found on eBay and is also an original BMW option. The Fischer cassette storage box was a must-have when rocking your Van Halen and Ace of Base tapes, perfect for the factory Premium Sound cassette deck a buddy gave me for free. It mounts below the armrest and required cutting out a mounting hole in the console, and each drawer pops open to swallow a cassette. I still have to wire up the deck, but once complete, the E30 will inch ever closer still to being a factory-correct, well-optioned car. Imagine – just being content to have a place to store your tapes. No need for a multi-pixel display capable of telling you the weather, your horoscope and what clothes to wear on Friday.


It’s amazing to think that options brochures once consisted of a few pages splashed with bolt-on accessories that required no wiring, just some washers and careful drilling. In my recent post, I mentioned how I found an original Honda CRX accessory in the form of a reflective center tail light panel; that $15 junkyard score turned into a $350 eBay home run. But you know what? I get it. I’d pay out the nose for a rare factory part from the 80s. Assembling this arm rest reminded me of just how ingenious car manufacturers used to be without the need for Wi-Fi connectivity and Bluetooth headsets. I could give a rat’s ass if it makes my life “easier” or “better”, a purely subjective sentiment. Whatever happened to being grateful just for something that was functional? 


Like the days of your parents making you wear L.L. Bean clothing while the cool kids wore Starter jackets that disintegrated after a few runs through the wash, it’s nice to arrive at a point in life where it’s more enjoyable to accessorize a vehicle with things that work rather than things that impress. 

Munching at the Parts Trough

April 21, 2013 at 10:44 pm

Saturday was a day of good feelings. The weather was holding, I was in a junkyard, and it was just me and the battered hulks of past machines. What made it better was discovering a new destination not on the internet, not in any phone book, and clearly off the radar of most.


This is a short post before bed, but one that depicts how vital it is to have some knowledge of rare parts and optional features on every day vehicles. Case in point: I spotted a silver 1986 CRX Si in largely original condition. What really grabbed my eye was the center garnish/reflective panel with the letters “CRX” emblazoned across the middle. This was an optional piece if you didn’t want the standard black trim that came on most versions of the legendary hot hatch.

Knowing it an accessory from the awesome 80s, I knew not every car would have them. Similarly, I recognized this was once a pristine CRX Si (an early example at that), and figured the odds were good that its owner splurged. So, for a very fair price indeed, I have a potentially rare bit of CRX kit that is now on eBay for $350. I also snagged a set of OEM E28 mudflaps that are already for sale and will hopefully be gone soon.

Got to walk around a junkyard and possibly make some money. Not a bad day in the office.

You’ve Got a Friend in Texas

April 19, 2013 at 12:15 am

The 1987 325is I own has been through a lot. When I got it from Richmond, Virginia almost two years ago, it was – oh, let’s call it rough. Ripped, stained interior; mildew in the carpets; leaking oil from multiple places; coolant seaping here and there; and a horrendous whine from the rear end thanks to original wheel bearings that were long overdue for replacement. However, despite its sorely neglected condition, it came with a few pieces of the original owner’s manual – one that included the name and address of the first couple to bring this car home, when the odometer showed a lot more zeroes than it does now.

So, some might call this a bit on the creepy – I prefer eccentric – side of things, but I went to work searching for every combination of the names of the couple that bought it new from John Roberts BMW in Dallas, Texas. Chasing a number of leads, I started mailing letters. First one to a business address I found on Superpages came back in the mail marked ‘return to sender’; second one to the  home address listed in the car’s service manual never bounced back, but I didn’t get a response, either. I’d later find out my hunches had been right on the business address but that he had since retired from that venture.


One night, I finally punched in the owner’s last name and the words “BMW.” Amazingly, success: there was a user on the Roadfly forums with the same name who owned an ’87 325ic and an early 7-Series. Better yet, he was in the Virginia area which is where my car ended up. But something didn’t make sense: the other reference to the first couple that owned the car was on a swim team’s website from the Dallas area, and there was too much evidence that they still lived in Texas. Plus, the original owner’s wife had no paper trail in Virginia – so either it was a case of divorce or I had the wrong guy in VA (ironically enough, the gent with the same name was, in fact, a divorce attorney). Still follow me? Yes, that’s right: there are two people with the same name who are both active BWM enthusiasts, each of whom live in a state where my car has previously resided.

Let’s go back to the swim team website: the first couple’s name showed up as a testimonial to the positive influence the coaches and training had on their son’s swimming successes. There’s my next nugget: the kid’s name. So I Google that and get several good leads: all from Texas, all the same name, and a college email address that’s pretty easy to figure out (first initial, last name, schooname.edu). I send off a short email explaining what I’m trying to do and jackpot: a few hours later, I get a note from his father, the very first owner to ever turn a wheel in my 1987 325is. Turns out not only did he and his wife buy this car before they had kids, but they bought it straight off the convention hall floor when the auto show rolled through Dallas in 1987. That’s right: this is an actual show car. I don’t care how big or small of a metro you live in – it’s always super cool when you own a car that a dealer felt was the best way to attract people to the booth and move inventory.

The original owner and I went back and forth for hours. I basically spilled my guts, the gearhead equivalent of reconciliation, even showing him the original for sale thread and what his former pride and joy looked like when I got it (one word: bad). I found he, his wife and son were BMW fanatics, and owned several desirable Bimmers ranging from an early 535i to a V12 850. My mind = blown. But through it all, sharing with someone just how much blood, sweat and tears had gone into this thing – and knowing it meant the world to them – is likely one of best feelings I’ve ever encountered in my years of car ownership. It’s vindication that sometimes, saving a rough car is worth the risk and likely losses. But that’s not why you invest in car that cost less to buy than a new washer and dryer. You do that to preserve the memories, and give them another shot at living on. If I didn’t care about that, I wouldn’t have found a way to make this car actually enjoyable to drive on a daily basis.

And, in what may be the best part of all this, is the sign-off of the first owner’s email to me: “So nice to have made a friend.” Isn’t that what this hobby is all about?

More to come on this, for sure…

The Art and Joy of Tools

April 7, 2013 at 10:09 pm

At the moment, I do not have an extensive collection of cabinets and storage units for the purpose of collecting vast amounts of tools. Therefore, I like to make sure the few automotive utensils I do possess work well.

Imagine, then, my displeasure when I went to swap a set of  snow tires onto the E30 a few months ago and found that my existing lug wrench would not do the job. This was an all-hands-on-deck, standing on the breaker bar fiasco and the lugs still had more resistance than molasses in January. If you want to feel useless in the garage, try calling your friends and asking if they’re sure it’s lefty-loosey righty-tighty. That’s when you’ve reached rock bottom, when what little confidence you have is completely destroyed by a seemingly simple seasonal tire swap.


Of course, the lug nuts aren’t the problem – it’s the pitiful amount of torque my existing lug wrench was capable of emitting. Therefore, I turned to my friends in the reviewer community at Amazon and sought out their pick of the litter, a lug wrench that was a lady in the streets and an all-out vampire in bed. Enter the Gorilla 1721 Power Lug Wrench.

I’m here to tell you this story isn’t finished yet. I had just enough time this weekend to run the E30 up the street and kick off a hubcap to twist a lug nut. Oh. My. GOD. The lug turned with such ease I thought I had just stirred a batter of vanilla pudding rather than attempted to move a salt-encrusted nut air-drilled to hell by the mechanic who swapped the wheels after my failings months earlier.

I’m actually counting down the days until I can set aside some garage time and get those ugly, skinny, crap-handling tires off and swap the summer set back on. But this time, it’s not for the improvements in handling or looks – it’s for the excuse and ensuing joy of using tools that work.

Short-changed tax return shopping

April 1, 2013 at 11:44 pm

Well, as it turns out, I’m not getting as impressive of a tax return as I had hoped. On the flip side, I don’t owe the federal government any significant sum of money. So, while I won’t be stepping up to a Koni adjustable suspension for the E46 any time soon, I have put together a few more budget friendly plans representing both cosmetic and performance upgrades.

  • Hella 550 stone shields: I’ll never know why, but I’ve been obsessed with how cars look when they’re adorned with thick black-and-white covers for various lighting accessories. I have to cut them down to size to fit over the E30’s stock fog lamps, but I’m fairly confident it will look pretty killer. Thanks, Amazon gift card from Aunt Laurie! 
  • UUC 19 mm rear sway bar: Thanks to the kindness of a friend, I was able to sell some fairly valuable BBS centercaps for an early Mazda Miata on eBay and turn those profits into a significantly larger rear bar for the E30. This will replace the E30 M3 14.5 mm rear bar, which I can then sell for a decent profit (especially after getting it during a special 50% off sale at a parts yard that was going out of business.)
  • OEM mudflaps: There’s no reason I should be so excited about these. Other than knowing the rear mud flaps for the early E30s are MIA and no longer available, I also just plainly love mud flaps.  And when the Euroweaves go back on, they’re going to make the E30 that much chunkier, complementing the added offset nicely. I’ve got another pair that I’m going to sell that are in worse condition but I grabbed out of fear I’d never find another pair, anywhere. Not sure how mud flaps got so irreplaceable, other than getting shredded to bits when the mounting points rot out. Fortunately, mine are intact.
  • DISA valve replacement: Apparently, that rattling sound I hear upon cold start-up of the E46 is due to some butterfly/flapper valve located on top of the intake that controls the length of the intake runners. It also apparently can cause significant damage when it goes south, which is right around my current mileage. This isn’t a tomorrow purchase, but it could be next month. eBay knock-offs are fairly cheap.
  • Refinishing ZHP wheels: Ugh. This has been on my list for quite some time and I’ve been avoiding it like the plague. It’s expensive and it involves carrying four 18 inch wheels down three flights of stairs. Next month for sure, if not the month after.

Fingers crossed nothing creeps up in the meantime that thwarts these largely financially-responsible plans. See the entry under “Legacy GT” for what I’m talking about.


Furious Memories

March 22, 2013 at 12:50 am

I saw the first of what will surely be several previews for the upcoming Fast and the Furious movie, number six or seven in the popular franchise. It immediately conjured up memories of the very first film, which came out around my junior or senior year of high school. Although somewhat laughingstock today with its stereotypical bad boys and street racers who make up for their lack of intelligence and driving ability with loud cars and louder body graphics (tattoos on both the car and the driver for the uninformed), the original film left a lasting impression on me.

As a student split between accelerated and standard classes, I oftentimes walked the line between the kids going to Harvard and the ones who barely cared enough to graduate. It’s an expansive gulf between the two, and one I was able to bridge by way of my interest in modifying a third-generation Jetta. With this car, I gained some sort of quasi-acceptance from a crowd that I held about as much in common as an inmate does with a librarian. They were the ones who owned the Hondas with motor swaps, the Mustang 5.0’s with deleted catalytic converters, or even an old land barge like a Q45 that looked – and sounded – the business with tinted windows and a system. They were the ones whose fathers owned collision repair shops and had more interest in hitting the marijuana pipe than the books.


So, where did that leave me? With a Jetta that slowly transformed with the right modifications, and had just enough kit on it to at least earn a subtle nod and permission to park in the back of the lot with the other tricked-out rides. To this day, it’s an accomplishment that I hold as high as anything else memorable I did in high school.

What I remember most about opening night for Fast and the Furious was how overwhelmingly united I felt with every other guy who loved his car more than life itself. Who wanted it to be fast enough to race stoplight to stoplight but also knew the paint had to be perfect for catching eyes when idling in the school parking lot. The first movie to define a generation of car enthusiasts wasn’t memorable for its poor story lines, horrible casting and God-awful CGI; no, it was, for better or worse, the American Graffiti for Generation Y, and the only franchise to bring to life a new story every other year featuring cars representing a wider and more varied audience of enthusiasts.

While I will never tell my offspring that Vin Diesel was an actor of any merit, I will relay to them how that night in the theater, surrounded by friends of all backgrounds and the evening of cruising that followed, was one of the fondest memories of my youth. And I hope  that some day, there is still a director out there who realizes how much it means to be young and to love cars.

Scuffed door cards, pitted windshield, dim lighting

March 17, 2013 at 10:18 pm

Some days, I wonder why I do it.

After doing a fair amount of driving in my E46 this weekend, and taking the E30 out for its first spin in weeks, I had to ask myself – what’s the point of driving an older car? Why I stare through a pock-marked windshield with 85,000 miles on it (because it’s the OEM BMW glass); why I slow down to 5 m.p.h. over potholes (I need to replace the shocks); why I drive with the foglights on at all time (due to the factory bi-xenons losing their intensity over time); and so forth.

The E30 – where do I start? A driver’s side window that only works when the door is open, coolant that seems to never stop leaking, A/C that long since left this world – the list goes on. It’s the project car, so there’s some slack to be cut. But one cannot spend too many hours at the wheel before you start wondering just how much abuse your teeth can take from the rock-hard firmness of the suspension.

But all it takes is looking at the E46 head-on. Seeing those fenders bump out from the horizon of the hood, or its reflection in a truck tailgate with the center-pod daytime running lights and fog lamps illuminated. Or just being able to hear the sound an inline six makes when its cold. It leaves me numb to things like Hondas and factory-fresh (or factory-muted) Mercedes-Benzes.

The more I think about it, the more I realize what a blessing it is to own a car with quirks, or what some would call “issues.” It teaches you that not everything – or everyone – is perfect. And although both cars require professional attention on a near-monthly basis, I am far more satisfied with my ongoing project-status transport than anything that can sit near-silent and never have a need for tinkering or improvement. Let’s face it, we find people more interesting when there is discourse in a discussion or a tweak or two needed to get them to a better place – like an injury that stems from overusing a muscle in a race. The same can be said of cars (just replace discourse with swearing).

So, get used to the kick panels with years of shoe marks and the suspension bushings losing a never-ending battle with winter’s weary roads. There’s nothing out there that interests me more than a good project.

Visit Us On Twitter