You’re Either the Fence or the Switch

May 27, 2013 at 11:21 pm

“Hold onto your butts.”

Ah, the immortal Samuel L. Jackson and his cryptic words of wisdom before doing something that would both save the asses of everyone trapped in Jurassic Park while completely screwing over the slow kid stuck to the electric fence. In a somewhat premeditated move, I chose these very words to describe how I feel the night before I take delivery of a 1995 BMW M3 coupe from San Diego that I bought sight unseen.


In one regard, I have feelings of great anticipation. Hope for redemption, that after falling out of love seemingly overnight with my 2003 BMW 330i ZHP, that the M3 will indeed unlock Pandora’s Box of daily-driver bliss. That like the moment ol’ Samuel realized he had found the path to potential safety from certain death by tyrannosaurus, I have discovered the automotive fountain of youth, where, with every turn of the key, I am reminded that a car can deliver such satisfaction that its welcome is never worn out.

At the same time, I could be that idiot who climbed so God-awfully slow up the fence that you were almost rooting for him to get his brains fried when the juice was pumped through the lines. As you watched, you’re at first cheering for him, something like this: “Yeah, Jeff – a nice, clean E46. It’s got modern safety features, functioning air conditioning, hasn’t been stolen and put back together after an insurance auction, etc…” But then, as you watch little Joey Mazzello climb up the fence like he’s afraid it’s going to give him AIDS you start to think, “Goddamnit, you’re  a few apples short of  bushel, ain’t ya? You know what? You deserve whatever you have coming to you. Sam Jacks, turn that mother on and let’s see some suffering.”

All that said, I’m not sure what side of the fence I’ll end up on. Slowly taking a drag from a cigarette after a job well done, or writhing in pain as my intestines turn to jello.

Either way, it’s safe to say we better grab hold of our posteriors and hope for the best. The M3 should be here by this time tomorrow night.

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.

The Last Ride

April 30, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Ask this question to automotive enthusiasts and you’ll get a wide range of responses: If you had one last tank of petrol to use in your life, what car would you put it in?

It’s a question I’ve been pondering for the past few weeks, for me the car of choice would have to be in all likelihood a homoligation special. A car that has a racing influence, can rapidly get from point A to point B by eating up straights and being able to handle the twistys. It would also have to be involving, giving me feedback as to what it was doing with the road but at the same time engaging the me in a sort of dance.

The shortlist contained the Subaru STI 22B, Ferrari 288 GTO, and the BMW E30 M3. All of them pure and wonderful but for my last tank of Petrol, I’ll take a Porsche 997 GT3 RS 4.0.

2 Icons

Two Icons

The RS 4.0 is the ultimate point A to point B car, it’s pure, it has a roll cage and everything that’s in the car is in it for a reason. There are no luxurious thrills. It has a power to weight ratio of 365 bhp per ton, it has front dive planes and a close ratio six speed gearbox, not the PDK which is in the new 991 GT3.

In addition to that, it’s a Porsche. Is there any other car company that makes such amazing and pure sports cars? Porsche makes the amazing by using what many wouldn’t use in creating pure driving machines (rear engine-rear wheel drive and a flat six engine).


I highly recommend finding old copies of EVO and watching old clips of the web video series Drive to see Sons of Taki Icon Chris Harris feature his own 4.0. Harris’ describes the 4.0 in the only ways it can described, pure amazing.

So what say you? What car would you put your last tank of petrol in?

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. 

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, 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…

A Gearhead’s Dream Deferred, But Not Forgotten

April 4, 2013 at 10:09 pm

e30 sunset

So, I read an editor’s column last night in a magazine I once interviewed for a position with. This gentleman is the publisher of a popular motorsports outlet that caters to the weekend racer and DIY’ers. Although he speaks my language in many ways, he’s also a bit more hands-on than I’ve ever been in the garage. Credit that, along with a few other lifestyle decisions, that led me to not taking the position I was offered over a year ago.

The column focused on a number of topics related to the success of the publication, as well as his lack of success in recruiting the right talent to fill positions in editorial. I wondered as I read it if he was talking about me, when he referenced how some candidates were “prima donnas” and that certain interviewees had the courage (or audacity) to ask if they could telecommute. You know, I get it – he’s in a much warmer location than I am, surrounded by desirable machinery and in an affordable part of the country where wages aren’t much of a concern. Maybe he wasn’t even talking about me, but it gave me pause as I digested those words.

The bottom line is, I made an important decision when I turned the position down, which was that I was confident I could someday find the opportunity to write professionally about the hobby of cars in a way that fit my lifestyle, which takes many forms – from where and when I’m ready to move to a new city and if I’m confident the position will be more than just a test of my ability to translate the weekend’s project car assignment into riveting copy. Although I felt some pangs of regret for passing on what could have been the only opportunity to write for a successful motorsports magazine, I also experienced a bit of relief I didn’t cash all my chips in on the first opportunity that came my way.

Sometimes that works out. My E30 was one of those situations, but it made sense for the crossroads I had reached. Disappointing relationship, horrible (but good paying) job, and an overall sense of disillusionment with where life was. The E30 reflected this rock-bottom perspective but it represented a tangible mechanism for improvement, for looking at something pitiful and saying, “This will improve. This will be exactly what I want it to be someday.” Could I have waited for a better car to come along? I could have, but that’s not what I needed at that point in time. I needed the quick fix. I needed to see potential in something.

Like I’ve said before, I draw parallels from my vehicles that have served me well in many ways. If I was a prima donna, I would have scoffed at the E30 the second I saw the first photos of its ratty interior, oil-stained engine block and mismatched side mirrors. But instead, I saw the potential, which is far harder to find in most situations, whether it’s a job, a relationship, or a new project car. Potential is what keeps us coming back to the well, and wanting to take the steps necessary to ensure there is always more to uncover.

As I closed the magazine last night, I did so with little internal conflict. Do I still want to write for a car magazine some day? Absolutely. Do I feel there is no better occupation for me? With little doubt and much conviction. Will there be other opportunities? I sure hope so.

If I use the E30 as my yard stick, I’ll only grow doubtful at the potential of this career path the day that car is fully restored, from stem to stern. And even then, if the editorship of a lifetime still hasn’t revealed itself, I’ll at least have one heck of an E30.

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