When you run out of car space and something has to go
Like many of you, I own too much stuff. More precisely, too many cars. Prior to last spring, I had 11. This included the eight cars on my Hagerty policy (1999 BMW Z3 M Coupe, 1999 Z3 roadster, 1979 Euro 635CSi, two 2002tiis, a 3.0CSi, 1972 Bavaria, and a dead Lotus Europa), plus the two daily drivers—my 2003 BMW 530i sport and my wife’s 2013 Honda Fit—as well as a Winnebago Rialta RV.
That makes 11. A big number for a guy without a warehouse.
I have room for four must-shelter Hagerty cars in my garage in Massachusetts. I rent four garage spaces, about 40 miles from my house, for the others at $50/month each. And one of the 2002tiis has been on a year-long loan to the museum at the BMW CCA Foundation in Greer, South Carolina, as part of its “ICON: The BMW 2002” exhibit, and thus it wasn’t occupying one of my precious garage spaces.
So I had things under control. Hell, I even had room for another car. So it was no surprise to anyone who knows me when, this past June, I bought back Bertha, the BMW 2002 my wife and I drove off from our wedding in 34 years ago. That kicked the number up to a dozen and filled up the available spaces, although there’s also some spillover room for two more cars in a warehouse associated with my old geophysics job (I still have a consulting relationship with the company and do them a favor by keeping their work truck inspected).
But recently, it all came to a head. About a month ago, I bought a 1987 BMW 535i sight-unseen in Tampa, bringing the car count up to the nosebleed level of 13. I thought the 535i would be a quick flip, but it turned out to be a far needier car than I expected. So not only did the car occupy valuable real estate in my garage, it took the most precious space of all—the one over the mid-rise lift.
And then it got worse. The landlord of the four garages warned me last spring that the roof had some minor leaks. I didn’t think it was a big deal; I never saw any actual water intrusion, and the cars were kept covered. But over the summer, the leaks became worse. By chance, I had the Z3 roadster stored in the leakiest of the four spaces, the one in which a previous tenant had put down a rug. Even though the Z3 was under both a cover and a tarp (or perhaps because of it), when I uncovered it, the interior was visibly mildewed due to the high moisture levels in the space from the wet rug. After the landlord contacted a roofer, he told me there was good news and bad news. The good news was that he was going to fix the roof. The bad news was that I’d need to move the cars out for a week or two. And, due to the expense of the repair, he wouldn’t be able to hold the line on the $50/month storage space.
Now, my lease for the four inexpensive spaces runs through the end of January. Between the two recently-purchased cars, the 2002tii’s scheduled return from the BMW CCA Foundation museum in January, the repair of the rented garage’s roof, and the raising of the rent, something had to give. I figured that, if at the end of my lease I still owned 13 cars and had nowhere to put several of them, shame on me.
Many of us jest that we’re good at the buying part but not so good at the selling part, but it’s really no joke, and I’m no different. Like the story of the frog in the water that got hot slowly enough that it didn’t know to jump out, I’d let the number creep up.
There are two basic ways of dealing with “culling the herd.” One is to take profit—sell valuable cars. The other is to minimize pain—sell cars that are easily replaceable. Which action is best depends on whether the goal is to gain space, gain money, or both. The last time I had to sell something dear to me, it was both. I thought I was about to get laid off, and I lost space in which I stored three cars. In response, I sold my ’82 Porsche 911SC. I’d bought that car for $10K, owned it for 10 years, and sold it for $10K late in 2011. It made sense—until about three months later, when the air-cooled craze swept up any car worth anything. I couldn’t buy that SC back now for $30,000.
Because of this, I’m very loathe to part with my 1999 Z3 M Coupe. Although I rarely drive the car these days, BMW made only 2858 of them, they have a unique shape, they’re wicked fast and wicked fun, and numerous media outlets (including Hagerty) have christened them soon-to-be-highly-collectible. I’m terrified that if I sell it, I’ll regret it, like with the 911SC. So the M Coupe stays.
Other “it stays” choices are easy. These days, my arrest-me-red, rust-free 3.0CSi is probably worth sixty grand, but I’ve had it for 32 years, so long that it’s a part of me. It stays.
The Bavaria isn’t worth big bucks, but it’s the most bone-stock of all my vintage BMWs, a time capsule, and I just love it. It stays.
While I don’t need three 2002s, I just got Bertha sorted out, so it stays. Louie, the 2002tii that’s in the BMW CCA Foundation Museum, is the subject of my book Ran When Parked, and we bonded deeply over the adventure of my resurrecting it and driving it a thousand miles home, so it stays too.
The other 2002tii is the best-sorted of the bunch, but if I were to sell it, I’d be foolish not to do a few things to maximize its value, so it stays, at least for now.
The ’74 Lotus Europa Twin Cam Special has been sitting sans drivetrain in my garage for more than five years. It’s a mid-engine car in which the transaxle is a “stressed member” to which the lower control arm is attached, so without a drivetrain in it, it’s a beached whale. The nearly-immobile-drivetrain-out value of the car is vanishingly small, and the engine will hopefully be reassembled and reinstalled this winter. So it stays.
You see the problem. So I decided to go straight for the lowest-hanging fruit—the Z3.
Now, I love the Z3. I’ve had it for five years. It’s a base six-cylinder roadster, no cruise or leather, but it’s direct, light, snappy, reliable, and an absolute hoot to drive. Several of our women friends love it. And because it’s not worth much, I loan it out to them at the drop of a hat. We call it “Zelda the Therapy Car” because driving it gives an instant whole-body relaxation response that comes from driving a roadster with the top down.
But the more I thought about selling the Zelda, the more sense it made. Z3s are commodities. There are a ton of them. Vanilla base models like mine are never going to be worth much. I could buy another one in a heartbeat for short money if I wanted to. I didn’t pay much for this one when I bought it five years ago, and didn’t need to put much into it. I could price it aggressively and move it while there was still some convertible driving time left in fall. And, most important, it was the car that not only couldn’t sit outside, it was the one that was the most affected by the dampness in the remote garages. Selling it was the perfect popping of the safety valve for my space situation.
One of our friends, our neighbor Kim, has been particularly enamored of the Z3 (she, my wife, and my sister are the primary members of The Cult of Zelda). Last year, she asked me if I could find an inexpensive Z3 for her. So when I put the car up for sale, she jumped at it.
The problem was that she, like me, had nowhere to keep it. I explained that any convertible has to be kept not only garaged but dry. To drive the point home, I showed her photographs of the mildew that occurred in the damp garage space. She said, “So, if I get garage space, you’ll sell it to me?” I said, “I’ll sell it to you anyway—it’s not my place to tell you that you can’t have it if you want it—but I’m telling you that you’ll kill it if you don’t have dry garage space.”
That evening, Kim called me and said that she’d negotiated a deal with the person who rents the other half of her two-family house. They share an old garage that was so filled with both of their junk that she’d never previously considered actually using it as a garage. She essentially bought out her neighbor’s share of the garage for $50 a month, then both of them cleared their stuff out of it. She was very excited.
“Will you sell me the car now?” she asked.
“Yes, but,” I kidded her, “there was $50/month garage space right around the corner from me all this time, and you never told me?”
It was the perfect resolution. The Z3 now lives three left turns from me, less than 100 feet away as the crow flies. Instead of Kim borrowing it from me, I can borrow it from her. And if I ever want to buy it back, I have dibs. In fact, it’s like getting garage space for free. I should’ve thought of this way sooner.
I’m trying to negotiate something with two friends so that when Louie the 2002tii is kicked out of the BMW CCA Foundation Museum in January, it spends the rest of the winter garaged in the Louisville/Cincinnati area. And I’m frantically trying to correct some of the issues in the 1987 BMW 535i so even if I don’t sell it before winter, at least it can be moved around.
Because, unless the cars all have somewhere to go, how can I keep looking for more cars?
Rob Siegel has been writing the column The Hack Mechanic™ for BMW CCA Roundel magazine for 30 years. His new book, Just Needs a Recharge: The Hack Mechanic™ Guide to Vintage Air Conditioning, is now available on Amazon. You can also order a personally inscribed copy here.