A Triumph GT6+, a BMW 2002, and a long and winding Massachusetts highway
After I graduated high school in 1976, I bought a 1970 Triumph GT6+. As I’ve written before, it was easily the worst car I’ve ever owned, but when it was running (which was about half the time I owned it) it did have its charms. With its 2.0-liter straight-six engine and 1900-pound curb weight, it was a quick little thing. Its odd semi-independent rear suspension made its handling somewhere between unpredictable and homicidal on tight curves when the roads were wet, but on straight or gently-curving highway, it was a car that a young man felt privileged to own and drive.
I probably drove the car a hundred times back and forth on the route between Lexington, Massachusetts, where I’d gone to high school, and Amherst, where I’d lived previously and was returning to for college. Route 2 took me about 60 miles from Lexington to Athol, where I’d then get on the curvy Route 202. The bulk of Route 2 is a divided highway, but the last 10 miles or so before Route 202 is a two-lane where the passing zones are short and infrequent (as is all of 202). So, if you’re traveling east and get stuck behind a line of cars, you basically need to just tough it out until you come to the part where Route 2 divides. And if you’re heading west, you’re often stuck behind a slowpoke (which, 40-ish years ago, was likely a Beetle, and these days is likely a Prius—hey, it’s true) until arriving in Amherst.
Or, of course, you can drive like a madman. Not that I condone that, of course, but the whole point of this piece is that I am engaging in nostalgia for my foolish youth, and I insist you grant me literary license to do so free of legal consequences.
At one point, on one of these treks—again, specifically, we’re talking 42–44 years ago—I exited 202 and got onto Route 2 eastbound, and immediately found myself behind a long line of cars. This entrance to Route 2 joins it at the longest passing zone until it becomes a divided highway. That passing zone is less useful if you’re headed westbound—you’d likely wait to take the exit instead—but if you’re heading east, it’s a now-or-wait-10-miles window of opportunity.
Now, memory is a funny thing, and as they say, the older I get, the faster I was, but my clear recollection is seeing the line of cars stretch as far as I could see, which was the end of the passing zone. Regardless, I nailed the Triumph, redlined it in second or third, and was well north of 90 mph and pulling about 5500 rpm when I passed the last car and tucked neatly in front of it as the dotted yellow line turned solid. Clearly, it’s not possible to pass a moving line of cars that’s already taking up an entire passing zone, but let’s just say I was going very fast and passed a lot of cars.
The beautiful thing is that there’s not a “but” to this story. I didn’t blow a tire and stuff the GT6 into a guardrail. The engine didn’t throw a rod. There wasn’t a police officer with a radar gun crouching behind his cruiser. It was just a kid, still living on Sugar Mountain (meaning not yet 20 years old; kudos to Neil Young), wringing the living piss out of a cool car and burning a memory into his brain that would last a lifetime.
This was the most memorable and spectacular passing experience on the two-lane Route 2 and 202 stretch, but it obviously was not the only one. Even my reasonable-driving mother in her 1969 Plymouth Satellite with a 318 under the hood had passing down to a science, memorizing every curve and passing zone and knowing when to literally go pedal-to-the-metal and get around someone who was not enjoying the roads appropriately. It was like knowing the steps of a well-choreographed dance.
I did notice, though, that more than once, there was a guy in a Malaga (maroon) BMW 2002 who’d dance the passing zones with me, or I with him. Though it’d be another five years before I’d buy my first of nearly 40 2002s and begin my life-long obsession with them, I was certainly aware of what they were and had several friends in Amherst who owned them, but this guy wasn’t any of them. Once, we danced together practically all the way out to Boston; he took the Concord exit and I continued on to Lexington. However, unlike The Pass To End All Passes, whose 5500 rpm still rings in my ears, I’d largely forgotten about the unknown dancer for nearly 40 years.
About seven years ago, I became friends with a guy named Lindsey Brown. We met first through the Nor’East 02’ers, a loose group of 2002 owners with the delightfully accommodating motto, “If you can drive it, you’re in.” The group meets 3–4 times a year, either for a backyard barbecue or fried clams at one of the joints on the north shore. While talking with Lindsey, I learned that he was one of the admins of the Facebook 2002 group, was the shop foreman at The Little Foreign Car Garage in Waltham, and was an avid painter, having studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. When I went into The Little Foreign Car Garage for the first time, I saw one of Lindsey’s paintings hanging up. It was a large nearly photo-realistic rendering of a BMW 320i engine compartment. I immediately remembered seeing it on the cover of Roundel Magazine, the magazine of the BMW Car Club of America. If Lindsey and I hadn’t actually met before, clearly we’d been traveling in the same circles.
Over the years, we developed a deep friendship. He’s one of the best mechanics I’ve ever met, with a great combination of intellect, gut, and experience. I’m not a pro like Lindsey, but my niche knowledge of vintage BMWs is good, and I have a lot of parts. We do each other favors and bail each other out like car friends often do.
But about two years ago, as we talked about past histories and other cars owned, the subject of British cars came up, and I mentioned the GT6 I had the first two years I was at UMass until I’d had enough of being serially stranded and it depleting what little money I had. Lindsey’s brow furrowed.
“When did you have the GT6?” he asked.
“Summer ’76 through the fall of ’78.”
Then his eyes went wide. “Oh my god,” he said, “You’re the maniac I used to race on Route 2!”
We put it together. Like me, Lindsey was at UMass and commuting regularly back to his hometown of Concord. He said he originally had a primer-gray 1966 Pontiac GTO, which I had no recollection of seeing, but I certainly remembered dancing with him in his Malaga 2002.
These days, my driving habits are much more sedate. Still, sometimes, in the right car, on the right road, I’ll get into a rhythm, look behind me, and find that someone else is dancing with me. What a special thing it was to find that my dancing partner all those years ago was actually my present-day friend.
Rob Siegel has been writing the column The Hack Mechanic™ for BMW CCA Roundel magazine for 34 years and is the author of five automotive books. His new book, Resurrecting Bertha: Buying back our wedding car after 26 years in storage, is available on Amazon, as are his other books, like Ran When Parked. You can order personally inscribed copies here.