Against All Oddities: Don’t forget your toothbrush … and Moskvich 412 motor!

Matthew Anderson

Matthew Anderson is an American engineer who relocated to Germany a few years ago for work. He suffers from a baffling obsession with unexceptional cars from Australia and the Eastern Bloc. We don’t ask him too many follow-up questions, especially now that his move back to the Carolinas (with a shipping container housing a Moskvich, among other nonsense, in tow) has been such a tragicomic delight. To welcome him home to the U.S., we’ve decided to bless him with a dedicated column called “Against All Oddities.”–Eric Weiner

If you’re new here, I should review a little. I’m headed home after a few years working in Germany. It’s time to go back to America. If only it were that simple. For my wife and me, relocating thousands of miles away means packing up the house, prepping my Moskvich to be stuffed in a shipping container, moving into a Fiat camper van, and driving the whole of Southern Europe for the summer. Now that I’ve drawn the lines, let me try paint the details of this logistical picture nightmare.

Our initial plan was to live in Germany for a minimum of five years. That felt like a long time horizon, so I managed to build up quite a mess that needed cleaning sooner than I had expected. Quick inventory check: In the auto section we have:

On the automotive periphery, I have a Sawzalled-to-bits 1958 Moskvich, several transmissions, a Soviet knock-off of a BMW M10 engine, some random Citroën parts, and, of course, all of my tools and resto equipment.

Would you just look at that single car panic attack! Matthew Anderson

I’ve been told several times that the wisest money one can spend is paying someone else to move one’s things. It’s kind of like drywall: either wreck a month of weekends and accept a sub-par result … or just pay someone to do a great job in six hours. So I was definitely hiring movers, but in an effort to minimize my cost, some stuff had to go.

First up were the cars that couldn’t be imported due to the 25-year rule (and weren’t really necessary for daily tasks). Pour some out for the tuned Lada and dear Panda. Particularly because I was scared to drive it (the scroll of unregistered modifications and my big mess of a towing scandal still giving me chills) the Lada really had to go ASAP. But who on earth would buy such a flaming hot mess?

One day, while I was cruising the depths of the internet for a Yugo Florida (as one does), I actually managed to find one an hour away. Fortunately, a Serbian Yugo enthusiast snatched it up before I could withdraw 200 Euros from an ATM. However, the seller, Norman, and I decided to keep in touch. Turns out, he works at Europe’s most circulated vintage car magazine, Oldtimer Markt. When I sent him an offer for my highly modified Lada 2111 one morning via WhatsApp, he bit. He tells the story best, but in short, he and a photographer headed down to Stuttgart in a ratty Chrysler 300 wagon (they have those in Europe!), did a quick test drive, loaded up every single rusty screw and brittle piece of plastic I could find, did a photo shoot, and drove it back to the magazine’s offices a few hours away. Norman might be the only person on the planet I would have sold it to knowing he would treasure and treat the 2111 well.

So let’s reflect: Lada, several boxes of parts, a set of wheels, and a six speed gearbox that I built—all gone. Plus, I scored myself 1000 Euros for the travel fund.

Matthew Anderson

Motivated by feeling vehicularly lighter, I listed the Panda, which my wife and I named Luigi. To be fair, I was in a generous mood and wanted a quick sale. (By generous, I mean lazy.) I listed it for far too cheap and it was snatched up by a roofer for his wife. As we looked over the banana-pudding-colored hatchback in a train station parking lot, the roofer told me that she hadn’t really driven much—ever—and possessed a Tunisian license of questionable validity. That being said, the Panda’s semi-automated gearbox was a selling point because shifting would be, well, one less thing. I watched the test drive from behind a curb, ditch, and small embankment, stepping down only to ultimately collect my 2900 Euro.

I walked home feeling, once more, lighter and wealthier. My wife and I had said our tearful goodbye to Luigi the day prior, in the form of one last drive along the river, followed by a thorough scrubbing. All was good. Now I just have to wait until 2029 to import one, ideally also pudding yellow but this time with a proper gearbox for a 4×4 Fiat.

The Panda had home court advantage in Puglia. Matthew Anderson

Given the impracticality of driving a camper for basic errands, the BMW wagon would need to be the last of the cars to go. With 228 horsepower, six hand-selected gears, and a diesel engine that returned regularly over 30 miles-per-gallon, I hemmed and hawed about importing this car I so loved. But it was just too much work, not to mention a bit too illegal. Sensing the need for a bit more trip money, I posted it for decent money … and got absolutely zero interest! How can such a great car with a full history not be worth 5000 Euro?! After impatience set in, I softened up my price to a point in which message notifications started to appear in my eBay Kleinanzeigen app.

Cruises at 100 mph and gets 35 mpg combined. And hauls combat equipment to Ukraine! Matthew Anderson

Someone from near the French border came first to check it out. Being that this guy was a certified BMW mechanic with a scanner and a laptop, I was kinda sweating bullets. As to be expected, the single K-Line wire under the dash told him lots of secrets that the un-illuminated check engine light kept hidden. Apparently an E91-generation wagon will function just perfectly without a functioning glow plug module or working electric water pump. He bought it!

Another surprise came about three weeks after the sale. This extra-proud new owner sent me a dyno sheet in which the BMW cranked out over 300 horsepower with absolutely nothing done to it. Hmmm. I guess those sub-6 second 0-60 runs and 160-mph top speed weren’t really previously explainable on a stock 3 Series with a six-cylinder diesel. Who quietly bestowed this wonderful gift of power and efficiency? I contacted the previous owner, a friend of mine. Nope, he didn’t do it. I certainly didn’t—I already had a fast wagon, and thy name was Lada 2111. I guess we’ll never know!

Pillaging French flea markets with more power and speed than expected! Matthew Anderson

Packing time!

For an international relocation on the fringes of COVID times, moving companies apparently like to do a video call where they survey the entire house via Zoom. It’s honestly a great idea that should survive the pandemic, as it gives both parties a chance to make a game plan that will minimize time, cost, and effort. But when our call came, I couldn’t really prepare the adjusters for the garage.

“Ok, yes, that sofa stays. Now just one last room to show,” I would say, downplaying my lair of oddly shaped objects, excess of packing material, creative taping, and other horrors. I could practically hear the adjusters accounting for heavy lifting and extra customs forms. It was especially bad because I had just brought in all of my spares from my buddy’s garage in Stuttgart. Two video calls with the adjusters ended the same way:

“How about you just make us a spreadsheet with everything that’s in there, ok?”

From my Moskvich 412 motor, several transmissions, a sliced-up Moskvich 408, and the rear hatch to a Citroën Dyane, it all had to be cataloged and sent to a third party who probably had equally little idea of what to do with this information.

This accounting process also reminded me that I needed to secure the 412 motor in some way for transport. Have you heard the one about the welder, the overpriced East German cart, and the scrap from my neighbor’s dismantled front porch awning? Strap in!

An engine stand quickly welded up and secured to an overpriced cart. Matthew Anderson

On the day of the move, a strict playbook directed logistics and loading order. Despite advance planning, the moving team still overloaded their van with my counterfeit BMW motor, toolbox, and sheet metal working equipment. Extra trips were in order. These were mostly fellows from Turkey and avid car enthusiasts themselves, so I kept the coffee coming and we BS’d about lowering and modifying Tofaş automobiles. All went to plan, and the house was soon empty, save for a few things that were earmarked for the camper or carried home in luggage. This list included both our wine collection and some Fiat Ducato brake drums.

My underwear is in there. Seriously. Matthew Anderson

At this stage, it was just days before the trip and my key ring is disconcertedly lightweight. Better start searching for weird cars to buy once I’m back home, right?

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