Smithology: Monterey or bust, in a vehicle already busted

Sam Smith

I have an announcement. The world will never be the same. Mass hysteria. Dogs and cats living together. Prepare yourself, America:

I am attempting to drive my smelly old ratfunk BMW from Tennessee to California and back.

Monterey’s annual Car Week begins Monday, August 9. I have been to this happening many times before—I’ve driven in the races at Laguna Seca, rose before the sun for Pebble Beach dawn patrol, and so on. The weekend is a unique amalgamation of car shows and events. Much like the zombiefied Bavarian currently occupying my shop, some of the experience is pleasant and jaw-dropping; the rest is a test of belief.

The Monterey Peninsula is a whopping 36 interstate hours from my home in Knoxville. Not far, if you’re counting in continents and oceans.

One year ago this week, my friend Paul Wegweiser found one of the rustiest cars in the history of time. Moments later, he told me to purchase it. Being a family man and a journalist, I begged off. The mascot for the Venn overlap between those two groups might as well be a wallet full of moths. At best, the car in question needed intense mechanical and structural repair. At worst, it was a rolling pile of parts.

Like most people, dear reader, I do not have an excess of free time or sanity. Existence in this chair is already a Jenga tower of questionable decisions. In such a situation, one does not further imperil bank account and family tolerance.

But then, for various reasons, I did! And it was great!

BMW 2002 resurrection rear quarter work
Sam Smith

A year later, thanks to the efforts of many generous friends, the car is structurally sound. Ish. The “rebuild” process—note sarcastic quotes—was documented in this series of stories. Late last year, when the body “repair” was “complete,” I rented a trailer and dragged the car home to Tennessee. In the months that followed, I proceeded to rebuild many subassemblies and sort much of the car. Somewhere in there, I got a tetanus booster. (The heart wants what it wants, as Emily Dickinson taught us, but that want does not always include death by bacterial infection.)

So! In commemoration of the purchase anniversary, and because this is a place where we actually drive things, I am headed to California.

BMW 2002 resurrection steering wheel
Sam Smith

All great car projects get better when capped by road trip, and Monterey is as good a destination as any. Especially since my supervisor at this company signed off on this process, promising to approve an expense report for fuel. No good-faith offer should ever go unpunished.

In that light, below, my offers to you.


A Series of Relevant Promises Regarding Your Narrator’s Looming Dumb Trip in an Old Car

If YouTube has taught us anything, it’s that another person’s undirected blather is about as pleasant as plowing your eyes out with a spoon. With that in mind, I give you my word on the following:

I will not live-blog this trip. Live blogs are rarely fun, and nobody reads them anyway. Journalists like them, but that’s only because they’re easy to write.

I will not tweet about this trip. Twitter is really only useful for gauging the irritation level of overly communicative people in real time. I fell out of love with it some time ago, when the public focus shifted from cat gifs to political yelling. No sense in contributing to the void.

I will not make the drive with a chase car. To borrow a line from the one and only Peter Egan, who himself borrowed it from Burt Lancaster: no nets. You risk something or you die bored.

BMW 2002 resurrection in garage
Sam Smith

I will not tell you how many shakedown miles the car in question has covered since its reassembly. That number is embarrassingly small. Work and real life got in the way. A 2002tii is a simple thing. It’ll be fine. Probably.

Beyond the space of this post, I will not make a big deal about driving an awful old car long distance. It is now common social practice to generate fuss about your own uninteresting accomplishments. Driving a classic car long distance can bring lessons and entertainment, but it is not inherently interesting. One of the main points of this story series was the silliness of being afraid of old machinery. Most people make too big a deal out of leaving their zip code. Every cross-country trip I’ve taken in vintage iron has been amusing as hell. Things go wrong, but you cope. Just drive the suckers.

I will not fix the sizable rust holes in the floor and/or rockers and/or trunk and/or roof. The parts of life that do not kill you or cause you to lose a limb out of oxide-sourced infection only make you stronger.


Promises? At bare minimum:

I will write something about the journey for this website. Traffic numbers suggest that people enjoy reading about this four-wheeled crapstack. How delightful!

I will Instagram. Mostly as a sort of log. My account on this service started as lazy personal photo album. Five followers in the first month. Many moons forward, that number has inexplicably risen. Make of that what you will, but the tag link is here and the main account @thatsamsmith. (Real Instagram advice? Check out friends in the Hagerty orbit—Larry Webster, Jason Cammisa, Matt Farah. As a friend once put it, “Cammisa says interesting things. It’s not that you’re not interesting, but I mainly follow you for pictures of your dog.”)

BMW 2002 resurrection window view mountains
Sam Smith

I will carry a large box of spares and tools. My friend Ben suggested I bring a head gasket. Ben likes jokes. (I am bringing a head gasket.)

I will drive at borderline inappropriate speed for an old car constructed largely of poisoned weld wire and hope. Life is short. Micturate into the wind.

I will almost definitely take the southern route from Tennessee to California and back. Arizona and New Mexico. In August. In a year of heat waves. What doesn’t rust-hole you only makes you stronger.

I will, in Monterey, show this mobile guano sculpture at Legends of the Autobahn. A fancyish car show on grass, featuring old German iron. Should go well. Not least because someone at Legends usually has a trunk full of beer.

We are going to need a lot of beer.


Departure is early morning, Monday, August 9. Barring the unforeseen, arrival should be Wednesday or early Thursday, right as the big events crank up. Want to help if things go wrong? Offer words of encouragement? Drop a DM on Instagram or send an email: If you’re going to Car Week this year, feel free to stalk a certain terrible old BMW around town and leave encouraging notes under a wiper. (Or discouraging notes, really. Don’t let me tell you how to live.)

It’s 4800 miles to Monterey and back. It’s hot. We’ve got four speeds, no stereo, no A/C, no real door seals, a howling diff, rust holes various and sundry, and a trunk full of spares. I will be wearing my lucky pair of Ray-Bans.

Things will probably go wrong.

I believe the proper movie reference here is: Hit it.

BMW 2002 resurrection open road over dash
Sam Smith
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