Can you go “closet shopping” for cars?

Rob Siegel

There’s a phrase I’ve heard women use: “Closet Shopping.” It describes rooting around in your closet to find clothing that you’ve forgotten about and reconnecting with it, maybe wearing it in some new way.

First, let me say that I don’t think I’m engaging in gender-stereotyping. I’ve simply never heard men use the phrase. I will, however, freely admit that I have two dozen sport coats in my closet from back in the days when I managed a team of engineers and wore a coat and tie to work. They’re mostly Italian labels that I found in thrift stores for the price of a DIY oil change. When my wife and I head out to a social obligation or a nice dinner, I will admit to trying a whole bunch of them on, sighing, wondering why I still own them, then not being able to part with any of them. But I doubt that there is any “new way” to wear a sport coat, at least not one that wouldn’t make me look like I’m off my meds.

I’ve written quite a bit about the 13 cars I own (the Lotus Europa Twin Cam Special, the three BMW 2002s, the 3.0CSi, the Bavaria, the 1979 Euro 635CSi, the M Coupe, the Z3, the 530i daily driver, my wife’s DD Honda Fit, the little Winnebago Rialta RV, and the Duramax Diesel truck), and how the 70-mile distance to the spaces I rent in a warehouse in the town of Monson on the Massachusetts/Connecticut border has made it so it can be months between visits to the five cars that are stored out there.

It made me wonder: Is the Monson warehouse my “closet?” If you own enough cars, is there such a thing as “Garage Shopping?” And, if so, can it actually stave off the desire to buy another car?

Maybe, maybe, and maybe.

To be clear, I’d have to own a lot more than 13 cars to simply forget about several of them and then rediscover them like an old sweater or last season’s Capri pants. I do, however, have recurring dreams about cars I once owned. They’re very specific. The 1970 Triumph GT6+, my wife’s ’69 VW Westfalia camper, a particularly spritely 1972 BMW 2002tii, and a 1983 BMW 533i daily driver (the exception in an otherwise passion-centric list) all make repeat somnambulic appearances where I dream I stashed them in a warehouse or garage and forgot that I still own them until I stumble upon them. But I digress.

Siegel BMW clown shoe coupe warehouse storage
If all the cars in the Monson warehouse were mine, I might be able to forget about or lose a car in there. Rob Siegel

But there is something to be said for the proposition that, when you don’t drive a car for a while, you get reintroduced to it when you finally do. And that reintroduction can go either way. It can be like running into an old college flame and thinking “What did I ever see in her?” Or you can react viscerally and walk away weak-knee’d and feeling, “Oh man, am I in trouble.”

A few months ago, I wrote about driving the five cars in Monson after not seeing them since Thanksgiving and not driving some of them farther than around the block for over a year. The experience was generally a positive one, with one glaring exception—when I drove the 1999 BMW M Coupe (the “Clown Shoe”) the 70 miles home, I was painfully reminded of the fact that, after 45 minutes, the seats cause me sharp lower-back discomfort.

Siegel BMW clown shoe coupe front three quarter
Out of the Monson closet rolled the M Coupe. Rob Siegel

Because of this, I began to seriously think about selling the car. I clocked through a few punch list items—I had the wheels refinished and one slightly bent one straightened, shelled out for new tires, repaired a cracked taillight, and investigated refinishing the front bumper cover.

As I wrote (here and here), it’s a lot of work to sell a car, particularly if you want to get market value for it and supply the information necessary to address the questions you’re certain to get peppered with. I had a few friends and online acquaintances who expressed interest in the car, so instead of shooting hundreds of still pics, I did a simple walk-around video of the car, and a second one with it up on the mid-rise lift in my garage.

But before even a quick walk-around video, the car needed a rudimentary cleaning. Really, what the car badly needs is to be detailed. There’s so much particulate matter embedded in the paint that once it gets a clay bar treatment, it’ll make the bar look like it’s been rolled in a granite quarry. And interior-wise, you can probably find a 10mm socket in the dirt in the seat crevices. But doing something is better than doing nothing, so I simply gave it a quick washing and interior vacuuming in my driveway. On the drive to the parking lot where I often photograph cars, the car was still dripping, so I took it up onto the highway for a few exits to blow the water off.

And that’s when I found it in my closet and remembered why I bought it in the first place.

When I bought the car in the winter of 2007, it had four bent wheels and all four shocks/struts were either seized or blown, but it didn’t matter, because when I got it on the entrance ramp to the highway and nailed it, it wound up so quickly that I hit 90 before I knew what happened. By modern standards, the car’s specs (240 horsepower from the S52 engine, 5.3 seconds 0-60) don’t cause hyperventilation, but it was quicker than and completely different from anything I’d ever owned, and between that and the car’s “planted” rear end, I was immediately hooked.

The funny thing is that, 16 years later, that’s still the case. And now that the car is sitting on completely round wheels with brand-spanking-new rubber, the quick drive on the highway was transformative. Mash the gas, and car rockets forward, glass-smooth on the asphalt. Throw it around an entrance ramp, and it feels glued down. Back pain after 45 minutes? Who cares when that’s still 35 minutes away? Since this is a family publication, I’m not sure I can print the meeting-the-hot-old-flame analogy, but you get the picture.

Siegel BMW clown shoe coupe rear three quarter
Kapow. Rob Siegel

I’ve been strident about my view that, as a regular non-hedge-or-trust-fund Joe with finite resources, a car needs to be for something in order to stay around. The 3.0CSi is to look at and swoon over, and after 37 years, I still get to be its partner (sort of how I look at my wife). The other vintage BMWs are for long-distance driving to events. The ratty Z3 roadster is for top-down stress-busting, even on a trip to the hardware store. The Lotus Europa is for driving on twisty roads through leafy suburbs west of Boston at 4 mph over the speed limit and having so much fun that I feels like I should be arrested. The Rialta is for quick inexpensive beach getaways. The dailies and the truck are for the disposable stuff of life. By this analysis, the M Coupe hasn’t been for anything in many years, and thus has felt like the odd girl out.

But maybe, if money and space concerns don’t get too pressing, being the feels-like-nothing-else-I-own-and-I-go-ohgodohgodohgodohgodohgod-when-I-nail-it car is enough.

Regarding the overly-stiff seats, when I wrote the “maybe I’ll sell it” article, I received numerous comments that I could replace the seats with something more comfortable like the vintage Recaros in my old BMWs. It’s not that simple. Like most cars built since the 1990s, the M Coupe has seat belt tensioners—sensational devices that are triggered along with the airbag and other Supplemental Restraint System (SRS) components to pull the seat belts tight in the event of an impact. The belt tensioners are a part of the seats and thus are not easily or safely retrofit onto an old Recaro.

However, years back, some Clown Shoe folks alerted me that I wasn’t alone in finding the seats uncomfortable, and that some people found that simply tilting the normally-unadjustable seat base slightly back by adding spacers in the front makes a difference by providing more leg support. I tried throwing a few washers under the front seat bolts six years ago and didn’t find it to be a magic bullet. However, someone sent me a link to an inexpensive adjustable kit for the M Coupe. I have it on order.

Siegel BMW clown shoe coupe seat mod
We’ll see if this helps. Street Driven Industries

Holy hell. I’ve not only found an old article in the closet, I’m about to wear it in a new way. I’d better check my meds.



Rob’s latest book, The Best of the Hack Mechanic™35 years of Hacks, Kluges, and Assorted Automotive Mayhem, is available on Amazon here. His other seven books are available here on Amazon, or you can order personally inscribed copies from Rob’s website,

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    Rob, thank you for following my sage advice of getting a new lenses from the dealer, having the wheel’s refurbished, and going to Costco and getting new Michlin tyres… gee was that hard. But now you are like my husband when I say you have not worn these shirts sence 1990 could I get them out of the guest room closet but he said no he may need them. Except instead of shirts you have cars. Come on now and be brave and have the car professionally detailed and sell it. The value will not increase five fold next year we promise…. 🙂 it is not an air cooled Porsche or a great American car….

    I disagree. He is an adult and can make his own decisions. Let him keep the Clown Shoe if that is what he wants to do.

    I used to have this recurring dream where I bought a bunch of old cars back in the day when they were just old cars, sprinkled them around the neighborhood, then rediscovered that I still had all these cars parked on side streets or empty back lots that are now cool collectibles. In a way, you are living the dream

    The recurring dream about previously owned cars hit home. Mine has centered mostly on my first, the 1968 Volvo 122S (dark green with tan vinyl interior, of course) and the 1974 Saab 96, which appear in a fog permeating either my father’s garage or some hard-to-find workshop of the one guy around who worked on them. There are also brief appearances by the baby blue 1959 Hillman Minx convertible for which my dad paid several times its purchase price in repairs and body work before its separation (it required a hot-water carb bath to start in the central Illinois winter), a Citroen Deux Chevaux of incalculable vintage and a Citroen Dyane Six. All but the Volvo make me appreciate my current Subarus (Outback and Forester), and especially the S2000, even more.

    Ain’t nostalgia great? I still have flashbacks to the first sight of my dark green over tan Volvo 122S in the delivery lot at the factory in Torslanda. My first impression: I didn’t order whitewalls. I remember a gas-jockey in Austria checking the oil and exclaiming, “Two Carburetors!!!” I’m still driving Volvos, I just wish my 5-speed V-50 was dark green over tan.

    Yup, a tool for every purpose is how I think of it…and being older vehicles, all I’m paying for them is insurance, registration, and maintenance. The 6 tires for my Dually, and a month later for my daily old Pathfinder, were my biggest expense in 2 years, now that the restoration on one of the “monuments” is done. Maybe most important is that I’m quite happy with my current fleet.

    Those old clown shoe cars hit a spot for me. I’m not into modern BMW’s but that era is what I like.

    For quite a few years I rented a storage space where I kept my fleet of elderly scooters and the occasional motorcycle. I’d go and swap from one to another after about 2 tanks of gas. They were all different, each in its own quirky way, but after a while it was clear I had too many, and the annual rent was about what they were worth, so I was buying them every year. I’m down to 2 scooters and a motorcycle (and a Miata) so I can fit all but one in the garage at any time without taking any space away from my wife’s half of the space. It’s better this way, and now, just like everyone else here, all I have is the strange dreams of suddenly being responsible for some mill-stone I forgot.

    I read your article then read the article by Klockau afterwards regarding the 1955 Cadillac and I thought “imagine relaxing in those luxurious pleated seats and enjoying all that UNSEAT-BELTED comfort”. I think you would finish a drive in the Caddy so relaxed you would be sad it was over no matter how long it was. Who would care that it didn’t handle or accelerate hurrying just wouldn’t play into the formula.
    I also play the Closet shop game but I long ago accepted the fact that I’m not going to Nuremberg so I might as well let the kids go by hurriedly to nurse their soon to be sore backs! As far as I can see comfort progress just isn’t there!!

    Rob question, why are the rear wheels hanging down at an angle like a first generation Corvair (you know unsafe at any speed) in your picture of the car on your garage hoist? And there for does the Clownshoe have a tendacy to roll over?

    Bill, the M Coupe (clownshoe) and the Z3 roadster that it’s based on are odd cars in that they’re based on the E36 3 Series chassis which had a multi-link rear suspension where camber remains constant as the wheels move up and down. However, they don’t HAVE that rear suspension. Instead, they and the little 318ti E36 hatchback have the old-school trailing arm rear suspension from the E30 3 Series. That’s what’s responsible for what you’re seeing. However, the wheels hanging down when the car is on the lift massively exaggerates the camber change. The lack of the multilink rear suspension means that M Coupes lack the self-correction mechanism that multilink buys you where you head into a curve too hot, make one correction, and it snaps back into line. But that’s all it means. It’s not anywhere close to being an oversteering tail-swapping nightmare.

    I once “rediscovered” a car I already owned. I was spending so much time and effort trying to build a streetable “race” car (make that, race “car”) from a 1970s junkyard find that I neglected my daily, an ex-police Crown Vic, and let it sit for several months while I drove the project to work. I got so used to driving the rustbucket (no sway bars from the factory) that when I got the CV running again, its handling completely blew me away. I started to wonder if I was trying to race the wrong car.

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