Good deeds come in twos, and sometimes so do BMWs

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Rob Siegel

Back in May, I received two emails that were so similar I initially thought they were duplicates. Both were from men who told me about a woman friend of theirs whose 2002-owning husband had passed away, and they each asked if I could help the woman sell the car. And both, by sheer coincidence, were on the Massachusetts north shore—one in Amesbury, the other in Newburyport, perhaps six miles apart on opposite sides of the Merrimac River.

As I followed up on the emails, corresponded with the women, and teased out the details, I learned the similarities and differences between the two situations. Pam, the woman in Amesbury, had her husband Robert’s ’76 2002. He’d owned the car 35 years. From the photos she sent me, it looked mint outside and inside. She said she didn’t need me to take possession of the car and broker the sale, but she welcomed any help and advice I could give. Chris, the woman in Newburyport, had her husband Jim’s 1972 2002tii. He was the original owner of the car. She was interested in having me handle the entire sale. Chris had a folder of receipts that Jim had kept since the car was new, so the 2002tii’s history was well documented. Pam never found such a folder. But folder or no, neither woman knew much about the car in their possession. To be clear, this isn’t a value judgement. I mean, don’t ask me to tell you anything about my wife’s quilts or what plants are in her garden.

Helping the two women sell their late husband’s prized 2002s seemed a natural. In the language of my ancestors, a “mitzvah” is a good deed. My mother, who passed away three summers ago, instilled in me the habit of doing such things. Since the towns where they live are so close, I blocked out a Friday and drove up to meet both women and look at both cars.

If you know anything about BMW 2002s, you probably know that they divide up primarily into 1968–73 “roundies,” with round taillights and small chrome bumpers, and 1974–76 “squaries,” with square taillights and giant tugboat-like bumpers hastily installed on American-bound cars to comply with the newly instituted 5-mph bumper standards. They also divide up into carbureted 2002s and the mechanically fuel-injected 2002tiis that were sold in the U.S. in 1972–74. So a ’72 2002tii and a ’76 2002 are two very different cars. On paper, the ’72 round taillight 2002tii is a far more valuable car than its carbureted big-bumpered ’76 counterpart. However, things on paper are rarely what they are in real life.

I saw Chris’ car—the original-owner ’72 2002tii—first. Her friend Michael, the guy who’d initially emailed me, said that Chris had told him that as her husband, Jim, was nearing the end, he’d told her, “Don’t sell the baby [his nickname for the car] for less than 60 thousand dollars.” While tiis have topped $60K several times on Bring a Trailer, that’s a number for a mint survivor or one that’s perfectly restored. Michael told me, “I’ve seen the car. It’s not a 60-thousand-dollar car. I don’t know if it would do well on BaT.”

When Chris opened up the garage door and I first saw Jim’s tii, I thought it was just lovely. The paint was a beautiful Fjord blue, which—along with the chrome trim—was in excellent condition, and the interior was original with unripped seats. Apart from an out-of-fashion set of bottlecap alloy wheels from a 1980s BMW E30 3 Series, the car looked neat, prim, and perky. I wondered where Michael’s concerns were coming from.

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“The baby” looked quite at home in the tight confines of the owner’s garage. Rob Siegel

Then I opened the hood and saw what he meant. Instead of the engine compartment being the same Fjord blue as the rest of the car, it had been painted with a black gravel-guard coating. When I crawled under the car, I found more of it. And there was a different black waxy Ziebart-like coating inside the trunk. Further, the welds where a new nose had been attached had a non-factory look to them. In fairness, as Colin Comer commented in the July-August issue of Hagerty Drivers Club magazine, we might sneer “What were they thinking?” when we look at it now, but this kind of less-than-factory-perfect rust remediation work was commonplace in the 1980s and ’90s, particularly on cars that were not terribly valuable.

Unfortunately, I saw more things that capped the car’s value. It had a replacement engine; the original seized numbers-matching engine was lying forlornly off to the side of the garage. The car was wearing a “snorkel nose” (a nose originally made for a carbureted 2002, with a round inlet for its air cleaner hose, not used on an injected tii). There were several howling errors in the under-hood fuel hose routing and battery cabling. And the interior’s original feel was marred by the absence of the piece of rug for the driver’s footwell. In its place was a section of black indoor-outdoor carpeting.

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With the black gravel guard under the hood, the mis-routed fuel hoses, and the “snorkel nose,” the tii had some ‘splainin’ to do. Rob Siegel
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And this drove me absolutely crazy. Rob Siegel

Since Chris was interested in having me represent the car for her, we drove it to a park where I could photograph it. It generally ran and drove well, but the brake pedal travel was alarmingly long—an indication that the rear drum brakes were wildly out of adjustment and likely badly worn. And, when I looked under the hood a second time, I noticed that the brake reservoir was half-empty, down to the line that feeds the clutch master cylinder—a sure tell-tale that the clutch hydraulics were leaking. In addition, the car’s right-side front and rear directionals weren’t working, and inspection had expired. I took a cursory set of photographs and gave Chris a punch list that included having the directionals repaired, getting the car inspected, having the brakes and the clutch hydraulics fixed, and coordinating with her friend Michael to take the car somewhere it could be put up on a lift and the undercarriage thoroughly photographed.

I’ve heard Wayne Carini say that much of his time is spent explaining to families why grandpa’s ’55 Chevy isn’t worth the $150K they saw one sell for at Barrett-Jackson. I had a candid chat with Chris, explaining how, although the car is virtually rust free, the combination of the black gravel guard, non-original welds, “snorkel nose,” and non-numbers-matching engine were likely to cap the value of the car well below Jim’s $60,000 wish, but that we’ll do the best we can. She handed me the thick folder of receipts, and said she’d speak with Jim’s regular mechanic about getting the punch list done.

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Even with the out-of-fashion bottlecap alloys, the 2002tii photographed very well. Rob Siegel

I then headed across the river to Amesbury to see Pam’s ’76 2002. Unlike the tii, it dramatically exceeded my expectations. It was quite simply the nicest-looking big-bumpered 2002 I’d ever seen, with a cool combination of a stock exterior and a hot-rod engine. The Malaga (burgundy) paint was gorgeous. The interior was gorgeous. The engine compartment was gorgeous and showed a blingy motor with dual side-draft Weber 40DCOE carbs. A quick crawl under the car revealed that everything was painted or powder coated. When I drove it, it went like a bat out of hell.

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Exterior … Rob Siegel
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… interior … Rob Siegel
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… engine bay and undercarriage. A quadruple threat. Rob Siegel

There were two minor issues. The first was that, when I drove the car, there was a metallic ringing from under the hood. I could also hear it as the engine idled, though it was quieter. It took me a while to isolate it, but the source turned out to be that the two halves of the alternator pulley were coming apart, and it wasn’t as simple as a loose nut at the end of the shaft. If it was my car, I’d pull the alternator, remove the pulley, and see exactly what it was that was failing, but I advised Pam that any repair shop could simply replace the rebuilt Bosch alternator with another one with the same part number. The other problem was that, like Chris’ car, the inspection sticker had expired, and the turn signals weren’t working. However, unlike Chris’ car in which only the right directionals weren’t working, neither side worked in Pam’s car. This usually points to the hazard switch, which is a trivial replacement. She said she’d get the two things done and then we’d talk again.

About a week later, I re-engaged both owners. Pam had gotten the beautiful Malaga ’76 fixed and inspected. I offered to float it for sale on my Facebook page for no cost if she took a decent set of photos. I advised waiting for a clear sunny day to make the paint pop, then taking the car out to someplace scenic, like a field, and shooting it. It took a few iterations back and forth, but eventually she sent me a set of both new pics as well as scans of the car during restoration. She also sent me a recent valuation from a local appraisal shop. I was puzzled that they quoted NADA values (which typically poorly represent real classic car values), but other than that, the appraisal was very detailed. It valued the car at $31K. I asked Pam if that’s what she wanted to sell the car for. She said yes.

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Direct sun, clean paint, a nice background, and kaPOW! Rob Siegel

I wrote up a description of the car and put it and the pics up on my Facebook page. It generated intense interest. Several members of the local Nor’East 02ers group chimed in that they knew the car and its owner and vouched for the quality of the restoration. However, the consensus opinion of several folks I trust was that, at $31K, the car was substantially underpriced and would bring far more on Bring a Trailer. One fellow, well-known in BMW 2002 circles for home-restoring 2002s, said, “That’s a $45K car all day long.”

This put me in a funny situation. I don’t appraise cars. I tell folks to look on eBay and BaT for what similar cars sell for (and to be absolutely mercilessly honest regarding whether their car is actually “similar” condition-wise). I wasn’t representing the car for Pam, so I had no direct fiducial responsibility, but I also felt that I had to convey this information to her. I advised her to put the car on BaT. She was less than thrilled when I explained about the long lead times and having to answer questions that she didn’t know the answers to (as I said, unlike Chris, she had not found a folder of receipts for the car).

Pam said, “Could we just split the difference? Try to get $38K for it?”

So that’s what I did. I re-floated it on my page with the corrected price. Within a day, a Facebook friend contacted me, saying that someone came to look at his Malaga ’76 200 and it wasn’t nice enough for him, but this car probably was. Seller and buyer talked, the buyer called me (since I had actually seen and driven the car), and the deal was done. Pam is just waiting for the truck to take the car to its new owner.

She asked me what I wanted for my efforts. I explained that this was a mitzvah, and I didn’t want any money, but if she wanted, she could make a donation to Planned Parenthood, because my mother, whose consummate kindness I channel whenever I do something like this, would’ve really liked that.

And so that’s what happened. She donated $1000 in the name of “Rob Siegel and his mother.” If that’s not a well-sold car, I don’t know what is.

Selling “the baby,” the ’72 2002tii, turned out to be far more involved. Chris reported that she was unable to get it repaired because the guy who used to work on it for her husband had thrown out his back. I don’t really fix cars for other people, but after thinking about it carefully, I decided that I was the best person to deal with the car’s triple-layered set of needs (inspection issues, general mechanical issues, and making it the best version of itself). So, home it came. I thought about driving it the 55 miles, but the folder of service records revealed that the tires had been purchased in 2004. Plus, with those leaking clutch hydraulics, the clutch could go out at any moment. I rented a U-Haul auto transport and towed it.

When I was loading the related parts into the back of the truck, I saw a box in Chris’ garage containing the original hubcaps. “Any chance you have the steel wheels that these caps attach to?” I asked. “Not unless they’re in the basement” she said. We had a look, and there they were. In addition to the general trend of folks wanting original wheels on vintage cars like they want original radios in the dash, round taillight 2002tiis had unique wheels. Other roundie 2002s had 4 1/2-inch-wide wheels, but roundie tiis had 5-inch-wide wheels to clear the bigger brake calipers.

Beginning in 1974, all 2002s had 5-inch wheels, but they’re a different slotted design with little center caps, not solid steelies with big hubcaps. Thus, the 5-inch tii wheels with the big hubcaps were only used for two years and have become quite valuable. Since the bottlecap alloys needed new tires anyway, I convinced Chris to let me resurrect the steel wheels.

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Another 2002 resides at my house. Temporarily. Rob Siegel

I traced the non-functional right-side directionals to the turn signal stalk itself. Despite my having a box of 11 vintage BMW directional stalks, I didn’t have one exactly like this one. So I carefully pulled it apart. When doing so, it’s a question whether the pot-metal tabs will break before the 50-year-old Bakelite plastic does. I cleaned the electrical contacts, bent the one for the right directional slightly outward to increase pressure, tested it, put it back together, and got the car inspected.

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I’ve spent a lifetime ignoring “no user-serviceable parts inside” warnings. Rob Siegel

The clutch slave cylinder was clearly leaking. Since one of my “Big Seven” things likely to strand a vintage car is clutch hydraulics, I replaced the clutch master cylinder too, as well as the hose connecting them.

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Clutch hydraulic failure averted. Rob Siegel

Addressing the long brake pedal travel resulted in a trip straight down the slippery slope. The culprit was the left forward brake shoe, which had worn unevenly due to a seized adjuster. I had to pull the shoes off both sides, free up the adjusters with heat and wax, then install new shoes, drums, and wheel cylinders.

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That’s a thin brake shoe. Rob Siegel

Obtaining the missing rug piece was a saga in itself. I pulsed every used BMW parts vendor I know and came up empty. In desperation, I made a direct plea not only on my Facebook page, but on five vintage BMW or 2002-specific pages. That shook one loose. Its color and wear closely match the original rug.

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Man, that’s so much better. Rob Siegel

The fuel hose routing and battery and cable situation wasn’t difficult to correct, but I didn’t expect them to be related. Because the 2002tii has a bigger brake booster than the stock 2002, it requires a smaller battery—a little Group 26R. Someone had fitted a slightly larger Group 22 battery, but it didn’t have reversed terminals, so non-stock battery cables were used. They’d sourced them from AutoZone, and they looked terrible. Further, the larger battery interfered with the mounting of the fuel filter on a little bracket on the left side of the radiator, so the bracket had been deleted, the filter was moved, and the fuel hoses were lengthened by a laughable amount. I corrected all this. I found a used filter bracket on eBay. Original 2002 positive battery cables are NLA, but a 320i cable is very similar. The engine compartment still won’t win any awards, but at least the Bring a Trailer peanut gallery won’t point and howl at it quite as loudly.

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Better. A lot better. Rob Siegel

Dealing with the wheels was very satisfying. I gave them a pressure wash, a scrub with a Scotch Brite pad, a coat of paint, and had them shod with new Kumho 185/70R13 tires. The car now looks like the well-cared-for one-owner car that it actually is.

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Steelies and dog dishes for the win. Rob Siegel

There were many other small things I did, too numerous to mention, to improve either the functionality, reliability, drivability, or originality of the car. I then redid all the photography, shot the obligatory walk-through and drive videos as well as an undercarriage video, and submitted the car to Bring a Trailer. They accepted it on July 12, so I expect the auction to go live soon, if it hasn’t already.

The economics of this weren’t as simple as the no-charge mitzvah for Pam’s car. This was waaaaay more work than just floating a car on my Facebook page. “The baby” has been at my house, occupying precious garage space, for six weeks. I easily put 40 hours of direct wrenching time into it. I charged Chris for only about a third of those hours, at a lower hourly rate than any 2002 specialist on the planet, and that doesn’t count the innumerable hours poring over the folder of receipts and building a coherent story of the original-owner car. For brokering the car on BaT, I charged her a flat $500, so I don’t have incentive to misrepresent the car. And I told her that, if the bill seems too low, she can donate money to charity as Pam did.

I’m waiting for things to play out with Bring a Trailer (the process is a lengthy one), but I feel really good about donating my time and my 2002 knowledge to help these two women. Both were very grateful. I’m not one who believes that people are smiling down from heaven, but I think my mother and both 2002 owners would be pleased. Jim’s baby won’t bring $60K, but I’ve treated the original-owner car with the reverence that it deserves, and don’t know what else I could’ve done to help bring it as close to his target value as possible.

***

Rob Siegel’s latest book, The Best of the Hack MechanicTM: 35 years of hacks, kluges, and assorted automotive mayhem, is available on Amazon. His other seven books are available here, or you can order personally inscribed copies through his website, www.robsiegel.com.

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