My Cars in Storage Are Revolting (Part I)

Rob Siegel

I’ve written numerous pieces about storing five of my cars in a warehouse in Monson, on the Massachusetts/Connecticut border. The advantage is that it’s cheap—$70/month per car. But the disadvantages are substantial: It’s an hour and ten minutes from my house if there’s zero traffic (which is rare); I have to coordinate access with the owner; my cars are blocked in over the winter by RVs, boats, and trailers; there’s no electricity; and a particularly rainy summer last year caused mildew problems. Last fall, I did a full-on desiccant attack, putting two DampRid containers in each car, plus an industrial desiccant brick used on cargo vessels to help prevent “container rain.” I hadn’t been out there since November and was waiting for the big rigs to vacate the premises so I could deal with the fleet.

At a bare minimum, all five of the cars needed inspection stickers and the desiccant refilled. I expected them all to have needs. I didn’t expect what was perilously close to a full-on revolt.

First on the list was “Lolita” the ’74 Lotus Europa Twin Cam Special. She’d actually been sitting out there since September. I’d finally gotten the car registered in Massachusetts (a long story I’ll tell another time) and was anxious to get her inspected and back home.

The lack of electricity in the warehouse means I can’t put the batteries in the cars on trickle chargers. I used to pull the batteries out and bring them home for the winter, or move a good battery around between cars, but my back no longer allows that. However, my experience has generally been that if I simply unplug the negative battery cables, when I return three months later, the cars usually start up, and if not, I have a battery jump pack I use. The hour-plus drive home usually does a decent job of recharging the battery, and if not, I have chargers and battery testers at the house. Of course, when three months turns to six, things can be more difficult, but the Lotus started up fairly easily.

While the car was idling, I put it through its inspection paces and found nothing wrong. But inspection notwithstanding, part of my post-storage procedure is to check all fluids as well as look under each car for leaks, both stationary and running. I shined a flashlight beneath it and saw fluid dripping into a spreading puddle. I shut the car off and swiped a paper towel through the puddle.

Gas. Damn.

lotus europa side everything open
Lolita rarely makes anything easy.Rob Siegel

Even under the best of circumstances, fuel leaks are something one should have zero tolerance for, and things are worse on the Lotus, because any leaks from the Stromberg carburetors or the lines feeding them drip directly onto the starter motor, which gives me the heebie-jeebies about restarting the car until I’ve waited long enough that any fuel has evaporated. Plus, for all the just-in-case stuff I’ve accumulated in the trunk of my BMW Bavaria in Monson (tools, paper towels, oil, coolant, jumper cables, starter fluid, etc.), I didn’t have a fire extinguisher. So, everything ground to a halt, especially the idea of getting the car inspected.

If I couldn’t diagnose and repair the source of the leak there, I’d need to tow the car home. It turned out to be coming from the two plastic plugs in the bottoms of the Strombergs’ float bowls. I did a little searching on my phone and learned that the leak is fairly common in Stromberg-equipped British and Swedish cars and can be stanched by simply replacing the O-ring. I unscrewed one bowl, gently squeezed the plug’s plastic prongs together, and popped it out. Suddenly, it seemed that I could rescue my get-the-Lotus-inspected-then-drive-it-home plans by going to a nearby hardware store and matching up the O-rings. Unfortunately, when I tried to pull the 50-year-old O-ring off the 50-year-old plastic plug, one of the prongs broke off in my hand.

broken plastic car part
As Bob Dylan said, “you ain’t goin’ nowhere.”Rob Siegel

Okay. No inspection for Lolita today. There were still four other cars in the queue. I turned my attention to “Sharkie,” the ’79 BMW Euro 635CSi. Like Lolita, Sharkie started up easily when I reconnected its battery. Unfortunately, when I went through the inspection checklist, I found that something was wrong in the handbrake lever’s ratchet—it wouldn’t stay seated. A non-functional handbrake is a certain inspection fail. I pulled up the rubber boot and found that the anchoring bracket for the ratchet had broken off from the transmission hump.

door handle plastic break
Not good.Rob Siegel

I decided to cut that day’s warehouse adventures short and beat it home in Sharkie, where I had the equipment necessary to fix the handbrake ratchet.

vintage bmw silver front three quarter
Yeah, none of this car-swapping is hardship.Rob Siegel

I thought about welding the bracket back in place, but although I own a welder, my skills are poor, and I wasn’t certain if I needed to pull up the carpet, which would be fairly involved. So instead, I settled on pop-riveting the bracket. Three drilled holes and three rivets later, and the job was done, and I got Sharkie stickered.

handle latch wear closeup
If the rivets break free, I can still weld it.Rob Siegel

The plugs for the Strombergs were plentiful enough online that I searched for the lowest-cost vendor (about $18 per plug), clicked, and waited for the shipping confirmation. Unfortunately, the following day, the vendor called me to say that the plugs were out of stock. I then stepped through four vendors in increasing order of cost, calling each one, and finding that they too were out of stock. I eventually climbed to the top of the cost curve and called the venerable Moss Motors in Virginia, from whom, shipped to my house, the two plastic plugs and O-rings set me back 80 bucks. As they say, sometimes you just have to pay the man (or woman).

With float bowl plugs and a fire extinguisher in tow, I piloted Sharkie back out to Monson and again had at Lolita. I snapped the first plug into the already-removed float bowl and reinstalled it.

new plastic part installed
One down.Rob Siegel

Since there was no downside if I broke the second original plug, I pried it out of the second bowl without needing to drop it. It came out easily, and I replaced it with the second new one. I re-checked the fuel lines, and with the fire extinguisher at the ready, started the car. No leaks. The Lotus appeared ready for inspection.

lotus europa front three quarter
Here we go.Rob Siegel

I took the car to a nearby inspection station and parked it in front of the service bay like you’re supposed to. The six-foot-tall inspector came out and stared suspiciously at Lolita. I ran down the car-specific details: “The horn button’s not in the middle of the steering wheel; it’s under the dash and to the left. The headlight switch is to the right. You have to pull it out and then turn it clockwise. The wiper and high beam stalks are very fragile. Oh, and you literally need to take off your right shoe to move the car, otherwise you’ll hit the gas and brake pedal at the same time.”

The inspector in this very small town, who, to put it mildly, doesn’t see a lot of Lotus Europas, was not happy with this. He barked “I don’t even think I can get in the (bleep)ing thing. Just drive it in and do the lights-wipers-horn for me.” They’re supposed to drive it in, not you, but I complied. Then, for the jack-up-the-front-wheels-and-check-for-play test, I handed him a hockey puck and told him exactly where to position it and the jack so he didn’t tear up the fiberglass, but advised that the car is so low that if he didn’t have a low-rise jack, he might not be able to get it under the car at all. Rather than take my head off, though, he seemed to warm to my thoroughness and my knowledge of my own car, and offered that they have a similar issue with Corvettes. The Lotus emerged without damage and with a Massachusetts inspection sticker. I celebrated with Lolita’s first-ever fully-legal drive—five miles to the CT border and back.

lotus europa commonwealth of mass registration sticker
BOOYA!Rob Siegel

With Lolita finally stickered, I turned my sights on the three early 1970s BMWs in the warehouse. First was “Louie” the ’72 2002tii (the Ran When Parked car). Its reconnected battery barely had enough juice for two cranks, but the jump pack got it started. While warming it up, I didn’t see any leaking fluids but was astonished to find the brake fluid reservoir essentially empty. The level was down past the feed to the clutch cylinders, so any leakage had to be coming from the brake hydraulics. I crawled under the car with a flashlight and double-checked to see if any fluids were leaking down the tires, and found none.

fluid reservoir drained inside look
Yeah, that’s not good.Rob Siegel

Then I remembered: This same thing happened last year. At that time, I refilled the reservoir, hammered on the brakes, took the car for a short drive, found no leakage, carefully drove the car home while stopping several times to check, made it without incident, and tried to diagnose the problem. Leak-free vanishing of brake fluid typically means that it’s going into the brake booster, but I dipped a long zip tie down into it and it came up dry. At some point, I put the car back in the warehouse. Here I was, a year later, faced with exactly the same situation, reinforcing the adage that problems like this rarely cure themselves. For now, I did the eyes-on-the-prize thing and simply got the car inspected. The vanishing-brake-fluid-mystery will again have to wait.

green vintage bmw front three quarter
Louie is legal for another year.Rob Siegel

Next was “Bertha,” the heavily patinated, massively modified ’75 2002 that my wife and I drove off from our wedding. Even with the negative terminal disconnected, its battery was drained down to 10.5 volts, so the starter solenoid didn’t even click until I connected the jump pack. As I thought about it, I realized I hadn’t rotated Bertha out of Monson and brought it back to my house in a couple of years, so the car didn’t have the benefit of a highway drive to recharge the battery, just an annual run to the CT border and back, so the dead battery didn’t surprise me.

The low brake-fluid reservoir, however, did. This one was down just slightly below the clutch line, indicating that the leak was likely in the clutch hydraulics.

fluid reservoir max min line closeup
The raised camera angle makes the photo misleading. The level is just below the clutch line on the side.Rob Siegel

As with Louie, I didn’t see any evidence of fluid beneath the car, so the issue wasn’t acute. It was probably coming from the clutch master and going into the pedal box, but post-1974 2002s like Bertha have a one-piece carpet, so peeling it back to check isn’t trivial. So, as with Louie, I left the mystery for another day. I filled the reservoir, made sure the car wasn’t peeing fluid, and got it inspected. The inspector had warmed to me to the point that he was kind enough to leave Bertha running during the inspection so I wouldn’t need to re-jump the car. Then I tried to take it for the same five-mile-to-the-CT-border run I did with the Lotus, but I quickly found that it ran absolutely horribly. Whenever I bring Bertha home, I may need to do so on a rented U-Haul auto transporter, which would be good in that it’ll help justify the existence of the Nissan Armada.

patina bmw front
Bertha always looks like she’s causing trouble, and on this day, she actually was.Rob Siegel

That left just the ’73 BMW Bavaria. Its battery was the deadest of the bunch, discharged down to a damaging 9 volts. Like Bertha, this was due to the car not having been driven further than to the CT border and back last year. The Bav has typically been hard to start after a winter-long sit, as the original mechanical fuel pump takes a while to fill the Webers’ float bowls. I usually go out there with an electric fuel pump I use to prime the bowls, but I’d forgotten it. No matter, I thought—I keep a can of starting fluid in the trunk for just this purpose. Unfortunately, when I tried squirting it down the throats, I found that the can had no propellant left in it.

I could’ve run to the AutoZone one town over for starting fluid, but I elected instead to put the time into changing the DampRid in all five cars. This process—bringing the two containers from each car outside the warehouse, dumping the water and the desiccant, cleaning the containers, and refilling them—is surprisingly time-consuming. By the time I was done, it was almost 3 p.m., and any window I had for driving the Lotus home before rush hour had vanished (hey, you drive a car with all the crashworthiness of a Pringles can in stop-and-go traffic and see how you feel).

So the Bavaria’s inspection and Lolita’s long journey back home would need to wait until next week, during which I could do some serious thinking about why I continue to own these cars that I’m not driving further than to the inspection station and a 5-mile romp into Connecticut and back.

Of course, it doesn’t mean I’m going to do anything about it.


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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    For sure a labor of love here or insanity.

    I could never store my cars over an hour away and I would never have more than one car being restored once.

    Finally I would never pay $70 per month to store a car unless I was making money from it.

    You really make me appreciate what I have here. Everything is just seconds away and in a dry warm and clean building. Also the cars are in complete and running restored shape unless I decide to upgrade something.

    Good luck with all of this and I will chalk this up to Pure love with only a small bit of insanity LOL!

    The headline reminds me of the old joke: Someone rushes in to see the King:

    Kings man: Your Majesty! The peasants are revolting.

    King: Yes, they are rather ugly, but I still love them. 🙂

    My eyes are getting sore from rolling every time I read this comment – but I must secretly enjoy it, since I keep coming back to read it!

    Yeah, I was doing some mental math calisthenics while reading the story. $70 x 5 x 12 months is $4200 just for the storage. Don’t know what inspections cost in Mass., but throwing in some insurance, desiccant pads, the gas to drive to Monson – well, heck Rob, YOU know what all of this costs you way better than we could ever figure out. So hyperv6 is spot on: you love these things beyond my comprehension, and you’re also moving closer to Upper Nutsville with each passing season.

    Boy, ain’t that the truth! I have 5 classic cars with a 2021 Kia as a daily driver. Only 1 classic sits outside, my ’57 Ranchero, along with the Kia. The Ranchero has always been an outside car & has acrylic enamel paint which has held up well. I can’t imagine paying that much, or any amount really, for storage for cars that don’t really justify it. $4200 a year could put a big dent in bringing some of the deserving cars you have back into very nice shape

    My biggest fear when I add another project (when, not if), is that the current project will become neglected and the justification to my spouse may become difficult.

    That’s a lot of car wrangling, but I get the feeling Rob wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m up to five cars now including two daily drivers and while they’re all kept at home, I think one car needs to go soon. I’m past my comfort level.

    Keep on keepin’ on, Rob. Although our tastes in cars are different, our general viewpoints on cars are very similar. I also have too many 3’s and 4’s (on the 1-5 scale) in the collection and not enough storage. I too had a damp storage situation for the ones that didn’t fit at home. Luckily, I’m not near a major metropolis, so stepping up to my own locked rental storage is something I recently decided to do, at least until I buy a house that comes with more storage. It’s been great – I can switch cars in 10 minutes from door to door.

    The way I look at it is this: If I really want to do something, I’ll do it. Storing cars off site makes little sense to most people, but it makes sense to me; and if I didn’t want to do it, I wouldn’t. Everyone who loves cars loves them in a different way, and you do what you can within your skill set and financial situation. Kudos to always sharing your adventures, even when they don’t quite work out or align with common sense in someone else’s idiom.

    “Hey, you drive a car with all the crash worthy ends of a Pringles can in stop-and-go traffic and see how you feel”
    Rob come on. Did not your dad tell you to stick those seatbelt things between the seat cushion because sitting on them could hurt you…. Did you not spent most of the trip to the Jersey Shore laying on the package shelf above the rear seat…. Did you not fill your gas tank with leaded gas at pumps without vapor traps…. How about those trips to Texas in a VW Micro Bus that the driver serves as the front crumple zone…. How about you pulling a motor with a pulley, a chain, and two saw horses, on a public right away…. Need I go on, why don’t you get in the car and take it home and you could always put one of those eight foot Short Wave antennas on the front bumper if you are worried that someone might be on the phone in their 10,000 pound Hummer EV and treat the Lotus as a speed bump…..😉😉😉

    I still remember getting in my my buddy’s dad’s ’68 MGB for the first time. I was trying to figure out the latch for the lap belt, my buddy looks over and says “Don’t bother, it won’t save you.”

    Yearly inspections for classic cars is ridiculous. In NC we have only safety inspections after 25 years and no inspection after 30. If I had to go through that nightmare described above I would sell off my 38 vehicles. None would pass!!

    I submit that “mental fitness to drive” exams would do more to improve safety on the roads than vehicular inspections…

    Mississippi got rid of the yearly inspections for all vehicles quite a few years ago. No inspections and no emissions testing for the poorest state in the union!

    If none of your vehicles would pass an inspection then they have no business being on the road! Here in UK every car between the age of 3 and 40 years old HAS to have a yearly inspection. I lived in South Africa for 60 years and a vehicle only had to have an inspection on change of ownership, which meant that most oldish vehicles on the roads were accidents waiting to happen. As an eleven year long vehicle examiner I have seen some horendous repairs made in order to keep cars on the road, whereas here in UK all vehicles under 40 years old are in excellent condition, which also takes away the angst when buying another used car/bike.

    Yeah, the UK is not nearly the same as the US in this way, and thank God for that. The vast majority of accidents are caused by faulty drivers, not faulty equipment. It’s a revenue generating process, nothing more.

    I still amazes me that we allow our supposed representatives to foist these “inspection” schemes on us. Let’s all just recognize it has nothing to do with safety, and everything to do with another means of collecting yet more of our money which has already been taxed, just like traffic cameras. Maryland had inspections when I lived there 20 years ago (and probably still does: money, you know) yet I was once passed on the Baltimore beltway by a Chevy Cavalier with three (THREE!!!) spare tires doing about 65mph. Yes, it’s all for safety.

    There has never been an annual inspection in MD in my 40 years on the road. However there is a rigorous safely inspection required every time a vehicle under 20 years old changes hands. Anything older than 20 years qualifies for “Historic” plates as long as it’s not intended to be used for “daily driving” and is therefor exempt from inspection. There are plenty of 20+ year old vehicles on the road that wouldn’t be except for this loophole.

    Well, if you don’t drive these cars, you’re just a collector. And if you don’t take care of these cars, you’re just a hoarder.
    Sentimental attachment to old cars takes a lot of time, energy, and money (obviously). Might it not be better for you and the cars if you were to divest of a few? That way the ones you keep can be properly enjoyed.

    My thoughts exactly — sell the most and the least “collectible”.
    Probably the Lotus and Bertha.
    One needs too much attention and the other doesn’t merit it.

    At first I wasn’t sure which form of “revolting” you were going to go with. Hopefully you have squashed the uprising!

    Loved the recap! I store 5 cars at a shop 30 minutes away. Each spring I have to get them running but no inspections in TN, Yeah!! The past couple of years it has been fuel pump, carb leaks, dead batteries with many lights afterwards, flat tires. Always a lot of fun but they all run.

    What moron decided that a pronged plastic plug with a rubber O-ring was a good way to seal an opening in the bottom of a float bowl? Tap those openings and put in brass plugs with copper sealing washers.

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