My favorite car—this week, anyway
There are 13 cars here at the Siegel homestead. Well, scratch that; there are eight cars here at the house, and another five stored in a warehouse on the Massachusetts-Connecticut border. But if you remove the Winnebago Rialta RV, the sort-of-formerly-mouse-infested truck, my daily-driver 2003 BMW 530i stick sport, and my wife’s 2014 Honda Fit Sport, you’re left with the nine cars on my Hagerty policy. You know. The fun cars.
Obviously, I own and store these cars because I love them, but they’re not like children. I don’t love them all equally. How I feel about them ebbs and flows with the years and seasons, and sometimes even the weeks and days. I thought I’d take a little snapshot of who’s on the back burner and who’s hot. Here’s my list, from No. 9 to No. 1.
1975 BMW 2002 (“Bertha”)
Bertha is the ’75 2002 I bought in Austin in 1984 just before Maire Anne and I returned to Boston to get married. We actually have a photo of the car covered in shaving cream and trailing cans at our wedding. At the time, I actually wanted a big-bumpered square-taillight 2002 to survive the demolition derby that is Boston traffic and parking. I daily-drove it until it was clear that the New England winters would kill it, then began garaging it and transforming it into a hot rod. I sold it to my friend Alex in 1988. It got stolen and recovered twice, but it was damaged. Alex rolled it into his neighbor’s garage where it sat for 26 years. I repeatedly tried to buy it back. Four years ago, Alex relented and sold me the car, but it was in far worse condition than I remembered. I chronicled its revival in my book Resurrecting Bertha. It still has its go-fast components—the hot engine with the dual Weber 40DCOEs and the 300-degree cam and the Koni sport suspension—and the car’s unabashedly snotty patina makes me smile, but after I road-tripped the car the 2100 miles to The Vintage in Asheville, North Carolina, and back in 2019, it hasn’t seen much use. Although there’s only one car I drove off from my wedding in, if I had to make space and move a car along, right now that would be Bertha.
1999 BMW M Coupe (“the clownshoe”)
I’ve owned the ’99 M Coupe (or, as it’s sometimes pedantically called in order to distinguish it from other two-door BMW M cars, the Z3 M Coupe) since 2008. I bought it when I still had my engineering job and the income that went along with it. Mine is a ’99, so it has the 240-hp S52 engine from the E36 M3. The M Coupes that fetch big money on Bring a Trailer are low-mileage examples of the 2001 and 2002 ’shoes with the 315-hp S54 mill from the E46 M3. Plus, mine is silver with a solid black interior, which looks pale next to the zingier color combinations. Added up—driver quality S52 car in the most common color combination—and it falls into the low end of M Coupe resale values. It’s completely unlike my older vintage cars, it’s as fast as I need a car to be, and I love the look of its planted rear end, but I don’t drive it much. And it’s got the quirk that its stiff, heavily bolstered seats cause me a lot of back pain if I’m in them for more than 45 minutes, and they’re so narrow that using Tempur-Pedic back and butt pillows is awkward. I’ve flirted several times with selling it, but each time I’m terrified that the car will do what my ’82 911SC did and zoom up in value right after it’s gone. It was fun, though, shooting the video with Magnus Walker in it.
1973 BMW Bavaria (“Fat Bastard”)
I’ve previously fingered the Bavaria—the big four-door predecessor of the BMW 7 Series—as the car in my not-really-a-collection that I’m continually surprised by when I pull the cover off and drive it. The completely original interior, the snarl of the big M30 inline six, and the fact that it doesn’t carry the high value of its E9 coupe sister make it a great car to have a low-stress road-trip experience in, tool around in, or park downtown if I need to. However, when I lost my storage spaces in Fitchburg last year, I more than toyed with selling the Bav—I actually contacted a good friend who’d previously given me the “if you ever want to sell it” secret handshake. I named a price, he thought it was fair, but after thinking about it, he couldn’t make the money and the space work, so the car was spared the axe.
1974 Lotus Europa Twin Cam Special (“Lolita”)
I love my little Lotus Europa TCS so much that it just ain’t right. I bought it in 2013 knowing that it had been sitting since 1979 and had a seized engine. It was a long slog rebuilding the engine and getting the car up and running, but it began to terrorize my neighborhood in the spring of 2019. There’s something absolutely addictive about this primitive, buzzy little go-cart. Unfortunately, getting the car to handle like it should has proven to be very challenging. I built some adjustable rear links to be able to dial in the rear camber. I now need to do the same for the front. As we’re now into the heat of summer, and as the car’s ventilation is poor, it’s just been sitting in the back of the garage. And that’s OK. She knows I’ll get back to her. And I know she’ll be there.
1973 BMW 2002 (“Hampton”)
I have an odd relationship with the 49,000-mile, original-owner 1973 2002 I bought a few years back in Bridgehampton, Long Island. Initially the pretty little survivor car seemed too nice for me. I cleaned it up, sorted it out, put it on Bring a Trailer, and it did not meet its reasonable reserve, as these days, even with an unrestored survivor, buyers expect a detailed engine compartment and a dry-ice-blasted undercarriage. I put the car away in storage so we both could think. But when I took it back out, I realized that it’s not having sold was a blessing and that I was fortunate to still have it. Compared with my other 2002s, bone-stock Hampton is a bit slow, but the car’s originality and vibe have won me over. I’ll cycle it out of storage and bring it back home in a few weeks and peck away at the next layer of the onion of preservation.
1979 BMW Euro 635CSi (“Sharkie”)
BMW built the E24 635CSi and related cars from 1977 through ’89—a rather remarkable 12-year production run. However, that longevity is something of a trick, as the cars were based on two different models of the 5 Series, with the earlier cars based on the E12, the later ones the E28. The European cars lacked the big diving-board bumpers that the U.S.-spec cars had. These two characteristics combine to give the early Euro cars like my ’79 635CSi a very particular look. I freaking love it. Talk about parking a car and then turning around to look at it as you’re walking away. This car has presence in spades. The downside of the E24 is that, even with the small Euro bumpers, it’s big. It’s certainly not nimble like a 2002. It’s not a car I look forward to jumping into for stress-busting drives, or even just to run down to Trader Joe’s in and buy cereal on a Sunday morning. But take it on a road trip and it’s in its element. I flirted with selling the car a few years back, but every time I looked at it in the driveway, it was just too cool to banish. I took it on my first post-pandemic road trip in the fall of 2021. It behaved so majestically that I even forgave it for blowing a coolant hose on I-78. And yes, I named the most intimidating car I own like a three-year-old would name a plush toy.
1972 BMW 2002tii (“Louie”)
Louie is the Ran When Parked car, the 10-years-dead one I bought sight-unseen in Louisville in early 2017. I drove down there with a rented SUV filled with tools and parts, nursed Louis back to heath in a friend’s pole barn, then road-tripped him home. It’s also the car that suffered a cracked head on the road, which I fixed with J-B Weld and made it home. The car has had multiple road trips since, including a recent 3100-mile round trip to Mid-America 02Fest. Hampton is by any measure a nicer, prettier car, but Louie and I have bonded in ways that make it a lifer. It’s starting to show a fair amount of rust up under the nose, but that only makes me more likely to not be shy about using it. Plus, I retrofitted air conditioning into it last summer, so it’s way cool.
1973 BMW 3.0CSi (“Renee”)
I’ve owned my precious E9 coupe since 1986. It is a part of me, and I’m part of it. There’s zero question that it’ll be the last car on the premises when I’ve shuffled off that mortal ignition coil and my family is disposing of what passes as my “estate.” I had the car color changed from its original Polaris (silver) to Signal Red (which isn’t even a BMW color) when I had the outer body restoration done in 1988, and it’s no longer wearing its original engine or interior, so it’s never going to be worth what flawless E9s go for on Bring a Trailer, but I love this car all day long, every day. E9s are legendary rust buckets, so I’ve been shy the past few years about road-tripping it, but I took it to The Vintage in Asheville and back this past May. If this list wasn’t “My favorite car this week,” the winner would be Renee every single time.
1999 BMW Z3 (“Zelda”)
Just to be clear, I’m not saying that I like my ratty little Z3 more than the 3.0CSi or any of the other cars. I’m just saying that there are days or weeks when dropping the top and driving the little bugger seems to cure much of what ails me in ways that no other car I own even comes close.
Convertibles are wonderful things. They’re like rolling Xanax. The whole-body relaxation response from dropping the top and having all that sun and air hit you is amazing, and you can get that prescription in almost an infinite number of forms. If you go for vintage British metal, I understand. If you like American land barges, good on you. If your answer is a first-generation Miata, do it. If you’re a Porsche person and you think Boxster, you do you. As a BMW guy who fishes at the muddy end of the used-car pond, the Z3 is a natural. They’re cheap. They’re tiny. They’re tight. They’re tossable. Even the smallest in-line six (mine, badged as a “Z3 2.3,” is actually a 2.5), is 170 horses, with lots of rev and grunt. If I went only by the car’s external styling, I freely admit I wouldn’t love it, but it’s the total experience of driving it that makes it the shiznit. Yes, convertibles are hot in the summer, but I’ve settled into this little routine where I’ll drive the Z3 to the post office, or to the hardware store when they open at 7 a.m. and pick up some needed fastener, just to catch all that sun and air at the best part of the day, then do it again at dusk. In many ways, I like the Z3 more than the M Coupe, its overly aggressive big brother. It’s a simpler kind of joy.
I have an interesting history with this particular car. I bought it in 2013, owned it for six years, ran out of space for it, sold it to a friend neighbor, and then her son crashed it into a median strip. I bought it back and fixed it so it wouldn’t get totaled. It still needs the front bumper cover replaced, but the fact that it’s running around whole and delivering such joy is almost a miracle.
So, yeah, this week, my least-valuable car—my little, ratty, plain-Jane Z3 2.3, saved from being parted out—is my favorite. And that in and of itself is a beautiful thing.
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.