The chapter is closing on my cheap, convenient car storage

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Rob Siegel

If I’m asked to describe myself, I say that, above most things, I’m simply a practical person. I try to find ways to do the things I want to do, often following the adage that “The perfect is the enemy of the good.” Along those lines, I’d love to have a big building on my property that holds all my current cars and with space for even more, but that’s never seemed to be in the cards. So, I’ve rolled with it.

I became a bit of a scatter-hoarder, with cars stored in multiple locations. The big sweep of my automotive storage situation over the last 40 years has been:

  • 1984–92: I occupied both bays of the two-car garage of my mother’s house in Brighton, Massachusetts, where my wife and I lived on the third floor. Why mom and my sister let me get away with this; I still don’t fully understand. Yay, family.
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My three BMW E9 coupes in front of the two-car garage in Brighton in the late 1980s. Yes, I craved the neighboring house’s four garages to the left. Rob Siegel
  • 1992–2005: When my wife and I bought the house in Newton, I lived with its one-car, rusting, leaning WWII-era corrugated metal garage. It held my recently painted BMW E9 coupe. Everything else had to sit outside. At one point I bought another well-priced E9. I had to put it somewhere, so for six months I rented affordable garage space—half of someone’s two-car garage—not far from me in Newton. I never found nearby affordable garage space again. (Actually, that’s not quite true. When I bought the ’82 Porsche 911SC in 2002, I had nowhere to put it, so I begged my neighbor for use of his unused garage. I had it for two years for $50/month. But then that neighbor moved, the new homeowner wanted the garage back, and the Porsche sat outside, which nearly killed it the winter of 2014 when water got through the Targa top and froze around the floor-mounted ECU.)
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The original garage in Newton was every bit as bad as I say it was. Rob Siegel
  • 2005: I finally built an attached three (four in a squeeze) car garage at my house in Newton. I rapidly bought cars that filled it.
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The winter sardine squeeze in the garage here in Newton, but hey—even cramped, storage for four cars is a thing of beauty. Rob Siegel
  • 2008–2012: I had to pinch myself when my engineering job moved my colleagues and me into a 12,000-square-foot warehouse that was 2/3 empty. This was when my car-buying really ballooned. But when the company abruptly closed the building four years later, I had to sell most of the cars that were stored it, which included a ratty runabout BMW 2002, an ’85 635CSi, my 1992 Toyota Land Cruiser, and the 911SC—right before the big run-up in air-cooled Porsche prices.
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That’s our work truck—now my work truck—and accompanying 32-foot trailer parked inside the building. We probably could’ve fit eight of them. It was great while it lasted. Rob Siegel
  • 2012–19: The 1500-square-foot industrial space my job moved my group into had room for me to store up to two cars over the winter, but as the workload plummeted, it was increasingly obvious that they’d close this building too, so I voluntarily weaned myself of the space lest the cars get caught with nowhere to go in the middle of the winter.
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One car in the new improved smaller work warehouse. At times I squeezed in two. Rob Siegel
  • 2014: I discovered that if I looked outside Route 495, garage-rental costs were much cheaper than in suburban Boston. I found one bay in a five-car garage in Fitchburg (central Massachusetts) for $60 a month. I asked the owner if more bays were available. “Not right now,” he said. “Well, let me know when they are,” I said, “because I’ll rent all five.”
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The first of five spaces rented in the Fitchburg garage. Rob Siegel
  • 2014–20: I gradually acquired four of the five spaces in Fitchburg (by complete coincidence, the fifth space was rented by a guy I know). This worked out great, as I had 24-hour access, it’s less than an hour’s drive from my house, and hopping in one cool car on a Sunday morning, going for a nice drive, swapping it for another cool car, and being back home two hours later is fabulous. The rent was later increased to $75 a month to help cover roof-repair costs. Still cheap. And dry.
  • 2019: I acquired two more cars—Hampton, the 49,000-mile BMW 2002, and Zelda, my former Z3, bringing the total of must-garage cars on my Hagerty policy to nine. I made the space issues work by bartering two over-winter spaces in my friend Mike’s Garage Mahal in exchange for selling his ’73 2002tii for him on Bring a Trailer.
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Nice over-winter digs at my friend Mike’s place. Rob Siegel
  • Autumn 2020: In the heart of the pandemic, I heard from the Fitchburg owner that he was putting the house on the market. My wife and I began looking for a dream house out in the boonies with massive amounts of car storage.
  • January 2021: The Fitchburg house got sold. I anxiously awaited contact from the new owner to learn whether my lease would be renewed, my rent would be tripled, or I’d be thrown out. The search for a new house with car space went into overdrive.
  • June 2021: The idea of moving to the country crashed and burned due to financing issues (even though we own our home, we have little income, and mortgage applications are still an income-driven process—and we’re not willing to sell our house with nowhere to go). Plus, my wife and I could not fully agree on location or an acceptable distance from family and friends.
  • July 2021: My lease at Fitchburg expired. I was apoplectic with stress. Fortunately, I found Plan B on Facebook Marketplace—renting space in a big warehouse in Monson, Massachusetts, on the state line with Connecticut. Not 24-hour access, but available and affordable. I relaxed.
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It’s good to have options. Rob Siegel
  • August 2021: I finally heard from the new owner of the Fitchburg garages. She agreed to continue to rent to me at the existing rate, but there was no new lease—I was a month-to-month tenant at will. Coincidentally, soon after, the renter of the fifth space contacted me and offered to sublet it to me. I finally rented all five Fitchburg spaces.
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I was so happy when I completed the set in Fitchburg. Unfortunately, it didn’t last. Rob Siegel

There’s no question that, for the past eight years, the low cost, acceptably close location, and 24-hour access of the Fitchburg garages have—along with Hagerty insurance—been a major enabling factor in my being able to do my “I’m not a collector, but I own 13 cars, nine of which need to be garaged” thing.

So, it pained me that, in the middle of trying to buy a basket-case 1973 Lotus Elan +2 that I didn’t really have space for, I learned that I’m losing my precious Fitchburg spaces. The new owner contacted me and said she needed one space back by the end of December. When I had a sit-down with her and her husband, they said that they own another rental property nearby, and some of the tenants have been asking about renting the garage spaces. As such, I was asked to vacate the remaining four Fitchburg garage spaces by the end of March. While I’m by no means thrilled about this, sometimes bad news is preferable to uncertainty. At least I have a timetable for dealing with it.

I immediately contacted the fellow out in Monson with the giant warehouse. It’s a little further from me (maybe an hour and 15 minutes instead of under an hour), and unlike Fitchburg, it’s not 24-hour access, but it’s similarly priced ($70/month per car), and most importantly, available. I verbally committed to one space immediately and four more at the end of March.

Now that the largely-formerly-mouse-infested-truck has tires that are safe to drive on, the week before the holidays, I rented a U-Haul auto transport and hauled the first car. Yes, I could’ve asked my wife to drive me out to Fitchburg, follow me and one car out to Monson, and drive me back, but I’ll need to move four more cars and wanted to dry-run the solo version of the process.

I don’t do a lot of towing, just enough to know that everything takes longer than you’d think, and that that dynamic is exacerbated by not owning a trailer and having to rent and hook up at the beginning of the day and return it and drop hook at the end. Even though it’s 50 minutes from my house to Fitchburg, and Google Maps showed Monson about an hour and a half from there, I assumed that the whole move-one-car exercise would take me most of the day, and I was right. I left my house at 7 a.m. to grab the trailer in neighboring Brighton and arrived in Fitchburg at 9. I had some other housekeeping to do while I was there, so by the time my ’73 BMW 2002 (“Hampton”) was loaded and I was rolling to Monson, it was about 10:30. I arrived a little after noon.

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One car says goodbye to Fitchburg. Rob Siegel

The Monson warehouse is absolutely enormous—about 275,000 square feet. Jim, the owner, is an engineer who owns an irrigation company. He uses the space for both his business as well as his car passion.

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The cars’ new home in Monson is so big I couldn’t fit it all in one photo. Rob Siegel

I drove Hampton off the trailer and followed Jim as he guided me into the labyrinth-like space. Counting one client’s 70-ish cars, the boats, the RVs, the trailers, and his own not-a-collection (which tends toward French cars), there were probably 150 vehicles inside, and still oodles of space. After a short discussion regarding how soon I’d like to get Hampton out and the other four cars in, Hampton came to rest near a row of Jim’s Renaults and his Lotus. It felt good, but clearly this is going to be different than the 24-hour access I’ve gotten used to in Fitchburg.

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Hampton settles in among some reassuringly quirky company. Rob Siegel

While Jim was giving me a tour of the warehouse, we talked about a variety of automotive and space-related issues. I joked about how my car friends loved to give advice about storage that doesn’t involve their own money, such as, “Just buy a building and rent out the space. That way it’ll be free for you.” Jim laughed. “The repair costs of a building like this,” he said, “come in $10,000 increments. And you don’t really make it back with $70 monthly storage payments.”

I wrote Jim a $210 check to cover three months, practically wept with gratitude as I thanked him for being “Plan B” incarnate, and headed east with the empty trailer. By the time I hit Boston traffic, returned the trailer, and got home, it was nearly 4 p.m.

I still have to move the other four cars, so while I could repeat this exercise, I’m not sure it makes sense. Between the U-Haul auto transport rental, the fuel, tolls, and incidentals, it cost me about $150 to move the first car. I think that, if I was ruthlessly efficient, I could move two cars per day with one U-Haul rental. But instead, I think I may take four of my friends up on their offer to, for end-of-day pizza and beer, stuff us all in a car, drive out to Fitchburg, throw the keys to the four cars in a bowl, do the Le Mans-style start (I know they all want to fight over which one gets to drive the 1999 BMW M Coupe), and get it all done in one whack. That is, if the roads are clear at the end of March, which will be here before I know it.

It’s going to take some time for me to acclimate to the idea that access to Monson will need to be coordinated with Jim. That is, I won’t be able to just show up at 11 at night or 7 a.m. and decide to swap one of the vintage BMWs for the M Coupe. But as I said, I’m a practical person. This is what was available. Cost-wise, nothing else I found came within a factor of two.

Part of me feels like I had a window of opportunity to avoid all of this had my wife and I moved and bought a place with space, but rewinding the tape, I don’t see how I could’ve made the decisions differently. A happy successful marriage is filled with compromise, and that’s not a negative term. I remind myself that the last thing this is is hardship. I’m blessed to have these cars and affordable storage for them.

And, on the plus side, if that basket-case Lotus Elan +2 does find its way to me, I suppose I now actually have somewhere I could put it.

***

Rob Siegel’s new 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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