The low-mileage car gets a road trip

Rob Siegel

I’ve written repeatedly about “Hampton,” the remarkably original survivor 1973 BMW 2002 that I bought in Bridgehampton, Long Island, from its original owner 3 1/2 years ago. Part of the appeal of the car was that, when I bought it, it had 48,125 documented original miles that aligned with its intact survivor vibe.

If you can make out the digits on the odometer in that remarkable interior, it says 48,125. For real. Rob Siegel

Now, 48,000 miles is a funny number. It’s not remotely in the same league as the sub-thousand-mile cars that get bid up to crazy prices on Bring a Trailer. But a BMW 2002 with that mileage is a rare beast. When I bought my ’74 Lotus Europa Twin Cam Special nine years ago, it had 24,000 miles on it. That’s not why I bought it, but I did think that the mileage made it something special. I was completely wrong. There appear to be a fair number of Europas, particularly Twin Cam cars, with that kind of mileage on them, because a) They were generally bought as third, not first or even second cars, b) The water pump is integrated with the front timing cover, the seal leaks from sitting, and because of the mid-engine design, the engine has to be removed to rebuild the pump, which is part of the reason behind c) the widely-repeated saying that Lotus stands for “Lots Of Trouble Usually Serious.”

Hampton when it first came home and joined the other 2002s in 2019. Rob Siegel

But a BMW 2002 isn’t like that. These cars were bought as primary transportation, owners drove the wheels off them, and they were and continue to be generally quite reliable, making sub-50,000-mile 2002s pretty uncommon. When I bought Hampton in the spring of 2019, it had been sitting in a barn for a decade due to a change in family fortunes. I don’t usually flip cars, but I saw dollar signs. I cleaned it up, sorted it out, put it on Bring a Trailer, and was surprised when it didn’t meet a reasonable reserve. I think the main reason why was that although folks say that they love original survivor cars (“It’s only original once,” and all that), BaT’s click-and-bid-bid-bid machinery is more hospitable to eye-candy cars with powder-coated subframes and dry-ice-blasted engine compartments, neither of which Hampton has. I wasn’t planning on keeping the car, but when it didn’t sell, that seemed to be my lot, at least for a while.

During this unexpected second act of the play of ownership, I’ve been very conscious not to rack up the mileage. Virtually all the 800-ish miles I put on the car was running it back and forth to the warehouse in central Massachusetts where I rent space. I never really “pleasure-drove” it anywhere. While some component of that was that the nearly-bone-stock Hampton doesn’t have the snap of my fuel-injected 2002tii or my other 2002, with its high-compression twin-Webered-and-cammed engine, the bigger reason was that I was adamant about not rolling it over to 49,000 miles (“le petit rollover”), much less 50,000 (“le grande rollover”).

However, over the past few months, there was a shift in my thinking. First, the idea of hoarding mileage—owning a car and not driving it because of worry that that will affect its value—is antithetical to everything that I do. The value of Hampton will be increased by a) detailing the engine compartment and undercarriage (the latter of which will likely never happen), b) wire-brushing, treating, and repainting the little bit of seam rust on the hood and the door bottoms, c) having paintless dent removal performed on the little dings, and d) the passage of time. I now realize that zeroing in myopically on the mileage and saying the car be worth $Y with 49,000 on it but only $X with 51,000 is just plain silly.

Hampton nestled in the garage next to my ’73 BMW 3.0CSi, feeling neglected because I wasn’t driving it. Rob Siegel

Second, even though the other 2002s, the Lotus, the BMW M Coupe, and other cars are well-ahead of it in the pleasure-driving queue, Hampton is the prettiest 2002 I own, and its survivor vibe gets under your skin. The original paint and bone-stock interior are often conversation pieces. I had a guy chat me up recently outside a liquor store and ask if he could smell the car’s interior. Rather than look at him askance, I understood the request completely. The horsehair padding (“Gummihair,” as the Germans called it) of the seats has a very characteristic smell. He opened the door, stuck his head in, inhaled deeply, and smiled. “That is exactly how a BMW 2002 is supposed to smell,” he said. He was right.

And so I began to use the car more. After identifying and fixing a long-standing hard-starting problem, I focused on another carburetor issue, that of lean-running. Using a portable exhaust gas analyzer I bought 40 years ago in a pawn shop in Austin, I verified my suspicion that the car’s hesitation at even throttle and numbness on modest acceleration was indeed accompanied by the meter on the gas analyzer swinging well into the lean zone. I ordered an assortment of idle and main jets, and with a little tweaking, was able to a) get the needle on the gas analyzer to sit much closer to the middle, b) the hesitation to go away, and c) the car to wake up when I squeezed the throttle.

The sensor of the exhaust gas analyzer strapped to Hampton’s bumper with a connecting hose stuffed in the tailpipe. Rob Siegel

But while iteratively doing that, I was running the car a few exits up and down I-95 and put another hundred or so miles on it. As I homed in on the final jetting, I didn’t cringe as the odometer did le petit rollover to 49,000 miles. Instead, I smiled at the fact that I’d largely let go of the “I shouldn’t be driving it” issue and was actually performing useful tuning that would increase my driving enjoyment.

I missed shooting the exact rollover to 49,000 miles, but as it was a non-event, who cares, really. Rob Siegel

Since my usage of the car was increasing, I installed a spare Recaro-like Konig driver’s seat I had in the basement. While I absolutely love the look of BMW’s 1970s seat pleating, the big wide, flat horsehair-padded seats are uncomfortable for anything other than short drives, and with my back injury in August, I need all the lumbar support I can get. Plus, for enthusiastic driving, the bolstered seat held me in place much better. Not that I was sliding the car around entrance ramps. That would be pleasure driving (haha).

Originality is to be treasured in a survivor car, but back pain is back pain. Rob Siegel

I was so pleased with this shift in tone and purpose that I decided that Hampton deserved something of a coming-out party. After all, even close friends of mine in the vintage BMW world had never seen the car. One good friend joked that the car was an urban myth. So, I took it to “BMW Day” at the nearby Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Brookline, Massachusetts. There were any number of cool cars there, including a survivor 1935 315/1 roadster, so it’s not like Hampton was the belle of the ball. But enough of my local 2002 friends laid eyes on it to retire the “urban myth” joke.

Hampton at Larz Anderson’s BMW Day was totally upstaged … Rob Siegel
… by this 1935 315/1. And rightly so. Rob Siegel

In fact, it got the gears turning in my brain to something bigger:

Road trip!

The following weekend, my wife, Maire Anne, and I were planning to drive up and see some close friends in Manchester, Vermont, one of whom is a former bandmate who had asked me to sit in with his band in a gig they had during Columbus Day / Indigenous People’s Weekend outside the Orvis building. Road trips in smelly, old,  vintage cars aren’t really my wife’s thing, so I was planning on taking my smooth and quiet 2003 BMW 530i. Plus, rain was forecast, and as much as I love pounding out big miles in the vintage cars, driving them in drenching rain is stress-inducing to the driver and rust-inducing to the car.

However, the morning we were planning to leave, I looked at the weather radar, and it showed that the precipitation bands were predicted to head well north of our destination, so any rain was likely to be episodic rather than drenching. I ran the smelly-old-vintage-car question past my better half, and she signed off on it, so into the trunk went the Tech21 guitar amp, and onto the back seat went the Peavey T-60 and the Taylor GS guitars. The projected 150-ish-mile trip was a Goldilocks-just-right distance, as I felt comfortable bringing a toolbox and a few reasonable spares (fuel pump, distributor cap, plugs and points, fan belt) but eschewing the floor jack, two gallons of antifreeze, timing light, and more that I’d take on a real road trip.

The happy couple (and Hampton) before lift-off. No, the white castle in the background isn’t ours. Rob Siegel

We had a picture-perfect drive up through fabulous foliage. The windows were down and the sunroof open for most of it. As we approached Manchester, we could see the storm center hovering ominously off to the northeast, but although the temperature dropped about 15 degrees, there was absolutely zero rain.

Hampton at our friends’ house in Manchester, Vermont, nestled at the base of the Green Mountains. Rob Siegel

The only problem we had on the trip was that my supposed hard-starting fix last month wasn’t the magic bullet I thought it was. With the colder overnight temperatures, the car had trouble starting in the morning. Adjusting the automatic choke so it rotated hard closed didn’t fix it. Then the problem started happening even when the engine was warm. Fortunately, I brought a battery jump pack just in case I ran the battery down and needed to self-jump, which I did. Curiously, starting with a fully open throttle turned out to be the magic trick. I’m still not sure what the cause of the problem is. But all in all, it was no more than a minor annoyance.

The open hood indicates the indignity of the no-start on the cold morning. Rob Siegel

One of the reasons BMW 2002s had a cult following when they were new is that they were small sports sedans that did a lot of things well. They were stout, had an acceptable amount of power, could seat four, had a real trunk, and were almost criminally smile-inducing on a curvy road. All of that is still true. Further, while there’s no pretending that you’re not in a 50-year-old car in terms of wind noise, the car’s two-liter engine, snickety four-speed gearbox, front disc brakes, McPherson strut front suspension, and fully independent rear suspension still make the 2002 a joy to drive. That can’t be said of all vintage cars. I may have missed the extra power and the wonderful wind-up of the 2002tii when I wanted to squeeze the accelerator to keep pace with traffic up a hill, or the roar of the dual Webers and the hot cam when I wanted to mash and pass, but what Hampton lacked in snap, it more than made up for in panache.

In addition, not only were Maire Anne and I happy road-tripping the perky little 2002, Hampton seemed happy. Before the car was put in storage in 2009, it had been a summer car in the Hamptons, used only to tool around between a vacation home and the beach. This was probably its first road trip in over 20 years. Deciding to drive the car, to use it as intended instead of hoarding its mileage like virginity in a 19th century British novel or vintage scotch seemed to lift a pall that had descended upon it after it didn’t sell on BaT and I stuffed it away.

Boy, it’s a great time of the year to road-trip in New England. Rob Siegel

The roughly 310-mile round-trip ticked the mileage up to 49,365. I can’t say that I’m going to start planning road trips in the car to Nome or Seattle or even Asheville. It still is likely this car is sojourning with me rather than a long-term soulmate. And I have other cars, and they all get their turn. But that’s the point—Hampton is now getting its turn with the rest, and I will now use the car for what I want instead of feeling like keeping the mileage down is the single most important thing.

After all, when le grande rollover happens, the car and I should be livin’ the dream on some road trip, not running cardboard boxes down to the recycling depot. Or getting an inspection sticker. Or tweaking the jetting on I-95.



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,

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    My wife and I took our 1969 Mercury Colony Park station wagon on a Route 66 (and beyond) road trip last year.
    Odometer when we left was 39426.2. When we pulled back in the garage 16 days later it was 45425.9
    I debated if I should have driven that last 3 tenths of a mile to make it an even 6000.

    Sorry I missed seeing this at Lars Anderson museum. Wondering if your problem could be air getting sucked into a leaky fuel pump?

    I have an ’84 Buick Riviera convertible with approx. 81K on the odometer that I picked up in ’21. The interior/exterior is original (the rug even has cigarette burns from the original owner). Mileage is the last thing I worry about with gas mileage slightly above it. I didn’t buy the car to keep it under a glass dome. Driving with the top down on a beautiful summer day, no one in town has a bigger smile than the one on my face! Life is too short!

    I bought a 1983 Chrysler LeBaron convertible last year with 27,000 miles on it, and after putting a new top on it, have driven it enough to get almost to 30k miles. It gets attention everywhere I go, and my girlfriend’s long curly red hair looks great blowing in the breeze. I hope to drive it twice that far next year!

    Absolutely positively! Why leave it for some rich guy to put it in his air conditioned garage. Cars like people need exercise. Life is short. A ride in the country on a nice day in a vintage car is heaven.

    I have to agree. I have a 2008 Honda S2000CR (there were only a total of about 700 CR’s ever made) with about 48,700 miles. I drive it 800 miles last year and 630 of that was when we moved from CA to AZ and I drove it out.
    But I look at it all the time and think I want to take it on a nice day trip. I’m going to start doing that more!

    Larz Anderson museum is a gem. Isabel Anderson (wife of Lars) deserves a lot of credit for the foresight to ensure that legacy.

    She also lived a pretty cool life, did things I can’t picture upper-wealth social elites doing today.

    I enjoy my cars. I own them because of the pleasure I get out of them by driving them. I live in an area that allows me to enjoy the driving experience just about any time. I maintain them to be driven, and if I take a longer trip, I don’t carry a tool box, extra oil, fan belts or other parts that might fail, because everything is up to the trip. Even my kit cars don’t require more than a couple of wrenches and a screw driver, and even then, I have never had to use them, even on 1000 mile tours.
    But then, I have a secret… I start with the cars as new, (or I built them originally) and keep them forever. Occasionally I purchase something older, but then it is subjected to lots of driving, adjustment and parts replacement until it is essentially new again. I call this “maintenance”, and you can only get the car to be reliable by driving it.

    I don’t much care about miles as much as I do the general condition. I did sell one car because it became way too valuable, and even with the miles indicated, it was still quite fresh. At 34 years old, It became too valuable to enjoy, so I sold it, and bought something older that I always wanted, and have restored that. The miles on that car don’t matter, the fit and finish are quite nice, but not perfect. I can drive it for a decade and lo OK. As I go, i make improvements. This year, it’s a fresh clutch and a freshened original engine. The rest of the car has already been done. Now… Time to drive.

    When I bought my 1983 911SC two years ago it had 38k original miles. I must say I did cringe slightly when it passed 40k, but now that it passed that milestone, it’s a non subject. About the same time my cousin’s 1987 Carrera Targa passed from 599,999 to 600,000 miles. The video he sent of the odometer clicking over also showed the speedometer registering 108 Mph! Get out and drive.

    I absolutely love to read Rob’s short stories. i have said this before and it is worth saying again; Rob’s writing is the 21st century version of the venerable Peter Egan.
    As for Rob’s “Hampton,” I can relate as I have the same feelings when I settle into my 1969 MGC, owned by one family since new and then to me. Rob, I have yet to reach le petit rollover, but I’m working on it!

    Please don’t stop writing – you are an absolute joy to read.

    Having a 93 NSX, purchased several years ago fulfilling the dream of owning one since they were introduced. It just turned 99K and I have been thinking of the 100K milestone. However automobiles are produced to drive not just park and look at, although I do enjoy just looking, the most enjoyment is from the pleasure of driving exquisite machinery whatever the age or mileage. Enjoy what you have and don’t worry about the value or next owner!

    Great article Rob! It’s very relatable.
    I find ultra low mileage or untitled “new” cars kind of sad.
    They can’t be used as intended unless you don’t care about destroying the value.

    When I received my factory stock 67 Karmann Ghia in August 2021 it had only traveled 66,981 documented miles.
    Not ultra low but low enough for a 55 year old VW.
    It received a refresh in 2012 and was immediately bought by a west coast VW dealership who parked it in the showroom as part of a vintage display.
    Between the ten years spent at the dealership and delivery to me it had only been driven an additional 250 miles!
    Sitting, even in climate controlled conditions does no good to any car.
    I have made it a point to drive her as much as practical putting on aver 1,300 miles in 14 months of ownership.
    It’s been pure joy and plenty of smiles to the mile!
    Each drive gets better!

    I have had mixed feelings about putting a lot of miles on my classic Mustangs. But, then I realized that’s why I own them, I love driving them. One has 72000+ on it. The other has 64000+. Those are low miles for a couple of late 60’s performance cars. Drive on guys!

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