Over the course of 15 days in February, Rob Siegel bought a long-dormant BMW 2002tii, diagnosed the issues that caused the original owner to park it in a garage untouched for a decade, figured out how to legally put it on the road and drove it 1,000 miles from Louisville, Kentucky to Newton, Massachusetts.
He documented those 15 days in his new book, Ran When Parked: How I resurrected a Decade-Dead 1972 BMW 2002tii and Road-Tripped It a Thousand Miles Home, and How You Can, Too.
For the last 20 years or so, Rob Siegel has contributed a column called “The Hack Mechanic” to the BMW Car Club of America’s Roundel magazine. If you’ve ever attended a “concours” vintage car event, typically held on some fancy-pants golf course, there is no end to the magazine people wandering around.
Rob is not one of those people. While he’s a serial enthusiast of vintage and not-so-vintage automobiles, he’s not the kind of person who goes to an event to mill around wearing a blue blazer and a straw hat. He’s likely to be the guy in the parking area wearing a white Tyvek suit, tearing the transaxle out of some half-assembled relic.
His previous book, Memoirs of a Hack Mechanic, laid out his philosophy: why he loved old cars, why he was attracted to the forgotten and neglected, and why he’s willing to do almost anything to keep them on the road. “In my first book,” he writes in the introduction, “I wrote extensively about how to make a vintage car dependable, going on at great length about how six things — cooling system, fuel delivery, ignition, charging issues, belts, and ball joints — are the most likely things to cause your trip to come to an abrupt halt, and how things like brakes, exhaust, and suspension are important, but are unlikely to flip the binary switch from car-goes to car-is-dead-on-the-side-of-the-interstate. Why not apply what I know and have a little adventure?”
His new book is that philosophy in microcosm: Learn about a car, pony up the cash to buy it, pack tools and spare parts in a rented SUV and make it run again.
Anybody can make a car run. It takes a special kind of dedicated lunatic to make it run and then jump inside for a 1,000 mile ride home, burning the ships at the shore like Alexander the Great’s invading army.
There’s a “Goldilocks Zone” that a car can fall into that makes it a good candidate for an adventure like the one Rob embarked on, and this 1972 BMW 2002 tii — named “Louie” — fell into it. It sat for 10 years, but the engine turned over, he had willing friends in the region, it was legally able to be registered.
It would appear that Rob lone-wolfed this trip, and it’s true that he was the one who took the financial leap, and he was the one at the tiller for those thousand miles. But as much as this book is a manual for getting an old heap on the road in short order, this is a book about friendships and — like Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire — how dependent Rob was on the kindness of strangers.
Over the course of that fifteen days, Rob’s account enumerates 12 familiar faces and 11 more former strangers-turned-new-friends that showed up with tools, spare parts, skills, beer, vodka, pizza and even the dealer plate that legally got him back to Massachusetts when it was determined that the original title and registration had been turned into bedding for a team of industrious rodents.
Full Disclosure: Rob Siegel and I met almost a year ago at an industry event. He handed me a review copy of his great book, The Hack Mechanic’s Guide to European Automotive Electrical Systems, and in the year since, he’s become a great friend and an amazing source of information and help on my own hack project, a 1965 Chevrolet Corvair. He drove to my house on a Sunday a few weeks ago to diagnose a no-start issue, and he’s been a huge inspiration for me to keep turning wrenches, and keep writing about my experiences.
Despite the personal connection, though, the review copy of this book hit at the perfect time for me to read and enjoy it. The Corvair was in nearly the exact same state of disrepair when I took possession of it six weeks ago. Depending on your perspective, I was fortunate that the garage it sat inside was just across town, and I had a couple of willing conspirators that showed up on a Saturday to load it on a borrowed trailer. But the experiences detailed in this book are precisely the experiences I’m having on a weekly basis: Figuring out what’s stopping a car from running. Fixing it. Realizing it was actually something else. Fixing that. Relying on a network for smarter, more experienced people for help.
You can resurrect an old car like this and do it completely in a bubble. But the community of dozens of people that are rooting for you and willing to give you time, tools, parts and experience to make that success possible is really the point of all this ridiculousness. Without that experience, you might as well be driving a Toyota Camry.