One of my favorite gifts for birthdays or holidays is a fresh new book, and Rob Siegel comes through with his latest for the holidays, Resurrecting Bertha: Buying Back Our Wedding Car After 26 Years in Storage.
Full Disclosure: Rob isn’t just an author, a long-term contributor to the BMW CCA’s Roundel magazine, a legendary BMW and now British car rehabilitator and a musician. He’s a friend, and he’s bailed me out with my own half-put-together projects on more than one occasion. I’ve borrowed tools, I’ve called him with stupid questions and I’ve texted him for advice.
But if you’ve read anything from Rob over the years — whether it’s one of his many books, or his column in Roundel, or his contributions to Hagerty.com — you’ll know that I’m not alone. Everybody the guy comes in contact with is a friend, whether they ever meet in person or not. If you’re in some kind of automotive trouble, Rob is a guy that will stop whatever he’s doing to help you out and 99.9% of the time, he’s correct. The subject of his last book — Ran When Parked — is an exploration of what it’s like to cash in a little of that friendship and rely on others to help get a somewhat derelict, completely untested BMW 2002 home to Massachusetts. It’s a 12-day odyssey that simply couldn’t take place without the goodwill that Rob has spread around the vintage car community, especially among BMW enthusiasts.
Resurrecting Bertha is another adventure, this time obtaining and breathing life into the BMW that really ignited his passion for these cars back in the early 1980s. In this book, Rob lays out the eight-year relationship he had with a modified 1975 BMW 2002 that he named “Bertha,” a car that was his daily driver when he married his wife Maire Anne.
Eight years later, he ended up selling the car to a friend, and soon after, it found itself in storage. Long-term storage. LOOOOONG term storage, for more than a quarter century. It’s the kind of storage that a lot of cars manage not to come back from, but through the magic of nostalgia and booze, Rob managed to purchase the car back.
As an observer of Rob over the years, one of the most impressive things about him is his ability to see a project through to some kind of completion. He picks a goal and relentlessly works towards it, the way an out-of-shape 50-year-old might scrawl the date of a half-marathon on his calendar six months later. While most of us will cruise by that date and maybe feel a moment’s regret about not reaching the goal, Rob makes it public to maintain some accountability, and relentlessly picks away at it until it happens.
The very public goal for Bertha was Oktoberfest 2018 in Pittsburgh, a nine hour and fifteen minute, 572-mile trek to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 2002, which he’d have to repeat in the opposite direction days later.
Resurrecting Bertha takes you through that process, from purchase of a badly deteriorated, 1970s German sports sedan to sufficiently sorting it to the point that it was safe and nominally reliable on the trip, in a matter of months. “I didn’t think that timetable was realistic, especially since I’m keenly aware that when resurrecting a long-dead car, it is the car, not you, that ultimately sets the timetable,” he wrote in his regular column at Hagerty. “Some appear eager to get back on the road, others are like a cranky old man who are woken prematurely from a nap.”
The beauty of this book — and all of Rob’s books — is that they’re certainly packed with the hardcore information you’d need to fix specific problems in a car like this: repairing bad valves and valve guides, curing massive coolant leaks, repairing rusted out fuel lines. But it’s also about what drives people like Rob to continue to rehabilitate these cars.
Every single year, somewhere around 16 million of us decide that the car we bought new five years ago is somehow on its last legs, and we trade them in on a new one to avoid painful questions like “Why do I have to buy tires?” or “Brakes aren’t covered by my warranty?” We toss perfectly running vehicles aside that have decades of life left, in the name of nothing other than convenience.
This is about connecting with those objects in a way that seeps deep into the soul. It’s about understanding the value of of these objects not just as transportation, but as living, breathing beings with their own personalities and idiosyncrasies.
Resurrecting Bertha isn’t the kind of woo-woo navel-gazing that Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was, but it’s also not some kind of Chilton’s manual that’s useful only if you happen to have your head under the hood of the car at that very moment. It’s a joy to read even if you’re not interested in the cars, the way reading about the trials of an Olympic distance runner can be inspiring regardless of the fact that you’ve never once laced up a pair of Sauconys.
“We are Car People. Cars mean something to us. I’m buying back the dream. It doesn’t make any sense, and I don’t need it, but it needs me. There’s only one car that my wife and I drove from our wedding, and this is it,” he wrote when he brought Bertha home. The journey to getting that car back on the road is one you won’t want to miss.
You can purchase an inscribed copy of Resurrecting Bertha at Rob’s website with all kinds of holiday package deals, or you can find it through booksellers like Amazon.