The Spirit is Willing

Nearly 2 years have passed since I wrote an article about my friend who bought a '71 2002 as a project car. This car had been owned by someone who stored it for 3 years in the long-term parking lot at Newark airport. Prolonged exposure to chemical fallout and ultraviolet light had taken a toll on the paint, rubber and vinyl. Being buried in salt-laden snow, plus a vandal or two, had done wonders for the body. The interior look like it had been a rumpus room for tigers. But, what the heck, it ran. I declared that enthusiasm could help overcome a lack of time, money and common sense, and that a presentable 2002 would emerge from what the elements had left my friend to work with.

Alas, it was not to be. He called me and said: "If you don't take it, it goes to the crusher". Shortly after, a dull red, somewhat lumpy 2002 took up residence in my backyard. The lumps were where years of old bondo were trying to escape through the Earl Scheib paint job. It looked like a squirrel with its cheeks full of nuts. The transmission made ominous noises, the driveline clunked badly, and the engine smoked. Everything electrical worked intermittently or not at all. All the bushings and gaskets needed replacement. Large holes in the floor allowed rainwater to escape. A rag was stuffed in the gas filler opening. There was a Harley-Davidson decal in the rear window.

The plan was to work on the body, and somehow replace the larger mechanical parts as needed. This included halfshafts, a transmission, new front calipers and a whole interior. I started with a Veng catalog and ordered one of nearly everything. The car was attacked with a camp ax to remove the old bondo, then hammer and chisel and grinder to remove rusty metal. New metal repair panels were riveted on and then smoothed with fiberglass and filler. I figured the rest could wait as I had the prime requirements for a project car: a car I didn't need in a place I didn't need. The third requirement, which is money you don't need, kept the car limited to uses other than transportation; it became a storage building. With a potential third driver in the family, however, the goal was to get it on the road.

Fate can be ironic. You can pray for something that you want badly, but the answer may be "Okay, but you're gonna get hit by a bus." The project car was now reasonably sound, but needed a lot of other stuff. My rollover of my '69 2002 produced an unusable body with all the other stuff still working. The source of the parts needed for the project car was painfully obvious.

The wreck was hauled back from Lime Rock and deposited in my driveway. I reconnected the throttle shaft and distributor cap, and the car started up like nothing had happened. I coaxed the wreck into the backyard, moved the project car to the garage, and began transferring components. Halfshafts, transmission, bushings and interior are stories in themselves. The brakes are of more immediate interest. The '71 had 4-piston calipers that needed replacement. The '69 had 2-piston calipers that worked fine. I decided to switch rather than repair ($$$), but that meant changing the master cylinder also. Some creative re-routing of the brake lines on the struts was necessary, but the results were satisfactory. A problem of poor braking action on one side was traced to a defective flexible brake hose. It apparently was collapsed internally, and caused a pull to the opposite side on braking, and a drag when the brakes were not applied. It was also impossible to bleed that caliper. Replacing the hose solved the problem. It is a good idea to replace all old rubber brake hoses before they start to break down. I had planned to switch engines, because the project car had a leaky front bearing seal and made some smoke, but I brought the car to the last autocross of the season and found out that it's faster than the old one. Maybe the engine swap can wait. Even the wreck is good as a storage building for an engine.

As you can imagine, this has been more than an automotive exercise; it has been emotional as well. They say that when you are in a crash, time slows down. While I don't agree with this, I have been able to replay the whole thing in my mind over and over, whether I wanted to or not. Some observations are offered as advice:

Although you may be alone in the car, you are surrounded by friends. Although it may be embarrassing to screw up in front of them, it is better than doing it in front of your enemies. They ran over to see if I was alive and well, even though I had just frightened them out of several years growth. They took me home when I really needed a ride. They called me later to seen how I was doing. I am grateful for their kindness and would like to thank them, one and all.

So now the wreck, the "donor" car, sits out back, covered with a blue tarp, minus half its parts, filled with boxes. At night, under the moon, it's kind of spooky. The tarp flaps in the wind, and the moonlight creates an aura. The windowless, doorless hulk is full of parts and memories. The parts can be removed, but the memories are tied to the car. My rolling self, a poem in black and silver; the car in the body bag. An automobile is a frail repository for the ego, and only slightly safer for the body. Common sense may say "goodbye", but the heart hesitates.

Back in the garage, the project car approaches the painting stage. The car will be white. Blue body bag, white paint. Seems appropriate. Inside, things look familiar. Same dash, same gauge cluster. Same driver's seat with the homemade bolsters and seat cover made from my wife's old winter coat. Same wooden shift knob shaped like a shmoo. A car is just a thing, after all, if such superficial items can make a strange place feel like home.

I have written that the BMW spirit lies not within the car but the driver, and this can be transferred to a GTI, CRX, Talon, or another 2002. Look for a plate that says "GEIST", German for Spirit.

For now, the Harley decal stays.

Please send questions or comments to: drautox@comcast.net

Last Modified December 25, 2000