Fleet Update: It All Happened So Fast
“Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”
Our man Inigo Montoya was right. A lot has transpired in the last three years. In more or less order: We started podcasting, but apparently stopped (we have two in the digital can, so there’s that). We posted a bunch of fun articles in 2021, but apparently stopped. We started Cheap Heap of the Week, but apparently stopped, though the format has since been emulated by a couple of the large car sites. We worked through COVID, which is over but not, like, over. Vehicles have come and gone, more so in Reed’s fleet than in mine.
However, looking back on those that have filtered through my garages, I realized there was more turnover than I remembered. With that we now return you to August 2016, shortly after I returned home with Reed’s green 1995 M3…
1995 BMW M3 – the Green One
The horror show that vacillated between being the best-worst car and the worst-best car I’ve ever owned. The Green One – so named by our son – was fast with its Dinan chip, handled like a dream on its TC Kline suspension, and loud with its astonishing aftermarket stereo. It was also great at just being a rare Boston Green on Champagne Luxury Package 1995 M3.
Unfortunately, it was also great at being a 202,000-mile E36 that was passed around like a bong in an old Cheech and Chong film. Nothing would ever stay fixed. The HVAC fan switch, the heater valve, the tail light sockets, the brake light switch, and the onboard computer all required multiple attempts at repair, occasionally with success but frequently without. Plastic curled up and died regardless of temperature or location. It’s inconceivable you’d be able to affect any permanent repairs on that car without six fingers on your right hand.
My to-do list for the car evaporated the day the Green One died. As luck would have it, a complete twat driving a silver Pontiac Grand Am in the carpool lane illegally dive-bombed out of said lane right into my rear bumper, punting me into an Audi A4. Ultimately, she collected five cars for her vacuous idiocy. “So happy the cat on her lap wasn’t injured,” said no one involved.
The rust-free but now bent M3 was purchased by a local E36 fanatic and has been resurrected as a race car. Last time a picture surfaced, it was straightened out and looking fantastic. I hope Craig is having fun with it.
2001 BMW 330i – Berlin
The M3 was really only around for a little over a year, dying in September 2017. By November, I found Berlin.
This 330i was ordered just how I would have, had I been buying in 2001, except for the color (gray on gray is a lot of gray); standard Sport Package, three-pedal 5-speed, seat heaters, moonroof, and Harman Kardon sound. The first owner did, in fact, order this car. He was a fanatic about maintenance and repair. Later in his ownership when the wheels got a little tired, he just ordered five new factory wheels from BMW. The second owner, the gentleman from whom I bought the car, was a senior service advisor at the BMW dealership where the car was ordered and serviced. All its life it has received whatever it wanted.
Berlin did everything really well. He was reliable, an absolute weapon on the backroads, and was one of those cars you turned to look back at when walking away in a parking lot. But he was starting to feel a little bit small, and being a Minnesota child from new he was starting to get a little rusty in the way that all E46s do. Berlin was recently sold to make room for a larger version of himself, but more on that in a moment.
2018 Subaru Outback 3.6R Touring – Luna
My wife Chris wanted a more grownup car. I get it; we’re ostensibly adults and there’s a certain amount of bougie pleasure to be had in a heated steering wheel and rear air conditioning vents. I have a lot of seat time in fifth-generation six-cylinder Outbacks and really like them, so I pushed pretty hard for this trim level of this year and in this color. They’re not super-rare, but neither are this spec everywhere. Dumb luck that one with under 20,000 miles landed at one of our our local retailers in February 2020.
Chris and I were commuting together to downtown Minneapolis, our offices only a few blocks apart. We figured the Outback would be a rather nice commuter. That was true for about six weeks before the world shut down. We’ve been working from home ever since, yet have still managed to put a pile of miles on Luna.
2004 Toyota Matrix XRS – Trinity
To paraphrase a line about some Honda Preludes Reed and I used to own: The Little Toyota That Could, and Did. Purchased new in 2004 in Alameda, California, with somewhere around 141 miles – test-drive miles; even back then nobody want a six-speed stick in the San Francisco Bay Area – and sold with just over 240,000. She sold in less than two hours to a guy who knew exactly what he wanted and exactly what she was – an incredibly useful and surprisingly fun tall Corolla wagon with three pedals and an engine that would happily spin to its 8,200 rpm redline, even in old age. Dude got a smoking deal, but then Trinity really owed us nothing.
During the summer of 2021, we decided to move house, as you do during a pandemic. My wife and I were both working remotely from home while muddling through distance learning with the kiddo. Our townhome of 12 years had begun to feel a bit small.
Shifting exactly .5 miles east netted us a couple more bathrooms and, more importantly, a large three-car garage. Indeed, if I kept the Datsun 1600 Roadster or BMW Z3 (foreshadowing!) I could have put either on rollers and placed one sideways in the back of the garage, albeit eating up all the work space. The only things the garage lacked were good lighting, insulation, and a heater. Those issues were solved last fall.
1967.5 Datsun 1600 Roadster
This car had been in our family for close to 35 years. A California car, I found it in Norwalk, Connecticut, near my cousin’s house. After a brief test-drive in the pouring rain my Dad and I brought it home. Mechanically, the matching-numbers Roadster was solid. Cosmetically, despite almost zero rust, it was quite tired. After some bodywork and paint, the now-nice Datsun became known for decades as the car Dad would “wear” rather than drive.
But like his similarly aged boss brown suede jacket, Dad wore the Datsun less and less, and eventually it just hung around. I wrenched on it a bit when it landed in Minnesota with my parents in 2015, but then it sat some more. By the time we pulled it from storage about a year and a half ago, it still ran like a top (because Datsun) but needed brake and clutch hydraulics.
Advertised on Facebook Marketplace, it sold in 30 minutes to the perfect buyer in Oregon who runs a small Datsun restoration company. You can – and should – follow him on Instagram, as he periodically posts updates on the “survivor 67.5.”
2002 BMW 530i: Part One
One day in early 2021, my buddy Ed messaged me saying he was done pouring money into their one-owner 530i. I remember when the family brought the car home; I even drove it that first day. I always admired the hell out of it, despite it being pedal-challenged. So I asked him what the car really needed and – if he was truly no longer interested in repairing it – what he really wanted for it?
At the time it was a one-owner, 147,000-mile example optioned with the Sport and Premium packages. Sadly, it’s also saddled with an automatic transmission. Being a San Francisco Bay Area car, it’s also lacking seat heaters. It needed several repairs that sooner or later all BMWs of this era need – oil leaks, tired interior with twisted front seats, sun-faded paint, cataracted headlights, etc.
I bought the car off Ed and it then sat for six months at Bill Arnold’s shop – thanks again, Bill! – marking its territory like a wolf while I waited for COVID to subside enough to fly out and drive it back to Minnesota. COVID never did let up, so in November 2021 I put it on a truck. It arrived just as the first snow fell here in the Bold North.
I drove it from the truck to the nearest gas station, back to the house, and immediately set about finding it a new home. At the time of its arrival, Dad was recovering from a nasty fall and we were trying to find a memory care facility for my Mom. It’s not that the 530i was a bad car. Rather, it just needed way more work than I had bandwidth for.
My friend and colleague Rob bought the 530i. Mom passed away shortly after from complications related to Alzheimer’s, on December 6, 2021.
2015 Subaru Forester Premium – Lucy
In 2018, Dad decided to finally replace his one-owner 1995 Infiniti Q45a. The Q barely had over 100,000 miles on it, but it was rusty, tattered, and generally beat. OEM parts were becoming hard to find. Not to mention it would struggle to achieve low-double-digit MPG around town.
The solution was a Subaru Forester, inexplicably named Lucy by Mom. Foresters in general are easy to get in and out of, easy to see out of, don’t require much more than gas, and have all-wheel drive for the long Minnesota winters. They also will easily hit high-20s MPG, even on short trips around town. Is this non-turbo example fast? Nope. Quick? Not really. But it’s exceptional at just being a car, and not too bad at being a small pickup truck, too.
Technically, this came into my fleet at the same time as…
1997 BMW Z3 1.9
Dad bought the Z3 for Mom in 1999 off a two-year lease as a certified pre-owned car. I’d have to look but I feel like it had around 21,000 miles on it. It now has 38,000 miles, most of which were put on by the proverbial little old lady driving 1.3 miles each way back and forth to my parents’ office rather than a church on Sunday.
I can’t emphasize how much Mom loved her Z3. On the test-drive on the backroads of Darien, Connecticut, with me in the passenger seat, I spotted a grey Z3 coming toward us and told Mom to wave at the other driver. She did, and the guy waved back. We returned to the dealer and Mom signed on the dotted line.
Last summer Dad and I put a new top on the Z3 and added a full Inspection II service. It’s beautifully original. I will tell you even though this Z3 is arguably the “worst” version – a 1.9-liter with an automatic – I never don’t have a big goofy grin on my face while driving it. Does it need a 5-speed? Yes, and seat heaters, too. But not that badly.
Dad passed away September 1, 2022, from extensive cancer.
Both the Forester and the Z3 are now in my care, but both also have designated new homes. I like the Forester a lot, but I won’t miss it; there’s no nostalgia there. I absolutely adore the Z3, but other projects need time and space. One reason for the three-car garage is to have all cars inside and room to work. It’s okay, though: I know where the Z3 is going and can arrange visitation
2002 BMW 530i: Part Two
Remember that car I sold to Rob back in November 2021? Turns out, after pouring a bunch of time, effort, and money into it, he just found himself not driving it very much. That, plus a basic desire to thin out his vehicular herd led me asking – for the second time on the same car – what he really wanted for it?
When it emerges from storage next month, the 530i will be coming back to my garage, looking and driving way, way better than when it left. It still doesn’t have three pedals or seat heaters. But I have a plan for this now very pretty car, one involving a five- or six-speed manual transmission behind the motor from an E46 M3 or similar (the S54B32 for you propeller-head nerds out there). It’s been done, sure, but I think an M3 Lite will be a fun daily.
1985 BMW 323i Baur TC2 – Rudi
The car I can’t sell. Because I can’t sell it, I may as well start wrenching on it. The aforementioned Bill Arnold did the mother of all pre-flight checks on the car before we drove it back from California. But that was in 2014, and a lot of the mechanical bits are now pushing 40 years old. The plan for the spring is brakes, suspension, gauge cluster rebuild, and new wheels and tires.
The brake pedal is still a bit spongey even after a good bleeding, so the whole system will be gone through, including new lines and probably a new master cylinder. The suspension is just uninspiring. The car goes where you point it, but it’s not that fun. New shocks, struts, and springs (very slightly lower – I’m not in the Stance Nation), plus all accompanying hardware, should help there.
The Bridgestone tires on the stock 14-inch bottlecap wheels have lots of life left, but they’re aging out. And the wheels themselves are bent. How one bends bottlecaps is beyond me – there are no obvious signs of trauma – but this is the second set that won’t completely balance out. Maxilite makes an Alpina replica in 15×7 inches but the offset is a bit shallow, requiring 12 millimeter spacers. Going to 15-inch wheels also greatly expands the number of tire choices.
So that’s the story. More importantly, that’s the plan. Think it’ll work? Probably take a miracle.
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