Keith’s Blog: Oktoberfest, Monterey Style

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The Monday after Monterey Classic Car Week feels like a ceasefire.

During the previous five days, over $300m cars had been hammered sold – and those are only the public transactions. (We’ll have complete coverage in the next issue of Sports Car Market.) But on Monday, all was quiet. Our favorite breakfast place in Carmel, Katy’s, was only half-full, compared to the hour-long wait the week before.

For the first time in 25 years of going to Monterey, I didn’t hustle to the S.F. airport and catch a plane back to Portland. Wendie had invited me to stay on and enjoy the annual BMW convention, Oktoberfest, that was being held in Monterey – in fact at the Hyatt Regency Monterey, the site of the Mecum auction – immediately following Classic Car week.

My wife’s company, Enthusiast Media Group offers printing and promotional items, and one of her clients is the BMW Car Club of America.  I had gotten to know its executive director, Frank Patek, through Wendie, and he graciously made me a part of the festivities, my proclivity for Italian cars notwithstanding.

In all fairness, the Martin Garage has its share of Teutonic spice. We’ve had our 2002 Boxster S for some time, and view it as our only “real” sports car – chances are it will start, stop, heat, cool and even play tunes on the radio, without drama. Our 1957 Isetta is at the restoration shop, paint being freshened, and its luggage rack just arrived from Germany.

And finally, there is our 2002 tii. But let me make a clarification here. While our car is composed of tii bits, including a correct VIN tag, engine with Kugelfischer injection and so on, the car was built from the remains of a tii that was totaled. So as far as performance is concerned, while it walks the walk and talks the talk, it really should be called a “tribute” or “clone.” There, glad to finally get that off my chest!

Wendie and her senior account representative, Patty Littleton, drove the tii from Portland to Monterey. As the car has no a/c, no fifth gear, and shorter than stock tires, you can imagine that the drive was a noisy one.

Further, as they crossed the Siskiyou Mountains, the temperature gauge began to climb. Wendie, recalling her teenage years in not-exactly-concours cars, turned on the heater, which helped as it provided more cooling surface for the coolant in the car. But as it was already 95 degrees outside, having the heater blow wasn’t exactly their idea of a good time.

The car otherwise made it with no drama, and the SCM staff used it to tootle around during the week. When they left, it was just me, Wendie, our luggage and the little BMW.

Oktoberfest was a great success. Over 700 BMWs showed up, and over 1,000 enthusiasts registered for the 44th annual event. I had recently attended the Alfa Romeo National Convention in Rohnert Park, about 160 miles north. The most striking difference between the two conventions was the age of the cars.

Alfa stopped officially importing cars to the U.S. in 1994, making the newest Alfa there 19 years old. Many would argue that the last “true” Alfas were brought in in 1974, making cars from that era at least 39 years old.

BMW still makes cars today, of course. So there were BMWs from the ‘30s all the way to a new M4 concept that was unveiled. The Alfa and BMW guys and gals all love their cars equally, but where Alfa retreated from the smog and safety challenges posed by U.S. regulations, BMW embraced them and went on to build several generations of brilliant cars, ranging from the entry-level 1 series to the thundering M6s.

Our week was full. There was a reception and dinner each evening; long-time columnist for Roundel, the magazine of BMW CCA, Rob Siegel, talked about his new book, “Memoirs of a Hack Mechanic,” on Monday night. It’s a good read, and I highly recommend it.

Tuesday was the concours, and I had the pleasure of being emcee along with Eddy Funahashi. I learned a new phrase, “rags down.” That occurred at noon, and was the moment when all buffing and fluffing came to a halt, and the judging began. Our tii was on the lawn but didn’t win anything – could it have been the SCM stickers on the doors that got the points knocked off?

That night, BMW took us to the Monterey Jet Center, where they unveiled a concept M4. Alfa fans can only dream of a time when something similar might occur at an Alfa convention.

Wednesday, Wendie talked me into entering the TSD, organized by long-time SCMer and good friend Satch Carlson – who is also the editor of Roundel. In general, I view TSD events as crimes against automotive nature, as they require you to have slavish adherence to a stopwatch rather than picking the gear, rpm and speed most appropriate to the road you are traveling.

Furthermore, as our BMW speedometer read 80 when we were going 63, and the odometer was off by a similar amount, we had our work cut out for us. Even downloading a cheater rally-computer app from iTunes didn’t help – we couldn’t even cheat well enough to score a podium finish.

That afternoon, the 2002 got a treat – Carl Nelson, from La Jolla Independent BMW Service, who took care of the BMW when it was in the hands of the previous owner, gave us a 15-minute injection tutorial. Adding more insights was Ben Thongsai of B&D Automotive in Maywood, IL. The car had been running a little rich. Carl showed me how to adjust the idle speed using the screw on the outside of the “tuna can” on top of the injection, and then how to set the richness using the screw inside the can.

He blipped the throttle a few times, and pointed out how, if the mixture is set just right, the car settles down from the blip to a nice 800 rpm idle. It was like magic – the car ran perfect and got 32 mpg on the trip home.

I also was having a problem with exhaust fumes getting into the car. Ben and Carl opened the trunk, found a gap in the gasket, and also found areas where the trunk gasket wasn’t making good contact. After duct tape worked its magic, the problem was solved.

Finally, I had been having tire-to-strut interference problems, and they both agreed that the Speedlite replica Minilites on the car had an incorrect offset, and were from a 320i. If anyone has a set of correct offset mags they’d like to sell me, drop me a note. Conversely, if you think my mags would look perfect on your later-vintage BMW, I’m all ears.

That night was casino night, and a friendly dealer taught me to play Texas Hold ‘Em. I did brilliantly with the $1,500 in fantasy money I had to work with, and am sure I will do equally well if I borrow against my home equity and take a trip to Vegas. After all, how hard can it be?

The heart of the BMW convention is the track. For four days, BMWs both new and old, street and race, circled the Laguna Seca racetrack. We spent some time watching eager drivers sliding their cars sideways through the turns, and gulping as they entered the corkscrew for the first time. I believe that this focus on the track, and instruction, is what sets the BMW club apart from all others. I was sorely tempted to put a few hot laps on the 2002, but between the tire clearance problems and the fact it had to get us 800 miles back to Portland, we stayed observers.

Thursday morning, we packed the car, said our goodbyes and headed home. The convention lasted through Saturday.

Our route home took us up Highway 1, with an overnight in Crescent City where we enjoyed a terrific meal of fresh-caught steelhead at the Grotto Restaurant. We took Highway 126 in from the coast, and then switched to Highway 36, which heads to Albany and I-5. Highway 36 is a driver’s delight, and the BMW acted like a terrier finally let off leash after loping for days and days.

During the week I lived with the car, I gained an enhanced appreciation for the engineering under the skin of the 2002. It stands as a wonderful example of a 1970s sportscar – light, just enough power, good brakes, superb visibility and an overall friendly feeling.

After a nearly 2,000-mile round trip, we pulled into our Portland driveway, glad to be home but sad that the tii would be going back to the garage. For two weeks, it had gotten to be “just a car,” driven daily and enjoyed. I think the BMW liked the experience as much as we did; I caught the 2002 texting to some of its new friends from Oktoberfest, including an especially cute red 507. That’s all part of the magic of old cars, the people who love them, and marque conventions. 

Keith Martin

Keith Martin has been involved with the collector car hobby for more than 30 years. As a writer, publisher, television commentator and enthusiast, he is constantly on the go, meeting collectors and getting involved in their activities throughout the world. He is the founder and publisher of the monthly Sports Car Market and bi-monthly American Car Collector magazines, has written for the New York Times, Automobile, AutoWeek, Road & Track and other publications, is an emcee for numerous concours, and has his own show, “What’s My Car Worth,” shown on Velocity.

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