Keith’s Blog: Old Cars Give Me A Headache: Can You Help?


The symptoms start almost immediately when I get into the cars, and it doesn’t matter if the windows are up or down, or if the fresh air fan is blowing.

The cars giving me grief right now are the Alfetta GT, the BMW 2002 Tii, the Sonnett III, the Isetta and the Rover D90 turbo diesel.

For whatever reason, the other two Alfas, the Nova, the Dodge (with its massive pipes exiting right under the car) and the Volvo ES don’t cause me headaches.


To track this down further, I bought a carbon monoxide sniffer from Amazon. It indicates no more than 003 parts per million in either the 2002 tii and the Alfetta, the two cars I have tested so far. In theory, this is far below the threshold for humans to notice any effects. (This resource page from the State of Washington says that 035 ppm and below is acceptable, and that 100 ppm is where symptoms begin – both far larger numbers than the 003 ppm I am reading.)

I have fiddled with the windows, seals, etc., but the reading never goes above 003 ppm.


Here is one additional bit of information, in a two-part story. When the tii first arrived, I could drive it without a headache. I had a local shop address a fluctuating idle issue, but they adjusted the injection poorly, causing the car to run super rich, and I started getting headaches. I took it to a second shop, who set the idle and mixture properly – but the car still gives me a headache. The shop’s four-gas sniffer gives good results, and no one else gets any symptoms. (And friends have driven the car on the Monte Shelton Northwest Classic Rally, to the coast and back, and more.) The interior doesn’t have a C02 smell. But I didn’t used to get a headache and slight heartburn, and I do now.

So I am reaching out to the SCM gang to see if anyone has a possible solution. If I can’t figure this out, I am going to have to start selling these cars, as getting a headache within 30 seconds of starting them up (I start to notice a change that quickly) makes them impossible to enjoy.

If you’ve got a solution, email me or post it in the comments – and you can have a new SCM hat every year for a decade! Thank you in advance for considering this issue. – KM

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.

Posted in Keith Martin


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *