Keith’s Blog: Alex, the Spitfire and the BMW 2002

Alex, my daughter, and I had a pleasant Saturday planned in July of 2007.

At that time, Rob Sass was head of Business Development for SCM. As you probably know, Rob buys cars like the rest of us buy socks. Given my proclivity for accidental purchases, we were a dangerous pair.

There is a small all-British swap meet each spring in Portland. At it, Rob had come across a big-bumper Triumph Spitfire 1500, circa 1976-80. Orange over black, it was a decent enough car.

And it met our rigorous purchasing standards. It was red (well, almost), we didn’t have one, and we could afford it (I think it was somewhere around $8,000).

It was a harmless car — not much power but fun on a sunny day.

Alex hadn’t yet driven it, so we decided to take it to the Clackamas Town Center, a mall about seven miles from SCM World Headquarters in Portland, OR.

We did some shopping and came out to start the car and head home. Click. Click. Click.

All classic car owners know that sound. It’s the dead-battery cricket. No alternator warning light had come on, of course.

This was pre-“pocket charger” and pre-instant-towing service days.

“Alex, let’s push the car to point it downhill, get it rolling and I’ll pop the clutch to get it started,” I said.

“You can start a car without a starter?” she said.

Alex had never watched me pop-start a car before.

I got in, she gave me a push, and 20 feet later — after popping the clutch — the engine was running. She took note.

A few years later, she and two of her girlfriends took SCM’s Alfa Romeo Giulia Super on a trip to the California Redwoods.

The heater hose leaked, causing the head gasket to blow. Then the starter failed for some unknown reason. The clutch-dumping, push-start technique stood her in good stead. They pop-started the car after every time they got gas, from Eureka, CA to Portland.

Alex still likes to talk about how the men in the various gas stations were amazed when two teenaged girls pushed the Alfa sedan down the street, and the teenaged girl behind the wheel popped the clutch to get the car running again.

Another one of life’s small triumphs.

We drove the Triumph to Nasko’s, and walked the mile or so home.

The car was later sold on eBay to a Spitfire enthusiast in Anchorage, Alaska. I can’t even imagine.

But this wasn’t the end of our fun day with old cars.

In the driveway was 1968 BMW 2002 that Stephen Serio had bought on eBay — and I had then bought from him. It was green and tidy enough. Steve used phrases like “anorak early carburetor” to try to jack the price up, but I didn’t care.

It seemed to run and drive well enough, so we decided to use it to go to Washington Square, another mall about seven miles away from home.

After watching a movie there, we were coming home on the four-lane U.S. Route 26 as the sun was setting.

Without warning, the transmission went from having four speeds to having only 2nd and 4th. There were also ominous noises — kind of like when you drop a spoon into a running garbage disposal.

Alex wanted to know if we were having fun yet.

My choices were simple:

Pull to the side of the narrow-shoulder highway, with traffic whizzing by at freeway speeds — in the dark — and try to figure out how to get the car towed.

Or simply keep driving and hope that — like in a scene from a movie when a bomb is ticking down and mysteriously everything is solved before it explodes — the tranny would last six miles.

It did, and the next day the 2002 took its place in line at Nasko’s.

We sold the car to a BMW fanatic in Portland, who still has it. We see him driving it around from time to time, always with a smile on his face.

“Dad, can we take mom’s Mercedes 300D the next time you want to have a fun time with old cars?” asked Alex as we pulled into the driveway after our day of two broken cars.

It seemed like a reasonable request. We’ll skip the part where she learned that when you run a Benz diesel out of fuel, you have to go under the hood and manually prime the fuel pump before it will start. That’s another fun story…

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 Blogs, Keith Martin

2 comments

  1. Old cars teach patience! A good lesson for the next generation. I love it that you give an honest an unvarnished view of old car ownership, breakdowns and all.
    Also, are the SCM seminars at Pebble Beach happening this year? Haven’t seen any info.

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