Breaking Brakes.

Spent the day working on Testa Rossa’s truck. While at the coast for the holiday, the brake pedal went to the floor. Noted that the driver’s side front had brake fluid all over the wheel well, and the fluid reservoir was low. I was able to borrow a car and find some brake fluid. Topped it off and on Saturday morning gingerly made our way to Tillamook, and it’s Les Schwab. As we are sitting in the Schwab waiting room I note that a winter storm is heading for the Cascades on Sunday. They verified that it was a leaking brake line. No replacement part anywhere nearby. I called the Napa parts store I use in Redmond and they had one. I had them hold it for me. I buy a gallon of DOT4 and steel myself to drive back over the mountains while the sun still shines. It was… interesting to say the least, driving some twisting mountain roads through the Coast and Cascades, with a bonus of downtown Salem and it’s stoplights – ALL WITH AVOIDING THE BRAKE PEDAL. The truck has a 6 speed automatic with a manual shift option, which I made liberal use of along the way. Managed to make it home with only losing about 30cc’s of fluid!

Slept like a log for nine hours after the mental strain of that drive!

Put the truck on jackstands this morning and swapped out the broken brake line. Did an oil change while I was at it. All good now. Feeling accomplished.

Review: 1979 BMW 320i (E21)

I turned 15 years old in October of 1979 and started to learn to drive in my mother’s ’77 Buick LeSabre. Right about that time this 320i was on its way from Munich, West Germany to Salem, Oregon, where it was delivered to the original buyer, who ordered it probably several months beforehand, and yearned for it to arrive. They had specified several high end options (most of which later were bundled into a new model, called 320is at the end of the E21 run, when next 3-series, the e30 was on the horizon) such as Recaro sport seats, BBS wheels, wooden shift knob, A/C, and an upgraded handling package. All wrapped in such an awesome seventies Sepiabraun paint color.

My mom’s Buick had a ~5 liter V-8 (yet still seemed wheezy and sluggish, as all Malaise-Era Detroit machines did), the slushiest of slushboxes, and probably as much extra weight as this entire little BMW sports coupe. I really wanted a car like the 320i, with its nimble handling, sparse, but functional interior, forward-opening hood, and U-boat inspired red dash illumination. But instead I was driving a monstrous barge of a Buick, that could only top the little BMW in perhaps one index of performance: A/C output. I’ve always believed that the world’s finest air conditioners are provided by General Motors, wrapped by immensely mediocre vehicles. Mom’s Buick was that, to a “T”.

I read about BMWs in my father’s Road & Track, and Car and Driver magazines. The writers always proclaimed the BMW 3-series as “A Driver’s Car” with tales of delightful responsiveness and handling. BMW ads in those magazines told about how they hand-crafted every car, and manufactured in one year, as many cars as Detroit churned out every day. They built them carefully, and with perfection in mind. In other words everything my mom’s Buick could never be. Those little Bimmer coupes just seemed like such a cool compromise between a sports car, and something practical. You could put four or five average 1970s-sized Americans into one, and fill the giant trunk with luggage, or groceries, or BOTH, and still have fun driving it around.

Practical Fun!

Practical Fun indeed. It is clear the original owner loved this car. They made a few tasteful, period-correct modifications to it, including lowering springs, and replacing the Mahle-BBS gold/silver basketweave wheels with a set of Enkei silver basketweaves. The fog lights disappeared at some point; though wires and switchgear remain. The car spent its entire life in Central Oregon, and I even saw it from time to time when I was driving my son Nick to Bend High School circa 2011-12. The original Owner’s family sold it on Craigslist, to a guy in Portland. Shortly thereafter, that guy moved to Los Angeles for a new job and discovered that this car can’t be registered in California without some modifications to make it pass an emissions test (it is from the “49 State Car” era, when manufacturers made California-specific models.) Since it is a remarkably original car, he made the decision to sell it, on the then-nascent Bring A Trailer auctions. I bought it on a whim really. It was (relatively) cheap, and something that I had always wanted since those days of driving my mom’s Buick.

Up until a decade ago, I had never actually driven a BMW. Shocking I know. My garage had been mainly a Volkswagen sanctuary, with half of those being Diesels. I’ve driven Jaguars, Porsches, and a whole bunch of Mercedes-Benzes (including the 300sl), and a bunch of other machines, but for some reason BMW was something I’d yet to drive. That changed in 2011 when I not only drove a BMW, in this case the iconic successor to the 320i, the E30/325i, but this first driving experience was also on a racetrack, in wheel-to-wheel competition!

It was on that weekend that I finally experienced “The Ultimate Driving Machine”. It was worth the wait. I had a blast throwing that little coupe around the track. It was fast, fun, nimble, and everything I had imagined the BMW driving experience to be. The predictable and easily controllable oversteer was the icing on the cake. Mind you the interior was stripped to bare metal and I was surrounded by a roll-cage, so I wasn’t getting the full picture, but what I did get was as addictive as crack. I bought myself a BMW within a year.

When I saw this brown E21/320i on Bring A Trailer, I was inspired to bid on it. Not only because it was a BMW, but it was also an under-appreciated classic, and needed to return home to Central Oregon. Over the past several years it has become my favorite car for a Sunday drive. It never fails to bring a huge smile to my face. Sure, it is a tad under-powered, but it is a rocket-ship when compared to the cars I drove back in those days… the aforementioned Mom’s Buick, and the first car I ever called my own, a 1980 VW Rabbit Diesel. The Buick had nothing but bulk, and noise, and ice-cold A/C. The VW had 40 HP and a spare, Teutonic gestalt. It was like a tiny fraction of a BMW 320i. 0-60 measured in minutes, but a lot of room on the inside in a small, lightweight chassis.

What makes the 320i so fun to drive is it just feels so tossable. Like an extension of your mind, wrapped in a Paul Bracq sculpture. It is beautiful, practical, fun, and above all else, an icon of 20th Century Industrial Design. It makes all the right noises. It provides all the right feedback. What it lacks in sensuous curves and impracticality, it makes up in spades with functionality and fun. They’re from an era when “adding lightness” was on top of every automotive engineer’s mind – mostly for a shortcut to fuel economy, but the Germans did this better than anyone. They didn’t just shrink big cars, they designed small cars to be what they could and should be.

In other words, everything my mom’s Buick never was.

The car brings a remarkable number of thumbs-up and appreciative waves from a fairly wide demographic on the road and in parking lots. The color, the design, the 13″ wheels, and the quad headlights just proclaim to the world “Late Twentieth Century!” in such firm and Germanic language. Unlike the “Cindy” E30/325, and the “Marsha” 2002, the “Jan” E21/320 is late to being recognized for the prize it really was for BMW. It saved the brand, and was the first chassis to sell a million units for them. Sadly, so few remain, and especially those in such excellent, original condition.

Upcoming website downtime.

UPDATE: server is up again (obviously!) but this may be temporary. Later in the month I’m going to upgrade the hardware with some larger capacity drives. I might be doing some other work on the machine as well. Meanwhile enjoy things being back online.

We’re moving at the end of this month. Which means I’m moving our Internet connection and the machine that serves this website. Hopefully the downtime will be limited to a few hours, but it could be a day or two if things don’t go perfectly. As a firm believer in Murphy’s Law, I hope for the former and expect the latter.

There isn’t any truly mission-critical stuff happening here, so I imagine the vast majority of the Internet (meaning 99.99999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999999997% will remain blissfully unaware.

That’s a good thing.

Quick Review: ‘No Time To Die’

As I mentioned in my previous post I went to see the latest Bond movie recently. Linda was in Bend all day doing some sewing with a friend and suggested we meet to see the movie. It was showing at the McMenamins, an Oregon institution. They own several properties around Oregon (and now Washington too) where they have taken historical buildings from the early 20th Century and converted them into Hotels, restaurants, pubs, theaters, etc. When we travel around Oregon they are always our first choice for lodging, as each of their properties is an adventure. The one in Bend is an old Catholic parochial school, and includes a nice theatre that allows you to order from their full pub-food menu and enjoy beer, wine, and cocktails as you lounge in comfy old couches and loveseats to enjoy the movie. It is my favorite place in Central Oregon to see movies, but over the past year and a half, we haven’t visited, as it has been closed.

As I was driving down, I thought back to the last time I’d seen a movie in a theatre, and it was March 14th, 2020. I was in Portland to visit my sons Chris & Nick. Chris had taken the train down from Olympia, WA and I had driven from home up to Portland. We were all in town and I had three tickets, right on the glass(!) for a Western Hockey League game between the Everett Silvertips and the Portland Winterhawks. We had planned it several weeks in advance, but the world was already feeling the impact of this odd new virus out of China. As I drove up to Portland I received the news that the game had been cancelled due to the perceived risk of virus spread. It didn’t feel like it at the moment, but it was indeed the day the world changed. The game cancelled we instead went to a theatre and watched a movie, in this case ‘Knives Out’. We were the only people in the entire movie house. It was surreal.

It was also a movie starring Daniel Craig, in an odd role channeling Foghorn Leghorn; a hard break from his “Bond, James Bond” persona.

So here we were, five hundred and ten days later, once again going into a movie theatre to watch a Daniel Craig movie. I never would have thought when we watched ‘Knives Out’ that the interval would have been this long. And we’re really not out of the woods yet, are we?

The movie? Some classic Bond moments but should have been titled ‘No Time To Edit’ as it goes on far too long. The first third to half of the film is a fun romp, with some classic chase and subterfuge, but as it goes on it grows a tad tiresome, and honestly predictable. Yes, Craig gets the send-off he has so richly deserved (unlike any previous Bond actor ever has) but it was telegraphed early and was expected when it came.

If you haven’t seen it, go re-watch ‘Spectre’ beforehand, as it serves in many ways as a continuation of that story. Keep your expectations low, and hit the restroom before the previews end.

Saved again by Mike Valentine…

I was heading down to Bend last week to meet Linda to watch the latest Bond flick ‘No Time To Die’ at the McMenamins Old St. Francis theatre. Zipping along on US97 southbound, which while not a freeway in the traditional sense, it is as close to one as we get in Central Oregon. I was in the Z4M, enjoying the last few drives before it is put away for the winter. (Every time I drive this car I think “I should drive this car more often!”… it is the much fun to drive.) For the past year or so there has been some roadside construction on 97 on the north end of Bend. No idea what the project might be, it’s not actual road construction, but something alongside it that has taken quite a long time to complete. So for a long while the speed limit has dropped from 65 MPH down to 45 MPH through said construction long before you reach the usual traffic clusterfsck that is the north side of Bend around Cooley & Robal lanes.

So I’m rolling along all by myself with no traffic ahead and none close behind for the whole section from Tumalo to Bend, and as I’m approaching the construction warning signs I get a STRONG Ka Band signal on my Valentine1 radar detector. A glance shows me that it’s signature arrows are showing me the signal is behind me. I glance in the rear view mirror and all I see is a Subaru in the left lane coming up fast. I’m in the right lane already, but knowing that the construction zone is coming up AND there is an L.E.O. behind me with active radar, I come off the accelerator and begin slowing to the construction zone speed of 45 MPH. Sure enough the Subaru blows by me at likely 75 MPH as we enter the construction zone. I glance in the mirror and see the unmistakable outline of a Dodge Charger in dark blue and yellow. The Oregon State Patrol. As he passes me he lights up and accelerates to what is likely well over 90 MPH to catch up to the Subaru. (oh the irony!)

I can only imagine what the cost of that ticket must be for the Subaru driver. 20+ over in a Construction Zone. Oh boy.

Dime holding up a Dollar…

The proverbial dime.

The M Roadster is now getting old, so I’m having to dive in and tend to things. One of the bizarre weaknesses of this race-bred engine is this tiny little filter that is located in the VANOS Solenoid pressure relief valve. Apparently if clogged this thing can ruin your day, and your VERY EXPENSIVE engine along with it. Given the age and mileage, and the fact that I’m planning on a weekend trip, the time has come to attend to the task. Thankfully, it’s relatively simple.

Pop the unit out of the head, thankfully located in a very easy to reach spot at the front of the engine:

22mm wrench right there.
And… Remove.

The process at this point it to remove two old o-rings and the filter at the end of the unit. Mine did not look that bad. Very little in the way of clogs, but certainly worth a swap.

Old filter.

The o-rings were old and crusty and came right off with ease. The filter not so much. The plastic was very brittle and it basically disintegrated as soon as I tried to pull it off with needle nose pliers. I had to resort to a pick to remove the final, base ring.

New filter.
Reassembled unit, with old parts adjacent.

Popped back in the head and ready to go.