A nice, long drive…

Somewhere in Nevada

Back in June of 2000, I joined my father in his then new-to-him Jaguar XK 120 for an absolutely looney car rally called the La Carrera Nevada. The year before we had driven through Nevada on the Cannonball Classic in the E-Type. Our minds were blown on US 50, as it traversed Utah and Nevada. I became enamored with the Basin & Range country and the delightful driving to be found there. Now, twenty three years later, I am living at the far northern edge of The Great Basin and take opportunities to explore it by car whenever possible.

There is an event I like to attend in Las Vegas every June and half of its appeal to me is the chance to explore new roads in this great American outback of the basin & range country.

I had hoped to once again traverse Nevada, but this time west-to-east on US 50, and then turn south on Nevada Highway 318 (Home of the Silver State Challenge) down to Vegas. 318 is a road I have never driven, especially the section where they run the SSC.

Well, fate intervened and as I was leaving Fallon east on 50 my TPMS light on the dashboard of my 2007 M Roadster lit up. Just a week and a half ago I had finally replaced the long-dead TPMS sensors in the car and now for the third time in three days the idiot lamp had lit. The passenger side rear tire had been losing pressure ever so slowly and I would just stop and add ~5-10PSI and keep driving. But now, my brain and the light told me “get this checked you idiot. You are about to head into a vast blank spot on the map filled with empty roads and sparse cell phone coverage!”

I hung a U-turn and backtracked through the town and went to a Les Schwab tire store. They diagnosed it as a leaking valve stem. Sadly, the delay was enough to put the kibosh on my Highway 318 dreams, as I was expected at a dinner in Vegas at 8:30 pm and it was almost noon. The margin was just too thin.

If I just went south on US 95 I would be in Vegas in around five hours, but I just couldn’t bear to do that. 95 is the main route between Nevada’s two population poles of Reno and Las Vegas. It is choked with truck traffic and of course I had driven it before. I’m here to explore.

I know that if I go east on US 50 there are several possibilities of highways heading south that will get me there with some wide open horizons. I have driven several, but there may be one or two new ones. Sure enough I see Nevada 361 and check my memory about if I have driven it before. I can’t recall if I have, but it seems like a good option, so off I go.

At first the asphalt is smooth as silk, clearly repaved within the past few years. I think I see maybe four or five other vehicles. Nice road to open the taps and let the S54 pull like it was born to do. Well, at least until I get about halfway, and the road surface gets as rough as a fifteen year old boys’ pimply face. Oh well, it was fun while it lasted. And then 361 ended at US 95. I resigned myself to just loping along with the traffic on 95 from here to Vegas.

One moment of amusement happens along here. There is a long line of traffic with a slow truck at the head of it. At an opportunity where I can see for miles, and a break in oncoming traffic coincides, I drop down three gears and pull a long pass. A distance behind the slow truck is a Ford Explorer in dull grey, and sporting those swivel-spotlights on it’s A-pillars that scream “COP CAR” to everyone – except me. Why? The Ford has Oregon plates, but they are just regular civilian plates, not the orange ones they put on actual state fleet vehicles. I pass it, chuckling, and have to pull in between this fake cop and the slow truck several car-lengths ahead of it as oncoming traffic has returned. Laughing to myself as I pass the truck finally I vanish over the horizon amused at the dozen vehicles stacked up behind that Ford for the next 250 miles.


Continuing down US95, I resign myself to just riding the cruise control to Vegas, when my phone, who I swear now reads my mind says “this alternate route will only add 16 minutes”

I look and it is a string of small Nevada, and California highways that loop south and west in opposition to 95’s east and south route. I click it, and follow these roads. They are amazing. Utterly empty and with a stunning view of a snow covered mountain range that runs along the border, but mostly in California. At the apex, it runs through an agricultural valley, but the first and third thirds are delightful rolling hills. It is a wonderful alternative to the US95 slog. Despite Siri assuming it will add time, it actually ends up saving me quite a lot of time. Near zero traffic, I just fly along with my thoughts, once again experiencing the open roads that my father and I loved so much back in 1999/2000. It is appropriate to think of those great days with my father as it was five years ago today when he died. I was with him then, and I was with him again on these roads.

Rejoining US95 I again have to deal with other vehicles sharing the road with me. Oh well. I make it to Beatty, Nevada, which is a speed trap disguised as a town. I stop at a gas station to fill up the car, have a potty break, and refill my cooler with cold caffeinated drinks. As I’m doing this, the town cop issues at least three tickets, and has yet another pulled over as I leave the town. In Beatty, 25MPH means 25MPH.

Not long after leaving Beatty, I once again pass that Oregon Ford Phoney Cop car. It must have passed me while I was filling up with gasoline. Yep Siri, I gained sixteen minutes!

The rest of the run to Vegas is uneventful, beyond one wild donkey who crossed the highway in front of me. I even pick up a “rabbit” in the form of a Mazda minivan and a Toyota Camry who want to use the long divided section of 95 to travel at autobahn pace into the city. I let them pass and then pace them, but we’ll behind, to let my Valentine1 warn me if they get painted with radar. I pull into my hotel with almost two hours to spare before the event kickoff dinner. Time enough for a quick nap, and dreams about Highway 318 on the return voyage.

Found a “Catalog Error” at one of my parts suppliers.

Can you spot the difference?

I’m preparing for a road trip in a few weeks in the E85M, and addressing some issues that have accumulated over the past few years. One is that my washer fluid reservoir leaks. If I fill it up it will be empty in about a day. This prompts one of those annoying yellow lights right between the two big gauges on the dash. (The other light is right next to it, the TPMS system. I know the problem there… all my wheels are as old as the car, which was built in late 2006, so their batteries are dead. I’ve sent one set of wheels to my local tire shop for new shoes and new TPMS sensors. I could rant about how TPMS creates as many problems as it solves, much like OOB/Out of Band management infrastructure for remote server management… but I’ll spare you. )

Last year I replaced all the grommet-seals around where the pumps for the windscreen and headlight washers attach to the reservoir. I figured if there was a leak, it would be the most likely cause. Fifteen+ year old rubber, living in a dry environment, etc. Nope. It is the reservoir itself. My favorite BMW parts supplier has always been Bavarian Autoworks, but they suddenly went TANGO UNIFORM a few years back. Of course I had a shelf full of cores to return to them for credit. Shrug.

So now I buy from a range of suppliers, including the company that bought up the remains of BavAuto and another one that is named after an ugly seabird. The latter primarily serves P-car people, but they are on the west coast and usually ship to me very quickly. So I went on their website, plugged in my car, and searched for “washer fluid reservoir” and they presented two options. One said only for early 2006 cars with no headlight washers. The other didn’t say anything about restrictions like that so I assumed it was the right choice. Some USPS shenanigans later and some time away from home, I finally got to shop to install the new part. Wrestle the old one out, which is tougher than it sounds because all the things that plug into it (two washer pumps and a level sensor at the bottom that is attached by a VERY short wire) are hidden underneath the rather large reservoir.

Finally freed from the car I grab the replacement and look at it and note the difference shown in the photograph. There is no place to put the washer pump for the headlights. I call the vendor and talk to customer service about returning it. They say “just go on the website and order a new one, then fill out an RMA form.”

Okay, go to the website and look at the two reservoirs they list for my car and one says “Not for cars with headlight cleaning” and THE ONE THAT I HAVE IN MY HAND, which also doesn’t work with headlight cleaning.

Okay, now I’m confused. So I call them back, and instead of navigating the phone tree to customer service, I head for the “BMW parts specialists”. A guy named “Gene” gets on the call with me and we spend some time together figuring out the situation. I tell him how I got here and he agrees that something is wrong. We use my car’s VIN to search for the part and he sees the same thing I do. I tell him the part number of the leaking reservoir that came out of my car, and he says they have it, but not showing that it fits in my car. Sure enough, I search by part number and thar she blows…

Fits a lot of 3 series cars, including the contemporary M3.

So my car is an odd mashup of the E85 Z4 and the E46 M3. Basically the running gear and suspension of the latter (S54, 6-speed manual, clutch, brakes, EMS, and suspension) of the M3 squeezed into the smaller, lighter chassis of the Z4. It’s a wonderful machine taking the best aspects of each parent and making a badass little sports car.

Gene agrees with me that the error is on their side, and sends me the right part with expedited shipping and agrees to hand me off to customer service for arranging the RMA of the incorrect part. So, problem (likely) solved. Hopefully I get it here and installed before my road trip.

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.