So I’m alone, in Albuquerque, with a nice car and no co-driver. Our plans have gone awry, and I have a few choices of what to do next. One is to just continue on to SoCal and visit friends. I’ve already seen the Grand Canyon, so no need for that side trip. Another option is to drive straight home by the most direct route. It’s between 1200 & 1400 miles, depending upon which “direct” route I choose. But here is where I have to admit a personal quirk: I like to drive on roads I’ve never driven on. I’ve been wandering all over this continent in a car since I was a kid, and it never ceases to amaze me at the wonders one can find by taking a road you’ve never been on before.
My brain is fogged. I’ve been driving for two days straight with minimal sleep, after two previous days of driving as well. I’m only ~250 miles from my journey’s end, but I really felt the need to get out of the car.
So here I am, sitting in a Burger King somewhere west of Boise, Idaho, sipping on a cold coke zero, munching on some terrible onion rings, and scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed to just give my brain a rest. How did I get here?
Late today I had some errands in Bend, and did not get back on the road home until right around sunset. It has been rainy and grey all day, but just as the sun set behind the Cascades, a break in the clouds appears in the lee of the mountains and bathes Central Oregon’s high ground and low clouds with a reddish golden glow. My route from Bend to home is the Powell Butte Highway… a highway in name only. It is a narrow two-lane through Juniper and Sage. For some odd reason tonight it is utterly devoid of vehicular traffic, save me. Back in 2010-2013 this road was my daily commute, and after decades of Seattle’s stop-and-go it was a pleasant change of pace, and most of all I relished the drives home heading into the setting sun. Tonight takes me in the opposite direction, allowing me to soak in the light reflecting from the hills, the clouds, and most interestingly, from the windows of every home on the butte, including mine. These reflections were so strong as to appear to be very bright electric lights, as if every home was wearing its Christmas best finery.
Between the light show, and the absolute absence of any other cars on the roads the whole experience begins to take on a dreamlike quality. My mind starts wondering why I am so alone. Is something happening of global importance that I am blissfully unaware of?
But still, the amazing light show keeps me enthralled as I drive. Pulling through the penultimate corner and up the steep hill going up the butte I can see the light is no longer blazing off the windows and I put my foot into the accelerator to try and get home a few seconds faster to watch the last of the dying sunset…
That’s when the full-grown Mule Deer prances onto the asphalt about 15m in front of the car.
Reverie vanishes in an instant. Full on the brakes and horn simultaneously. The deer stops(!), rotates back around and bounds back to the right. Following it with my eyes, I see the inevitable herd (there is NEVER just ONE deer!) One of them is just off the road, just outside my passenger window.
I feel like an idiot for not seeing them earlier. The groceries (including a dozen eggs) are remarkably intact given that they launched off the seat, off the dash, and onto the floor.
Self-medicating with a vintage Bordeaux as we speak.
Perhaps the finest achievement of mankind, other than the chairlift of course, is the silicon transistor & integrated circuit. When you process it at a base layer we have taught rocks how to think.
I’ll say that again: WE HAVE TAUGHT ROCKS HOW TO THINK.
Place that now smarter rock into a powered device, with input/output systems, storage, memory, and a connection to all the other thinking rocks we’ve created and the potential is truly unlimited. I get very excited when I think about all we have created and my very small role in making it all happen.
Imagine what we can do!
Then I go out into the world and look around, only to see my fellow humans using these amazing devices…
…to play solitaire.
Just doing a pre-edit brain dump on an article I might submit about the BMW E21/320i. It’s status as an affordable classic. Feel free to comment, correct my typos and suggest edits. Likely need to shave about 200-350 words from here… also need to refine the wrap-up. Photos coming later… when the sun comes back.
“Marsha, Marsha, MARSHA!”
Oh, the forever lament of the middle child. Ignored by the family for just being in that middle space between the over-achieving elder, and the darling youngest. The collector on a budget seeking hidden bargains often will find them in between their higher-valued siblings. One such example is the BMW 320i, also known as the E21. Slotted between two more often desired models, the 2002 and the E30, the humble E21 is an under-appreciated and affordable way into vintage BMW ownership.
That is, if you can find a good one. That is difficult, as many remain, but few remain original.
The E21 sold in huge volumes around the world, with more than 1.3 million built between 1975 and 1983. It was the car that launched the BMW 3-series, and cemented it in the mind of many, especially here in the USA, as “The Ultimate Driving Machine.” BMW started using that slogan in 1975 and stuck with it until 2006.
Sandwiched between the 2002 and the E30, the E21 just hasn’t yet lived up to the hotness of its siblings in terms of value, but there are signs that could be changing. The 2002 is a darling of enthusiasts. Light, nimble, modest production numbers, with a robust drivetrain and an elegant appearance compared to the boxy E21. The followup to the E21 was the sleeker E30, which enjoyed a fourteen year run with many variations of engines, fuels, and even the first official BMW Motorsport variant the M3. Values of 2002s and E30s have enjoyed some good runs over the past decade, whereas the middle-child E21 values have remained relatively flat. However that’s why we’re here in Affordable Classics, since much of what made its siblings great can be found in the E21, along with some potential value upside.
From the 2002 the E21 inherited a bullet-proof engine, the venerable BMW M10. This single-overhead cam four cylinder was produced from 1962 through 1988 and powered everything from big sedans to FormulaOne race cars. It is a simple, reliable powerplant available in varying displacements from 1.5 to 2 liters, both carbureted and fuel-injected. In Europe the E21 was available in 1.6L, 1.8L, and 2.0L displacements. They were named “316”, “318”, and “320” in predictable Germanic fashion. Besides badging, single headlights are identify the 316 & 318, and the 320 sports dual headlights. In North America only the Bosch K-Jetronic mechanical fuel-injected 2.0L version was offered initially, and the last three model years (’80-’83)it was downsized to 1.8L and fitted with a catalytic converter, but no matter the displacement all North American cars were badged “320i”. There was an “S-package” called the “320is” in the USA after 1980 which featured Recaro seats, a 5-speed gearbox, limited slip differential, and many other appearance, comfort, and performance additions that previously had to be special ordered. In Europe an E21 was offered starting in 1977 with the BMW M20 straight-six engine that eventually came to North America in the E30 3-series cars, but it was never offered in any North American E21. The US-Market 320i was available with A/C, but were also fitted with enormous “diving board” bumpers.
The origin of the 3-series
The BMW 3-series launched with the Paul Braq penned E21 in mid-1975, but it wasn’t until 1977 that you could buy one in the USA. With overall design cues from the E12 5-series sedans, the E21 was limited to two-door coupes only. (Coachbuilder Baur GmbH converted just under 5,000 E21s to their targa-roof “TopCabriolet” between 1978 and 1981.) The interior was lauded in the contemporary press, with very comfortable seats, U-boat-like red instrument illumination, and a dash that wrapped around, with the center console angled toward the driver – a feature that remained a mainstay of the BMW 3-series until very recently. In the early 80s the 320i was seen as a “Yuppie Car”, an aspirational lifestyle object for successful professionals, and garnered the sort of social commentary we see today reflected in cars like Tesla’s or the Toyota Prius – it defined the sort of person you appeared to be. It was a huge success for BMW and sales increased year over year, firmly establishing BMW in North America. Here was a car that looked conservative, but rewarded its driver with about as much fun as you could have up to the federally-mandated 55 MPH maximum. Rivals responded with similar compact executive cars, such as the Mercedes-Benz 190 (W201) aka “Baby Benz”.
Most have been driven, and modified
If you’ve been exposed to a wide variety of car people, you’ll note that some sub-groups LOVE to drive, and sometimes modify their cars. Vintage Bentley owners fall into this category, and don’t seem to mind driven, or non-original cars, so long as everything is well-documented. BMW people are like this too. It is rare to find low-miles, unmodified BMWs, and when you hang around people and their Bimmers the conversation inevitably gets around to what mods have been applied to their cars. They also drive them. Long journeys to BMWCCA meets and events are common (Ocktoberfest, Sharkfest, Z-fest, Festorics, et al.) So finding an original, low-miles E21 is going to be tough. Many have had 6-cylinder engines or other performance mods installed. Most have been just plain used up. However restoring them is relatively easy and parts remain widely available. A 320i is an excellent project car for the new collector with a modest budget. Weak points are few. The odometer, which can break if the trip odo is improperly reset. The hazard light switch, which fails to “on” and will drain your battery (ask me how I know.) Beyond those two things, standard cautions about rust, degraded rubber/plastics, and mechanical inspection apply. The M10 engine’s primary weakness is overheating, so check for leaks around the head. Avoid examples with leaks or that run above the halfway point of the temperature gauge.
You’re not going to find an E21 crossing the block at Monterey anytime soon, so until that day happens your best bets to find yours are BMWCCA classifieds, and online auction sites. Prices range from $3,300 to $9,000, with a few outliers into low 5-digits. Originality, miles, and condition are going to drive the price. The pictured example was bought online for just over $6,000 and driven home a thousand miles without incident (beyond replacing headlights along the way.)
History may ultimately forget the BMW E21 as a middle child, and properly recognize it as the “Ur-Ultimate Driving Machine” – the true origin of the 3-series. The car that launched BMW from a niche player into the dominant maker of sports sedans, and lead to its amazing success in the US market. The tide already seems to be turning in Europe, where the Verband der Automobilindustrie (the German Automotive Industry Association) which among many other things lobbys for, and tracks the “oldtimer” market, noted that the BMW 320i gained more value (61.2%) in 2017 than any other make/model in Germany. This value increase was over 2x the car that came in second place, its cousin the E24 6-series coupes. Get one now, while they’re cheap, and have fun driving a very affordable bit of almost forgotten recent history.
Google (and several browsers that depend upon Google’s service) blocked my goolsbee.org websites for about a week. If you visited you would be presented with a scary warning about being infected with malware should you visit here. Tom Owad (ex-digital.forest intern) sent me a message to tell me about it. Unfortunately I was out of town and had no way to access the server to address the issue. My server currently resides in my basement (technically the laundry room) and my firewall blocks everything but web traffic to/from it, so I could not login an check things. I usually have a bastion host (a mac mini in my living room)I can SSH to, and then SSH to my web server from there, but the mini was off, so I was effectively locked out. Cobbler’s Children and all that…
I returned home a few days ago and waded through Google’s webmaster tools to sort out what was going on. It appears that no actual malware was being served from my site. However some old posts on my blog had comments from folks whose usernames linked to now-defunct sites that ARE now serving malware. Given that I doubt anyone is actively reading posts from 2005-2008 here, I imagine nobody really clicked those links recently. But the google-bots crawl EVERYTHING. I’ve scrubbed those usernames of their URLs here on my site. I then had Google re-scan my site for “security issues” and came up clean, so I think we’re good.
If you are still out there, and reading this… comment below.
Everyone complains about it. Even me.
You would not know it from this site, but if you’re friends with me on Facebook, you know that I ski. A lot. My parents have been skiers, and started me very young. I actually have no memory of learning to ski. I just ski. We did the same for our two boys, who started skiing (on every visit to their grandparent’s house) soon after they could walk. My parents skied until very recently, in my father’s case into his eigthties.
Having a life-long sport is a great thing. In the 1980s I used to play hockey every Tuesday night with a bunch of old guys who had been playing every Tuesday night since the 1950s! I was a goaltender and they bent their rules to let young guys play with them, provided they were goalies. There are no old goalies. The position is very physically demanding, and sure enough I was forced to quit goaltending in my thirties when my doctor told me “if you want to be able to walk when you’re past sixty, you have to stop abusing yourself like this.” The “like this” was the damage I was doing to my knees and hips playing goal. I continued skating and participating in ice hockey as an on-ice official until I was about 40, but eventually gave it up due to just overall hockey fatigue. The “professional” Hockey I Refereed in the UK didn’t help, as it really burned me out. The travel. The cement heads. The odd mix of competance on display every game.
But skiing? I hope to ski as much as I can before I die. I love skiing. It makes my heart fly when I glide down a hill on snow. It makes me feel very much alive. Like being in love.
My life, in terms of skiing at least, got so much better when I moved to central Oregon in 2010, because it put me in very close proximity to a world-class ski area. Back home in the Seattle area, the commute to the local ski areas over time became as onerous as the commutes to work as the Puget Sound region’s population exploded in the 90s and 00’s. I quit buying season passes after the 98-99 season since I could no longer bank on being able to get up to the mountains every week. Instead we had our annual week/10 day trips to Colorado to visit the entire Goolsbee Clan. “Camp Carol” we called it, after my mom, who hosted the whole affair.
But here in Oregon? I’ve bought a season’s pass every winter without fail. In 2010-11 I only managed a dozen days on the hill due to work and family commitments. Since then I’ve upped my totals season over season where I could.
Not this year though. In November I suffered a recurrence of a herniated disc in my back. Same spot that I had in 2008. Of course the season started with a bang. Snow began falling in the mountains in September(!) and continued through until mid-November when the mountain opened almost two weeks earlier than planned. Meanwhile, I was flat on my back downing antiinflammatories and watching the conditions reports with extreme jealously.
By mid-December I was starting to feel better, but conditions suddenly took a turn for the worse. The dreaded “Pineapple Express” arrived, with warm, wet weather and even worse, the “R-word” happened up on the mountain… from base to summit! Rain does terrible things to snow. “Decimated” is a term for losing one-tenth of something. Our snowpack lost close to 90% of itself in the rain.
Thankfully, our storm cycles can normally repair that damage quickly, as it is typical to see multi-foot dumps of snow over a week or two. But not this year…
The sun came out, and a high-pressure system parked itself off the coast of the Pacific Northwest. The temps went up to late-summer averages. While it was pleasant, it wasn’t helping the ski season much.
We took a trip to visit the family in Texas over the holidays and on one of the four flights required to get there and back I caught a cold. One of those pervasive colds that hit you like a ton of bricks and linger for weeks. DayQuil & NyQuil kept me sedated and the cough suppressed, but I was pretty miserable through all of January and into February. I think I finally stopped coughing just a few days ago.
So my 2018 ski season has been limited to just five days so far. Only one had any fresh snow, and that was only about 6cm. The mountain is like going back to my hockey days, only the rink is tilted up to 36°.
It has been so warm and sunny that I finally took the snow tires off the winter beater two weeks ago. had to take a trip over the mountains to Portland recently, and drove the BMW… WITH THE TOP DOWN. I haven’t even had a fire in the wood stove since November. Too warm.
It is President’s Day Weekend as we speak, which means in terms of crowds, it is a total shitshow on the hill. So I’m staying home. But, yesterday the weather changed. Winter is back! Woke up this morning to a dusting of snow on the ground, and more in the forecast.
On the mountain:
Oh happy days!
Today I’m putting the snow tires back on the car, and as soon as the holiday weekend crowds have left, I’m going skiing!