IT'S ALIVE! IT'S ALIVE!!
February 22, 2023
The fatigue of this project—and my 1972 Inka touring restomod project—have weighed on me. So much so that the slow but steady progress I was making during the pandemic has almost abated. And, if not for the intervention of others, who knows, it might have died on the vine. But it didn’t and, as alluded in the title of this post, it’s alive; the damn thing runs. Barely.
The car came home in April of 2022, and Spring was full of hope. After all, it was in my garage and instead of having to drive two hours up to Sacramento (and two hours back, of course) I could just saunter the few feet to my garage and tinker. And there was a lot of tinkering to be done.
So I tinkered. I took off the electrical tape someone installed in a fit of ugliness and re-wrapped the wiring harness with new cloth tape.
I take out the old, non-functional antenna and put in a new one (forget that there was no center console, let alone stereo in the car).
I traced down extra and errant wiring, cleaning messes in the engine compartment and under the dash.
Several little parts were added, like the leaf guards in the hood.
And, I did the one thing that is fairly easy yet yields big results and nice money shots: installed the freshly recovered seats in the blingy Alpina cloth.
Other little things like cleaning the carpet, and rewiring the Hella big/little headlights helped move things along.
But then Summer became Fall and things stalled to a crawl, mostly due to festering frustration. Why was I frustrated? Heater problems. No, not the garage wasn’t heated. Rather, the problem was the heater in the car; specifically, my tinkering under the dash revealed that the heater ducting was removed along with the dash when it was taken out some 5 years ago (to have the cracks repaired); when the body shop reinstalled the dash they forgot to put the heater ducting back in first.
With some ingenuity I was able to squeeze almost all the ducting in place except for one last piece. But, oh that last one. Try as I might, there just wasn't enough room to maneuver it in there……
defroster ducting as shown in the parts "book"
heater ducting as shown in parts "book"
Frustrated, I walked away from the car for a while. After a couple of months without any progress, my long-suffering wife finally prodded me. I realized the enormity of the project was overwhelming me. True, it was great to have the car nearby, instead of two hours away. But I had finished the tinkering and it was time to do the real work. And for that, there was a lot of comfort in having it in a shop, surrounded by many mechanically minded brains happy to help at every turn. Not having a lift at home also made things tough; that was the only way for me to work under a car given my vertigo. All this killed any joy I found working on the car.
I started to wonder if I should bring the car to a shop for completion. It was not a step to be taken lightly. I took pride in re-assembling the car myself. It was truly my creation, my baby. But I knew my limits and learned that there were things, no matter how successful I was, that were above my paygrade: color sanding the paint, fixing the sunroof mechanism, fine tuning the injection, installing that last piece of heater ducting. So, I had already come to the conclusion that someone else was going to bring the car across the finish line. The only question was when.
Eventually, I decided to finish as many of the punch-list items as I could before getting it to the shop that was going to help towards completion. I wanted to try to start the car, so the engine got populated with spark plugs and fluids and other small but necessary items. Once done, a mechanic friend came over for an afternoon and we tried to get it started. We made some progress; it would crank over but not catch. We verified fuel but ran out of time before confirming spark. And that was the last significant attempt. A short while later, I had the car towed away again, this time to a shop that specializes in older BMWs.
They aren’t finished, in fact they pretty much just started. They get to my car in between their regular work; I’m in no rush and they aren’t either, really. But they got it started and are making the progress that I couldn’t. They also found that the brakes are acting up and it may need a new booster or master cylinder. For me, just hearing it run was great. I'm an amateur motor assembler and worry about I did wrong until the thing runs without grenading. We've crossed that line, so I guess I didn't fuck anything up too much.
The fact that the car is at a shop and that it’s running has brought back some momentum. And, more importantly, I've mapped out the next steps. The body shop I used on some other cars is two blocks away and they’re on-board for color sanding the paint, installing the Alpina stripes and rear spoiler, etc.
The biggest question mark with the car is still the heater; if the shop can get the last of the ducting in without removing the dash, then the control unit can go in and the interior can be buttoned-up. If not, then the dash has to come out again, which has a snowballing effect: the windshield has to come out to remove the dash. If the windshield is out, I should replace the new headliner, due to some issues with the fitment of the current one—and a few mistakes in cutting holes for the sunroof cranks and such. That’s a good amount of work, and costly, but worth it in the end to get everything right.
This is no time for cutting corners and a recent Bring-a-Trailer auction of an e21 B6 2.8 drives that point home: This car sold for $141,000 and it makes me wonder what mine is worth once completed. Sure, it’s not a B6. But Buchloe-built e21 C1s are actually rarer than B6s (In the e21 chassis, Alpina built 462 C1s and 534 B6s according to Paulo Tumminelli in the definitive book on Alpina history, OAL-BB 50: 50 Years of BMW Alpina Automobiles). And with the 2.8 stroker M20 motor, it should have the same or similar performance to the B6. I don’t expect it has B6 value but it should be a pretty nice and rare Buchloe-built C1.
But the value of car right now is solely what it means to me. And as alluded above, it is my baby, my creation because of all my blood, sweat and tears that have gone into it. Of course, all my previous projects were my babies for the same reasons and I ended up selling them after a couple of years and moving on to the next project. From that I realized I liked the process as much—maybe even more—than driving the thing. But times have changed and the projects are much more taxing on my older body and just maybe that has flipped. In the past the projects weren’t fatiguing or frustrating, they were joyous adventures. Maybe in my old age I’ll appreciate journeying in the car more than the journey of building it. Time will tell.
In the meantime, I have this in a conspicuous place, reminding me of what it'll look like completed and to motivate me.