We’ve been involved with the Vintage for the past few years but oddly enough this is the first year that we’ve attended in an actual BMW. In the past we’ve used various vehicles to haul tents, generators and things. This year we took a different approach and decided to attend as participants. We decided early this year that we would bring an e28 M5 and it so happened that the e28’s were the flavor of this years Vintage.
Let me explain a little about my M5. I bought it about a year ago and have put a total of about 200 miles on it since. The car was very well sorted and restored by the previous owner. I found it on Craigslist and managed to take it home a few days later. I don’t drive it often and I’ve taken it mainly to GarageRiot events and the occassional date night all of which are in the morning or evening. The car runs strong and needs nothing, so I thought.
The Thursday before Vintage I get the car ready, or at least plan to. I put the key in the ignition and find that the battery is dead. Not surprising since it doesn’t get driven often, but still disappointing. I have another e28 M5 that I just put a new battery in a few months ago so I swap the battery and drive to AutoZone so they can test the dead one. I’m hoping they will tell me the battery is bad so that I can sleep knowing there isn’t an alternator issue. Instead he tells me the battery is fine and recharges it for me. Now I’m worried. I don’t have the time to change an alternator before the trip and don’t want to bring the other M5. He does the routine battery, starter, alternator test on the swapped battery in the car but can’t get a reading on the battery or the alternator. Great, no sleep for me tonight. Occasionally the M5 will take a few cranks before it starts and just my luck it’s doing it each time I start it that night.
I get it home, pack up with the essentials for the trip in the form of extra belts, tools, tire pumps and detailing products. I packed for every kind of weather I’ve experienced in years past including cool mornings, hot days and rain. That night Z (the head of GarageRiot Marketing) and I talked about our plan to get on the road the next day by noon. Yeah right… Friday morning we were both faced with various snags in our schedule and by the time we got on the road it was almost 3:00.
Z and I get loaded up and get going from my house and quickly find that the A/C doesn’t blow cold air or make much difference at all. In the days leading up to the trip, I was more concerned with things like oil and water levels, air pressure etc. I didn’t think to check the A/C because it’s never been an issue in the car before mainly due to the fact that I don’t drive it in hot weather to try to protect the basically irreplaceable dash from getting hot and cracking. We get a few miles from the house in 90 degree weather completely stopped in traffic and the complaining begins. “It’s really hot in here!”, “Why isn’t traffic moving!”, “I hope the clouds come out.”, “Why didn’t you check the A/C!” After stopping for gas and a couple very large waters, we get on the interstate with the windows down and blasts of hot air and exhaust from the cars in front of us. More complaining, “What’s that smell?” “Why are my eyes burning? Is that carbon monoxide coming into the cabin?” It went on like that for about 45 minutes before we agreed to stop at an auto parts store to try and charge the A/C system for some sort of relief from the heat.
I go inside the O’Reillys and meet an employee who was a huge BMW enthusiast and tells me that at one time owned 12 of them, mainly e30’s. We walk outside and he compliments me on the M5 and we pop the hood. He takes it upon himself to connect the A/C recharging canister to the A/C system and I let him to his thing while attempting to stay away from the hot engine and find some sort of shade. The first issue arises. The cap on the A/C line is missing the pin in the center. He goes inside and finds a pack of replacement caps and we try again. He connects the A/C canister, I crank the car and turn on the A/C. 30 seconds later he tells me, “There’s your problem. The A/C compressor belt is missing.” Great. I’m so irritated and hot, that we leave and I didn’t even think to try and fit a belt that I brought and see if I can get it on in the parking lot.
Another hour goes by and we’ve started to acclimate to the heat. Still convinced carbon monoxide is burning his eyes, Z and I carry on conversation yelling over the passing traffic and wind noise in the cabin. We stop periodically for a break and by now I’m concerned about the rough starts the car has had and that we might end up stranded before making it to NC. Keep in mind I’m still not sure if there is an alternator issue and I keep imagining that the battery won’t be strong enough to turn the engine over. We stop at the South Carolina welcome center and I leave the car running while we take turns running inside.
A few more stops along the way and we arrive at the Clarion. Oddly enough we don’t see any other classic BMW’s the entire trip until we get off the exit for the Clarion where we are greeted by a beautiful, white, E9 3.0 CS. After parking in the lot, we go in to register and that’s when the fun started. We immediately meet some new people in line and start sharing stories. Outside more of the same with even better stories. While making laps around the parking lot Z finds that he is in love with the E9 we followed into the parking lot while admiring the “Roundies” around each corner. I’m amazed at all of the e28 M5’s that came out and started to consider buying the Euro headlight upgrade for mine. The festivities wind down and we get in the car to leave. First engine start attempt, fail. The next is successful. A group of people next to us cheer when the engine starts and we give each other thumbs ups.
We left the Clarion and grabbed some food. Hit a local Walmart and made the way to our hotel which was about 15 minutes north. Again being weary of my potential alternator issue, I parked on a hill in the back of the hotel parking lot. The next morning we get up and I look up how to fit the compressor belt. It turns out I need a 32mm wrench which I don’t have so it looks like we are out of luck for the morning. We grab some breakfast and head out for Hot Springs. That part of the state is beautiful and it’s a nice cool morning. Along the way we meet up with a caravan of BMW’s and follow each other to the event. About 10 miles outside of Hot Springs a red 2002 a few cars up from us develops an issue and is spewing a lot of smoke out of the exhaust. Hopefully he made it home that night.
Once we pull in we find the e28 section and are directed to the area where it appears a huge sink hole is destined to swallow any car around and guess who gets to drive over it to park… Luckily the earth didn’t swallow us up and we park next to a beautiful Hartge e28 and then shortly afterward another beautiful M5 parks along side. I immediately head for the swag tents, while Z makes a dash to the closest E9. I soon run out of cash and luckily this year several vendors were able to take card payments.
We spent the next few hours walking through the hundreds of amazing BMW’s and just talking to people. It was great hearing the rescue, restoration and preservation stories and seeing some really rare and special cars. There was a BMW limo, several imported non-US spec cars, a chalk car, lot’s of engine swaps, custom made parts and crazy setups. We came upon Paul from MooseheadEngineering and his modified e28 with a V12 and custom made wheels. We chatted for a few minutes when I find out that he is a mechanical engineer but was also a BMW tech for a few years. I ask him about the A/C compressor belt and he tells me it’s an easy fix. Among the belts that I put in the trunk we find the A/C belt. 15 minutes later with a few tools, me holding an umbrella to shield him from the sun and a couple bump starts, the belt is on. Paul fills it with the refrigerant we bought the day before and we now have A/C!! Thanks Paul! I still owe you.
About an hour later we get on the back roads leaving the town of Hot Springs, population 300 and have an amazing drive back through the mountains reflecting on the event and all the wonderful people we met. Thanks again Scott for continuing to have this event and making it a blast each year. Thank you to all the wonderful new people we met and all of the friends we saw again from years past. We’ll see you next year!