For sale: 1974 BMW 3.0 CSi race-car project. Rebuilt 3-liter with Schrick cam, headers, triple Webers (not installed), full coilover suspension (not installed), big brake kit (not installed), Sparco fully adjustable seats (not installed), fiberglass hood, trunk, doors, dash (not installed), complete gauge set (not installed), Smartire tire pressure monitoring system (not installed), cheap, giveaway. All offers considered. Trades accepted. Contact Dan Erwin, c/o this fine book.
Ha! You wish!
But ain't that always the way? You start a project with this wonderful end-state vision: The most graceful of BMWs, prepared for the track with all the right stuff, and on a very limited budget. You do all the preliminaries, the clean-up, the disassembly, the beginning stages of restoration. The vision is still strong. You can see yourself running, perhaps, a tarmac rally in your well-sorted monster. It's all there, right in front of your nose: The trophies, the accolades, the overt race-car envy from those on the sidelines. Then one day, as you're grinding away at yet another rusty body panel, the image flickers. You dismiss the momentary faltering of your imagination as an aberration. You've done projects on this scale before. No problems. But as the days stretch into weeks, the edges of that old end-state vision begin to get a little fuzzy. And this isn't just a split-second lapse either. You begin to let other, more accessible projects distract you. The one-week fender replacement on an Alfa sedan takes a month, but the car is a hoot, so why not? Then, along comes a cheap BMW 635 CSi Euro that just needs a fuel pump...and brakes...and a few electrical renovations. Two months later, the Greyhound has acquired a protective layer of dust. And the end-state vision? Well, it's become a 1x1-in. jpeg blown up to 13x19 in. The vague outline is still there, but you can't pick out a single detail. It's at this point you look at the rusty derelict occupying 1.5 spaces of your two-car garage, and you start to think, "Why are we doing this again?" Eventually, internal and external pressures prevail. "Are you ever going to do anything with that junker?" she said. And you finally admit to yourself, "Maybe I'm not ever going to do anything with this...junker." Game over, man.
So you swallow what's left of your pride and sell that "unfinished project" along with all the neat go-faster stuff you've acquired while the vision was still plasma-screen clear. You sell everything, hoping to divest yourself of this albatross and all the bad memories it inspires: the arctic days spent trying to get frozen hands to do your bidding in an unheated garage. The rivers of blood spilling from fresh grinder wounds. The jagged scars inflicted by all that nice, razor-sharp sheetmetal. And you sell it for pennies on the dollar, because as I've said before, an unfinished project, no matter how much of your heart and soul is in it, isn't worth squat.
And you wait for that end-state vision to disappear completely, along with the guilt and self reproach. You wait. But, like a broadcast channel on the edge of the spectrum, it never does quite go away.
Do I sound like someone who's been there? I should. So, when the first self-activated ass-kicking machine comes to market, I'm going to be first in line. Because some memories just won't go away.
To wit: I bought the car for a 160 bucks. It came with the usual boxes of new and old parts, spares and essential pieces. It was showing the effects of long neglect, perhaps because of one or two seemingly insurmountable problems, like sourcing a huge and unique roller bearing for one of stub axle carriers on the de Dion suspension. It looked for all the world like a D-Type Jaguar, with fiberglass bodywork and a carefully crafted square tube frame rather than the aluminum monocoque of the original. It was, nonetheless a thing of beauty, if a little gnawed-on at the edges. All it would take is some hard work and a rock-solid end-state vision to restore it to its former glory as an SCCA D-Modified Production racer. And I had that vision...at first.
I found the unobtainable roller bearing, probably pulled from a dusty back shelf in a tiny London motor factory's shop. I learned to recognize MG bits at first sight, as I painstakingly retraced the original builder's steps in sourcing brake calipers, fuel pumps and master cylinders. I scrubbed and welded and painted and disassembled and assembled. Finally, I had a rolling chassis with all the right parts in all the right places. And there, the vision faltered. Maybe it was trying to hold down a daytime job, do a full course load in architecture at a college 52 miles away, and simultaneously keep a wife and three kids fed and out of the elements that momentarily distracted me. Or maybe it was the Corvair wagon with the 140-bhp, four-carb motor. Or maybe the right-hand-drive Alfa Giulia Sprint GT. At any rate the signal got fuzzy, other priorities cropped up, and when I was transferred from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta, I lost it completely. I put an ad in the automotive section of the Fort Lauderdale paper: "For sale: D-Jaguar replicar. Many new parts. Needs finishing. Trailer included. $400 OBO." Then I left town to scope out a place to light in Atlanta, my new home. My wife, left to hold down the fort and broker the deal, had 60 calls in 2 hours. The first person appeared 30 minutes later, breathlessly, at our front door with $400 in hand. He left with the car, chortling to himself. And that's where the story should end.
But it doesn't. It will never end. Because I still have nightmares about that car. I have nightmares about the thousand hours the original builder invested, and the many hundreds more I put into restoring the chassis. And I dream about what it would have been when I finished it. Unique. Fast. The Ultimate Track Car.
Now, any time I want to get really suicidal, I just think about my lost D-Jag. And any time I want to get really pissed off, I think about the Greyhound. Then I say to myself, "Is this going to be another D-Jag? Can you really hang one more virtual albatross on your skinny little psyche without going under?" And the answers are, "Hell no" and "Can't do it" in that order.
So, to borrow another phrase from the Brits, my mentors in this Improbable Project process, there's nothing left to do but get "stuck in." "Stuck in" is when you approach the object of your affliction head down, no end in sight, just doing the task at hand until it's done, then on to the next one, then on to the next. It's the only way to avoid overwhelming yourself, losing focus and giving up. Because when you break a project down like this into its constituent parts, and consider these parts all at once you will be overwhelmed. You will be nibbled to death by all the virtual baby ducks.
So I got stuck in. But I got help, too. Sometimes it takes a fresh batch of enthusiasm to push things along. In the absence of any remaining friends I could call upon in my time of need, I resorted to hired enthusiasm. Yup. I paid to have some stuff done. It's not as if I couldn't have welded in the floor pans I laboriously constructed, but there's no telling how long that would have taken.
So I paid a wild-eyed kid to do some of the welding. You know the type. Stays up until 3:00 a.m. doing any given task and does not die a horrible, lingering death the next day. And the enthusiasm is contagious. When I procrastinated on my panel-forming job, the word would come back to me, "Waitin' on you...I got nothin' to do here until you get on the stick." And lo, I would be inspired. Youth may be wasted on the young, but it sure does come in handy sometimes.
Resurrecting the Greyhound has many upsides, not the least of which is enhancing its monetary value to the community of enthusiasts. Even a "yard-driveable" project is worth twice as much as one that sits, neglected and inoperable in the gloom of a dusty garage corner. A cursory inventory of the pieces I have "waiting for installation" indicates I have invested about $5,000 at this point. Most of the major pieces are down in the basement, and addition of a fuel cell, some sort of fire suppression system, some Aeroquip fittings and line, and various other bits should up that total by another couple of thou. If it runs as well as I suspect it will, I should be able to recover my investment on any given day.
One investment I will not be able to recover except in time saving process enhancement is the purchase of many new tools. In fact, there's a subliminal subtext running through my mind that says, "Hey, these new toys are one of the main reasons that you started this project in the first place." I've now got a neat automatic electric stud welder. I showed you how to weld studs into a dent to pull it out some time ago, but that process involved oxy-acetylene welding. It was time-consuming and a little crude, but effective. Now, I've got the moral equivalent of a nail-gun to stitch those studs into a dent. And there are plenty of dents to stitch studs into, believe me. I'll save some time, and be reassured in the fact that I'm running an actual semi-pro system. Next on the list was a self-darkening welding helmet. I don't know why I didn't have one of these from the get-go, but now that I've used mine, I realize that some of the technology developed in the last few years is good stuff. The ease in controlling a weld when you can actually see what you're doing is unbelievable. And the welds look much more like something that will stay together. Since I don't grind welds any more, this is important. This mechanical vision enhancement dovetails nicely with my failing physical abilities to ensure that I'm at least staying even with the board. Last, but not least, I've upgraded my welder to a Millermatic 175. Now I have a 115v Marquette rig for work at the track, at midnight, in the freezing rain, while laying on your back, (let's not go there) and the Miller 230v MIG for heavier stuff in the garage. At least I've made great strides in the toy department.
And, since we're detailing non-recoverable investments, I'll add that I'm about to approach a point-of-no-return, investment-wise: the rollcage. In our last episode, before I was so rudely interrupted (by me) I had designed a dandy rollcage. Whether such a thing could be constructed within our budget remained to be determined. My middle son said, "I've got access to a tubing bender, why don't we just do it ourselves?" And, from a cost standpoint, you can't argue with sweat equity. But given my amazing procrastinative abilities thus far, such a task would put our prospective finish date out well into the next millennium. Conversations with a good friend who has built his own cage were not encouraging, either. "I wouldn't build another one of these damned things for five...thousand...dollars," he swore, palm upraised. No help there. And as I looked at photos of his cage, I could see his point. I've been in a race fabrication shop, and experienced the work that goes into one of the little devils: The cutting and bending and trial fitting and adjusting and trial fitting again and, finally, contorting yourself into an impossible position to get the tube welded into place are not to be considered lightly. These things are rewarding, yes, but are neither fun things, nor an old man's job. So, yes, I decided to hire this done.
Thus, I proceeded to my list of prospective cage constructors, the first of which was a local racing outfit, well known for its sturdy, meticulously fabricated structures. "Well, for a basic cage, we charge about $1,700, plus materials...they usually run about $700," said the man-in-charge. Now we were getting somewhere. But when I looked back at my lovely Photoshop efforts on the Greyhound cage, I realized that what I'd drawn there is not your "basic cage." The budget part of my brain ran for the cellar as I mentally calculated the time and materials involved in the transition from "budget" to "bulletproof." The cost would double, perhaps. Well, at least it was another data point, if a scary one.
My last foray into the cage contracting ranks will be a shop I know well from its interior round-tube artwork. The 901 Shop in Pompano Beach, Fla., has a firmly established reputation as fabricators of exquisite racing machinery, some of it seen in these pages. Brady Refenning, who runs the shop, in league with father Jack, who now sits back and grins as Brady realizes what he's got himself into, are both racers to the core. I'll send my design to these stalwarts and let them have a good laugh before they give me the bum's rush.
Bottom line, we're still "stuck in." No more D-Jag replicars for me. I have enough nightmares as it is.
Project Junkyard Greyhound-aka BMW 3.0 CS
Part 1: Rust-bucket refugee to race-ready road rocket...on a budget
Part 2: Stripping the CS down to the bone
Part 3: "Zen and the Art of Not Bawling Like a Baby"--or, I take two steps forward and how many back? (aka bodywork)
Part 4: Welding: hot, nasty and oh, so necessary
Part 5: Keeping it simple-a "new" motor for the CS
Part 6: Chasin' Squirrels-a momentary distraction by an 2002, plus suspension bits & brakes, too
Part 7: Measure twice, cut once-the Greyhound gets fitted with a cage