Montana Tried To Defeat Us With Altitude, Then It Tried With Cheap Booze, But Our 1970 BMW 2500 Runs On

All Photos Credit: Raphael Orlove

BILLINGS, MT.—The bar we are in informs us, via loudspeaker, that “Power Hour” is soon to occur. Some inadvisable amount of booze will now be available for an even more inadvisable amount of money. It is a good time for us to settle up and walk back to our hotel. After all, we’ve crossed two mountain passes in a 1970 BMW 2500—10 hours in a nearly 50-year-old car—and we’re wiped.


Two days ago, we started this cross country drive, delivering an old BMW from Seattle to New York from its seller (our buddy and Jalopnik alum Sam Smith) to its buyer (Patrick George’s old friend Clay).

A few days before that Clay called Patrick’s phone, asking to speak to me personally. I assumed that Clay was going to be telling me about Patrick’s darkest old secrets; that I should be warned that on his last cross country road trip, he succumbed to Road Madness and burned down at least three national monuments.


But Clay wanted to know if I knew carburetors well enough to be able to swap out jets on the road if need be. Carburetors are analog computers, metering in a certain amount of fuel for a certain amount of air. Change the density of the air, like, go to high altitude, and you’d have to physically change how the carburetor meters out fuel to meet it. That means changing out the openness of the little nozzles, or jets, inside the fiddly innards of a carburetor.

Clay worried that our route over the mountains would have our carbs coughing on thin air, low on power, wheezing along at cut down speed.


What, me worry? We’d only be going over Lookout Pass, as far as I could reckon, and that was only about 4,700 feet. Barely high enough altitude to change much of anything.



I totally forgot about the Continental Divide.


It first loomed up ahead of us in one, long, winding grade. It looked like a total car killer, totally uninterrupted.

But the 2500 powered on through with no problem. The engine is only rated at something like 150 horsepower, pulling a good 2,800 pounds before it’s loaded up with me, Patrick and a couple bags of luggage and tools and parts. But that was more than enough to crest over the spine of North America, at least at its reasonably low point on I-90. We made it over 6,300 feet without even knowing it was coming.


The point of this trip, beyond just shuttling it to its new buyer, is to test if it’s feasible to hit the road in a 48-year-old luxury car. The answer, at last as I thought to myself rolling back down the dry side of the Rockies into Montana, is a tentative yes.


So far the only thing that’s broken has been the speedometer needle, which split in half after spending a few hours wildly bouncing between 60 and 90 mph, like a compass that’s being screwed with by a magnet. Clay suggested we swap out the gauge cluster with a spare in the trunk. We told him that’s a “you problem,” not an “us problem,” as the only speed that matters in this car is whether or not it’s keeping up with traffic.

Other than that, so far, so good.


Of course, it’s morning now and we were reflecting on a text from Sam, the last owner:

I mean, I drove it pretty much all over the Northwest on long trips and it was unstoppable. The previous owner used it for 1000-mile rallies like the Melee and the Snowball and shit. It’ll either drive to the moon and back without hitch or shit itself magnificently somewhere in the Dakotas.


Ah. Cool. To the road again. Oh, how I love to patiently listen to every clunk and whirr, trying to make sure we don’t end up Google searching for a new axle while waiting stranded on the side of the road.

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Raphael Orlove

Raphael Orlove is features editor for Jalopnik.