SPOKANE, Wash.—Driving across the country in a nearly 50-year-old car that you don’t own, that you’ve never driven before, and that you’ve never worked on yourself isn’t exactly anyone’s most ideal plan. But it’s what we set off to do to try and haul this 1970 BMW 2500 from Seattle to New York, and I’m happy to say Day One ended on a good note.
In reality, the first few hours of driving this car was like a slightly awkward first date. We were just trying to figure each other out, I guess. This car hails from an era before things were as standardized and easy to sort out as they are now, and as its former owner Sam Smith readily admits, it’s a former beater that’s been wrenched into resilience, not some pristine show car.
So our drive was full of nervous questions, at first: What does this button do? How do these weird seat belts work? What was that noise, and is it normal? What was that smell, and is it normal? How do we put gas in it? How do we get the hood open? (That last one was trickier than you’d expect.)
But I’m happy to report the 2500 is tougher and better than I imagined. Here are some highlights:
- The BMW’s straight six is a gem, and in terms of noise and power delivery it feels remarkably like my old 325e did. It’s smooth, torquey and will happily cruise at 70 mph or more for hours. The motor absolutely runs great, for now. A very rough estimate puts our MPG around a respectable 18. (It took 8.3 gallons driving from beautiful Snoqualmie Falls to Moses Lake.)
- I’m eternally grateful to whatever crazy bastard put 1990s Acura seats in this thing. They’re extremely comfortable and already make this trip a lot more bearable than whatever seats were in it to begin with.
- The shifter has that loose-ish, hunt-for-gears sometimes feeling that so many old cars have, but the gearbox itself performs far better than I anticipated. It’s only a four speed but fourth is so tall it’ll highway cruise comfortably, almost like a fifth gear.
- It’s cool, man! It’s a cool car. It’s a big, comfy sedan, tough and German but clearly made for American roads and tastes. It gets compliments and stories everywhere it goes, even though I’m positive it’s been mistaken for a Mercedes W123 a few times.
- (One guy came up to us at a gas station and said “I had a 1990 BMW 525i! Best car I ever owned! I’m an idiot for selling that car, an idiot!” Then he dutifully observed while we topped off the oil.)
- Oh yeah, the turn signals don’t work great. But it’s a BMW, so it’s probably just years of non-use.
- We’ve had a ton of help, from new owner Clay’s friend, Jamie, who stashed it in her garage, to the Jalopnik reader who fixed its ignition issue, to our new pal Martin, who gave us a ride from the airport, talked cars with us all afternoon and then joined us for lunch.
But as my co-driver Raphael Orlove said over an unfortunately low-vegetable-count dinner last night, these are the experiences and interactions you want to have with an old car. The ones you don’t—scrambling to find an axle in Bozeman, Montana, dropping a valve, throwing a rod—may be yet to come.
We made it to Spokane last night before grabbing a cheap hotel and passing out. I was hoping we’d make it to Missoula, at least, but after flying in from New York and getting acquainted with the car we were too tired to continue.
Today we attempt to drive through Montana, maybe to Billings or so. I’d like to be in Minneapolis by the weekend. We shall see what happens next, and hopefully this tough old cruiser only has good surprises in store for us.