Driving, I think we can all agree, has gotten too damn easy. Safer, yes. Faster, most definitely. More comfortable, certainly. And these days many modern luxury cars—and even affordable ones—will go out of their way to help you do it. But unlike your average disgraced Silicon Valley tech executive, we believe history matters, and that it’s important to experience the way things were to learn where you’re really going.
At least that’s the philosophical justification I came up with for this road trip. If it sounds like bullshit, that’s because it is. I hope it’s at least impressive bullshit.
The point is that next week, Raphael Orlove and I will be setting off across this great country of ours, from Seattle to New York City, hopefully, in this car: a 1970 BMW 2500.
And it’s a car that’s far from being some perfect garage queen.
Will we make it? Will we break down? Will we successfully pull off a Hail Mary roadside repair, if it comes down to that? Will we die? I don’t know the answer to any of those questions yet. But it’s not an adventure if you know how it’s going to end.
You may recognize this particular car. It was owned by ace Road & Track scribe (and former Jalopnik writer/current Jalopnik friend) Sam Smith. He’s written about it many times in places like his own magazine and Wired. He’s described it as “a crappy old car,” the kind of thing he could beat on repeatedly and fix himself when needed, always cool with the fact that it’d never be perfect.
It’s a driver, not a show car. He scored it off Craigslist for $2,800 a few years back and has turned it to something respectable, at least.
But it’s not his anymore, as of recently. The car was recently purchased by my friend and personal old BMW guru Clay Weiland, who lives in the Washington D.C. area and has himself contributed to Jalopnik before. He bought it from Sam, but for a variety of personal and timing reasons, wasn’t immediately available to drive the car to the East Coast himself.
And so, as a longtime proponent of bad ideas, I volunteered for the task. I volunteered Raphael Orlove for it too, because he has experience with road tripping in old carb-engined cars, though his track record there is... mixed, to put it politely.
Then there’s the car itself. Powered by a 2.5-liter inline six with 148 horsepower when it was new and packing just a four-speed manual transmission, this big sedan leaves us facing a long trip contending with the following:
- Starting can be “tricky”, Sam tells us, with a fuel pump switch wired into the headlight switch by a previous owner as an anti-theft measure. We cannot forget to turn the fuel pump/headlights off when we kill the car.
- The linkage for the dual carbs is... delicate (read: bad), so we’re told to avoid flooring it suddenly. If we do, it will bend.
- The fuel gauge is wonky and reads close to full nearly all the time. I’m expecting the car to get abysmal gas mileage, especially with the four speed. (It got high teens when new, per Autocar, but we expect less.) As it is, we seem to be on our own with knowing when to refuel.
- The temp gauge is “largely useful, but not accurate,” which actually describes quite a few reporters I’ve known over the years. Not a great quality in cars either.
- The heater seems to work, but only when it wants to.
- The wipers work, but we’re told not to use them; the windshield has had the crap Rain-X’d out of it instead. Sam believes that is enough, which makes one of us.
- It has different keys for the doors and ignition. From Sam: “Tell Raph and PG not to accidentally try the wrong key in the wrong lock. You can break the key off, and there is no spare key. Best to just unlock the driver’s door and go in and out that way, on the trip. Lock the other doors with the plungers, inside the car.” Okay!
Other than that, we’re told the Bavaria is solid: smooth, tough and German, with a fine ride, good brakes, healthy tires, new CV boots, no leaks and, weirdly, seats transplanted from some newer Acura. Those at least look pretty comfortable.
Right now the tentative plan is to drive from Seattle on through to Montana, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota or Wisconsin, then to Michigan with a possible stop in Detroit if we can manage it, then Ohio, Pennsylvania and home to New York. After that, Clay should be driving it up to bring it home.
We fly to Seattle early next Wednesday and hope to be in NYC by Monday sometime, driving as much as we possibly can during the day and, if it’s safe to do so, at night. (Raphael is a California boy who detests night driving, but I’m from Texas. As far as I see it, 44 hours in a car is just “a quick trip down to the HEB to get some Green Sauce and a case of Lone Star.”)
In case we break down, we figure we can sort the issue out ourselves. Raph can handle carburetors and I know my way around a BMW motor or two, plus we’ll be bringing tools. We also have the mechanical guidance of Sam, Clay and other friends.
Will it be enough? Honestly, I do not know. I’m a little nervous about it all, to be truthful. (Not me! -Raph.) I told Clay we’d get the Bavaria as far as we can, fixing as much as we can when and if it breaks. I don’t want to let my friend down. But if it dies completely it may need to be shipped home while we catch a flight of shame back to NYC. (Been there! -Raph.) We will prepare, we will be vigilant, and we will do our best. That is all I can promise here.
But if we succeed, in addition to so producing much great blog and video content—the thing we all live for—think of what greater truths Raph and I will uncover about analog cars and human driving in our age of high technology. As we sit on the cusp of the dawn of autonomy, Raph and I and this ancient Bavaria will prove that human skill and built-to-last German engineering can overcome any obstacle, no matter how great.
In the meantime, we welcome any and all tips—about the car, about how to prepare, about the route or more—in the comments or by email. Expect plenty of dispatches from the road when we set out.
And send us your thoughts and prayers. We may need them.