It was 4:23am and I was driving the pickup at a steady 79MPH as if that 1 MPH short of 80 would eliminate the possibility of a ticket. The speed limit was 70MPH on this stretch of interstate, and despite the hour, a few state troopers were out and about. Frank (name changed to protect the guilty) was fast asleep in the passenger seat and snorting loud enough and infrequently enough to startle me every time. In the droning quiet of night I thought that surely this was a serious medical condition, but then I recalled tales of my own snoring. Perhaps it is a car/bike guy thing. The only other sound was the periodic rattle of the empty trailer behind us when we hit a misaligned expansion joint. The soft glow of the instrument panel with a few blown bulbs cast a light just good enough for me to see the oscillating speedometer needle. The ashtray was gone, and the instrument light there cast a beam of light right onto the extra large Dunkin Donuts coffee cup that was in the cupholder. The heat was on full blast since the only settings that worked were full blast and off. Off in this case meant 40 degree outside air into the cabin. Full blast meant 40 degree outside air up top mixed with 400 degree inside air aimed at your feet. Frank needed to do some work on his truck if he was going to expect freeloaders like me to borrow it repeatedly. Slacker.
We were going to a neighboring state to look at and possibly purchase, 2 (yes 2) BMW 1600s. I had become aware of this deal via an email the previous day. It had 2 not-so-good photos and not much description either. One was a running driving, registered car, and the other was a "restorable" car with the engine out and lots of parts. The price was in the "there-must-be-a-catch-here-somewhere-for-this-to-be-so-low" category. I spoke with the owner, got a better sense, and concluded that these cars would be going to the first person who showed up with cash. Was I in the market for a 1600 ? Well....no. It is one of those cars always on my list because it is the precursor to the 2002, and I really like the all aluminum grill, but I was not actively hunting one at the time. Did I have a place to put it ? Well....no. The Inn was full and I had no freeloader options remaining. Did I have a place to put 2 cars ? See previous response. Did I have time for another project? Well...no. I was in the midst of a Honda CB750 project, and I had a healthy todo list on the Targa, etc. It would also not be a good idea to bring another large rusty object to the house. Did I have the budget to consumate this deal? Well....no. It would take a careful orchestration of funds transfers, off balance-sheet transactions, indexing of derivatives, and obfuscation that would confuse Bernard Madoff. So why was this of interest ? Because it was a deal.
If you hang out with other vintage iron inmates at the asylum, you are going to come across deals. These deals are not of the ordinary variety now common on Craigslist and other sites, because they are "pre-qualified" by another inmate. Other inmates know your particular brand of insanity and pass on deals that will drive you deeper into madness. This allows them to appear relatively stable by contrast, or to have some company down at their own level. For a while. But I digress.
Back to the deal at hand. I called Frank and we determined that the only logistical way to make this happen soon was to leave at a ridiculous hour the very next morning (Saturday), get there at 7am, and be back by early afternoon. With two of us, one could sleep while the other drove. The mark of a true friend is that they would subject themselves to this willingly when they have no vested interest. And offer their truck. I executed the financial transactions during lunch at work, and called the owner. He said that some guy was coming by tomorrow afternoon, but that he had told him that I called first. In other words, I needed to show up first with cash to win. It is said that any great victory requires the defeat of a great enemy. Ok, I just made that up, but it sounds like a 4th century Chinese Emporer could have said it. I now had a worthy opponent steaming toward the prize and hoping to snatch victory. I asked the owner how early he got up. 7am it is.
It was 6:42am. Daylight had emerged, and I was refueling the truck when Frank woke up.
"Are we there yet Dad?" Frank's lame sense of humor was awake as well.
"Quiet, or I'll have aunt Agnes smother you to death with her hugs." Your lame sense of humor has to get up pretty early to beat my lame sense of humor.
"My neck hurts, these cars better be good, I'm going to take a leak." He wandered toward the Qwik Mart.
"Get me a coffee, Son." He gave me the finger.
Frank returned and we twisted and turned the few remaining miles to the house. It was a victorian style house with a detached garage accessible by an alley behind the house. The better of the 1600s was partially visible. I stopped out front. We got out and walked up to the house. We were already on the steps to the front porch when the owner spoke from a chair over in the corner.
"You boys are right on time. I appreciate that." He put down the paper and picked up his coffee mug. We exchanged pleasantries and went back to see the cars. The one outside the garage was sahara beige. The paint was not as good as pictured, but not a lot worse either. The interior was well worn with drivers and passenger seats in bad shape, while the rear was perfect (as usual). The dash was cracked in a few places and the headliner was falling down. Under the hood, the air cleaner had been expelled in favor of a square aftermarket setup. There was some home brew wiring running around, and some oil leakage that could have been minor or serious. No way to tell casually. So far, below expectations, but not disastrous. The real revelation was the under carriage. It was in far worse shape than the rest of the car would suggest. Lots of rusty spots, and the left rear shock tower was about to rust through in a few places. I got back up and lifted the mats inside. Not good. Frank made helpful comments like "oh boy", "Jeez", and "That's gonna be some work," as we examined the rest of the car. The owner started the car and it stumbled along unable to idle, while producing some valve clatter."She's a runner," said Frank sarcastically.
"So can we look at the other car?" He opened the grarage and the other car had the unmistakable stance of a car with no engine. It was white with its nose elevated like the prow of a boat. The dash was actually better than the other car, and the back seat was just as good, but there was no driver's seat, and the passenger seat lay on the floor missing one rail. A door glass was missing, it had no headliner, but the floors were in good shape and the shock towers were good. Of course,you know what the owner's plan was here. A transplant. In front of the car was a motor which he described as smoking a lot when he pulled it out. There was also a wiring harness, an extra door with glass, and a few crates with the original air cleaner, a headlight bucket, some seat hardware, etc.
The reality of the magnitude of this project began to sink in. The pure adrenalin that had kept me awake despite just a few hours sleep was suddenly gone. This had gone from what-a-deal to ok-project-if-you-can-get-the-price-down-substantially. I did not need one of those, but there one good car and a bunch of parts sitting there. I asked the owner a few questions and then retreated outside to confer with Frank.
"Let's get outta here," I said.
"Why don't you throw him an offer?" Frank said. "Like $17," he added mockingly.
"You gonna keep them for me?" I knew the answer.
"Tell you what, I'll keep these, and you keep the bugeyes since they're smaller, deal?" Frank's bugeye sprites made both of these cars look like museum quality pieces. They were more industrial art than automobiles.
I sauntered back in and talked to the owner about how I viewed the potential of the vehicles. I made him an offer that was just below what I thought the package was really worth. It was well south of his asking price. With another suitor coming, he was convinced that he could do much better. I did not haggle.
Walking away from a situation like this, you should feel glad that you have avoided some horrible money/time pit that you could not afford. Or maybe you would feel disappointed that the deal was not what you hoped it would be. I was both of those things, but I was also thinking that I might not find a better way to get a decent 1600 into the garage. I was thinking that a few more dollars might have secured not 1 but 2 vehicles. And who doesn't want a parts car for their restoration project? I was thinking of an opportunity lost. I was thinking of looking around for another deal on a 1600.
Back in the truck, Frank took the wheel and we headed back. I was tired and needed to get some sleep. The trailer rattled to remind me that it was still empty. Frank said "You do realize that with the number of things wrong with this truck, and the fact that we hauled an empty trailer around for 700 miles, I have to charge you $3.27 per mile for this trip?"