Stalls – June ’87
Back in the dark ages, shortly before the invention of the mercury vapor street lamp, speed limits were determined by how fast people drove. The formula worked something like this: If 80% of the vehicles were driven at 70 mph on a stretch of road, the speed limit would be set at 70 mph. If, over time, the 80% drifted up to 75 mph, the ante would be upped a nickle.
The origins of this democratic formula are unknown to me. Possibly, before the Age of Urinalysis, it was thought that the majority of the population was reason able and that reasonable people should not be made outlaws. Possibly, the legisla ture and the police wanted laws which were enforceable.
Based on this formula, the NMSL should be about 60 mph. (Also based on this formula, I should be ticketed daily for such offenses as signaling turns and lane changes, making turns into the near lane, putting on the headlights in tunnels and other such misdeeds committed by less than 5% of the driving population. But I digress.) It seems like folks have slowed down.
A recent (last week of May) excursion of a thousand miles exposed that the bulk of drivers are going slower than before the NMSL was raised to 65 ! Previously, a speed of about 70 mph prevailed (which was appropriate on roads which had a speed limit of 70 before Nixon was elected). But traffic last month was mov ing at 65 or a little less! Many of these turtles practiced their art in the left lane, so I had ample opportunity to clock them.
Sure, some of us take advantage. I read that the WSP proclaimed that if the limit was raised to 65, drivers would con tinue to go five or ten over. I am not one to let our gendarmerie down. Oregon has not raised its limit to 65, so I added another five or ten on top of my Washington speed just to get the point across. My exact speed was hard to determine, since the diesel’s speedometer pegs out at 85.
But it seems that a generation of drivers have had their genes altered by years of creeping on all fours. Perhaps the Schnell Gestapo has terrorized them into thinking that the new speed limits will be strictly enforced. The odds haven’t changed if you play the game by the old rules, though.
Naturally, all the weapons of elec tronic warfare were fully armed on my trip. Interstate driving has been nothing less than electronic warfare for so long that one can only assume the crew of the Stark was too young to drive. Keep your detector up, your plane-spotter open (sunroof to the rest of you) and your eye peeled for unfriendlies closing at high speed or parked off the side of the road (thankfully, the police do not drive VW vans, of which there is such a curbside abundance) and your license will remain remarkably clean. And remember, it is not how fast you go, but where you go fast, that makes all the difference.
The oddest part of my drive occurred south of Salem. A hedge divides I-5 there, and high tension lines decorate the west side of the road. My Escort started going off consistently on X band, but the meter movement indicated a distant source. After five miles of this I became quite puzzled, and switched the detector to the “City” position. This eliminated the beeps, but the meter continued to fluctuate wildly. About five more miles of this and I returned to the left lane, cautiously passing traffic. Pretty soon the Escort went full chat, with nary a cop in sight. I was approaching to pass a small, late model blue Ford (sorry, they all look the same to me) driven by a thin, elderly gentleman. On his dash, pointing out the windshield, was mounted a bowl shaped device, and beneath that was a rectangular black box with switches and knobs. I took a hard look at him and his car before passing. I don’t think he had any governmental affiliation.
If Mr. Blueford had an X band trans mitter as an electronic countermeasure to police radar, why was he driving 57 mph in the right lane Do his genes match his car, or those of a hard-shelled amphi bian? Or are his electronic countermea sures intended not for the police but for us of the left lane?
The Four Year Car
There have been rumors reaching me from time to time regarding a 1600 resto ration project “you jus’ gotta see to be lieve.” What better thing to do after dis covering a new dish at a new Thai restau rant on Pill Hill than roll down and see for myself. John Galbraith, aluminizer of headers and practical machinist (“flog ging to fit in the field”), knew where this Phoenix of a BMW was and we showed up about 7:30 on a Friday evening.
The place is Motorsports Interna tional, 1215 Stewart Ave. in Seattle. The perpetrator is Gary Engel. He’s the sort of guy who works on his cars on Fri day evenings. He doesn’t know I’m writ ing this, so I hope he wasn’t planning on keeping the car a secret.
But first, a little about his business. It is located in a large warehouse-like building of one floor with a high, mostly glazed roof. Parked beneath was a small array of interesting and, for the most part, reasonably priced consignment
sports cars. The emphasis was Ferrari 308/328’s, but I also spotted an Urraco, an Avanti, a 914-6 and the sort of 911 I could afford to and would buy if l was interested in that sort of thing. There were also several large Ski boats which I think Gary flogs. Gary had his nose parked under the lid of a silver 356A when John and I wandered in.
His project car started life as a 1967 1600. I approached it from the bottom up, as it was under wraps. The struts were repainted in blue, and the control arms, their locators and the front sub- frame were finished in yellow zinc. In between the arms and the struts were machined blocks , also zinc plated, the likes of which I have never seen before. These preserve front suspension geo- metry in a lowered car. The rear sub- frame was modified by the late Quickor Engineering for the same reason. Brakes are as on my 2002SC, with ’77 320i vented discs in front, 320i drums in back and a tii master cylinder.
At this point Gary found out who his visitors were (I was traveling incognito that night , having left my trademark leather cap at home), and off came the wraps. The 1600 is.flawlessly finished in Chamonix white, and the brightwork blacked out (powder painted) . Very im- pressive. Some of the formerly chromed steel is painted the body color a la AMG, which was done well but which is not my style at all. The door handles and grille in particular would look better in black or chrome than white! The beltline trim and fuel port have been filled in, cleaning up the car’s lines. The wheel wells were radiused and blisters are bolted open. This strikes me as aesthetically inconsis- tent, marring the cleaned-up lines with bolted-on (as opposed to welded in) wheel arches, but enough new cars come this way to convince me that many must like the look .
The interior has Recaros in front, really wild sculpted seats in back of matching material (though I question whether there is legroom enough for anybody to fit in them), and a perforated black head- liner . One happy feature is a remote control Blaupunkt (Houston) radio in the glovebox with an infrared eye mounted in the middle of the dashboard. The little
remote control transmitter sits on velcro near the center hump.The engine bay revealed a lot more yellow zinc, including formerly painted parts such as the torsion bar which holds the hood open. The two-liter motor is surprisingly stock. The only mods I noticed were a Weber downdraft , tii distributor and MSD ignition and replacement of the belt-driven fan with an electric one. Gary hopes for 120hp, and does not bill the car as a hot rod though I would suggest that the police may not agree with him, no matter how slowly he drives it. A close ratio five speed and limited slip 3.9: 1 differential round out the drive train.There is a lot more about this car which is original (some of it the result of inadvertent learning gained during the project), and the car is certainly more Engel than it is BMW. Gary has spent years assembling it, and though he was aiming for completion this summer he realistically has a year + to go. There is a certain insanity in building a car like this. From a financial, performance and time-motion point of view it makes no sense at all. But this is not a car, it is art . As an expression of the builders’ craft and aesthetics, such a car is eminently sensible. Those fortunate enough to get a close look may derive pleasure from it just as does Gary in its creation. I know I did.
This article was originally published in the June 1987 edition of Zundfolge