Club News

With wildfires looming on the edge of Sonoma, and evacuation in effect, Jim Smith faced a nightmare of logistics: His collection of vintage BMWs, ranging from a 1929 Dixi to a pair of 502 Baroque Angels—not to mention the 315/1 and 328 roadsters, the 327 cabriolets, the lone surviving 327 pillarless coupe, and an Isetta or two—would have to be moved. But only two or three of the cars had even been started in the last few years. With time running short, and skies darkened by smoke and ash, Smith called friends in the BMW CCA—who called other friends, friends with trailers, friends with firm bonds of affection for Smith and his cars, which had often been featured at Monterey.

“Bill Arnold was the spark plug,” says Jeff Hecox, who unloaded a race car from his trailer before towing it the two hours to Sonoma. “By the time I got there, he and the others were already loading cars.” Indeed, Arnold was the first to respond from nearby San Rafael, and served as the point of contact for the evacuation; as a long-time racer and BMW mechanic, Arnold is well known to just about every Bay Area BMW enthusiast.

The 1935 BMW 309 tourer waits for rescue. (Jeff Hecox)

The 309 tourer is carefully winched into the trailer; two 327s await their turn. (Jeff Hecox)

The 309 tourer peeks out of the trailer. (Jeff Hecox)

With trailers from Arnold, Hecox, and Bill Watson of Road Rockets fame, along with BMW junkie Jason Cammisa and his friends Mike Oroszi and John DeFalco, and Road Rockets ace Tony Sharp, the migration began. The plan was to drive the cars that were running and trailer the rest to Sonoma Raceway at Sears Point—which had been through its own evacuation period in the days before the fires moved on Sonoma. Watson was even able to arrange for indoor storage at Sonoma Raceway!

But getting the collection moved wasn’t that simple. “Some of the cars had frozen brake drums,” says Hecox. “We had to pull the wheels and remove the brake shoes—and then make sure nobody pushed the brake pedal while we were moving the cars!”

A few more to go: A 327 cabriolet, a BMW 340(!), and a 502 wait in the garage. (Jeff Hecox)

But some of the cars were drivable—especially after a gang of gearheads attacked them—and Cammisa had the pleasure, since it happened to be his birthday, of driving the 328 roadster to Sonoma Raceway. Click HERE to see the video.


Jason Camissa got to drive a 328 on his birthday. (Jason Cammisa)


Cammisa was also quick to volunteer to drive Smith’s 2000 TI racing sedan; like just about all of Smith’s cars, its engine has been modified to the max. Smith, an old-time sprint-car racer and hot-rod delinquent, has never been one for leaving things alone; his 1935 315/1, for example—the car that began BMW’s long history of sporting roadsters—may have begun life as a 55-horsepower 1,500-cc six, but its engine now suspiciously resembles the M328 engine of the 328 roadster, and produces over a hundred horsepower, mostly from re-profiling the cam and reshaping the cylinder head to raise compression.

The 2000 TI may look slow and dowdy, but it isn’t. (Jason Cammisa)

The 315/1 began BMW’s rich roadster heritage. (Jason Cammisa)

“Hey, I also got to drive the ATV!” says Cammisa, a print and video motor journalist of some renown. And it’s true: The crew used the ATV to tow the moribund cars, one by one, from Smith’s display garage—the building at his Sonoma vineyards that has become a kind of Mecca for BMW vintage-car fans.

Jason Cammisa tows a BMW 502 from the garage. (Jeff Hecox)

Finally, at around 7:00 p.m., Hecox sent a text: The car collection is now safe over at Sears Point Raceway. Nineteen cars moved. The little Dixi was the last to go.

Bill Watson casts a critical eye as Jim Smith and Tony Sharp tinker under the hood,
with Bill Arnold at the crank and Jason Cammisa in the driver’s seat. (Jeff Hecox)

See? I told you we’d get it running! (Jason Cammisa)

That was probably because—well, car guys: Sure, it’s small enough that they could just push it onto the trailer, but how hard can it be to get it running?! So as the trailers kept rolling with their precious loads, there were still enough hands left over to tinker, tinker, tinker. And Hecox, an acknowledged expert on the restoration and modification of the BMW 2002, learned something about BMW models with which he was less familiar. “I learned,” he said, “that you don’t want to drive an Isetta right up against the end of an enclosed trailer if you want to get out of the car.”

The cars are lined up at Sonoma Raceway. (Jason Cammisa)

Microcars wait for a ride: Now, about that front-opening door….(Jason Cammisa)

The first arrivals sit as the sun sets. (Jeff Hecox)

At last, the collection is safely indoors. (Jeff Hecox)

With the cars safely moved, Jeff Hecox, Tony Sharp, Michelle Smith, Bill Arnold, Jim Smith,
and Bill Watson take a breather at Sonoma Raceway. (Jeff Hecox)

As for Jim Smith, who was moved (in so many ways) by the quick response of the BMW CCA network, he closed the day with a humble message to everyone involved: Thank you, thank you, thank you.

There are days when I am very glad to be a member of this club.—Satch Carlson