In last week’s column, I’d had Louie, the decade-dormant 1972 2002tii that I bought sight-unseen for short money, towed from the seller’s house in New Albany, Indiana, to Jake Metz’s 60-by-40-foot pole barn in Louisville. Jake and I communicated via Facetime while he conducted a real-time video inspection of the car; that inspection reinforced known issues of non-functional brakes and a badly deteriorated center support bearing, but it didn’t seem to unearth any showstoppers. The coolant hoses, including the original “bulgie” upper radiator hose, appeared to be in remarkably good condition. The radiator had no visible signs of corrosion. I had Jake grab the fan and rock the water pump fore and aft, and he didn’t feel any bearing play.

I suppose that I could’ve had Jake do a compression test to verify that nothing was egregiously amiss with the engine, but before doing that, the oil really needed to be changed, and after doing that, some oil should first be squirted down the cylinder bores and the engine rotated a few times. How much was I going to ask him to do before deciding to get down there and try to sort out the car in place myself and drive it back?

Besides, it was a risky endeavor, no matter how much advance knowledge I obtained. I thought it best to avoid the slippery slope of always asking for more and simply get my hack-mechanic butt on down to Louisville.

Jake said that I could come down anytime, but that the end of March was probably better than the end of, February , both because he’d have the barn wired for electricity and because the weather would be more hospitable the longer I waited. But as it happened, when I grabbed the late-February weather-enabled window of opportunity and tried to, well, drive a tii through it, Jake did, too, taking most of the week off as vacation time in order to do electrical work on the barn—so he was around most of the time I was there.

In Boston, I loaded up a rented SUV with an entire spare Kugelfisher injection system (injection pump with warm-up regulator, plastic lines, injectors, cold-start valve), enough new BMW fuel hose to do the entire car, an entire spare ignition system, a good driveshaft with a brand-new center support bearing, a used water pump and gasket, a nearly full set of used cooling hoses, a Motive power brake bleeder, a smoke generator to check for vacuum leaks, a set of stainless flexible brake lines, filters, Red Line oils, and the usual assortment of tools—including a torch and wax sticks.

I ordered a new E28 fuel pump, plugs, a clutch slave cylinder, a giubo, rebuilt calipers, Kugelfischer pump seals, and a few other odds and ends, and had them shipped down.

I gave myself the general schedule of two days to drive down, three days to work on the car,—ideally, one to get it running, one for the slave cylinder and driveshaft, and one for the brakes—and two days to drive back. But the gating function at the back end was soft; I was willing to allow myself some overrun room if things looked promising. I could either drop the rental SUV off at the Louisville airport if I was road-tripping Louie back home, or return the SUV to Boston, where I’d rented it, if the task seemed a fool’s errand.

The other necessary enabling factors were places to stay and a legal means to drive the car home.

For the former, both Jake Metz, whom I’d met briefly last year at the Vintage, and Dave Gerwig, whom I’d met twice at Sharkfest, offered me lodging. For the latter, BMW CCA member Randy Greene of Campobello Cars in South Carolina offered to send me a dealer plate.

In all three cases, I was astonished by such generosity.

When I pulled the trigger on the rental car, I called Randy. “Were you serious about that plate?” I asked.

“The post office in our town is only open between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m. on Saturday,” he said. “I’ll get down there right now.”

And thus I embarked on what I will always think of as the Kindness Of Strangers road trip. I’d reference Blanche Dubois, but we all know that it did not end well for her; I hoped with every bone in my body that whatever happened on this trip, I’d wind up in a better place than Blanche.

Sunday, February 19

Made it down to my dear friend Paul Wegweiser’s in Harmony, Pennsylvania—about 600 miles. Paul let me pick through his parts stash. I borrowed a set of front wheel bearings and a few other goodies.

Monday, February 20

Knocked out the 400 miles down to Louisville. On the way, Jake called me, asking what I wanted to do about tires. “Why?” I asked, knowing full well that tires on a car that’s been sitting for a decade are likely to be garbage. Jake explained that they were dry-rotted. I told him that I’d prefer to see them before making any decisions.

Got to Jake’s pole barn by around 3:00 p.m. My god, what a space! You could probably fit fifteen cars in there!

Came face to face with Louie. Changed the oil and filter, squirted oil down the cylinders, and adjusted the valves, which also served the purpose of rotating the engine to distribute the oil.

Looked at Louie’s tires. The first two looked fine, the third one had a little dry rot on the sidewall, and the fourth had a lot of rot. I would’ve driven on them maybe an easy hundred miles, but certainly not a thousand.

Jake came by and turned on the electricity by running an extension cord to a generator in an RV whose owner is renting space, and hooking it to some work lights and to the electric garage-door opener.

Went to Jake’s house and met his lovely wife, Liz, and their dogs, including an English mastiff the size of an Imperial Walker. Wound up staying with them for the next five nights.

Looked up tires on the Tire Rack website. They no longer stock 165s, but they had 185/70-13 Kumho Solus TA11s, $250 shipped. Since they could be had in a day, I deferred the decision until I had some sense of whether the car would be drivable.

Tuesday, February 21

Tuesday’s goal was to get Louie running—or know why I couldn’t—and incredibly, I did. I first performed the back-to-front fuel-system sort-out that’s essentially required of a long-dormant tii. Drained and cleaned the gas tank, which had just a little rust and sediment in it.

Replaced every rubber fuel line and installed an in-line filter between the pickup tube and the fuel pump, which is a good idea on a tii to keep sediment out of the pump. The original fuel pump appeared to work fine, and had just a little sediment in the conical screen, but I had a new E28 pump with me; what was I supposed to do, not install it? I would’ve worried about the original pump crapping out during the entire thousand miles up to Boston.

I installed a fuel-pressure gauge, dropped in the battery I’d brought, and with a fire extinguisher at the ready, cracked the key to energize the fuel pump. To no one’s surprise whatsoever, fuel leaked out from the seals over the suction valves at the top of the K-fish pump.

I’d brought a set of seals, as this is a very common problem, and installed them. Then it leaked at the seal at the pressure-relief valve (again, I’d brought one). But on the third try, there were no leaks, and the pressure gauge showed the proper 29 psi.

Once the fuel system looked good, I drained the rusty coolant from the radiator and block and filled the cooling system with water, figuring that if it leaked, I’d rather dump water on Jake’s floor than antifreeze. Before I installed the new spark plugs, I did a compression test. I was thrilled to crack the key and hear the starter spin, and was ecstatic to see 175 psi in all four cylinders.

I didn’t do a thing to the ignition other than install new plugs. The distributor cap looked like it had been replaced shortly before the car was parked. The points had only a little bit of light pitting. The plug wires looked old but intact. I checked for spark coming out of the coil, and it looked good. Then I cranked the engine over while checking the dwell with a meter, and it was in the 59-to-65-degree range—perfect.

With all systems apparently go for ignition, I gave the throttle body a blast of starting fluid, and at about 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, February 21, the decade-dormant fuel-injected engine whirred into functionality with surprisingly little effort. It sounded great, too.

There was a fair amount of oil smoke in the exhaust, however, and only time would tell whether that was from the oil I’d squirted in to lubricate the cylinder walls, from rings stuck from sitting, or from an old, tired engine.

Normally, the next goal would be to let the engine idle up to operating temperature and check for leaks in the cooling system, but there was a lot of smoke from old goo burning off the exhaust manifold. I stood near the car with the fire extinguisher, letting it run and smoke until it felt unsafe, so I shut it off. It soon was obvious that in addition to old crud that just needed to burn off, there was a steady stream of oil leaking from the valve-cover gasket onto the exhaust manifold; this was caused by a stud missing at the left rear corner of the valve cover, preventing it from sealing. I couldn’t check the car’s warm-up, including the integrity of the cooling system, until this oil leak was fixed.

I put out the word that I needed a valve-cover gasket. Jake contacted Zachere Ketring at Zakspeed, next-day ordering the gasket, and he also grabbed a Time-Sert (helicoil) kit for the stripped stud hole. Jake said that Zach had an account at the Tire Rack, and could order the Kumho tires both for Louie and for Metz’ 1971 2002 automatic (Frogger), which also needed tires. Since I had Louie up and running, I took the gamble that I’d be driving it home, and ordered the tires.

Since the oil leak prevented me from working on engine-running issues, I began removing the clutch slave. What a bear! First, the two circlips holding the slave to the transmission bellhousing were being difficult; my snap-ring pliers weren’t getting a grip on the holes in the clips. I had to pry one clip out with two screwdrivers. Then I discovered that 45 years of corrosion of dissimilar metals between the steel cylinder and the aluminum bell housing had created a death grip, requiring repeated applications of heat and wax—and beating on (I was really glad I’d brought the torch and wax).

But I got the slave out.

Wednesday, February 22

Wednesday’s goal was to install the clutch slave and the driveshaft center support bearing and giubo, and I did. I installed the new clutch slave, then moved the car four feet to verify its functionality.

To get the driveshaft out, the exhaust has to come out, or at least the center resonator has to be detached from the head pipe. I could see some small rust holes on the resonator side of the pipe, very close to the flange. I thought that if I reached the point where trying to patch these holes with muffler putty was the most important task on the docket, I’d be grateful.

I removed the old driveshaft and its completely detached center support bearing. The giubo came out in pieces. While I had the driveshaft out, I fixed the loose shifter, caused by the left shift-tower bushing bolt having backed out, and the shift lever having lost both of its plastic bushings. I then installed the driveshaft with the new CSB I’d brought down in the SUV, and the new giubo.

Near the end of the afternoon, Jake and I went to Zakspeed to get our Kumho Solus tires mounted, with him driving Frogger and me having thrown Louie’s wheels in the back of the SUV. We were both initially a bit disappointed with the tires, as the zingy graphics on the sidewalls were out of keeping with a vintage car like a 2002.

While I was in the shop, I picked up the valve-cover gasket I’d ordered, and Zach handed me the Time-Sert kit—not just one M6 insert, the whole kit. I was confused. “Are you selling me all this, renting it to me, loaning it to me?” I asked.

“You can just borrow the whole thing,” Zach said. “That way you have a number of different-length inserts.” I was astonished; working shops don’t usually hand out stuff like this to strangers.

“What do I owe you?” I asked Zach.

“I’ll bill you,” he said. Then he smiled and added, “I know where to find you.” Sometimes I don’t know what I’ve done in this life to deserve such grace.

I went back to Jake’s pole barn and began cleaning the gasket surfaces. Jake soon came back in Frogger, now wearing its new tires, and we took it for a long drive on twisty roads back to his house. We quickly forgot about the zingy graphics. It was a great way to end the day.

Thursday, February 23

Thursday morning I installed the Time-Sert. This required drilling out and counter-sinking the hole, then tapping it and threading in the insert. I then screwed in the stud and snugged down the new valve-cover gasket—but unfortunately, it still leaked oil onto the exhaust manifold. It’s possible that I hadn’t counter-sunk the insert quite far enough. In desperation, I coated the gasket with a layer of black RTV on both sides. Fortunately, this got it to seal, enabling me to idle the car and begin testing the cooling system.

Unfortunately, after the car had run for about a minute, it spat a surprising amount of water out the overflow tube, and did so well before the engine temperature seemed high enough to pressurize the cap sufficiently for that to happen. I swapped the cap from Jake’s 1600 with no change. Also unfortunately, I found that there was still some oil smoke coming from the back corner of the exhaust manifold.

Both of these were potentially serious issues that could derail the trip. However, since Thursday was slated as Brakes Day, and since I certainly needed functional brakes if I was going to drive Louie home, I proceeded on that task and began attacking the brakes. I removed the 45-year-old flexible rubber lines and replaced them with braided stainless lines I’d brought. As I pulled out the rubber lines, I blew through them, and found that several were, in fact, swelled shut. Then I pulled the front calipers off, tested their pistons by trying to squeeze them back into the caliper, and found that several pistons were seized. I replaced the calipers with the rebuilt units I’d had shipped down, somewhat smugly patting myself on the back for having gotten all this right.

I then began to bleed the brakes with the Motive power bleeder I’d brought down. When I reached the right front caliper, I ran into problems: No fluid came out any of its three bleed valves. I undid the fittings at the tops of the new braided lines and verified that fluid was flowing from the long metal lines into them, but not out of them. I then undid the hard metal lines into the caliper itself, and found them clogged with “brake turds,” pieces of rubber that likely originated from the brake master cylinder and were being pushed out toward the calipers. I undid multiple brake lines, figured out where the blockage was, and blew it out with compressed air. I seemed to be resolving the problem, although the fact that the presence of the obstruction was likely an indication that the brake master cylinder was failing was certainly not lost on me.

After several hours, I was down to only one valve on the right caliper not bleeding. Unfortunately, its source was a lump clogging one of the long lines from the master cylinder itself—much more difficult to blow out.

While this was going on, a number of Jake’s friends from the Rivertown Gear Busters 2002 crew came down. Pizza, beer, and ice cream were served. It was delightful. There were lots of helping hands and many suggestions.

But I’d worked myself to the point of exhaustion, and was as blocked as that last bleed valve. It seemed that I was running out of road; either I cleared this blockage or the trip was in peril. Plus, I still had the issues of the leaky cooling system and the trickle of oil onto the exhaust manifold to deal with.

It didn’t look good. I’d originally planned to head home on Friday, either in Louie or in the rental SUV, but I decided to give it another day.

Friday, February 24

I took a break (bad pun) from the brake-bleeding issue to go back to the odd problem of the cooling system dumping water out of the overflow tube. I took the radiator cap off and was surprised to see fairly violent surging and spitting of the coolant out the radiator neck as the car began to warm up. This explained why water was coming out the overflow tube when the cap was on, but I was mystified as to the source. Were pockets of air being explosively expelled?

I posted the problem to Facebook, and was advised to raise the car’s nose and open up the heater valve to aid in bleeding, so I did. It made no difference.

Several professionals chimed in, saying that the surging was likely caused by exhaust gas in the coolant from a blown head gasket or a cracked head. Folks suggested that I procure a combustion-leak tester, but opined that I was probably screwed.

I was skeptical. I’ve had cars with cracked heads, and the bubbling into the cooling system has been far more constant and subtle and less episodic and explosive.

Then I noticed a light cracking sound from the water pump, coincident with the surging. I thought that perhaps the impeller inside the water pump was disintegrating. I removed the radiator and pulled the water pump. The impeller was intact, but I saw that both it and the original copper thermostat were pretty badly corroded. I installed the spare water pump and thermostat that I’d brought, and re-installed the radiator and refilled it with water, but the surging and the cracking sound continued. I was baffled.

Eventually, I figured it out. The cause was that the alternator bushings were so deteriorated that the belt couldn’t be tightened, causing the belt to slip and grab, which made the noise and caused the surging. The immediate culprit was the missing bushing where the alternator bracket bolts to the engine block, although the bushings in the alternator itself needed to be replaced as well. I fabricated a bracket bushing out of a small cooling hose, installed it, tightened the belt, and ran the engine.

The surging problem was gone.

Finally I could let the car idle to the point of warm-up. I saw no coolant leaks, and observed that the warmup regulator on the Kugelfischer pump worked properly. This was a major step forward.

At about 3:00 p.m. on Friday, I took Louie for a first drive down the dirt road in front of Jake’s pole barn. It ran and drove well, but the brake pedal was very soft, and the car pulled substantially to the left on braking, consistent with my not being able to bleed the right caliper. So with the cooling problem solved, braking was now the most pressing issue.

I again chased the blockage in the recalcitrant bleed valve on the right front caliper. I used the Motive to pressurize the system, but the blockage wouldn’t clear. So I applied brake-pedal pressure, and that appeared to dislodge the block. I reassembled the system, and for the first time, I was able to completely bleed the right front caliper.

I drove down the dirt road again. This time the pedal was much firmer, and the car stopped straight. The brakes were finally functional—although how well they’d perform on the street remained to be seen.

I was so close I could taste it. I decided, again, to give it another day.

Unfortunately, when I got back in pole barn, I found coolant streaming from the heater core onto driver’s-side floor. I realized that I had left the heater valve open when I was trying to bleed air out of the cooling system! Obviously, the heater core was leaking—and badly. I first made sure that the cause wasn’t the hoses feeding the core; it wasn’t. I could’ve just closed the heater valve and hoped for the best, but since the coolant is under pressure, it likely that it would still leak, even with the valve closed. I needed to either block off or bypass the leaking core. I posted the question to my pals, and the results appeared equally split. I called it a night and went back to Jake and Liz’s for the last time.

Saturday, February 25

I hit the garage early. I’d already replaced the bushing on the alternator bracket, but I still needed to replace the ones in the alternator itself. I’d brought a set of these with me, but to install them, you need access to the alternator, and tii alternators can only be removed by first removing the sway bar, which is more of a pain than you’d think. Fortunately I was able to loosen the alternator, drop it down, rotate it, and have the boss with the bushings hang below the sway bar and re-bush it in place.

My Sharkfest friend Dave Gerwig came and joined me, hanging out for the entire weekend, and relieving Jake and Liz of their duty of hotel space for wayward mechanics with odd dreams of glory. Dave replaced the ripped gas-tank boot and checked the front wheel bearings while I blocked off the heater core, drained the water from the block and radiator, and filled the cooling system with antifreeze for the first time.

Dave and I then drove Louie on pavement for the first time. It was simply astonishing how well the car ran! It pulled hard, there was no oil smoke either on acceleration or deceleration—2002s are famous for sucking oil past the valve guides when you let off the throttle—the shifter was the tightest I’d ever felt in a 2002, it didn’t munch the second-gear synchro, and the brakes felt good.

Louie clearly wanted to be driven home.

The two central issues were now the questionable cooling system and the oil leak onto the exhaust manifold. I jacked the car up, carefully cleaned off all the oil, then lay beneath it and watched as the engine ran. I saw that the origin of the oil leak was seepage out the lower exhaust-manifold stud on Cylinder #4.

It wasn’t a big drip, but I was concerned that it would leak directly onto the exhaust head pipe, which is a fire hazard. I entertained rigging up some hack involving a cut-up roasting pan installed to direct any drips away from the head pipe.

On the cooling-system front, although the surging was gone, there was a two-pronged problem. First, something was wrong with the temperature gauge; it pegged hot as soon as you turned the key, which is disconcerting as hell, even if you think there’s nothing actually wrong. Second, I’d never felt the lower radiator hose get hot or even warm. This indicated that the thermostat was not opening, which I’ve seen correlated with a radiator that’s not flowing sufficiently.

I tried to get the gauge working. I tested the resistance of the sensor, and it appeared to be fine. I swapped it with the sensor from Jake’s 1600, and it made no difference. I ran a ground wire to the back of the instrument cluster, and that made no difference, either.

Jake had a few spare instrument clusters. I tried the temperature/gas pod from both, and found one that didn’t peg when key was cracked; it initially seemed to work, but once the car began to warm up and I started driving, the temperature gauge fluctuated wildly between believable and panic-inducing readings. I tried to use my eye and brain to filter the readings, assuming that the lowest reading it bounced up from was probably the correct one.

The car was right on the line of what I felt comfortable driving a thousand miles. Dave asked me what I wanted to do. “Take it for another drive,” I said.

This time we took Louie on a loop that went up onto the highway and back. It was his first excursion at speed. Again, the car felt great: oodles of power, soft but functional suspension, adequate brakes. Other than not reliably knowing the coolant temperature, and the steering feeling a little vague at 55 to 60 mph, everything about it said, “Do it. Drive me home.”

When we got back to Jake’s pole barn, I felt the lower radiator hose. It still wasn’t hot, indicating that the thermostat wasn’t opening, but the engine itself didn’t feel hot. On the oil-leaking front, I jacked the car up and inspected it carefully. No oil was dripping on the head pipe; it was running down side of the block and dripping off the bottom of the bell housing. I would’ve preferred that it wasn’t leaking at all, but it didn’t seem to be a fire hazard.

Decision time.

It was time to do the Alexander The Great thing: Burn the ships and cut off my retreat. Dave and I unloaded all the tools and parts from the rented SUV into Jake’s pole barn. Then Dave followed me to the airport, where I dropped off the SUV.

No way out but forward.

I posted on Facebook, “There is a great line from the not-so-great movie Mission to Mars, where they are trying to enter this giant structure that is the so-called Face on Mars that’s visible from the Earth; some very strange things start happening, and they wonder if they should stop. One of the astronauts says, ‘Well, I didn’t come all this way to turn back in the last ten feet.’

It's like that.

I’m going.”

(Next week, the journey north.)—Rob Siegel

Rob’s first book, Memoirs of a Hack Mechanic, and his new book, The Hack Mechanic Guide to European Automotive Electrical Systems, are available through Bentley Publishers, Amazon, ECS Tuning, and Bavarian Autosport—or you can get personally inscribed copies through Rob’s website: