We ran our first event of the year last weekend (3/22-23). It was the HMSA Spring race at Laguna Seca.
It was a bittersweet weekend for us. I made the trade with Jeff for the Jagermeister CSL. In exchange I got 2 1971 BMW 2002’s with Trans-Am history.
The weekend went very well for me. The only problem I had was adapting to the car. The pedals did not fit well at all, and I could not heel-and-toe at all. The pedals lined up in such a way that when I tried to roll my foot over to blip the throttle, my foot got jammed between them.
I ran in Group 3, which was made up of 29 of the best and fastest B Sedans on the West Coast. There were a bunch of Datsun’s, BMW’s and Alfa’s. It looked like a Trans-Am 2.5 Challenge grid from the early 1970’s!
I qualified 8th for the Saturday race, and finished 8th. My best lap time was 1:48.8.
That meant I started 8th in the Sunday feature race. Starting 9th was Adam Carolla in his fast, ex-Bob Sharp Datsun 610.
At the start he latched on to my rear bumper, and stayed there for the first 7 laps, giving me all I could handle. He finally retired with an engine problem.
On the first lap I was following Steve Link’s 510 Datsun very closely when he suddenly slowed coming out or the Rainey Curve. It was all I could do to avoid hitting him in the trunk. He said later that he broke a half-shaft.
The rest of the race was pretty uneventful, and I ended up finishing 7th. My best lap time of the race was 1:47.6, which was an improvement from Saturday.
Terry Forland drove the second 2002 all weekend. That car is not as well developed as the #34 car, and despite his considerable driving skills, he was never quite able to match the #34 car. He ended up finishing 11th on Sunday.
It was a great weekend, and a great way too start the 2014 season. We won’t be back to Laguna Seca until the Rollex Reunion races in August.
Here’s the link to the video from my YouTube channel:
I became the current custodian of 51203 after I saw it offered at auction through Coys Auction House in January 2013. I have never purchased a car this way before. I have always approached a purchase in the traditional manner, looking carefully, researching, talking with experts, etc., before making any offers.
When I saw the car something deep inside me just clicked. I had only 2 days from the time I saw it on the ‘Bring a Trailer’ web site until the day of the auction, so I couldn’t dilly-dally. I did as much Google work on the car as I could in that time, and called a couple of people I thought might know something about the car. The more I learned about it the more intrigued I became.
I decided to take the plunge and submit a bid I could live with.
I contacted Coys and worked with Nick Wiles, who explained the various ways I could bid on the car. He was extremely helpful. I decided to make a commission bid, which means I sent them the highest price I was willing to pay, and they kept bidding in steps up to that amount. I filled out the paper work, scanned my passport, gave them a CC number as a performance deposit, and then waited until the following Saturday for the auction.
The UK is 8 hours ahead of us here on the left coast, so by about 2:00 PM, when I had heard nothing, I figured I had not made the winning bid. I was a little disappointed, but figured it had all worked out for the best after all. The idea that I would bid that amount on a car I had never seen in the flesh sank in, and I was almost relieved that providence had seemingly protected me from some horrible mistake.
But providence had something completely different in mind, and low and behold, when I got up Sunday morning and checked my email I found this from Nick:
Congratulations you successfully purchased the BMW. Your high bid of -xxxx successfully bought the Willis. My colleague Valerie will shortly be sending a full invoice to you via email.”
Needless to say, I was stunned! I guess I never really thought I would win at the figure I offered, but I got it for something less than my top bid. I was ecstatic, and my wife was even more excited about it than I was. Now what do we do? Oh yes, get it home!
Coys works with a transport company called Cars UK. They contacted me and began the process of transporting the car to the Northwest. I decided to go ahead and have the car air-shipped, as I was concerned about having it locked in a container for 6 weeks in the salt air. Cars UK was wonderful to work with, and I would highly recommend them. The folks in their Atlanta office were absolutely tenacious when it came to dealing with the folks at US Customs.
There were a few hitches, but just 2 and ½ weeks after the auction my wife and I drove up to SeaTac Airport and collected the car. We then took the car to Racecraft in Woodinville, WA where Terry Forland and Jim Froula operate a restoration, fabrication, and race support business.
We unloaded the car in their shop and all stood speechless for fully 5 minutes just looking at the car and soaking in its charm and character. It is truly a special car. My guts had been right. It was worth all the uncertainty.
We checked everything over on the car, filled it with race fuel, turned on the ignition, pulled the choke, and pressed the starter button. A few seconds cranking and it rumbled to life! I can barely describe the feeling to be sitting in a car with all this history and having it running happily, and best of all, knowing it was now mine.
After letting it warm up, I slipped it into gear and drove out of the shop and south down the Woodinville-Redmond Highway. It burbled a little below 2,000 rpm, but once it got to 3,500 it just came alive. Torque, amazing amounts of torque. How that little 6 makes all that torque I can’t understand. It just jumps up to 6,000 in a heart-beat. Of course the fact that it weighs only 820 Kg certainly helps.
After a couple of laps up and down the highway I drove it back into the shop and sat there in the car for some time just enjoying the moment and letting it all sink in.
Then Terry and Jim got all practical and we began to lay out a game plan for getting the car race prepped for the coming season. The only thing my wife insisted on is that we add back the roll bar that was on the car when it last raced in 2004-2005. So Jim stuck a brain bucket on my head and measured me and the car for a new roll bar. Fortunately we discovered all the openings for the previous bar were still present, and were covered with temporary covers.
Spares? What do we need for spares, and where do we find them? Campaigning a car this old presents certain challenges, not the least of which is spare parts to keep it running. We made a list, and Terry volunteered to start searching.
Finally, after several more hours of planning and talking my wife and I needed to head back to Oregon. Reluctantly we got back in our car and headed south down I-5.
But wait, there’s more!
When we got home from Seattle late that night the box of historical photos, trophies, letters, invoices, and articles that came with the car was waiting on our doorstep. My wife began to rip into it before I had my coat hung up.
Every item that came out of the box was just amazing, and a real tribute to the engineering and creative genius of R. C. Willis. The old pictures were particularly fascinating, as well as a couple of old race programs, and letters from R. C. Willis and Charles Bulmer about the car and its history, along with a collection of 22 cups won by the car back in the day. Many happy hours later we fell into bed emotionally exhausted.
To look now at the little car and think about all the history that has passed under its wheels is inspiring and a bit humbling. To try and accomplish what Willis did in this day would be incredibly difficult and expensive. It would be the equivalent of taking a BMW Z3, modifying it, and competing successfully in one of the current feeder pro series. My hat is off to you, Mr. Willis!
My plan is to continue to add to the storied history of the car by campaigning it in vintage race events and BMW events here on the West Coast. Come on out to a race and cheer this wonderful old car along.