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The UCSD Guardian

The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian

The Student News Site of University of California - San Diego

The UCSD Guardian

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The Beamer: The story of a failed car restoration

The+Beamer%3A+The+story+of+a+failed+car+restoration
Image by Julio Canimo for The UCSD Guardian

“When you go off to college, that car is most likely going to be yours, so long as you can find a place to keep it.” 

Those were the words my dad spoke to me as we pulled back the tarp on his old, rusted-out time capsule of a 1973 BMW 2 Series. Hearing those words as a 16-year-old sophomore who just learned how to drive excited me beyond belief. I could picture everything so clearly … moving to California and cruising down the best driving roads America had to offer, windows down, sea breeze in my hair, with a pretty girl in the passenger seat. This car of course needed lots of love, and we were prepared to put in every hour of work it needed to get it back on the road in time for my big dream. So did we succeed? Well, as of my third year in college, we are left with an empty hunk of metal that’s somehow even more useless than what we started with, and a dream that’s fading far into obscurity.

Long before I got to know the car, my dad also had a dream. He moved to the United States from the Philippines after graduating college, and like many hard-working Asian immigrants, he knew what he wanted and how to work hard to get it. After working in finance for a few years, he was able to purchase the car he had always wanted: a 20-year-old, underpowered, dangerously compact, 2-door coupe from Germany. Even by late 90’s standards, the 1973 BMW 2002 was not necessarily a fast car. But it was an enthusiast car, something that fit my dad’s spirit perfectly. 

It was on one fateful day he would be driving that very car to the Seattle Opera, where he would unexpectedly be reunited with his high school sweetheart — my mom. Turns out, she just so happened to be performing in the very musical he went to see. He always told the story as, “this is the car I used to woo Mama.” And it never let him down — he drove 150 miles from Seattle to Vancouver to watch her perform again.

Spoiler alert: they got married. They had their first kid, me, and found a place in the suburbs outside of Seattle. Things settled down a bit, and so the car began to sit … and sit … and sit. 

It sat for almost 20 years as a centerpiece in our driveway, and for as long as I can remember, I always used it as my personal playground. I would play hide and seek under it, use it as a climbing gym, and try to get a look inside at the interior. Eventually, it became a concern of “Hey Papa, when are we gonna fix that thing up?” 

As the car sat over the years, he lost the keys, and truthfully, neither of us were experts at fixing up old cars. In short, we could not do it alone. And that’s where Brian came in.

Brian was your typical crazy mechanic, whose fingers were always covered in motor oil, who wore trucker hats, and always had a cig in his mouth. It just so happened that his specialty was restoring old BMW 2002s, so when my dad met him back in 2018, we couldn’t have been more excited. 

My dad and I are both lifelong gearheads, but neither of us really had any experience rebuilding a car from basically the ground up. Brian taught us everything we needed to know: how to use an angle grinder, how to rip out an engine from an engine bay, and how to use dry ice as a hack for removing old adhesive from metal. This guy knew every inch of this car, and we knew we were in good hands. 

For a moment, I actually looked up to him in a way. He taught me how to get my hands dirty; he was always firm but wanted you to learn how to solve problems. My dad and I were so busy having fun on this father-son journey that we never even noticed the red flags. 

It took about two years to realize that we were getting scammed, that Brian never had any intention of helping us restore the car to its full former glory. After he had our engine dropped off at a shop in Seattle, we never heard back from him. We called him several times, but he never picked up. It all was starting to make sense — why it took us two years to simply remove upholstery from the interior, why he was so flakey about teaching us how to do anything other than remove parts from the car instead of installing new pieces in, and why he always just seemed a little unhinged when he was working with us. 

About a year after all this, my dad called him from a new phone number, and he picked up. My dad immediately went off on him. He yelled, cursed him out. I was mad too; my dream of driving down the coast of California picking up girls was starting to fade away. I remember Brian just taking everything my dad yelled at him: “Yes.” “I know.” “… I’m sorry.” Whether or not he was really sorry we’ll never know, because that was the last time we ever talked to him. My dad thinks he might be dead, and Brian’s parents, whom my dad worked with, lost contact with him up until their own deaths. 

As for my dream, I like to say that it’s just on a temporary hiatus. Dreams never really die, they just get redirected. With the loss of the engine, my dad actually wants to look into turning the 2002 into an EV. I, on the other hand, say “you’ll have to wait until I die before you turn that car into an EV.” Either way, the lesson I’ve learned is that you cannot rely on other people. It’s kind of up to me now, and if I want to see my dream realized, I’ve got to make it happen myself.

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