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Near genius! Useful & funny

This is a tough book to describe as it covers over 35 years of practical labour on more than 50 BMWs that the author has sold or kept, besides tackling another dimension: domestic life with a car nut.

With typically American bravado Rob Siegel lays out his family life alongside 60 essays containing fascinating tales of classic bargain basement 2002 and E9 Coupe buys, plus many more ­— BMW and otherwise. All fixed within limited suburban garage resources, but it’s worth remembering that this multi-talented author is a qualified geophysicist with a day job that often entails looking for explosives that have yet to self-destruct.

As a 635CSi owner with limited practical skills, I have read Rob’s columns in Roundel, the American BMW CCA club magazine, for more than 10 years, but we have never met. I think it was the clarity and humour that kept me reading.

My former publishers at Robert Bentley obviously agreed that such humorous, yet hard-headed, advice was unmissable. The Bostonians dragged a 432-page softback book out of Siegel over an eventful three-year pregnancy.



For me the highlights are centred on Siegel’s purchase of a crashed but (miraculously) rust-free E9 coupe in 1985 for $1,700 — under £1,200 today —and it came with a stack of parts! Like me Siegel had always wanted one of these bodily fragile beauties. Unlike me he had the skills to resurrect what must have been a very sad sight after amateur crash repairs.

If you are a 2002 person, then there is enough fodder to feed your appetite as Rob had 25 of the iconic sports saloons. The first cost just $1000 in 1982, and came complete with dents in every panel and a missing front bumper. That Colorado orange machine from 1971 began a trail of 02s and the occasional foray into Porsche and VW that has lasted to date.

The workshop texts, from tools and equipment to tackling those maddening moments like snapped studs and recalcitrant nuts, tell you Siegel served his time. Right out there in the DIY world, from triumph through despair and back to the smug ‘I did it my way’ factor that only kicks in when you get a job right.

To get an idea of who Rob is today he lists his seven current cars and I was glad to see the red 3.0 CSi has remained ‘a keeper.’ Also in the Siegel collection: 2002s from 1972 and ‘73,1999 Z3M Coupe, a 2001 Touring 325 with the 4x4 transmission that is widely available in USA.

A Porsche 911SC from 1982 heads other choices beyond BMW, including a Honda and a mega-miles example of the mammoth Chevrolet Suburban. For potential buyers, the rundown on 911’s significant mechanical history and practical advice on actually buying a cheap 911SC — in this case a Targa for less than $10,000 — was an outstanding lesson in factually absorbing clarity. 10/10.

Siegel humour surfaces when he had the 3.0 CSi running and painted (a Mercedes Signal Red! Really Rob…!) after three years rolling restoration labour.

American personal registrations are lenient and, as a practising (Star)Trekky, Siegel’s plate reads WARP9. This was justified as the fastest speed ordered for the Starship Enterprise.

Inevitably with this flashy colour scheme, and the ‘if you’ve got it-flaunt it’ registration, Mr. Siegel was pulled over by the police.

Apparently the most embarrassing part was explaining the plate’s geeky significance: the cop had a sense of humour, cautioning Rob to: ‘Fly your spaceship a little lower to the ground.’

More seriously, the hard-earned mechanical knowledge shared is worth triple the price of the book, especially that on painting a car and degrees of rust. I think that’s summed up best by this observation: “I think I can safely say that one has ever taken a car in for restoration and been told, ‘You know, that rust isn’t nearly as bad as we thought.’ “.

Siegel’s expletive-undeleted sense of humour and intelligence rule and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Yet this Hack Mechanic memoir may not be to every British taste, especially as our sports cars and Lucas electrics get their usual US-bashing.

Grin and bear it, even the most knowledgeable will learn something and get a laugh or three on the way.

By: Rob Siegel.

Softback, 6x9 inches, 432 pages, 37 b&w snapshots in text, colour covers.

ISBN:  978-0837617206 Publisher:  Bentley Publishers USA.

Publisher retail: $29.95.99; Amazon UK (pre-order until June 2013, £17.74)

Availability, June 2013: Direct from Bentley, Boston, USA

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