In April 2017, I decided to buy a 1985 745i offered on a BMW board by a young BMW mechanic named Tim. I had an interest in this type of car because I used to bring them into the US from Germany in the late 80’s and always wanted one of these. This variation was a pretty rare turbo version, well known for the ability to boost up the horsepower, and was never imported to the US by BMW. Tim had already done a ton of work on the car and I struck a deal with him to do a bunch more. Over the next several months he really went through it changing old fuel lines, filters, hoses, exhaust, brakes, pumps etc…
It was always my intention to drive it home from Philadelphia to New Orleans. Just that goal makes you look at what the car really needs a little differently. Tim and I discussed everything that was critical and that could bite me in the butt if I broke down somewhere, especially in winter, at nite in the mountains. We went over every hose, light, brakes, cooling, filter, spare tire, jack, battery, heater and anything else you could think of to get ready. We both felt it was good to go and he even packed me a kit with hoses, duct tape, 3 types of fluids, jack, first aid kit and several other things.
On 12/27 I flew to Philly, picked it up in the 12 degree frigid weather, and drove just past Washington DC and got a hotel for the night. During the drive the steering and handling were tight, except for the leather creaking there were no rattles, bad noises, or other concerns. I figured out the bluetooth radio upgrade, and the car was running like a top. I was really looking forward to a drive through the Smoky Mountains the next day and taking some photos.
I got up the next morning and had a great cruise during the first few hours of daylight to Wythville, Va. where I stopped to get gas. When I got off the highway there was a Super Walmart there which gave me the opportunity to pick up a fuse for the lighter so I could keep my phone/GPS/Bluetooth server charged up. When I went to lock the car the real oh crap moment happened. Of all the things we had discussed and prepared for, the 33 year old key breaking in the door lock was not one of them.
As soon as it happened I knew finding a blank key for an ’85 BMW was going to be the toughest part of this and could be the thing to leave me stranded.
The key had just enough sticking out that I was able to get it out of the door lock, but it wasn’t enough to start the car. I went into the Walmart automotive repair section and after looking the ladies back there told me they didn’t have a key. I asked if they knew a mobile locksmith and they said I could “try to call Sam but last time they saw him he wasn’t doing too good.”
She got out a real Rolodex, pulled out a card and wrote down his number for me. I called and the number was disconnected. I told her it didn’t look like Sam made it and she turned around and asked me, “why don’t you just google for a mobile locksmith?” Now there was a thought; but I resisted saying everything that was going through my mind since I had been doing that for the last hour, and thanked her for trying, which she did really do.
There was a Lowes next door and they tried some things and again no dice. The hardest thing to believe now was that nobody knew of a mobile locksmith as they didn’t know anyone either. I called my roadside assistance and they said they could tow it somewhere, but there was no place to tow it that would surely have a key except the BMW dealer over 100 miles away. That would be my last choice if needed. When I asked for a mobile locksmith, as you can probably guess, their answer was the same as everyone else.
I finally managed to get a mobile locksmith in another town, James at Blue Ridge Locksmiths. on the line and when I told him my situation and that it was for an 85 BMW, he laughed out loud. I mean really laughed hard. I had no choice but to laugh with him because it really was kind of funny. Heck, I would have trouble in New Orleans with this and here I was asking for this vintage key in the land of SUV’s and Pick up trucks. After our mutual laugh we got focused a bit and he told me if I had both halves that he could make a key IF we could find a blank which I already knew since I had done that once before on an old Porsche.
Thankfully, James is a guy that’s been around a while and was on the phone trying different places and different old buddies in the locksmith business, and each time reporting back to me that they didn’t have one and had no idea where to get one, all while I was doing my own research. After a few hours that tow was looking like my only choice when James found a blank; one blank.
He spent the next 90 minutes getting to it and then getting to me; and within an hour of that I was running again. It was impressive that he somehow found 1 key in rural America during the holidays, and then took 2 separate pieces and made a working key. Thank the good lord for there still being some true craftsman around, but more so for the people that will really exert themselves to live out their purpose and deliver what is most important.
James would not give up. He kept saying we are “going to get you home” and kept looking and searching until he found what we needed and got it to me. I could feel it wasn’t about the key or about the money, it was about getting me home and he was invested in that. I am not sure how conscious he is or isn’t about his Emotionally Charged Connection or even what it might be, but it sure came across that I landed on it and because of that I was in as good a place as I could be. If there was a solution he was going to find it.
In retrospect, what happened was I showed some vulnerability, I was stuck with no obvious solution and I wanted to get home, and James acted on it because what I said resonated with him for some reason. I said the same things to the other 6 people and some of them put some effort into helping by doing what was in front of them, but gave up quickly when that was exhausted. None of them went outside and asked others if they knew anybody, none made a call on my behalf, and none of them moved out of their space other than to tell me what I might Google. It didn’t resonate with them the same way. But like I always say, allow yourself to be a bit vulnerable to some people that have the ability to influence that situation and the magic can happen, even though they may laugh first.
So how did it turn out? By the time I got going again 7 hours had passed, my cell battery was dead so I went to the Starbucks and charged my phone for another hour, sitting by the window the whole time with the car in sight since I wasn’t about to lock it. I still only had one key! Anyway, the rest of the trip was perfect, the car was wonderful, there were many nice comments made along the way, and I am happy for the experience and the excuse to talk about it here.
I am sure it will offer me many more opportunities as vintage cars are conversation magnets and can open doors and provide insightful experiences that would be tough to get otherwise. I just hope that they come from less threatening occurrences.