Our Build Part 1: Buying A Car

This is the first of a short series of posts covering the process of building our car.

The story starts in the winter of 2016, when we formed our team and set out to find a car.

We knew we wanted to go racing in a rear wheel drive car, and narrowed it down to a few contenders; the Miata, E30, E36, SW20, and Fox Mustang (all the usual choices), and the 190E. The Miata, E30, and SW20 were the initial front runners, with great stock performance proven results on track, and low weight.

However, cheap clean examples can be hard to come by, and they have a high Vehicle Performance Index (VPI score 0-500) to start with, limiting possible improvements.  Ultimately the 190 won out with a lower VPI, allowing more tuning and low cost, for a rust free 2.6 5 speed. It just happened to be 650 miles away near Virginia International Raceway.

We set out at 7 p.m. on a Friday in early April 2016, only 5 hours behind schedule, in Jon’s 2001 F150 with a u haul trailer.

Our first stop was Knoxville, TN. This was to pick up Jon’s wounded E36 M3 from a local shop, where it was being stored. This leg of the trip was uneventful until we arrived at the shop around 3 a.m. looking to pick up a non running car with a u haul trailer. Also, no winch from an industrial park. After several failed attempts and a trip to Walmart to pick up jumper cables, the shop owner arrives to check in. With his help we are able to overcome the anti theft in the M3 and drive it onto the trailer.

Continuing on our journey from there, around 4:30 a.m., we started looking for somewhere to camp between Virginia and Knoxville. We arrived at Cherokee dam, about 45 minutes outside Knoxville, well before sunset, threw down a tarp and slept under the stars.

Jon’s 2001 Ford 150 got the job done!

Woken up by the sound of campers in a gator collecting camping fees, we were fully rested.

It was time to get breakfast at a local restaurant, and cover some ground. The half ton truck hauled the M3 up I81 through the hills with the ease (of a division 3 champ in summer training).  Arriving in the early afternoon, we showed up to buy our piece of racing heritage from a seller (who by the way, drove it to his daughter’s band recital). We soon found out Jon was too tall for the primer grey Mercedes. We bought it anyway, and started our trip home… because how hard can it be to make head room in a car when you locate the seat?

Having fun Jon?

No more than an hour into our drive home and the Mercedes is pulled over for driving with expired plates.

We were told by the Virginia cop to “get out of my state” before he impounds the car.  The next step was to make it to a Walmart where we parked the car for a couple hours, allowing us to tow the M3 across the state line to North Carolina. We were then able to leave it and retrieve the Mercedes. With the sun setting, we were back on our way home on back roads.

Bringing home our race car!

Now deep in North Carolina with midnight approaching, it was time to catch up on some sleep. We chose to stay in the cars, in a turnaround, on the side of the highway.

An often overlooked benefit of a German sedan, is the ability to turn it into a private suite. The next day was a long haul with no trouble from either the truck, or the 220,000 mile 190E. However, we cannot say the same for us, as  the 190e inexplicably only picked up religious stations in Appalachia! We made it home on Sunday before nightfall, and began planning our next steps! 

The Mercedes 190e already feeling right at home with Max’s 124!

Author: Max Frohnen

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