Initial Ramblings – Fall 2017: The Mysteries of BMW
by JT Burkard
Something happened that I can’t explain. Paranormal events? Aliens? How were the Great Pyramids built? Does the Money Pit on Oak Island still contain treasure? Is there such a thing as Government Intelligence? Why did Elvis Presley’s 1958 BMW 507 have a horrendously hard life before it was rediscovered? Ponderous questions I know, but something even more perplexing happened that I simply don’t have an answer for.
It was a warm summer day. The squirrels were gathering acorns. A light breeze was in the air. It was the perfect day to clean some cars. I jumped into our E21 to move it into the car washing position at the house so I could bathe it. I turned the key and nothing; the battery was dead. Not an uncommon occurrence. I originally thought the 1986-era Blaupunkt stereo was the cause of the drain so I disconnected the power to it. Apparently something else was causing a draw. I will most likely install a battery cut-off terminal, as soon as I find where I put it in the garage of plenty. This time though, it was the hazard switch. A familiar flaw for E21s. The red hazard button has a small pin holding it in. After time, it will bend ever so slightly, releasing the button and engaging the hazard lights. Apparently they went all night an this was enough to drain the battery fully. I removed the switch so I could take it apart to repair it.
I took my jump box and fired it up. As I depressed the brake pedal, it went right to the floor. It had as much resistance as that forgotten eggplant left in the corner of the refrigerator for 3 months. Not that I know anything about that. I found this very odd because I had just driven the car within the last 2 weeks, so I was surprised it failed just sitting there. I remembered the master cylinder and rear wheel cylinders were replaced within the first two years of ownership. But that still was about 13-14 years ago. I opened the cap on the reservoir and the brake fluid had all escaped leaving a dry void in its place. I topped it off and tried to see if there were any leaks. It remained drier than comedian Steven Wright’s delivery. It is a 40 year old car, so anything can happen. I figured maybe a brake line rusted out and finally failed. Perhaps in the next day or so, something will start dripping. I parked the car until I had the time to address the issue.
Let’s jump ahead to a week before Halloween. A good friend of mine had his lift open and I had to trailer the BMW up to his shop. I hate having our 320i on the trailer because it means something is wrong. It’s only been on the trailer 4 times. The day I bought it and took it home. The Chapter’s summer rally where it failed to start as we were about to depart. Another time when the transmission started slipping and I had to drop it off to the transmission shop, and finally this day. The day before I was to bring it up, I topped off the brake fluid again and pumped the brakes a bunch of times to see if I got any pedal. Nothing, not even the slightest bit of resistance. Like that eggplant. The following morning I prepared the trailer for loading, hop in the E21 and drive it onto the trailer. Strange thing, I had a hint of brake pressure at the very bottom of the pedal stroke. That’s odd, but then again I did top off the fluid. Some of it could have flowed back into the lines just enough so it would stop itself at a crawl. I wouldn’t trust it to drive down the street though.
When I arrived at my buddies place, I slid in to roll it off the trailer, using the hand brake to stop it. I pressed the brake pedal, which was now hard, like it’s supposed to be. Well, that’s just odd. I cautiously got it off the trailer and what do you know? The brake isn’t fading, and it is stopping perfectly. I pressed really hard and again, no brake fade. I get out and look on the trailer to see if there was anything leaking. It was all dry. This can’t be. A self-healing car? That’s absurd. I had a “Christine” movie flashback where Arnie was standing in front of his 58 Fury saying “show me”.
We got it up in the air on his lift and started inspecting everything. There were no leaks for moisture around the master cylinder. There was slight dampness around the proportioning valve but no actual drips or any signs of recent leakage. We traced the lines, hard and rubber. We inspected the calipers and wheel cylinders. Not a sign of any brake fluid leakage at all. This is some sort of wizardry. After an hour of head scratching, mild cursing, and an impromptu inspection of the exhaust system resulting in discovering some small rusty cracks and holes in the pipes, we concluded that either some seal was dried up from lack of use and the fresh fluid got everything soft again or maybe the fluid loss was occurring between the master and the brake booster and it was gathering in the chamber. Without definitive proof of where the liquid was going, I conceded to watching the levels and look for any signs of future leakage. In all my years as a semi-professional, half-assed backyard mechanic, I have never seen or heard of anything like this.
As of the time of this writing, the brakes are still rock solid and the car stops perfectly. The fluid level is holding steady and nothing is leaking. Did I just stumble across the Bimmer fountain of youth where all issues resolve themselves? Perhaps there was an extraterrestrial intervention when I wasn’t looking? If I leave it alone, will the exhaust leaks fix themselves as well? Probably not. I really don’t know why just topping off the reservoir without bleeding the system the brakes are now cured. Some mysteries may never be solved. [Time to call Vic Lucariello, Sr. – JF]
Now if you will excuse me, I have some produce to buy and leave to ferment.
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