Further Thoughts on Bertha

With about four hours to kill and no choice but to sit in my chair and behave, I finally had a block of free time to read Rob Siegel’s Resurrecting Bertha, something long overdue. If you’re familiar with Siegel, either through his “Hack Mechanic” column in the BMWCCA Roundel magazine, or his writings elsewhere, you know he’s a car guy to the core. I’ve admired his sheer courage on more than one occasion, but he goes a step beyond in Resurrecting Bertha.

Most hardcore BMW enthusiasts have at least one story to tell about a car that they’ve owned for quite some time – Siegel has quite a few, and he’s a funny and engaging guy. After reading his column for so many years, and exchanging numerous Facebook messages, I feel as if I already know him – something he touches on in the book, as he tells this wacky tale.

It’s the true story of the 1975 2002 that he and his wife got married in 26 years ago, and after making several interesting mods to personalize the car to taste, had to sell in anguish over family and job uncertainties. If you’ve been a car enthusiast for any number of years, no doubt you’ve had to do the same. I know I have. It sucks.

Yet, the friend of his that he sells Bertha to still owns the car 26 years later, and his once pride and joy has fallen victim to entropy in a garage not terribly far from Siegel’s home. After he and his friend agree Bertha will return to its original owner, the story begins in earnest. The sheer willpower to get this car out of the garage, on the street, and back to Siegel’s home probably would have discouraged most enthusiasts.

For those of you not familiar with the Hack Mechanic, he’s got a Lotus that he’s been resurrecting for about eight years, so if that doesn’t qualify him for sainthood, nothing does.

This is an excellent read, and Siegel is a great storyteller. You can feel his pain when he digs through the rat droppings on the car that was once his pride and joy, along with his sheer frustration in getting this car out to the street, and then his excitement when the car is running again. To everyone who’s ever had a “project car,” Resurrecting Bertha is the best self-help book ever written.

But it’s more than that. Siegel’s books, like his columns, are always about the people, the characters in his adventures. The level of camaraderie he inspires and passes forward is a lesson to us all. We should all be so fortunate to have such cool people in our life.

Jay Leno once said that you’re either a wrench turner or a check writer when it comes to cars. I maintain that you’re a journey person or a destination person. Sure, you can go down to your local BMW dealer and buy a new car, but where’s the story in that? Even if your car adventures only consist of annual maintenance, Rob Siegel tells such a vivid story in Resurrecting Bertha that you’ll almost feel like you’ve lived it. It doesn’t get any better.