Car Review: Reluctant to Retire.

Retirement is a tricky subject. It can either be depressing or liberating; or a combination of the two. The depression is usually caused by retirement’s darker meaning: the end is near. Or, at least, something is going to give, and the reaper might be just around the corner.

At 24-years-old, most people are in their prime, and nowhere near even thinking about retirement. They’re ready to rock and take on whatever the world has to offer. But there is one salty German who, at the ripe old age of 24, is rolling closer and closer to the end of the line. He has been called everything from Jeff, Black-hole and “you son-of-a bitch”, but his true name is still a mystery. Even now, he seems exceedingly reluctant to divulge.
During the last two decades, this assumingly quiet soul has evolved into an almost underground legend for a select group of people. Seemingly unaware of his own status, the German has become bitter and cranky. But every once in a while, you can still glimpse his body lurching around the city streets of Knoxville.
“I first meet him at the junkyard,” says Charlie Sykes, who currently watches over his older friend. I ask Sykes if the fading gentleman has finally given up his name, but it seems this detail hasn’t come up yet. The two have only known each other for ten months, so the bonding process is still a little green. I reveal to Sykes that I once knew the German and that, back then, he went by the name Black-hole. When Sykes asks why, I look over at my quietly sulking former friend and beckon, “Look at him.”
It may seem odd that Black-hole is constantly being referred to as “old.” Consider that most 24 year olds haven’t traveled the equivalent distance of 16 times around the world. In fact, these days most 24-year-olds still live in their parent’s basements. So it’s perhaps forgiveable if Black-hole seems a little tired. On the surface, he has always been the quiet type, never drawing too much attention to himself. It is only when you really get to know him that his true side emerges and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde manifest their split personalities into a car.
“It’s a car with more character than that crazy uncle who always makes everyone uncomfortable during the holidays with his inappropriate remarks,” says Lucas Coleman who first met Black-hole in 2007. Coleman never drove him, but he saw his capabilities. “My fondest memory of the car was undoubtedly seeing it spin the tires all the way through third gear on an interstate on ramp,” says Coleman. “Given, it was raining, but even in slippery conditions most cars would struggle to keep the tires spinning in second. This car, however, had far different plans.”

 

Black-hole, or sometimes referred to simply as “the E28” is a BMW 535i born in 1986. Bathed in the factory Schwarz black, the original owner shelled out $35,000 to take possession; a substantial amount even now. That pricey sum got the owner a 3.5 liter, SOHC straight six coded M30B34, was connected to a five speed manual trans, and a LSD packed with the 3.25 gear set. With the chassis code E28, this second generation 5 series is still classically shaped and quintessentially BMW. Unlike BMWs of today, this one will never be mistaken for a Toyota.

Resembling what could easily be the vehicle of choice for a drug dealer, Black-hole looks well-aged, and rightfully so. His vehicular retirement, that is the qualification for antique registration plates, is only one year away. But if the term “antique” was measured in miles instead of years, this old BMW would’ve been sent out to pasture quite a long time ago.

BMWs of the 1980’s all seem to share the same problems, and one of them is a faulty odometers. Black-hole’s is no exception, so the car’s actual mileage is shrouded in mystery. Knoxville BMW technician Jeff Turner, who was once both Black-hole’s owner and mechanic, estimates him to be pushing over 350,00 miles. The odometer gave up the ghost at 227,000 miles and according to Turner, that was a long time ago. The assumption is probably not too far from the truth, given that a 2002 Autocheck fact report status, Black-hole’s functioning odometer read 195,123. This was in Tucker, GA. The very next day, the odometer read 194,357 in Kennesaw, GA. (the last time the DMV knew how many miles were on this “time machine.”).

 

 

“Honestly, for a car that’s a quarter of a century old with a ton of miles, it’s not too bad,” says Sykes, who scooped up the E28 right off death row. He bought Black-hole when previous owner Kyle was attempting a euthanization. “Kyle was having trouble selling it and was going to scrap it. I made him an offer right there at the junkyard and he sold it to me for less than scrap.”
In the summer of 2008, Black-hole became a legend to Knoxville man Mike Julian. During that time, the E28 found comfort in Julian’s garage and became a landmark for his “car guy” neighborhood. Julian’s next door neighbor, also a car guy, was in possesion of a landmark vehicle: a gold Nissan S14 240sx. “I knew it [the 240] had been pretty heavily modified, but it was pure sleeper. Fifteen grand into a na hard-body (KA24DE) build, another ten grand into suspension… it was a monster,” says Julian. This knowledge was kept from Black-hole who challenged the much-younger athlete one summer evening. Julian recounts, “my neighbor looks over, back at the road and promptly downshifts into third. We keep up, turning off the highway onto a back road that leads to the house. Ahead of us, the 240 takes the turn at 50–speed limit 25. We power through the turn after him, hitting the straight. An intersection is coming up, where we both have to take a sharp left. I look over at the speedometer and see 95mph. E-brake up, downshift and we’ve turned onto the next road. Immediately, another turn; we’re still doing 70, as we slide into my driveway sideways. My neighbor walks over and says, ‘Damn, that thing is fast!'” That night, Black-hole earned some respect, even though he seemed not to care. To him, it was just another “kill story” to put in his collection.
Every corner of the black-on-black sedan is covered in what some would call “a story.” The passenger side, though dirty, is remarkably straight for the car’s age. It’s only when you walk around to Black-hole’s other side that the E28’s age spots begin to show. Numerous dings, dents and poorly-matched cover-up paint smears dot the driver’s side panels. “Those are the battle wounds of many owners and literally countless miles…some of those wounds even appeared to be inflicted with a baseball bat,” says Coleman. With the Autocheck fact sheet reporting Black-hole’s total number of owners at nine, those “battle wounds” could actually be caused by the angry side of a baseball bat. But the truth is just another mystery that Black-hole silently carries with him.
But perhaps the most remarkable thing about this tall-tale of a car, is that even after all of those miles, the drive train is still all original equipment. “You can’t kill an M30,” says Allen Turner. Allen is Jeff Turner’s brother and fellow BMW mechanic. The Turner men had a lasting relationship with Black-hole and devoted a substantial amount of time and effort into keeping him alive. The angular sedan could be seen parked out front of their East Knoxville shop for months at a time, so it came to their surprise when they finally saw the car leave with another owner. When the time came for the E28 to find another victim, Turner’s mechanic and electrical specialist Danny put it nicely: “Get that car away from me.”
“Part of me wants to believe that it lived in denial of its upscale, luxury creation, and instead preferred to exude the soul of a sports car,” says Coleman. And that’s the essence of Black-hole. On the surface, vehicles like the E28 are just an assemblage of mechanical parts. But their stories don’t end there. The E28 has personality spilling from every body panel gap, dent, blemish and smudge that coasts his long and gracefully-muscular body. Like a tired and worn-down Olympic athlete gives up and picks up smoking, Black-hole seems to have become gritty in his final years. Even though his moodiness has probably made him more enemies than friends, it’s that personality that turns cars like the E28 into legends.
It may seem odd to some why anyone would continue to keep watch over a car of this caliber, but people continually attempt to make friends with Black-hole. Like the bitter old grandfather who doesn’t seem to like being visited, the E28 continues to entertain guests. “It knows it is nearing the end of its life, and has become bitter,” says Coleman. Worked hard and hard worn, Black-hole rolls around with a perpetual chip on his shoulder. “This car was not out for fun, or glamour, but rather blood and vengeance. It wanted to end its own existence as quickly as it could manage, and it wanted to take as many with it as it was capable.”
Before we part, the bright-eyed Sykes asks me about my relationship with Black-hole. The only thing I can say, as I shake my head is, “I hated that son-of-a bitch.” Sykes chuckles and stops his questioning. This is probably because he understands what I mean. As I watch the black bomber speed the wrong way down a one-way side street, I can’t help but feel remorse for giving up on the old man. But then again, I’m not to sure he even liked me. After all, Coleman puts it best when he says, “Ahh, the E28. A homicidal maniac of a car, if there ever was one.”
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