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What to do This Weekend: Author puts it in park for Vintage Grand Prix

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - July 20, 2013

To earn a living, geophysicist Rob Siegel thinks of ways to improve the technology that detects unexploded ordnance on shuttered military bases.

To maintain his abiding passion for cars, the author of "Memoirs of a Hack Mechanic" recently bought a brown 1974 Lotus Europa that hasn't run since 1979.

"There's not a lot of risk in buying a car with low mileage and a seized engine because the value is really in the condition of the car and the low mileage," Mr. Siegel said during a telephone interview from his home in Newton, Mass., where he has lived with his wife and three sons since 1991.

The 55-year-old writer will read from his book and sign copies of it Saturday from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Barnes & Noble bookstore located in The Waterfront, a retail and movie theater complex in Homestead.

Mr. Siegel spent part of his boyhood on Long Island. At age 13, he worked for a guy who owned a red Lotus Europa. Now, he's thrilled to be taking one apart.

"The roof line is 42 inches off the road. It's like a little race car. It's like a go-cart. They are not that expensive. They are starting to become collectible," he said.

So far, he has managed to unseize the Lotus's engine.

"Now I am in the process of rebuilding the engine. It's my first repair on an unfamiliar car. I should probably have my head examined for this."

He likes to do what he calls "rolling rejuvenations," not complete restorations.

"I fix what it needs while not taking it completely apart down to metal. It's just too long a road to hoe. I don't have that attention span, that level of commitment. I get enjoyment out of fixing things. I'm not a guy who seeks perfection."

Besides offering useful advice on what to do when your car won't start, Mr. Siegel explains why men are drawn to smokin' hot cars:

"To a man, a cool car provides a whole range of sensations on demand. It's a very uncomplicated relationship. Friends with benefits. And the car never asks you to come shopping at Ikea. In some ways, it is like that notorious 1998 SNL sketch "Mercury Mistress," except that they got the car completely wrong. It should have been a curvaceous Italian exotic. Who the hell would want to make love to a Grand Marquis?"

Nor is he a fan of overspending to fix a car.

"The overwhelming population of 'car guys' try to keep their cars running without risking the tuition money, without risking the nest egg," he insisted.

For 27 years, Mr. Siegel has written a column for Roundel, a magazine for the BMW Car Club of America. He owns a 1973 BMW 3, a 2002 BMW and a 1999 BMW z3 coupe, which, he says, is "by far, the nicest, quickest and sexiest" of the three. His daily driver is a 2001 BMW 325 xi all wheel drive wagon. His wife drives a 2008 Honda and they vacation in a 2000 Chevy Suburban that has 180,000 miles on it.

While none of his sons share his passion for fixing cars, Mr. Siegel said, they saw their father passionately engaged in several pursuits, including geophysics, auto mechanics and playing guitar in several bands.

"I would like to think that that is a gift," he said.

During Saturday and Sunday's Vintage Grand Prix in Schenley Park, Mr. Siegel will be at the BMW Corral, located on the main golf course past the Shop N' Save hospitality tent.

The BMW Corral is closest to the intersection of Frew Street and Schenley Drive, but because roads are blocked off, the best way to reach it is to enter the park at Schenley Drive and Darlington Road. Free shuttle buses are available to take spectators to the race course and the exhibition of vintage cars. On Saturday, practice starts at 9 a.m. and continues until 5 p.m. On Sunday, practice begins at 9 a.m., followed by a parade lap of cars at 11 a.m. The official race starts at noon and concludes at 5 p.m.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette - July 20, 2013
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