FROM HUMBLE MECCANO ROOTS
Calgarian has pulled, rebuilt and installed at least eight engines in his double-bay
From an early age, Bruce Borstmayer was fascinated by a toy that helped shape his life.
“My mom always told me that from the time I was two years old I was playing with my older brother’s Meccano set,” the Calgarian says.
Tinkering with Meccano taught him mechanical dexterity, and he put those skills to use when he built a soapbox-derby car in the eighth grade.
He got a real car in the 11th grade, when his brother bought a quarter-section of land that came with an abandoned 1947 Studebaker.
Borstmayer put a six-volt battery in it and got it running, then drove it for about a year.
When the family relocated to Saskatoon, Borstmayer admired the custom cars being driven by the Draggins Car Club. He joined the club and bought a 1956 Chevrolet, which he modified with a 383 cubic-inch Chrysler engine and TorqueFlite transmission.
“I got that car in 1969 and kept it until 1975,” he says. “I drove it everywhere, and through Saskatchewan winters at minus one million degrees.”
Borstmayer moved to Calgary in 1972, and in 1990, he bought the house the family lives in now. It has a three-car garage. It’s a double bay across, and the left bay is double length. It’s a space that’s 10 feet, eight inches wide by 20 feet deep. In the winter, to keep warm, he drops a blue tarp over the bay opening and runs an electric heater.
It’s a humble space, but it’s where Borstmayer has pulled, rebuilt and installed at least eight engines, not to mention any other mechanical task that needs to be done.
Borstmayer is a self-proclaimed BMW-rescuer and has saved many from the crusher. Most of these BMWs have had serious mechanical issues requiring Borstmayer to completely disassemble the engine to diagnose the problem.
“I go out and work in the garage in the evening or on weekends,” Borstmayer says. “I don’t do what I do for anybody else; I do it for me. But I’ve got three kids, and every time I finish a car I have to do something with it, and have given many of them to my kids to drive.”
Here’s what we learned about Borstmayer’s tools and workspace.
Q What tools are in your collection and where did they come from?
A I still have the first set of sockets and ratchets I bought from Simpson- Sears in 1967 when I was working on the Studebaker. I bought a set of Craftsman, all Imperial with quarter, threeeighth and half-inch drive. I still have all of the pieces, but I recently broke a breaker bar from the set, and I’m upset about that. Early on, I bought a couple of beam-style torque wrenches. They were reasonably good quality, and I still use them for all of the work I do.
Q Which tool or tools do you use most often?
A I’m mostly using metric sizes these days; my old Imperial set doesn’t see a lot of use. Working on BMWs, if you had a 10-mm and a 13-mm socket wrench you could take apart 65 per cent of the car. Throw in a 15-mm and you’re up to about 80 per cent.
Another tool I use is actually a log book. When working on a car, I document everything. I’ll date everything, and when I torque something I write it down. Also paint markers that I use to mark wiring connections or internal engine components. I’ll put a dot on the mating parts so I know how it goes back together.
Q How did you learn to use the tools? Did you go to school, did someone teach you, or do you watch YouTube videos?
A: I never took automotive class in high school, I basically taught myself about tools and how to take stuff apart, fix it, and put it back together. But now with YouTube, if I’m stuck I can look and see how someone else does it. I will also consult BMW forums; the internet has made wrenching on cars way, way easier. I’ll also contribute to a forum. I figure if someone is asking a question and I have the knowledge, I’ll post a response.
Q What’s the most important project in the garage right now?
A Well, two things. I’ve got a 1997 BMW 318i four-door sedan that I put a GM small-block LS V-8 in. That’s 418 cubic inches, and it makes about 600 horsepower. I did that about four years ago and have put 4,500 miles on it. I need to fix the rear suspension by changing the springs; there’s a rattle, and I hope that fixes it.
My next project is a 2013 Cadillac ATS. I need to replace the front bumper and light, get a salvage inspection done, and then I want to explore putting an LT4 V-8 engine in it.
Q Is there anyone else in the house or in your life interested in working in the garage?
A No. Like I said, I’ve got three kids, but none of my interest or skills got passed on. But I will help some of the club members (BMW Club of Southern Alberta) with the Vanos system (BMW’s variable valve timing system). I’m getting so that I know what I’m doing there, and if you don’t get it right, well, it can lead to catastrophic failure.
It’s a humble workspace, but Calgary’s Bruce Borstmayer has rebuilt several vehicles in this bay of the family garage. Borstmayer is a self-proclaimed BMW-rescuer.
Bruce Borstmayer’s small workspace has everything he needs to diagnose and repair almost every component on a BMW, but lurking in the engine compartment of this 1997 318i is a GM V-8.