Another E30 finds a home

So let’s step back and review my then-current status (April 2009). I have an E34 that didn’t fit my needs. I also have a rusted-out E30 325iS that has to go. I decide that (somehow) I’ll strip or sell the E30 goodies and put them into something more suitable & fun than the E34. So what’s next? Craigslist cars & trucks, of course! I started looking for a late-model E30 325i 5-speed, hoping that I could do a partial trade with the E34. I prefer sedans, and I wanted to keep an M20B25 in my life. The 325i facelift sedan is hard to find with a 5-speed, and tends to be expensive and well-used even when they do turn up.

After several near-misses, I noted a listing for a 318i sedan. It had very few details, but I got in touch with the owner and confirmed that it was a ’91 318i. If you’re not familiar with these relatively hard-to-find cars, they were offered by BMW as a bargain-basement deal to lure new buyers into the fold. Price was a mere $19,900 IIRC. Only available with a 5-speed. The only options offered were paint & interior colors, sunroof and an LSD. That didn’t really matter because the vast bulk of them were sold from dealer’s stock. I’ve only seen them in three colors – diamond black, alpine white & brilliant red.

So I went up to check it out – chassis was shockingly clean, owner was shockingly honest. He mentioned that it needed a differential, and it was running hot. My negotiating position improved since he couldn’t get it to start. I had a perfectly good diff, and he assured me that it had never overheated. The pieces were falling into place, like it was meant to be, eh? I knew where I could find solutions to those problems. Rust-free E30 are very rare. Given that the chassis was so clean, even a blown engine or damaged transmission wasn’t a deal breaker. I had a whole spare car – I could install the motor from my 325iS and sell off what was left for fun & profit.

Decision time was here. There were quite a few cons to this car. It had high mileage, was the 1.8L 4-cylinder, and penalty-box vinyl seating. However, it was an E30, late-model sedan. It had a sunroof too, albeit a manual crank version that was broken. And while the M42 isn’t as smooth or powerful as the M20, it requires far less maintenance and the shorter motor improves handling. Any rust-free southern car is a huge bonus. There was also a full binder of records from the previous two owners.

I offered him the cash right then and there. We co-ordinated about five people along with AAA to retrieve the car. It turned up in my driveway, I cleaned the crank angle sensor, and it started right up! Lucky guess? You bet. The car still needed a lot of work.

I’m still driving this car, if you can believe it. It’s about to roll over 300K miles. I haven’t done a whole lot of work to it, just installed a few upgrades as a reward for sterling service. Thousands of miles of more or less effortless driving are behind us. Happily, many of those miles were for my job, so my employer ended up buying the car on my behalf. It’s only left me stranded once…for an hour…so far…until I decided to take it to Chicago this April. It was running uncomfortably hot, so I parked it and took the minivan instead.

September 2016 update. This little car still has so much life left in her. There’s a long list of little problems that I’ve decided to tackle one by one.  In no particular order, they are:

  • I’ve been having some troubles with minor overheating the whole time I’ve owned the car, and I’m tired of fretting over it (completed Sept. 2016)
  • Cracked windshield (Oct. 2017)
  • Brake(s) grinding, pad sensor light (Oct. 2016)
  • Misaligned front wheels
  • Loose catalyst heat shield
  • Noisy drive line, possibly driveshaft or heat shield
  • Cracked sunroof support (Aug. ’17…just a loose screw)
  • Minor rust (Lots of bodywork got done in September ’17)
  • Dying battery (miraculously came back from the dead in Oct. 2016, replaced in Nov. ’16)
  • Annoyingly shaky “map light” mirror (Completed Oct. 2016).

To chase down the overheating problem, I bought a cheap pressure tester with a late BMW cap adapter. I already knew that the heater core had a slight leak, but the pressure tester demonstrated it was more serious than I had suspected. Happily, it was the only pressure leak. While I had it all apart, I also decided to replace the pressure cap, thermostat and radiator switch along with all the small seals (expansion tank, heater valve seals). I’ll post results once I get all the parts & some new coolant into the car. I finished the repair up in September (heater core install, new 80degC thermostat, new 80/88C fanstat switch, all new gaskets & o-rings). The system held pressure and it runs nice & cool now!

Oct. 2016: I got a little time to replace more parts. I found a good deal on new wheel hubs. The old ones had worn bearings and broken rotor hold-down bolts – but now they’re nice and fresh! I replaced three of the six rubber brake lines with stainless hose, but I managed to strip a fitting. I’ll get back to that later. I’ve also replaced the pads and adjusted the parking brake. Unfortunately, the car has decided to run on three cylinders, the brake lining light is still on, and the parking brake still doesn’t work. One step forward, two steps back?

Nov. 2016: The weather was so pretty, I decided to takle a few issues. The #1 plug was fouled with water (?) and the battery finally gave up the ghost. I had bought a new one for the E24; when I swapped it into the E30 the car fired right up! One big problem down, a few little ones to go.

Oct. 2017: I attempted to get it inspected, and it failed. That was a disappointment, since I’d already gone to the trouble of replacing the windshield (with a repaired used part) and installing a new(er) rear tire. They found a damaged right sway bar endlink and leaking brake lines at the rear of the car. I replaced the endlink but haven’t gotten the brake lines done yet.

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