Another unloved E36…the All-American M3!

This is a sad car but it might not be too far gone. In my humble opinion it’s worth saving…if the engine holds together. It’s been a while since I was in an E36, and I forgot just how easy they are to drive fast….just an all-around nice little car. This one is even more thrilling…due to the worn-out suspension, high mileage, dubious paperwork, evidence of “stop-leak” on the expansion tank, and just waiting for the other shoe to drop. But after all that, it’s back at T.I. BMW HQ getting cleaned up & evaluated.

Kudos to my buddy Dan for being my ever-dependable wingman on this particular adventure. Couldn’t have happened without him…he even found the keys after I’d misplaced them. Claims he knows nothing about cars…personally, I suspect he’s lying.

Anyhow, on to the vehicle in question. It’s a 1997 M3! Unfortunately it’s an automatic. Cosmos Black Metallic over Modena leather. Not everyone’s favorite Motorsport car. The E36 M3 in North American specification admittedly is not the finest example of the Motorsport breed. I’m sure it doesn’t help that she’s such a scruffy little rust bucket. That’s likely why she was the cheapest running M3 in the whole country when I bought it…

T.I. BMW’s [Pseudo]Professional Opinion

The E36 is a pretty special car, but it really has an affinity for the tinworm. My personal suspicions for this corrosive propensity are BMW’s evolving prep & paint chemistry. In the 90s they tweaked those processes to make them [somewhat] more ecologically sensitive [as marketed by BMW]. This commitment to re-engineering also led to all sorts of other havoc…interior glues that only lasted a few years, leather that faded and tore, fasteners that failed to fasten, those hilariously bad plastic window retainers, etc.. I have mixed feelings on this topic. On one hand, it is ethically the right thing to do. On the other hand, cars are unbelievably wasteful already. I’m unsure if the ecological benefits of safer production defend the waste of expended resources when these machines are essentially designed to self-destruct. In other words, is this an example of being penny-wise but pound-foolish? If all the carbon and environmental damage that was ‘spent’ to produce these cars in the first place is being wasted, wouldn’t it be a better choice to use the nasty chemicals regardless? I’m sure most legislators would go with the path of least damage, as that’s a net gain. It’s a multifaceted problem; I’ll admit I have little solid data either way. Feel free to post your opinions at the bottom of this page.

T.I. BMW Editorial

Some will say it’s not even an ///M car at all! Take it from me, that’s all baloney. These cars still have 99% of the goodness that their Euro cousin has. If any man-child tells you otherwise, ask him how often he drives his overpriced M3 CSL fast enough to even know the difference. Nobody can really drive any M3 at 9/10ths on the street for long. My bet is that most of these really desirable cars are being saved as an investment and it really doesn’t leave climate-controlled storage other than for the occasional BMWCCA wine tasting. In that case, even the rarest and fastest M3 MIGHT be slightly more entertaining than a decent ETF.

To fully kick this dead horse: just how different are these NA-market M3s from other M-Tech creations? Let’s take the first of the breed as an example. Was the M535i any different than the normal E12 besides a few suspension & interior tweaks? Uh, no. Furthermore, consider just how far BMW has diluted their Motorsport division’s marketing credentials in the last decade (BTW, I’m not disagreeing with their tactics. Their eternal quest for vehicular sales is the beginning of the pipeline that presents me with bargain sports cars. I agree 100% with tremendously profitable, albeit execrable, vehicles like the X6M). Thus, I’ve decided to christen my tepid version of the ferocious European M3 as the All-American Edition! Everything that’s good about America is represented in how this compromised car was built and marketed. Anyone have ideas for a sarcastic window sticker? Maybe ///A? PRNDL vanity plate? 😉

OK, I promise, enough of my ill-founded & uninformed opinions! Onward to the actual joy of repair…automotive resurrection…driving nirvana! Today’s work included checking stuff out. Fluids all looked OK yesterday, they’re still here today. That’s promising, isn’t it? Other fun included:

  • Checked all the fuses and changed them back to correct amperage with OEM open top versions. Also put a spare OEM fuse puller (well, Mercedes OEM anyhow) back in the case.
  • Checked the air filter (brand-new). Repaired the air box with a spare rubber mount, bolted up the cruise control actuator and fixed the intake snorkel properly onto the auxiliary throttle body.
  • Noted that the passenger wiper is sluggish and maladjusted. Both arms are hitting the hood. I’ll need to adjust the sweep and get a new wiper transmission. Looks like a lot of fun to change that out, can’t wait. The wiper washer pump is also defunct.
  • Pulled the engine covers. More missing hardware. It’s loaded up with original Bremi coils too. There wasn’t too much oil up on top, so that’s good.
  • Started the LONG list of stuff I need to repair, replace (or reflect upon).
  • Pulled the gauge cluster to replace all the missing bulbs. It’s so much more festive now with all those little lights! The test drive had been pretty good, but once I replaced all the burned-out and missing indicator lights there apparently isn’t anything working on this car. You know the drill: ABS, SRS, ASC, CEL, etc..
  • Attempted to put the trunk panels back in some semblance of original. I failed. Tomorrow is another day.

I dug out my new-ish ADS adapter, I’ll be spending a little time with that today…updates and recommendations will follow!

So tomorrow eventually got here, but my results were more misses than hits. I had intended to work on the chassis, but as it’s become monsoon season here I skipped all that. I fired up a cheap eBay USB/OBD2 adapter…attempted to configure it with CarSoft & P.A. Soft, but nothing came if it. I did succeed with my older 20-pin/OBD combo unit on Carsoft, but it could only access & clear the DME codes. I’m told a good method is the BimmerGeeks ADS cable with INPA on Windows.

Goal Statement:

One of the primary reasons I picked up an OBD2 BMW was for this very purpose. I need a high-quality diagnostic setup to work with newer cars: this is not really optional if I want to keep flipping cars for fun. Thus, one of the primary goals of this car is to help me get a reputable BMW diagnostic scanner that runs reliably.

In other news…

  • Turn signal switch won’t engage high beams. Flash-to-pass works, so it’s the switch.
  • I found another burned out bulb down in the OBC. When I removed the unit, it rattled. The old bulb was still inside! Pulled that apart and it’s all fully functional now. Only check control error currently is a license plate light.
  • I thought the stereo was dead but the problem was trivial. The antenna connector wasn’t solidly plugged in. The whole setup was also decently installed: it has a complete wiring adapter instead of the usual chop/splice installer routine. Can’t complain about that!
  • Rear speakers are shot. I have an HK amp & subwoofer setup I might install if I get motivated to repair & install the wiring harness. That’s not an easy process. I also plugged in a spare C33 head unit. Cassette unit is jammed in FF but it worked well enough for testing. It plugged right in, powered up, and accepted the anti-theft code promptly.
  • Unidentified oil leaks from the engine, what else is new on the S52?
  • CEL was set by two hard errors. First was the VSS; we already knew that one. The second code was new: secondary air injection, rear bank (4-6). I’m unfamiliar with that system, so this will all be new ground for me. I’d guess it’s a dead actuator, valve, or cracked hose somewhere under the manifold. I’ll start off with this helpful blog post at BavAuto.
  • I might grab an I4Beemers interface or a BimmerGeeks cable while I’m at it. Couldn’t connect to the SRS or ESC system to grab those codes. They’re both offline with errors. It’s an old BMW, this is their MO.
  • While I was failing to read any modules, I had my portable jump pack clamped onto the battery. I totally forgot about it and left it there overnight (while breaking other things). After approximately 30 hours it was only down 25%. That’s an excellent result; somewhat unexpected at this stage. The battery is holding a strong charge, and the car has no major current drains. It shuts down normally without any fuss. 🙂

Well, the car sold today. I did note that the battery was in worse shape than I anticipated, the car needed a pretty substantial jump to get started. My battery tester had indicated differently…so I’m assuming the tester is at fault. Are you familiar with the saying: “Only a fool blames his tools”? Me too. On rare occasions a faulty tool is the only explanation; I should have invested more in a higher-quality version.

Despite that single little fly in the ointment, it was still a good days’ work. Today also marks the first time I had a silent partner: my son put a little cash into this deal…he made a nice little profit out of it too! 🙂