M3 repair log

September 6: Checked out the car, bought it & drove it home! No wrecks, disasters, overheating, etc.. Nothing fell off either. Admittedly, I bought the car knowing that it had problems…and keep in mind that minor problems are a plus as far as I’m concerned. There is a lot of cosmetic rust but only a few areas of significant concern. This poor car is also REALLY scruffy & dirty inside! I can’t wait for the rain to slow down so I can vacuum out years of funk and start freshening the interior up. I have a few boxes of baking soda lined up & waiting.
A lot of shifty stuff has been done to this car. The seller claims the motor is newer than the car. I’m pretty sure that the front seats were swapped out. The front seats seem to be E36 power sport seats, in decent shape. They use a different grade of leather than the rear seats do. Although it doesn’t feel as nice, the rougher Dakota(?) leather is far more durable than the original Nappa(?) leather. Apparently the seats were changed mid-run anyway according to people who know better than I do. The seats have been redyed to match this car’s Modena (mustard) leather with black backs. Other MIA options are the rare wood inlays (center console & door trims), M-Tech steering wheel leather and anthrazit headliner. The spare tire has also wandered off.

But it’s certainly not all bad news. Other resources include:

  • My buddy Dan…he’s a BMW Master Tech that’s very familiar with these cars. He’s owned a bunch of E36s.
  • Dan still has a Cosmos Black E36 sedan parts car and offered to donate parts from it to help out.
  • If all that fails, there’s a few E36 left over in the pick-n-pull yards around here. Not as many as you’d think…rust really murders the E36 and salvage yards burn through cars so much faster these days!

Sept. 7: Since it’s been so wet here I’ve been focusing on the electrical problems. Haven’t made much headway, either.

  • I pulled the gauge cluster to put new bulbs in. Like every other old BMW I’ve bought, it had been ‘fixed’ by removing the CEL & SRS bulbs.
  • I went though the fuse boxes to put everything back to stock with OEM open top fuses. Happily, nothing caught on fire.
  • Surprisingly, it only had two codes. Secondary air on rear bank and a VSS code.
  • Replaced all the burned-out lights in the dash & OBC. I’m sure I missed a few, this car has such an unfamiliar dash layout!

These are only small victories, but progress is being made!


Sept. 9: Finally got some codes from Carsoft. Used my old interface directly off the BMW diagnostics connector. It managed to pull airbag codes: driver’s buckle and pass. seat sensor. Since the seats aren’t original to this car let’s hope it’s just disconnected harnesses. I also started pulling the center console and driver’s door panel. Looks like a lot of work has been done to the driver’s door, seller warned me that the window clips are broken. I’ll be digging into that this week.

In other news, I’ve been tallying up the pluses & minuses of this car. On the plus side, the car runs. Battery & tires are relatively new. There are a few aftermarket ‘upgrades’ like a stainless Dinan muffler, knock-off US-spec aftermarket headlights (maybe these?), knock-off M3 smoked front turn signals (might be these), glued-in replacement fog lights (either this or ?). Rear turn sgnals looked suspiciously new as well, my guess is these aftermarket units. Even the front bumper might be a knock-off (these are cheap). The best part of this car so far might be the stainless muffler. It looks to be a genuine Dinan, but I’m not really a fan of the sound. It’s a little raspy & loud…I’ll drop it later to see if it needs new pipe donuts. Minuses: Lots of rust and the suspension is very loose. If the rain lets up this week I’ll be taking a long look underneath to see what’s salvageable and what needs done.


Sept. 10: Spent a few hours cleaning up today; removed the front seats and center console to get at the carpet. Those power sport seats are surprisingly heavy! The car was also really filthy; lots of fuggy long white dog hair stubbornly clinging to every scrap of carpeting. I usually pull most of the interior from project cars, otherwise I can’t get into all those little nooks and crannies. The results? It’s a lot cleaner after a quick vacuuming and certainly smells better! I also added more parts to my ‘pick’ list…most surprising was the rear seat bolts…only one remains. I’m out of carpet cleaner, that’s on the shopping list too.

I also repaired the interior lights. Without a headliner there isn’t a mount for the dome lights, so I just stuck them up above the mirror temporarily. Its nice to have light. The trunk light was also out…I pulled the light, it was OK. I swapped the switch, it’s OK. Seems to be a wiring issue…do you suspect the infamous E36 trunk loom?


Sept. 12: Cleaning…cleaning…cleaning…and more cleaning. I used a little ammonia window cleaner on the worst coffee stains, they’re better. A little chemical freshener and a LOT of baking soda helped out bit too. Despite all that work it’s still not impressive enough to post pics. This is usually the most mundane part of a project…getting a neglected rusted car clean enough to work in & on. I also ordered a seat gear and some window clips. I’ve been tallying up the worst areas of rust to see if it’s even worth bothering to put it back on the road. There are a few pretty nasty spots – worst is the driver’s front corner – but I don’t think the rust has bitten too deeply; the damage is more or less cosmetic as far as I’ve found.

The front suspension is very worn, worst is the driver’s side. Inner ball joint and outer tie rod are pretty bad. The inner tie rod is probably worn out too. Suspension looks like it might be original! I can’t believe that one of the previous owners wouldn’t have replaced those OEM Sachs struts over the last two decades. Is that likely?

I guess horrific pics like this will tell you a bit of what rescues are all about. This car was victimized by circumstance. With a little time & effort I’m hoping it can be saved.

Sept. 14: The car sold today. I’d impulsively put it up on CL and eBay just to gauge potential marketing interest. I got an immediate response from an interested party. He needed parts for an E30 “5 lug” upgrade…and this car is the perfect donor for just such a project. We made a deal and the car went on its way tonight. Best of luck to the new owner! Really nice guy, I’m looking forward to some updates. I absolutely promise to share any details he passes along with y’all.