I have a confession to make: I’m not a gambler. I’ve never liked betting on things…sports, horses, dogs, whatever. Never my thing…until I started messing with old cars. It’s incredibly rewarding to find value where others won’t/can’t. Unfortunately, these gambles typically pay out in a bell-curve. Some of the time I lose; most of the time I’ll break even. It’s rare that I come out slightly ahead. Once or twice I’ve gotten lucky with a pretty big win.

My last big win was a powertrain removed from an early 80s E24 or E12. It was an almost worthless M30B32 engine & harness and a transmission with moderate mileage. Happily, the transmission ended up being a Getrag 265 with provision for both Motronic 1.0 sensors and a cable-drive speedometer output. It’s a very rare commodity, since it’ll fit virtually any BMW from the 70s through the 90s given the right bell housing. The flywheel was the single-mass unit, and the engine ended up being nearly spotless inside.

Here’s how it broke down: I sold the wiring harness, DME, flywheel & transmission. I kept the motor and the wheels. After rentals, shipping & eBay fees, taxes, etc., I netted about $1000 in less than a month!

The Euro 635CSi is pretty typical of a break-even. When I went to look at the car the motor was locked up, with a cracked oil sump. There was no evidence of water in the pan, although I noted a lot of roasted oil deposits up in the rocker cover. Chances are very high that it’s all junk. The transmission was far better off – at least it could shift through the gears and had no major oil leaks. Chances were good that it was OK, but I had no way of testing it internally. So I based my offer on what I knew was good, instead of the entire car. I typically prefer to negotiate “long” instead of “hard”. It’s a better fit for my laid-back personality. Worst-case scenario: if everything ends up being unusable, at least I’ll still break even.

Here’s how it broke down: I paid an admittedly steep $700 for the wreck minus the front seats. Taxes, paperwork, delivery charges and a few new tools raised my final cost to $900. Then I got to work. Pulled the bits I needed, sold whatever I could, then scrapped the shell. Total cash proceeds eventually netted about $850 but took almost a year to break even. Some of the big ticket items included the Euro trunk spoiler, rear seats, rare trim pieces, and common failure parts (heater valve, window motors, etc.). So my out-of pocket net cost ended up being $50, not too bad. Adding up the number of hours that took would be depressing, so I’m not going to bother. It’s a hobby, after all! So the parts I was really looking for ended up being not much of a gamble at all.

This trick does require a huge amount of trivial knowledge to work. You really have to know what you’re buying and what the market will bear. As an example, the European cars are worth far more than their North American counterparts. The virtually identical ’82 633CSi in North American trim is a fine car, but it’s worth far less. The M30B32 NA-spec engine, while fun to drive, is the least powerful of the whole family. It also has a far weaker Getrag 260/5 behind it (or worse, an automatic). That combination, even in good shape, tends to be worth less than $500. To make things even worse, these cars look identical to the untrained eye. I had just passed up a non-running 633CSi, represented as a 635, with plenty of rust, for an unreasonably high and non-negotiable “$750 firm.”

The featured picture here is another one I had to let go. It was a relatively rare E23 735i import, from Belgium if I recall correctly. The European-spec engine, manual transmission and the velour fabric interiors were very rare in the US market. This quirky car had power front windows but manual rear cranks. Dig that brown, eh? Given that the car had been flooded the seller’s price was just too high. Too many unknowns. I made him a soft offer that he instantly declined. He was sentimental about the car, really didn’t want to sell it. I heard he’d sold the car later, for scrap, at less than half my offering price.