The Unix Nerd's Domain
BMWs I've Owned or Would Like to Own
This was my first BMW. It had a 90 bhp 1800cc M10 carburettor engine similar to those found in some 2002s. The car was great except for the engine which suffered from a very poor carburettor leading to a lack of acceleration at times. The BMW Car January 1995 issue describes how to fit a better carb. This was a fairly basic BMW and I chose it mainly because it was cheaper to insure for a young driver (I was 22). I always wished I could have afforded a 318i instead. It was not much fun to drive in snow I might add!
1990 E30 318iS 2 door
My second car was a red E30 318iS with the M42 DOHC 16 valve engine. This new engine produced 140bhp and really enjoyed being revved. The car had very stiff M-Tech suspension and with its all round disc brakes (not a normal E30 feature) was perfect for twisty Highland roads. It wouldn't have made a good motorway car due to the stiff suspension which could be tiring on long journeys. As I haven't driven on a motorway for about five years this wasn't a problem for me.
I miss this great car a lot. Why did I sell it? In the USA this car had ABS as standard, in the UK very few E30s had this and certainly no 318iS models. The car was a real handful in the snow and I really wanted ABS, a limited slip differential would have been nice too. I was also a bit impetuous in those days and overly eager for some new wheels. This was a car that really rewarded a keen driver and was great fun. I hope to own one again some day, an E30 325iS would do as well though. Shame the E30 M3 never came in right hand drive form.
My third and current BMW is an E36 318iS Coupe in diamond black. This is a lot quieter than the E30 and surprisingly can corner faster than the more stiffly sprung E30 due to its "Z" axle multi-link rear suspension.
It isn't as much fun as its predecessor, mainly due to its poorer power to weight ratio, but it is easier to live with. I like the attention to detail. BMW could have been a bit more radical in the styling though and I think it is too "round" compared to the earlier E30. Alas the new E46 3 series looks to be continuing this trend.
The other big failing is that it is underpowered. My older E30 318iS had the same engine but was a lot lighter. Installing a K&N airbox has helped power a lot though. When you go from an E36 to an E30 you'll immediately realise how much smaller the E30 is. I'm afraid BMWs seem to be getting a little bloated these days.
Incidentally the ugly guy driving it in the photo is me having fun at Knockhill race track!
I really do think that older less rounded BMWs are a lot better looking. With this in mind I have become the proud owner of perhaps one of the most classic BMWs ever! My E24 635CSi looks stunning and I love it to bits. I am a member of the Big Coupe Groupe and have done lots of work on the car, I've really bonded with it.
My car has 148,000 miles but drives like a car with a fraction of that amount. It really is difficult to believe that this is a fourteen year old car. This is more of a long distance tourer than my E36 but is still happy on twisty roads. Late model manual cars are very difficult to find which is why mine is a switchable sports automatic. I'm pleasantly surprised by the auto, it really suits the huge amount of low end torque this car has. So far I'm getting about 24mpg (imperial) with enthusiastic driving, better than I'd hoped for. I average 17mpg in town and just over 30mpg on long trips.
The car used rare TRX metric diameter wheels and tyres. TRX uses a special design of tyre carcass and is still used as a benchmark for new tyre designs today, alas it is the Betamax of the tyre industry and never caught on. This means the tyres cost about 170 GBP but they offer good amounts of dry traction. I fitted some used 15" cross spoke alloys and lower profile tyres recently, these improved the cornering greatly without affecting ride quality.
The only dislike so far is that the steering wheel is too large. As a point of note many people believe the spiritual successor to the M6 version of this car is the current M3, I can see why. One last thing, after driving this it's amazing how light all the pedals in my E36 feel!
1987 E28 525e
My poor 635CSi was wounded in action when a "blind" woman pulled out in front of it. She was half asleep and only 100 yards from her house! The Six hit at about 20mph. The nose cone, fenders, radiator and bumper were all damaged. The insurance company wanted to write off the car as repair from the BMW dealer with new parts would be 5000 GBP! That was not going to happen! I bought the car back and got 2/3 of the value to repair it, easy with cheaper labour and some used parts (new bumper is 1500 quid, used is 300). I was going to replace the rusting fenders and scuffed bumper rubbers in the spring anyway.
But while my poor Six was off the road I was without transport as my girlfriend uses my 318iS. I needed a cheap BMW for a few months. I searched on Autotrader for a used car around Newcastle where prices are much cheaper than Aberdeen. It didn't take long to find my E28 525e (same engine as US 528e).
The car was the last year of euro production and was the Lux model with velour interior, rear head restraints and cross spoke alloys. It was in 9/10 condition despite its 156K miles. The tacho was dead but replacing the SI batteries soon fixed that. I also replaced the cracked looking coolant hoses and replaced the BMW Roundel badges which had seen better days. The car only cost 650 GBP ($1K), who says BMWs are expensive. This thing was a complete steal, it even had three months tax and MoT left.
It runs great. Wonderful around town and on long distance roads, more comfortable than my Six in fact, the Six has very hard suspension. But it's no match for the Six on country roads. The suspension is much too soft and the auto box changes up too early, it's doesn't have the optional E/H sports auto. It's faster than you'd think too, a friend with an E30 320iA prefers my eta. The fuel economy is pretty good for a 2.7, I managed 28mpg over a hilly country route where my Six gets 23 or 24 Imperial mpg. I recorded over 30mpg comfortably on longer runs.
1989 E30 318i Touring
I had the chance to buy an E30 touring for a good price, couldn't help myself. Always liked the way the rear end doesn't look like an afterthought, great design.
I fitted a new camshaft as the original died at 165,000 miles. I also refurbished the brakes and a few suspension bushings. Great car although the suspension is a wee bit soft, still a good drive though. The touring is 90kg heavier than the saloon but even the 115bhp 1.8 isn't a slow car.
The load space is very handy although the rear lights get in the way
when loading big objects. It's a very classy little car and is very cheap
to run. I sold it a year after I bought the 318iS below, couldn't keep
1990 E30 318iS
The bargain of the decade! As you can see above I used to have a '91 318iS. I've always regretted selling it and I missed it terribly. If you've never driven one you need to. It's only 1125kg and the 16 valve engine really makes it fly, a poor man's M3.
I was reading the local paper and saw an advert for it and couldn't believe the price. It was identical to my old car except for 15" cross spokes, I used to have 14". The car had 122,000 miles but a thick folder with all the receipts since new! It even had the remote factory alarm and driver's seat fire extinguisher. It drove like new and all the old memories came flooding back, I had to have it. I only paid 1000 GBP (under $1500). The down side is I now own four BMWs.
The paint was slightly oxidised but a weekend of happy Zymolling soon fixed that. I also replaced the BMW wheel centres and the thermostat which was sticking open slightly. I'm in love again :-)
1990 E34 Alpina B10 3.5
The Alpina is the manual version and benefits from the rare option of traction control, meaning it has a fly-by-wire EML electronic throttle (which also does away with the idle control valve!). The M30 makes 265bhp in Alpina form, a gain of 47. It's very free revving and seriously quick. I makes more torque than an E34 //M5.
Handling and braking are superb. It also has black "buffalo" leather and all the usual Alpina trimmings. The depth of engineering in this car is excellent, even the fog lamps have washer jets! Oddly it doesn't have air con, unusual for such an otherwise highly specced car.
All UK B10s were based on 535i Sports and converted to Alpina specification by Synters. Owners could pick and choose which bits they wanted. Ours doesn't have an Alpina airdam, this is quite common on UK cars. It also lacks Alpina side stripes although I have a set and must get around to fitting them.
1987 E28 525e
I bought the eta back from the guy I sold her to many years ago. He was going on a long holiday to the US and didn't want to see her neglected.
I gave her a good going over with the power polisher, new rear bumper and a few other bits until she looked stunning. I also fitted 16" cross spokes with 205/55/16 front and 225/50/16 rear. This was the same combination used by Alpina and AC Schnitzer, it transformed the handling. Although still a soft car it certainly went where it was pointed! Replacing the rear pitman arms was a simple and cheap job which greatly improved the handling.
I also put in a BMW RDS stereo from an E36. It looked totally stock and worked really nicely. I chopped off the end of the wiring harness from a dead E36 with the stereo plug and wired that in, easy job.
I kept her for a year then sold her to get my E38. She'll be missed. I'd love an E28 //M535i one day.
1994 E38 730i V8
The big 7 is a total joy to drive. I've always thought the E38 was the best looking seven. Then I started noticing how little early versions were going for, I just had to have one for my "main road" car. The E30 serves on as the twisty road car. So in autumn 2005 I sold my E28 and bought the 730i. The 3.0 V8 has more than enough power, yet can return over 30mpg on a run. Even in twisty B roads I get almost 25.
I love the way the six stack CD and cruise control are integrated into the car. All the electrincs work together harmoniously. This is a very well developed package of goodies and everything just feels right. Since the pic was taken I've fitted the new style tail lights to bring it up to date a bit.
Currently she's on stock 215/65/16 tyres. She handles surprisingly well for such a big car but I'd like to move to either 235/60/16s or 235/55/17s at some point. I just can't say enough good things about this car. The cream leather interior is gorgeous, it's just a very nice place to be. And all for much less than a similar five series!
Since the pic was taken I've fitted 17" AC Schnitzer alloys with 235/55/17 Bridgestone Potenzas. This gave a massive handling upgrade compared to the stock 215/65/16s.
1990 E30 318iS
Another 318iS! Guess I'm hooked. This one had only 90k miles at purchase and had won two concourse events. She was totally perfect and rust free, even underneath. I got her from Somerset so she's never seen salt. I don't think I can drive her in the winter with a clear conscience.
Identical to my old 318iS (now with almost 200k) except for a manual sunroof. She's about six month newer and is the H reg car in the photo. I've yet to remove the fake //M badge, but I'll get round to it.
It's just like driving a new car!
1995 E36 328i touring
About the only problem with my latest E30 318iS is that it's so perfect I can't bring myself to drive it on salty winter roads. It's predecessor spent five months a year on snow tyres!
So I needed a winter chariot, but one that would handle well on wee twisty country roads. Yet again I went to the south of england to find a rust free example and was rewarded with a bargain! A 1995 e36 328i touring for a mere 1200 pounds with 115k miles. She's a manual with black cloth interior, I've gone off leather as it's too hot in summer and too cold in winter.
She had 15" alloys when I bought her. I upgraded to 16" E46 alloys (100 quid from ebay) in a style that'll be easy to remove winter grime from. I'll run 205/55/16 snow tyres.
She was way too soft on the worn out stock suspension. I'd intended to get factory //M-Tech springs and Bilstein shocks, but thanks to some incredibly good luck I found new AC Schnitzer shocks (rebadged Bilsteins) and springs on ebay at half the new price! I fitted them myself and was rewarded with a ride quality that can only be described as stunning. Not too harsh on main roads yet stiff and very communicative in the twisties. This has transformed the car and I love driving her as a result.
Most tourings had roof rails, mine doesn't and I think she looks better without them. She has the full OBC computer, headlight washers and cruise control. The cruise is a superb option, on the 500+ mile run home she averaged an incredible 40mpg!! Yet the 2.8 engine has loads of power throughout the rev range, this is a very fast car indeed.
In time I'd like to fit an M50 intake manifold,. The M52 was stangled at birth to give a mere 193bhp, the manifold flows 60-70% of the older one. A new manifold and rechip can yield 220-230bhp with ease. Mostof the gain is above 4000 rpm.
One other comment, she's a lot better put together than my '93 E36 318iS. The interior is far better made, even the seat fabric is more durable.
1985 E28 M535i
My wife's first BMW! A lovely E28 M535i with dog-leg gearbox.
The M535i was quite different from the M5. It had the M30 12 valve engine, sports suspension and interior, body pack, but the same brakes as a normal E28. I have E34 brakes for it, quick and easy upgrade so I must get around to fitting them!
Most UK M5's had the same body pack as the M535i, but technically it was an option and standard M5s had normal E28 chrome bumpers.
Personally I prefer the M535i to the M5. Below 100mph it's not much slower. It handles just as well and larger brakes are cheap and easy to fit. Not only is it cheaper than an M5 to buy and run, but the M30 engine is much easier to look after.
My wife's car rides on E38 16" cross spokes, originally these cars were sold with the dreaded 415mm TRX tyres! 16s with 225/50/16s are a good improvement.
I love the handling of this car, it's a real joy to drive when I can prise the keys away from the wife. Currently it could do with new gear lever bushings, another fun wee project ;-)
1990 E34 535i Sport
This was bought to let my wife's 28 stay dry on wet days.
We wanted a manual car with cloth interior and had to go all the way to Ireland to find one! But our trip was not in vain, I've driven quite a few E34s and this is by far the nicest and tightest I've seen. The steering and gear linkage feel like they're from a new car. She does everything right and is a perfect drive.
Didn't think much of the five spoke cheapo wheels though. They've since been replaced by the same 16" cross spokes we used on the e28 and the car looks much better.
The Sport had stiffer suspension, subtle sports body kit and nicer front seats than a regular E34. The suspension is a real treat and reminds you just what superb cars BMW make, despite beaing nearly 20 years old! I'm always stunned by just how good the brakes on E34s are.
She's call Pixie by the way (her Irish number plate begines PXI)........
1996 E36 328i Sport Touring
I managed to put my '95 328i touring off the road in a blizzard. Not badly damamged except that I drove over a metal post and ripped the underside. It was going to cost 850 to fix and get a new MoT. So I parted her out and bought my '96 for a mere 1000.00!
She's mint. Not a mark on her. I feel really guilty using her as a winter car and am paranoid about parking her in car parks (not an ideal scenario for the winter beater). Full history, low miles, //M-Tech body pack and suspension, engine so clean you could eat your dinner of it, aircon, limited slip diff and loads of other toys. Somone ticked all the options boxes when they ordered this one.
The sports suspension is a bit softer than the AC Schnitzer stuff I had on the older car. But not enough to motivate me to replace it.
She looks dark blue but it's actually called madeira violet and I quite like the colour (when she's clean, sob, sob). The body pack is unusual. Unlike the later //M-Tech pack this has the rear splitter built into the bumper and colour coded. The front bumper is a bit more subltle than the later version and slightly shallower, but still has the centre mesh panel. I think it looks much nicer than the later type, especially the rear bumper. She has the same //M-Tech skirts and side rubbers as the later type.
Only thing she lacks is cruise control so I'm moving that over from the old car. The wiring harness is a real pain to extract. She was quickly introduced to my snow tyres and 100W main beams so is now ready for anything a Highland winter can throw at her. The limited slip diff has already been tested in anger on the ice.
2001 E46 325Ci SE Coupe
Just before the end of 2012 I bought this coupe for a price that even by my standards was a huge bargain. She spent most of her life in the south of England and I suspect was garaged, even underneath she's like a new car. The paint came up like new after a mild mopping. She came with a dealer service history and just over 100k miles. I love the colour, a deep red just like my E30. So many E46s are bland silvers or greys, not this one!
Only job so far has been to fit poly bushings on the lower control arms, not hard and under 40 quid. BMW put overly soft bushings on the E46 and they always die young. E36 was fine so this was a step backwards in quality.
I really wanted a 330Ci but this was such a bargain I couldn't refuse. Only thing I don't like is the woefully over assisted steering BMW fitted for about 18 months, mine has it and I may end up changing the steering rack to get rid of it.
She was meant to be the new winter car in case my ageing 328i failed it's MoT, but it passed and the 325Ci is too nice to use when the salt's about. So for now I'm running it in the summer (plus the E30 for rare sunny days) and the 328i in the winter. Long term I may change her for a 330Ci Club Sport but it'll have to be one in the same colour and condition so I'm not holding my breath. You have to use the revs and gears a bit more on the 325 and I like that. Time will tell, yet again I have too many BMWs.....
(NB: no Roundel in the pic, nice new one on order!)
2002 E46 325i Sport Touring
I decided the 325Ci was in such good condition that it would be a shame to use it on my tortuous and salt ridden commute over the mountains, so it's up for sale. I also decided that whilst I liked the idea of having a coupe again I really wanted an estate, BMW estates are addictive - you get used to the space. So with that in mind I won an auction for a late 2002 325i Sport touring at a very good price.
The auction said the key fob was missing, turned out it just needed to be resynced with the computer which took about five seconds. Also needs a new thermostat as it's sticking open a little. Car came with six month old very nice 18" alloys but they'd last no time up here so I put some 16s on. I was surprised the 18s didn't compromise the handling more though.
The Sport handles a good bit better than the SE and has a much better weighted steering rack, still not as good as the E36 though. The Sport shocks and springs seems about right, a little soft but not badly so. M3 anti-roll bars won't fit so I'll have to keeps my eyes open for an Alpina set as these would sort the handling out nicely.
One thing I do like is the engine. The M54B25 makes the same BHP as the M52B28 but less torque, however it seems the change in final drive ratio makes up for this. The engine revs wonderfully and I can only imagine the flywheel must be lighter than the M52's. Looking forward to putting a few miles on it.