E36's, a modern classic?

bmw-m3-storia_02.jpg

Ermmm, so despite essentially being an E24/E28 specialist, Bahnstormers HQ is about to be inundated with E36’s with a whole week in April entirely consumed by them. “E36’s,” I hear you say, “I’ve got pairs of pants older than that!” Well perhaps you ought to think about replenishing your underpant collection a little more often, as the E36 3 series was launched in 1991 and even the youngest models are now 19 years old. 

Nostalgia

Soper-1994-BTCC.jpg

Three words… Super Touring Car! Without doubt the most exciting era of the British Touring Car Championship was the 90’s! Frenetic driving, fast development fueled by the backing of the manufacturers, huge rivalry and Volvo, racing estate cars??? History will record that the E36 was in with a tough crowd: the Alfa 155, Volvo 850T5R, and Audi A4 Quattro. In retrospect, all three are fantastic cars, which signaled the interesting changes in the car market and brand perception that began to occur at the time. They also represented large leaps forward in design, safety and refinement beginning to close the gap between the traditional brands associated with quality and refinement and the manufacturers of more economical and utilitarian vehicles. 

 BMW had a very definite mandate for the E36. It represented a move towards a much more modern way of doing things. No longer the 3 box saloon car design but an aerodynamic ‘dolphin’ shaped design with Z link rear axle setup which would prove to be a successful recipe for most of the BMW range that followed it until the Bangle years. Some would argue that the E36 was the first grown up 3 series and critics at the time said that the E36 had lost some of the fun associated with the E30 and E21 that came before it. This may be true, but the E36 was part of a brave new world that had begun to focus on fuel consumption and emissions as well as safety and customer satisfaction surveys. It was a strategic attempt to attract customers away from the Mercedes’ C-class, and stave off the emerging challenge from Audi’s A4. 

The E36 was also built during a new social era when, for the first time, finance and credit were being used by the masses to purchase new cars. This new financial accessibility meant that more aspiring customers than ever could own a BMW, and consequently the E36 sold by the bucket load and was the first BMW to become a common sight on the driveways and car parks of my youth. 

 

The Present 

The tide is turning for E36’s, no longer in the absolute doldrums as they have been along with E34’s for far too long, and beginning to stand out as an interesting and more unusual profile against the bulbous silhouette of modern traffic. I have found myself on more than one occasion rating early coupes with the bottle top alloy wheels particularly highly. Prices are finally beginning to creep up to. When I started university, I remember having a conversation with a lad on one of my first days there about the value of E36 M3’s. At the time you could pick them up for £3500 – 5k, and I said that by the time we would have finished our degrees, they would have doubled in value, and guess what, I was right! But that’s an M3 right, the rest of the range is still cheap as chips and you can buy one on every street corner??? Well at least that’s what I thought. 

IMG_2017.jpg

We recently had a request to see if we’d be interested in doing some welding and mechanical work on a 1992 E36 318i saloon owned by a gentleman, who had decided to take our local main dealer up on a free health check of his car and then probably wished he hadn’t. Unsurprisingly, the list of things that the technician filming the complimentary video highlighted was quite significant. What really got my attention was the mileage, 294,000 miles. This I had to see. Now, I am an advocate of high mileage cars that have been looked after and of course BMW are legendary for their ability to travel huge mileages but lets focus for minute, that’s 294,000 miles on a four cylinder M40 engine. It is certainly the highest mileage I’ve heard of on an M40, and bearing in mind that the Americans did not have the 4 cylinder engine, could this be the highest mileage E36 318i on the road? 

 

As it turns out, the owner had bought the car brand new in Germany in 1992. As a member of the armed forces he was entitled to tax relief and so purchased the car directly from the factory for £12,000. He has subsequently used it as daily transport for 27 years commuting up and down the M4 and proudly achieving starship mileage with by the sounds of it almost zero drama: no major engine work, and running almost entirely on original major components, quite an effort for one man. 

 On seeing the car in the flesh, it was obvious almost immediately that the work required to sustain this E36 was going to far outstrip the value of the car. The owner and I had been in conversation about doing some work on his E36 over the summer for some time beforehand, exchanging emails on a semi regular basis. The summer overhaul we had been concocting had been brought into sharp focus, when, while his local garage had been tasked with changing a rear wheel bearing, they found what can only be described as a massive hole in the structural area above the rear axle carrier. They then told him that the car he’d driven over 100 miles the day before was unsafe to drive, and by all accounts they weren’t too keen on repairing what they had found. 

 I took our fabricator with me to view the car and a brief assessment revealed a gloomy forecast: the sills were bad, the floors were bad, the front wings were bad, the rear wheel arches were bad and that was just for starters. A week or so later we had it in the workshop and Pete was able to reveal the true size of the project. It was an impossible phone call to make, in which I had to tell the owner that the bill would most likely amount to roughly ten times the value of his beloved stalwart E36. I went with, “You should probably come down and have a look for yourself.” 

 I love the story of one man owning something from new and having driven it that far and wanting to continue to do so, but I really wasn’t convinced that he would want to go for it despite his enthusiasm and sense of humour about the whole thing. When he said he needed to discuss it with his wife, I did not think there was a lot of hope for the plucky 36. As it turned out, he simply had to agree a budget for the bathroom she would get in exchange as a sort of hush money deal, and to my very great but happy surprise, we now find ourselves embarking on the most comprehensive restoration of an E36 we have done to date. 

 It’s a remarkable story, the progress of which I will keep updated here in detail. I am determined to help keep the price down and the budget under control as much as possible. It is a restoration that has captured the interest of the whole team, and I am sure that we will have a lot of fun with it, which I will share both here and on our Instagram page which is classic_bahnstormers where we post daily pictures and videos of what we are working on.

Emotional rescue

The Ska Barge improvement program.

UEDD2138.JPG

My good friend Tom Bromley wrote a piece for his blog, Tom Bromely talks cars, about emotion as a driving factor in the purchase of a vehicle. Tom’s articles are definitely well worth a read, but on this occasion for the first time, I was left in total disagreement, as he suggested that emotion would be the primary reason for buying a Mercedes G Class. I’m a fan of the Gelandewagen. It’s an aspiration of mine to hook up an Airstream to one and drop off the grid and see how far east I can get. I know the AMG tuned G Class has become quite a status symbol in recent years and Tom’s description of it as a ‘tremendously ostentatious, militant middle finger to the conservative and practical’ is not without merit. Like the land cruiser VX, the G wagon’s reputation is built on simple, durable, engineering. If I were to break a coil spring in downtown Kotor, Montenegro, I would stand a much better chance of having the local garage being able to repair my G Class than if I’d rocked up in a Range Rover Vogue. 

 

I felt Tom had really missed a trick in choosing the G Class as a vehicle to tackle this topic. I simply felt that what he had discussed was the pursuit of status. I told Tom this and he said the idea was to compare the AMG G wagon’s trend bucking swagger to that of Donald Trump’s frightening success in the American elections, showing how emotion can override logic. After a constructive debate I still couldn’t buy it and it got me thinking about my own emotional attachment to vehicles, so what follows is a very personal account of an emotional automotive purchase, my 1985 732i, which I affectionately refer to as the Ska Barge. 

 

In 2012 I attended the Retro Rides gathering with my good friend Matt. Retro Rides is such a fantastic show for me because of the diversity of largely forgotten and unusual retro vehicles. Where else would you see a tobacco green Cavalier SRI parked next to a Fiat Strada. The car that first grabbed my attention was a gold BMW E23 730i, and as we walked along discussing this amazing retro exotica I began to tell Matt that as a child I’d admired a two tone black and silver E23, that belonged to the village doctor. As a child I thought it was amazing and that I wanted to buy it one day. Matt responded by saying, “Like that one over there?!” And there it was, bold as brass, the very car I’d walked past on my way to school everyday, bruised, battered but, most importantly, for sale. 

 

Standing in the morning sun majestically like a crumbling stately home, I couldn’t believe it was the same car. I rang a friend who lived locally and who I was sure would remember the registration. He recalled it being an S reg and this was wearing a B prefix. I ran my eye over the car and the passage of time had not been kind. The panel above the lights had rusty holes in it and  somebody had obviously tried to break into it by levering a crow bar between the two doors on the passenger side. There was lacquer peel all over the bonnet, the body was covered in deep scratches and the interior was ruined! There it was though, and it had to be the same car. As Matt pottered up behind me, I looked down to see etched into the glass the private registration and remembered it immediately. The whole car was badly damaged tired and rusty but I couldn’t walk away. 

After I had been stood by the car for about 10 minutes a bright, jolly character wearing hideous sunglasses appeared. Tim introduced himself and explained he’d bought the car from the Swindon area to break it for spares because it had a rare E28 M5 gearbox and flywheel. “Hang on a minute,” I thought, I glanced through the window whilst desperately trying to seem unimpressed and noticed the car was indeed a manual. In all the years I’d walk past it as a child I’d been unaware that it was a rare factory manual car. Tim had researched the car pretty well and discovered the car had been ordered in Polaris Sliver and then the Diamond Schwartz had been added at the dealer in Inverness where it had originated. Tim had bought the car from a guy local to me who had saved it from the back of a scrap lorry. The story went that the doctor had become ill, the car had ended up being parked in the pub car park opposite his house. The pub closed, concrete bollards where put in place to stop entry and the poor 7 series had remained trapped in their for years. Most of the damage had been caused through vandalism but in an odd sort of way being trapped in there had probably also saved it from being scrapped much earlier until the land was sold for development. 

 Tim was well aware of its value as parts, and knew that the car was worth a lot more in bits than the £1100 he had advertised it for, but he admitted that the charm and character of such a striking motorcar had worked its magic on him. He said it just gets looks everywhere you go, people love it. A phrase my cousin had once said to me after a particularly lavish day out in London sprang to mind, “Just a couple of gangsters doing some gangster shit”. I took his number and agonised over it for the rest of the day, three days later I called. My ears were met by the sound of loud music and Tim screaming down the phone that he was at a festival, and that he’d call me back in a couple of days, he never did. 

More Gangster! 

 Rob slid out from under an E34 535i SE, to confirm my fears that the exhaust manifold was indeed cracked. Where the hell am I going to get one of those? Try Tim, I tried everyone else first but later that day I found myself dialling Tim’s number, he recognised me immediately and the first thing he said was why didn’t you ever call me about the E23? I was taken aback, I did, I exclaimed, you never called me back. He was adamant that he had and recited the number he’d been calling, it wasn’t my number. 

 It took me another month to find a reason to buy the car, thankfully my then daily did its crank seal and started leaking oil all over the clutch making it almost impossible to drive. I immediately decided the most sensible cost effective alternative to my stricken daily which ran on LPG was to buy a battered unknown 7 series which did not run on LPG. Christmas was coming and it seemed the ideal car for winter. 

I grabbed my long suffering road trip buddy to drive me up to Northampton and parted with £950 for my very own crumbling stately home. Tim warned me the fuel gauge lied, the ABS didn’t work and the heater was terrible, he wasn’t wrong. It turned out that even though he was knee high in M30 spares he’d never bothered to change the failed thermostat. I drove home feeling like the lord of the manor with a smile running from ear to ear. Less than a week later the failed thermostat theory was proven on the way to see Rancid perform in Bristol on a freezing cold evening in December, after having frozen all the way down we hit some traffic and as the needle rose the car got very warm indeed and had to pull over on the M32, windows down, sunroof open heater running full tilt so we could cool the engine down, we certainly got a lot of looks both admiring and confused. 

 A new thermostat was not the only thing on order by the end of the first week. I had been watching a bright red leather interior on eBay, which had been inaccurately advertised as being for an E24, it was in fact a cardinal red leather electric interior for an E23. Two tone… red leather… none more gangster I hear you say! The only problem was, the breaker with the interior had long since scrapped the car it came out of, this left me with my original green carpet and green plastic’s and a bright red leather interior giving a horrendous overall effect. This particular breaker also yielded a good nose panel and a rear blind. Despite the nose panel being black it turned out to be the wrong black so I had the bonnet and the nose panel re-sprayed. 

e23 seats.jpg

Shortly after realising I was going to have to get a black interior from somewhere to deal with my ‘gnomes underpants’ interior, I remembered seeing a wreck of an E23 735i Highline for sale on the Retro Rides forum with an immaculate cherry leather interior with nearly all the optional extras one could wish for and the all important black carpets and plastics. I scrolled back through months worth of posts until I found it and sent the author a message, he said I was just in time, he was planning to scrap it that week. The problem came when he said it had to be gone by the end of the week. It was his grandfather’s car, which had been sitting in the yard of the family business, and the business was sold and they were clearing the place. At the time I was doing an access to higher education course at college, aged 26, so I could put myself through university. I was coming up to the final exams but the guy was insistent that it went by the end of the week and either I took it or it went to scrap. It was a no brainer…

Just in case you find yourself dead in Newton Abbot 

 So the guy had been a little cagey about what the family business was, and it was a funeral parlour. I went halves on what became known as the Devon 7 with my long suffering road trip buddy Paul, who’d had an E23 back in the day. The Ska Barge had rekindled his interest and he’d ended up buying an equally kronky 728i sport. The Devon 7 offered us both loads of bits we needed as both this car and Pauls where Diamond Schwartz. Another majestic wreck, this poor old 735 had once been the car the funeral director had used to visit clients. His grandson with whom I was dealing recalled being collected from school in it by his now infirm grandmother. Unfortunately despite being complete and in very good condition in a lot of respects, it had been parked on badly draining gravel and you could literally reach up inside the wheel arches and pull great chunks of rotten bodywork away, sealing its fate forever as a parts car. Despite not being started or moved in 3 or 4 years with a fresh battery we fired it up and drove it onto the trailer. 

 The Man from Eastbourne. 

 I don’t actually remember how I got in contact with Phil but initially he was my go to guy for all things E23. Phil had a bit of an obsession with 23’s. I think at the time he had 4 at home and 2 or 3 more squirreled away. He wasn’t mechanically minded or so he said, but he had had most jobs done and was very knowledgeable, he also had tons of spares. Three out of the 4 doors on the Ska Barge were trashed. The passenger doors were damaged as mentioned above and the rear driver’s door had rusted out at the bottom. Amazingly it transpired that within Phil’s stash he had a set of excellent Polaris Silver doors. I jumped into my dad’s estate car and hoofed it down to Eastbourne one weekend to acquire these much-needed parts. E23’s are the great forgotten of BMW’s 80’s range. They sold far fewer E23’s than E28’s and as with all 7 series cars they tend to be come obscure and less valuable more quickly than the 5’s or 3’s. They also become cheap engine donors when the cars reached the doldrums of their value and are the last to catch on when the values start to rise. Controversially I actually prefer them to E28’s and unsurprisingly I suppose being the flagship of the range they are better built and are much more car for the money. Their relative obscurity and at that point lack of value meant I was very lucky indeed to find such good doors in the right base colour. 

In 2014, sadly just before the Ska Barge got its makeover of new doors and corresponding paint, I had the great honour and compliment of being asked by some dear friends if they could use the Ska Barge as their wedding car. Now, make no mistake, this is like cat nip to a petrol head. You actually said, “Steve we’d love to use your 7 as our wedding car because it’s so odd and quirky.” I heard, “It would make our day and probably be the most exciting and important thing that happens all day if you would be willing to let us use your insanely cool and quite possibly the greatest car in history as our wedding car so we could play some small part in the story of this wonderful machine, oh and if you could talk about it incessantly the whole time we are in it as well, that would be awesome!” I graciously accepted. On the day, the bride was radiant, the groom handsome and the car, well just look at it!!!

IMG_E1496.JPG

The Ska Barge did however get its revamp in time to once again steal the show. Fast-forward about 3 years and after a period of being laid up whilst I was at university, my newly acquired stepdaughter asked if she and her boyfriend might be able to use it as a prom car. This was music to my ears, finally an excuse to exhume it from storage, do a little work (welding) that was somewhat overdue and once again be able to stalk the roads in this awesome machine. 



After replacing a brake calliper and fulfilling my prom contract I drove straight to my father’s house just south of Salisbury for the weekend. The return journey was akin to what dreams are made of… comparatively empty fast A roads with plenty of overtaking opportunities to really benefit from the torque the 3.2 M30 engine delivers. It was a rapturous journey home where I don’t mind saying I was spanking it all the way to the M30 in G major, that was until I turned into our street yards from the house and the timing chain tensioner let go! Luckily the chain didn’t jump and other than a hideous clattering sound causing me to shut the engine down immediately, no serious damage was sustained. The reality, sadly, was that I was a broke university student who had already spent well beyond my means to get the car back on the road for the prom. It therefore had to go back into storage once again, after being taxed for less than 72 hours. 

Photo 17-05-2016, 16 32 08.jpg

Finally in 2018 as a present to myself and after issues with brake callipers I managed to once again return the car to the road. My girlfriend and I have both built up our own businesses since 2015 and in that time we have found the sanctuary and generally poor network coverage one experiences when camping, to have been of immense help in maintaining a good equilibrium. Anyone who has built a business will understand what I mean. We both however, like to sleep well and be warm, so our caravan suits us to a tee… What had always frustrated me however, about these wonderful trips, was that exploring the lovely British countryside, pub lunches, nice walks, trips to the coast, fancy restaurants etc were all done in my Jeep, which spent most of its life lugging the car transporter around and smelt like gearbox oil. After seeing a Mercedes 123 TE towing an equally 80’s caravan on a campsite in Abersoch, North Wales, I decided there and then that the thing to do was get a tow bar fitted to the Ska Barge ensuring that holidays would be more gangster from now on. 

Photo 21-06-2018, 17 11 07.jpg

So my ownership of the Ska Barge started out with a romantic childhood notion and rose tinted view of what in reality was a rusty, beaten down, uneconomical and poorly maintained relic. In all honesty I used to leave it unlocked in the collage car park and ran ridiculously large wheels that de-geared the car making it terribly slow. Despite its panels and paint upgrade I have never really tried to make it perfect although it is now far more presentable than it was and that is because I love to use it. The joy I experience from driving it and the fact that I see it as an extension of my alter ego just makes me feel like a boss every time I get in it. It turns heads and generates conversation and I love it. In 2017 I turned down an offer of £10,000 for it. I did have to think about it and if I had really needed the money it may have been another story but ultimately how would I replace it? What could I ever own again that is quite so perfectly me? A good friend of mine once said to me, if you don’t turn back and look at your car in the car park then you’ve bought the wrong car. I normally find reasons to go back and look several times. On the day I went to collect it, I was up ready and sat waiting on the sofa coat and shoes on for Paul to arrive, he still tells the story with amazement that for once I was not only ready, but I was waiting and that is the sort of excitement you just don’t get from a G-Class.

First fame!

Picked up a voicemail message a couple of weeks ago and was pleasently surprised to hear the voice of Paul Wager, Editor of Classic car buyer and formally a writer for Total BMW. Paul was asking if he could come down and review one of our cars for the tried and tested feature of the Easter special of classic car buyer. 

I met Paul in the picturesque village of Rendcomb in our lovely 525e super eta. Paul as it turns out, is a devout E28 fan (which I didn't know until I got there so was quite pleased with the car I'd chosen to take down), we had some great conversations about some of his old E28's and he seemed to genuinely enjoy being behind the wheel of our super eta. Here is a scan of the article he wrote and published despite being at pains to say that the article would be about the car not Classic Bahnstormers, It was therefore faltering to see he'd been very complimentary after all. 

CCarticle.JPG

FLO, A small world

A short tale about how small the world is. 

FLO 7 bridge .jpg

Without doubt these cars do something to people in a way that modern cars simply don't do. People get attached to them, worry about them and seek out appropriate custodians when they realise they are no longer capable/able to give these cars what they need. Many find other enthusiasts and form networks with other like minded folk. Its only once you do this, you begin to realise how small the world really is. 

I got a phone call from a youngish guy interested to buy the first car we'd built with the intention to turn a profit. Unfortunately for him we had already sold it but I mentioned we had another two cars in the pipe line. He was enthused and asked me for details and to let him know when they were ready. Several months later I dutifully did so but it transpired he'd already found a car, never mind I thought. 

A few weeks later I got an email from this guy again. It turned out that after he'd bought his 520i auto the gearbox had failed and he suspected the head gasket was also on its way. The email contained a brief overview of him and some friends deciding the best course of action was to pull the original M20b20 engine and automatic gearbox and replace it with a M30b35. It quickly transpired he was out of his depth and decided to ship the car down to his local classic car specialist. What happened next is a fairly familiar tail.

The project was started Gun-ho and the rear axle was also stripped off. The reason for this was to fit an M30 rear axle complete with limited slip differential to deal with the extra power the M30b35 would produce. Whilst it was out it was deemed sensible to tackle some areas of the inner sills and axle mounts which had seen better days so some nice welding was performed to tidy up these areas, result ££££ spent! Next an engine, gearbox, prop shaft, wiring loom, ECU's, rear axle and limited slip differential where found and shipped down from Scotland to Surry, result ££££ spent! Once the welding had been completed the new rear axle was installed and the engine and gearbox where fitted in situ but sadly thats about as far as the story goes. The mounting bills for parts and labour had crippled the poor guy and all told he had way more in the car than it would ever be worth and it was still far from running. I doubt it helped that he'd bought an M30b35 engine for the conversion as it would have made the project much harder than fitting the M30b34 which 535's where fitted with from factory (The b35 was fitted to E34's and E32's as well as Highline spec E24's and has different coolant plumbing) 

The email ended with him wondering if I'd be interested in doing a part exchange for his unfinished project on one of our completed cars. He'd spent a fortune on his but as he was starting a new business he just needed one that could be driven as his mum was fed up of him borrowing her car. The call was made, a deal was done and I set off to Surry with my girlfriends 525e which she'd decided to part with and we had reached a viable part exchange deal on. Clearly a smart guy he released he would never get back the full amount he ploughed into the car or even anywhere near it. At the time it may have made £800 or so on eBay but knowing the source of both the engine, gearbox and rear end to be reputable I gave him £1500 against my girlfriends 525e. 

I arrived at a certain well known purveyor of to die for classic cars in Surry and was led to their grave yard of unfinished projects where FLO was sitting with her own internals strewn throughout the interior and boot. 

Here are some picture from the day of collection. 

So, home FLO came and I'm sad to say that for the first 6 months to a year she didn't get much attention from us either. During this time we acquired some new premisses for storage so FLO did get moved inside pretty quickly but their she laid and collected a lot of dust. 

Some time during October 2016 a guy I know locally told me of a car down in Southampton which was for sale and might be a good source of parts. Its engine had been removed years earlier and it had sat in barn for some time before being liberated by its new owner who wanted to restore it. On closer inspection the new owner had got cold feet and decided it was to bigger project. It sounded pretty bad on the phone and unfortunately some cars really are just to far gone for them to be viable restorations and therefore serve as donors to keep others on the road. It is not often we dismantle cars at Classic Bahnstormers but when we do, we try and save and recycle literally everything. 

This particular car had been deposited in a front garden straight off the back of a lorry with a hydraulic bed. The first pictures shows it exactly as I found it behind a huge mound of soil with flat tyres. As the owner and I pulled the car from its resting place we got to talking. He pointed across the road at a driveway and said, "For years there was an old chap over there with an E28, a 520 under a tarp, Just sitting there. He'd start it up every now and then but it never left the drive. Eventually I persuaded him to sell it to me and I got it back on the road". AT this point his girlfriend emerged and said "are you talking about FLO, I loved that car". By this point FLO had been sitting in my barn since March. I produced a photo and said, "its not this car is it" low and behold it was! It turned out they'd pulled FLO off the old mans drive and got it going again for him. They'd enjoyed cruising around in it and I guess it gave them a nice feeling to have returned it to the road but as he said they already had an old BMW each so they decided to move FLO on. They actually sold the car to a specialist in Wales, whom the chap I bought FLO from had acquired it. It's a small world we laughed. 

Finally in March 2017, a year after first acquiring FLO we decided (after some stick from one of our customers) that we really ought to get on with the project. FLO is an excellent shell, good sills, rear sub frame mounts, inner wings, floors and screen apertures. We had acquired the original rear end, trailing arms, axle carrier and diff when we first collected FLO and we decided to reinstate these along with some new bushes. We don't tend to deal in modified cars at Classic Bahnstormers. We have nothing against them and have done lots of engine conversions and modifications for our customers but these cars are still most desirable in terms of resale, when they are stock so that is what we decided to do with FLO, put her back to her original 2,0 litre automatic format. To get the M30 engine and transmission in, the previous guys had removed the radiator support panel as the M30 radiator uses different mounting points. As you can see above, once we'd removed the M30 engine we had to weld a support panel back in which we cut from another car (seen in red above). 

In the summer of 2016 I acquired another 520i auto which I had originally intended to restore. It came from a really lovely chap who had sadly miscalculated one day and front ended it. He was so embarrassed he'd gone out and bought an exact replica of his own car. He told me with a smile on his face it took weeks for any of his work colleagues (who had ripped him for driving an old banger) to notice the registration of his car had suddenly changed. His original car was tucked up in an old pig shed and forgotten about for 8 years. In this time he collected many of the pieces which where needed to put the car back on the road but unfortunately, by the time we got to it, years of living in a damp and humid tin shed had taken its toll, the chassis was soft and the rot had taken hold around the front windscreen. After resisting the suggestion we could use this as a donor for FLO for nearly a year I eventually caved and it was decided that the low milage (107k) engine and transmission would be used to breath life back into FLO. 

At this point its worth noting that FLO will probably always have a place in the heart of our newest team member pictured above. It represents his first engine removal and reinstallation and a whole host of other firsts under a watchful eye. 

Once the engine was in the project began to gather speed. The donor engine ran surprisingly well considering it had sat unused for so long. We went over it and fitted lots of new parts including, a timing belt and tensioner, thermostat, water pump, sparks plugs, oil pressure sensor, distributor cap and roar arm and a whole host of other odds and sods. The previous owner of the donor car had loads of history and a wod of receipts for the car so it was clear he'd looked after it well. Once the engine and gear box was refitted along with the propshaft from the donor we set to work on reinstalling all the trim and interior which had been removed whilst the engine conversion had been carried out. The original front seats had been switched out for Black leather ones from an E34 (next generation 5 series) but we managed to track down some original seats with matching blue velour fabric to complete the interior. We also replaced a smashed back light, renewed all the fuses and repaired the drivers door lock so it would fire the central locking properly. 

BMW E28 restoration for sale

Outside under its own steam for the first time since 2015 FLO had temperarily lost her 15 inch alloys whilst they went off to be shoed with 4 matching continental tyres. We'd also been through the brakes completely renewing all the fluid and connecting up all the new flexible hoses and brass lines that had been added. The callipers striped and cleaned to make best use of the new discs and pads. 

Unfortunately the test run didn't go so well. A hideous noise could be herd from the drive train on deceleration. I have to take responsibility for this one as it turned out the differential had been drained of oil before we acquired the car and we had not checked it before our maiden test run. The differential from the donor car was quickly installed and FLO hit the road for the second time and wafted effortlessly along in style once again. I was struck by how well the car drove and how tight it all felt. Nice responsive steering and brakes, by no means is the 2,0 litre a fast car but it's smooth and plenty responsive enough. FlO is a wonderful stylish cruiser and a very pleasant place to be. 

The twist is, that the gentleman who sold me the car which became the engine donor, did say at the time that if we restored the car he would be very keen to buy it back. I felt guilty for consigning his car to our parts store so I felt I should let him know what we'd done and give him first refusal on FLO as most of the drive train was now made up of his old car. He took the news pretty well, as I am writing this article I am waiting to here whether or not he does indeed decide to have FLO in place of his old car. 

BMW E28 Royal blue for sale

Sadly for the gent who owned the donor car, it turns out he's not in a position to purchase FLO at present so this means we will shortly be offering the car for sale. 

Find the advert here 

FLO

 

 

E28 M535i resurrection part III Dignity

Part III Dignity 

One cold January day the time had finally arrived to give E800ACD back its dignity. Having finally collected the car from paint, and after completing a small amount of additional welding which we had found in the driver's footwell, I literally couldn't stop myself from refitting a few bits and pieces which had been left in the boot. Reinstalling the iconic shark nose, headlights, grille and nostrils transformed the now pretty but bare shell into a car. Suddenly it was a car and no longer a shell and after not having been illuminated since 2012, all four lights front and rear worked first time when we switched them on. 

 

On the 9th of January 2017, I made my way excitedly to the paint shop to collect the now fully resprayed shell. The respray had been badly delayed by weeks because midway through priming the shell for paint, it suddenly conked out and then refused to start. This necessitated us having to fault find the no start issue at the body shop. The car was refusing to turn over which led to an initial diagnosis of a failed starter motor. 

The starter motor was replaced but this failed to cure the fault. After 3 days of fault finding and trying 3 different starter motors we eventually replaced the engine to inner chassis rail earth strap (We had already checked this for continuity several times) and this solved the issue. Unfortunately by this point we had missed our window with the paint shop and their commitments meant we would have to wait several weeks before they could put their focus back onto the M535i. Eventually all the stops were pulled out and the paint was completed during the Christmas break, due to the deadline for completion that we had set ourselves of the end of February. 

Refitting the car was a hugely exciting and fulfilling process. Refitting each extra piece gave the car more and more presence. Initially it seemed a daunting task as the car came to us completely disassembled and although other than the carpet, door cards and screens which we knew were missing, it was only as we started to put it back together that we really realised what we did and did not have. What we had was a huge pile of screws, nuts and bolts and very little indication of which ones went where. Sadly I have to admit that this exercise really highlighted our sheer level of nerdiness! It turns out we really can recognise the bumper support bracket self tapping bolts in a bucket of fixings. 

We had managed to source most of what we knew was missing in advance but a few things had escaped our attention. We are lucky that we have several donor vehicles on site so we were able to pillage those for things such as sound proofing, which had all been removed and lost long ago. We had several rear screens in stock and were lucky to find that we had matching green tint front and rear screen which we had fitted with new seals by our local mobile windscreen fitter. A lot of the original shadow line trim and finishings had been lost or damaged. Luckily our windscreen fitter was able to help us refinish some normal trim to shadow line spec. 

One of the things the car did not come with (oddly) was number plates. For the first time we have chosen to add a little branding to one of our cars and had some Classic Bahnstormer number plates made up, it was quite momentous for us when they arrived in the post, yes it's the little things that make us happy. We have since been asked for them by customers and have fitted a few sets now, so in order to roll with the cool kids you'll be needing a set for your Bahnstormer!

One major issue with the refit was sourcing door cards. As leather interiors for E28's now change hands for a premium it seemed unlikely that we would find just a set of leather door cards for sale, as nobody would have been likely to want to separate door cards from an interior. So when this set of cloth two piece door cards came up for grabs, we pounced on them. 

The board backing for the fabric was in good shape which was our main concern. The two piece cards are what the M535i originally came with and if it had been specced with black cloth then picture one above would have been a good representation of what they'd have looked like. The cloth was carefully removed and the door cards disassembled. The new black leather we had sourced was not the same perforated pattern as the original E28 leather door cards. We had opted for a smooth finish leather which matched the seats. The leather was cut to shape and then adhered with contact adhesive. The door cards where then reassembled and we were able to fit them to the car. 

BMW E28 M535i restoration

As I have said in a previous section of this blog, unusually everything on this car has gone fairly well to plan, in terms of that job should take this amount of time. My girlfriend and any other honest mechanic will tell you that is seldom the case. This car really wants to live! It has  been a pleasure to put it back together, and it has gone back together so well. After sitting for such a long time exposed to the elements, the only electrical item that did not work first time on the car was the central locking. This necessitated us replacing the control module which is becoming a fairly common culprit on E28's. What was unusual is that all of the actuators then worked wonderfully rather than them being seized. 

Above is the most recent photograph I have of the car, although by now it has had its wing mirrors and rear spoiler fitted. It now sits on a set of 15 inch BBS alloy wheels and a good set of tyres on which it will soon re enter the world. The car has run pretty badly for the entire time we have had it. Recently we have spent a lot of time trying to diagnose the bad running. We have now replaced the fuel pump which died rather unceremoniously one day causing me to rope the windscreen fitter into pushing it back into the workshop. The car has had all the things you might expect: distributor cap, rotor arm, new induction boots, vacuum hoses, spark plugs, HT leads. We have since moved onto less consumable items such as Air Flow Meters and ECU's, but nothing has made much of a difference. We have finally pinned it on the fuel injectors and believe that one or more is bad. Further to this unfortunate development, during what we hoped would be a clearing run, the gearbox decided it had had enough and refused to change out of first gear. 

After its initial flurry of dignity, the car limped back to the workshop where the gearbox has now been removed and another fitted ready for a new set of fuel injectors to be fitted and then hopefully, finally we should be able to obtain an MOT, and this car which we are now a bit attached to, will finally be ready to Bahnstorm again! 

 

 

E28 M535i resurrection part II From one barn to another

From one barn to another!

On the 2nd of June 2016, 3 days before my holiday, I set off for Dauntsey Wiltshire to collect this once great M535i, I was full of excitement about the project and despite the off-putting photos, the pure enthusiasm of the previous owner had raised my hopes that we would be able to resurrect the car. The picture above shows it exactly as it was when I arrived, bathed in summer sun for the first time in years. I was met by the understandably jaded bodyshop owner who was clearly overjoyed to be seeing the back of it (he had texted me three times that day to make sure I was still coming). After a frosty start, he transpired to be quite amiable and as he started to explain what had been done and what needed doing, he even became quite nostalgic about it. It would later turn out that the work he'd already done was superb, with seamless spot welds and a perfect reproduction of the factory construction. He told me that the car had arrived some years ago needing nothing but a little TLC. The owner would constantly change his mind about what he wanted done and it turned out it was indecision that eventually caused it to get into such a mess. The bodyshop abandoned the project and it had sat in a farm building ever since. 

 

Click on the gallery bellow to see more images 

Once I had taken the car back to the yard and put some air in the tyres, I fitted a fresh battery and, believe it or not, I drove it into our storage unit. The front brakes were jammed on and it ran impossibly badly but it drove the 100 yards or so under its own steam and I instantly got all excited and committed to its restoration. The previous bodyshop had completed about 75% of the welding that was required, and to a very high standard but they had not touched the rear panel and it was pretty unpleasant. If you scroll through the pictures above by clicking on them, you will see the state of the back panel and the rear screen. Whether or not it would be restored, would come down to Rob's opinion of exactly how bad and how much work it really needed. The door of the storage unit swung closed and the M535's brief exposure to daylight was over. 

 

Enter a man with an angle grinder and a need for wire speed. 

Thankfully Rob also saw the potential in this M535i and after a bit of a delay we actually began work on the car in earnest on the 3rd of September. Most of the rot in the rear panel turned out to be reparable by shaping and welding in small patches of new metal. One large section had to be cut from a donor vehicle to make up the guttering of the passenger side of the boot. 

After cutting back most of the bodywork and finding it really did need a complete respray, we arranged with our fabulous body shop to have the car painted. Unfortunately for a job of this size they needed an entire week free and the earliest slot they could offer us was mid November. We decided that this would have to be the date whereby everything else was completed, so the car could be collected from paint, reassembled and taken for an MOT. As you can see from the gallery above we decided to change out the tired rear suspension which had been adorned with cheap lowering springs for standard ride height M535i suspension, we replaced each corner, as well as exhaust hangers, drop links, dog bone bushes. We also worked our way through the brakes, removing, cleaning and servicing the callipers and renewing the brake fluid. We went right through the engine with new viscous coupling and replaced perished induction boots, vacuum lines, distributor cap, rotor arm, spark plugs, leads and so on. 

I have to say, I was concerned about how easy it would be to work on this car, seeing as it has covered 225000 miles. Unusually for car jobs, everything on this has gone according to plan so far. Each job has been pleasant and added to both Rob's and my enthusiasm for the car. There is an extensive history with the car and it is clear that it has been well cared for in the past. Narrowly avoiding the clutches of breakers, it has been a testimony to the efforts of its previous owner's diligent maintenance. 

Finally, the shot below shows the car stripped down slightly further, although with wings now and with the paint shop ready to receive its transformation. 

 

E28 M535i resurrection

Click on the picture to see more.

When is a restoration no longer viable? A great many people embark on restorations of classic cars and for one reason or other and often these reasons are beyond our control, we are sadly unable to finish what we have started. At Classic Bahnstormers we can be quoted as saying we never put good Bahnstormer down, where possible we always strive to resurrect these cars. This E28 M535i began its restoration several years ago but sadly the owners health has deteriorated and is no longer able to finish the restoration. We will be taking delivery of this car on June the 2nd 2016 and running a feature on its restoration. 

The car is a genuine m535i with an interesting spec which includes desirable black sports leather and the much coveted glass (moon) roof. Despite not having been started in some years, fresh petrol and a good battery where applied and after some re-lubrication of the head had taken place the car fired into life and actually ran pretty well. 

This is going to be an exciting project that will hopefully illustrate our dedication to saving these marvellous examples of excellent engineering and returning them to the road where they belong.