COAL: 1998 BMW 318/328i – Brief Bavarian Interlude

This was not actually a car I ever had any intention of owning. I’ve always liked older BMWs, but the E36 generation 3 series somehow never really struck a chord. Not quite sure why, because I lusted after the preceding E30 3 series as well as the E34 and E39 5 series’, but the E36 didn’t stoke my interest at all. This could be because the majority of examples on our roads were the frankly underwhelming 316i and 318i models; six cylinder examples were very rare indeed. On that note in case you’re wondering about the model name in the title, that would be because this car started life as a 318i and eventually received a larger heart transplant.

Since six cylinder models were rare, about 10 years ago BMW enthusiasts over here started buying up cars that were really cheap in the UK and Japan, stripping them down, shipping all parts except the body shell (we can’t import body shells here), and transplanting all the bits onto a local 316/318. The total number of six pot E36s has increased by a significant amount over the years thanks to this practice. This car had received the heart transplant about 9 years before I got it, and the owner who did the job was a very meticulous guy who developed the car to as high a standard as possible in the time he owned it.

He eventually sold it to a close friend of mine, who kept it for  about 4 years and did even more development work on it (helped by the fact that he part owned a BMW workshop). By late 2020 my friend was ready for a change, so when he heard I was selling the Miata he suggested a part exchange for the E36. That wasn’t really ideal for me because I would have preferred cash, but it turned out to be the best deal I got so we shook hands and exchanged keys and documents (and I got some cash as well, which is always nice).

The color, wheels, M3 bumpers and lowered ride height all added up to a sharp looking car

The years of work put into it by two enthusiast owners meant this car was not your average E36. The engine had been rebuilt the previous year  with lots of brand new parts and a ported and polished cylinder head. The camshafts were also replaced with those from an M3 and to get the most out of the cams, the ECU had a customized tune created for it, which had also added pops and bangs to the exhaust on the overrun (fun, but tiresome after a while). The car was supposedly putting out around 230-240 bhp, a big bump from the standard 192.

Though I didn’t have that independently verified, it certainly did not feel slow; pulling hard from just above idle right across to the 7000 rpm redline, and providing massive and endless feeling thrust in every gear. Despite the tune, it had no drivability issues and was just as happy pottering along in workday traffic as it was hammering down an empty open road. Ensuring that the power was put down to the road, the suspension had also been improved with lower and firmer M3 springs, Bilstein shocks, M3 spec chassis bracing, and a limited slip differential as well. All the work resulted in a really well sorted car that was remarkably quick and very capable indeed.

This end was what most other traffic saw.

Despite all of this I never quite gelled with it; although it was fast and fun to drive it simply didn’t gain my affection like my previous cars had. Also the E36 interior was not a high point for BMW quality and it just didn’t have the bank vault solidity that earlier models had. The fact that it cost quite a bit more than what I had budgeted for a “fun” car didn’t help matters, and so within a few months I decided that it was not for me and put it up for sale at a price that reflected the spec and condition (which is to say, quite a bit more than an ordinary E36).

There were a few inquiries but a lot of them wanted to low ball, so I politely turned them down. After a couple of weeks a serious buyer showed up but I was a little reluctant since they wanted to buy the car for their 19 year old son to use. Since this was a rather fast car with nothing in the way of driving aids, I told them as much and asked if they really thought it was a good idea. Rather than putting them off, it only made them more interested, so after many assurances that the son was quite responsible, we shook hands and they collected the car a couple of days later.

Driving off with the new owners. On another note how many of the cars in the background can you identify? 

Thus ended my brief period of E36 ownership and for the first time in a decade I found myself without a “fun” car in the garage. Since there were now plenty of other financial priorities, I told myself that it was wiser to do without, since we already had two cars and that it was time to be a sensible adult. Come back next week to find out how THAT has been going.