Cars for the rest of us.

My Clunker Project: 1992 BMW E30 Convertible

Jun 26, 13 • by Randy Foster • Car Lot Finds, Featured1 CommentRead More »

My first encounter with anything BMW was back when I lived in Colorado around 1980. I had a repair shop at home but it was 95% based around Japanese cars. A family member called and asked if I could take a look at his friend’s ’75 BMW 530. Never afraid to take on something new, I had them deliver the car to my house and after a lengthy inspection I found that the head was cracked in the #3 cylinder area of the big six. Long story short, I ordered a new head and completed the repair with proper success. The next day I took the car for a test drive and was amazed at just how much fun this car could be. In just a few short days this car was able to alter any previously held prejudices regarding the BMW marque.

Next thing I know, I’ve sold all my Toyotas and Nissans and the driveway slowly filled up with an assortment of autos from Germany. I hit all the bases with Audi, BMW, Mercedes and a Porsche 924. Those were trying times for me as Japanese cars were incredibly easy to work on and cheap to keep and I was in a new realm of complicated service manuals, expensive parts and things that redefined the meaning of “over-engineered”. I thought I was going to have to seek professional counseling as a result of trying to keep these cars running but when they were running good and I took them out for a drive in the mountains, it was nirvana. All of the previous mentioned issues melted away until the next repair session.

'71 280 SEL luxury liner on a Colorado Mtn trip.

’71 280 SEL luxury liner on a Colorado Mtn trip.

'77 924, best left at home when the big snows start.

’77 924, best left at home when the big snows start.

My wife and I decided to move back east so we sold off all the German stock. We got back into the Japanese scene and had a series of Nissan Z cars and moved from there into mini-vans and SUVs. Some of these decisions were based on necessity and not having easy access to foreign car parts or service due to living in a rural area.

'81 280ZX 2+2 and '84 300ZX 2+2 A couple of the greatest road trip cars I've owned.

’81 280ZX 2+2 and ’84 300ZX 2+2 A couple of the greatest road trip cars I’ve owned.

Moving forward to 2010, I had developed a yearning for a convertible and started to look around at options that I wouldn’t have to spend too much cash on and it needed to be easy for me to service and maintain. Another factor, I’m a pretty big guy so there are going to be quite a few of the smaller cars that get eliminated right from the start. I looked at everything from Chrysler to BMW Z3. After much research I settled in on the BMW E30 and the quest was on to find the right one. I spent lots of time looking at some of the most clapped out, beat to shit cars I’ve ever seen in my long career. It was obvious that lots of folks who owned these cars couldn’t really afford the price of admission when it came to maintenance.

The search was over when a good friend heard that I was looking for one and turned me on to a one owner ’92 318ic ragtop. ’92 was a split year for 3 series cars as they had already come out with the E36 body but were still carrying the E30 convertible for one more year. After a little reading I also found out that the M42 engine was considered bullet proof and it had hydraulic lifters which meant no valve adjustments, a big plus. Another selling point for me is the manual top, keep it simple and it will last a very long time. The purchase was made and we drove it home.

The test drive

The test drive

Really needs some cleaning

Really needs some cleaning

Previous owner had saved every piece of media that she had left the dealer with on day of purchase.

Previous owner had saved every piece of media that she had left the dealer with on day of purchase.

The car needed some work but nothing I couldn’t handle in the garage at home. The list included complete brake job, tires, windshield, exhaust work, new top and a moderate amount of engine work. At this point I have a total of 6 grand invested in this car and there is no doubt in my mind that it’s the best car I have ever owned. It is a driver’s car, very well-balanced, incredible handling and enough power to have a good time in the twisties. The 5 speed gear box is smooth as silk and the limited slip rear end allows for some real horseplay when the roads are damp. It’s new enough that it has ABS, airbags, heated seats (for those cool fall days on the Blue Ridge Parkway) and a host of other little conveniences that the wife is happy with.

It now has about 120,000 miles on it and with the repairs I’ve done there is no reason that it can’t get to 200,000 with little expense. We’ve taken many trips in the car and the sport seats are very comfortable on long drives and they do a great job of holding one in place when horsing it through the curves. It has a real back seat and a huge trunk for a car this size. It gets a consistent 30 mpg on regular fuel and has a 15 gallon tank. I could go on and on about the virtues of this little BMW but until you spend some time behind the wheel you won’t realize that this may be the best BMW ever built.

All cleaned up, new hoses, gaskets, belts and timing chain. All oil leaks stopped

All cleaned up, new hoses, gaskets, belts and timing chain. All oil leaks stopped

Early morning on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Early morning on the Blue Ridge Parkway

A weekend in the North Georgia Mtns. The first big road trip with the recycled E30

A weekend in the North Georgia Mtns. The first big road trip with the recycled E30

Hitting the back roads of Central Tennessee

Hitting the back roads of Central Tennessee

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One Response to My Clunker Project: 1992 BMW E30 Convertible

  1. Steve Strieter says:

    The E30 is a good platform, and 300,000 isn’t hard to get with a little care & maintenance. That said, The E36 is an even better car to drive, especially with the 6-cyl-stick combo: nearly telepathic, still light & tossable, but with better suspension.