I Bought A BMW E36 Instead Of An E46 For My Budget Track Car Build
Gareth Foley is our BMW Catalog Manager here at FCP Euro. When he's not spending time during work hours building the BMW Catalog, he's wrenching on our VW GTI TCRs as part of the crew and race team. But, understandably, he has a desire to get behind the wheel of his own track car this season. Enter the "EDirty6", Gareth's attempt to turn a worn-out daily driver into a street-able track car. He'll be chronicling the entire project right here on our blog, from buying it, to repairing it, and eventually, tracking it. - Editor
It was around the end of August when I thought I had my next project car locked down. I sold myself on an E46 330i with a build date between 2001 and 3/2003 as it had to have the ZF 5-speed transmission. I had already started compiling a parts list in a spreadsheet, preparing to bring the old car back to its former self. However, as I'm sure many of you are familiar with when buying used cars, after countless emails back and forth, the seller just up and stopped responding.
At this point, I started casting my net wider by looking at other options. The E46 seemed to be the way to go at the time and one day I thought to myself, "maybe I should start looking at the E36 chassis instead." With the assistance and watchful eye of a co-worker, my attention was brought to a black E36 328i sedan that looked pretty nice in the photos. It had relatively high miles with 174,000 on the clock, but that wasn't a concern of mine. To sweeten the deal, it happened to be local, so I wouldn't travel very far to see it. I got in touch with the owner and went to view it the next day. Unintentionally, I showed up wearing some FCP Euro swag and coincidentally, the owner was an existing customer. I test drove the car and fell in love with it, so I made an offer, and the rest is history.
Here's the thing about buying any used car—it won't be perfect. No matter how many maintenance documents you have, and regardless of the owners before you, there will be issues. Even the most highly-maintained cars aren't perfect. Hell, even new cars aren't perfect. As long as you know that going into ownership, you'll be fine. Here's where mine sat when I bought it:
- Real Style 5 wheels (they look good on the car)
- Decent coilovers that were ready for the track
- Dinan tune
- aFe cold air intake
- Mishimoto radiator, fan, and expansion tank
- Clean engine
- Newer tires
- Strong engine
The not-so positive:
- No Brakes
- 5th gear lean
- Clutch on its way out (which doesn't matter, as I'm planning an upgrade anyway)
- Many broken bolts
- Worn RTAB's
- Worn FCAB's
- Broken exhaust hangers
- A leaking power steering system
- A very loose right inner tie rod end
- The typical issue of the sunroof being off the tracks
Spoiler Alert: Everything Breaks
What started as a few basic maintenance items to drive the car on the road quickly turned into the typical ebbs and flows of building a car at home. To keep a long story short, I replaced the following major components:
- Front right kingpin (broken bolt for securing the strut in place)
- Front right wheel hub assembly (broken lug bolt that couldn't be extracted)
- Rear left trailing arm (another broken bolt)
- Rear left axle shaft (stuck in wheel hub in the aforementioned trailing arm above)
They say shit rolls downhill and the list above is evidence of that. For starters, the front right corner was fine apart from a broken bolt holding the shock to the kingpin. Drilling, torching, everything I tried wouldn't remove what was left of the bolt. So, I found a cheap replacement on eBay and over the course of an hour removed the damaged kingpin and swapped on the replacement. The following day I intended to raise the ride height from nearly slammed to a reasonable height for the road. On the E36, it's easier to adjust the rear spring perches when the shocks are disconnected from the trailing arm. When I went to do just that, the bolts holding the shock to the trailing arm were definitely over-torqued at some point—the one on the right side made all sorts of angry noises coming out. The bolt on the left side (and the surrounding area) was coated entirely in brownish-red dust which usually isn't a good sign. This dust is what you typically see around a worn U-joint on a driveshaft, and generally, it's created when metal rubs together that shouldn't be. I knew this bolt was going to most likely break when attempting to remove it and despite all possible precautions, it did. Ironically enough, it broke when leaving it completely alone.
After extracting what was left of the bolt from the trailing arm, I decided just to replace the entire trailing arm. The threads were ruined from the bolt being over-torqued, so I didn't feel confident in attempting to salvage it. Back I went to eBay for a used trailing arm. I found one cheap and proceeded to remove the old trailing arm from the car. The first step in removing the trailing arm on an E36 is to make sure the outer CV joint of the axle will come out of the wheel hub. Naturally, I didn't have that kind of luck, which is fine. Used axles are cheap, and I went back to eBay (again) and ordered a replacement axle. After a few days of waiting, I was finally able to get the rear end of the car back together, adjust the ride height, finish the brakes, and handle a few maintenance items here and there. While I was there, I replaced the worn trailing arm bushing on the right side and the front control arm bushings with the caster offset bushings.
I'll say this, I have an E92 M3 that I love to drive, but there is just something about this E36 that I really like. I haven't put my finger on it yet, but when I figure it out, I'll let you know. I'm starting to see why the E36 is such a popular track car. I've always understood why on paper, but there is something intangible about the way the car feels that I haven't felt in another car. Though, I might just be in the honeymoon phase at this point.
Now, I did mention earlier that there is a greater goal for this car. My primary reason is that I want to spend a considerable amount of time on the track in 2019. Ever since FCP Euro became involved in motorsports, I have caught the bug. Unfortunately, working as part of the crew at all of the races in the last few years I haven't seen much of the race tracks outside of pit lane. (If you want a detailed mental map of the paddocks of these tracks, however, I have you covered.) Bottom line is, I want to attend track days and get as much seat time as possible. This is the car that's going to allow this to happen. I could have thrown some parts at my E92 M3, but I want something I can thrash around and not feel guilty about.
Over the remainder of the winter season, I plan to go through the entire car replacing anything and everything critical to reliability and safety. Like many, I'm going to do this the hardest way possible—in my driveway during the cold New England winter. You can follow the rest of the project by checking back here to the DIY blog, subscribing to FCP Euro's YouTube channel, my personal YouTube channel, and my Instagram.
Written By: Gareth Foley
Gareth is the BMW Catalog Manager for FCP Euro and has been with the company since 2012. Gareth's BMW obsession started with a hand me down E39 528i when he was 17. From this car he learned how to do his own repair work while also learning more about BMW. When Gareth was at CCSU studying Marketing he had the opportunity to go to SEMA with the college car club. This is where he developed his love of the automotive industry. Since joining FCP in 2012 Gareth has sought out to develop one of the broadest and most accurate BMW replacement parts catalog. he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org