Archive for the 'BMW E36 M3 Evo' category

A decade of driving

As this decade draws to a close I thought I’d reflect back on the motoring changes I’ve experienced. As we celebrated the new millennium I was the almost proud owner of a 1992 Ford Escort estate. With a lusty 1.4 litre engine it could barely pull the skin from a rice pudding, but it was mine and I could deploy that 75 horsepower to take me wherever I chose. As this period pre-dates my digital camera ownership, I only have this rather sorry excuse for a photograph:

What a beauty! I upgraded those 13 inch wheels to – wait for it – 14 inch wheels. With extra driving lamps I ranged across the country – I shared my first trip to the Lake District and even nipped across the border to Gretna in this machine. It had manual windows and mirrors, no central locking, no power steering – not even ABS. Looking back this was useful, as it provided an excellent bare bones introduction to motoring.

Yet this wasn’t the only Dagenham Destroyer in my fleet – hell no! I was also the extremely proud owner of a 1990 SWB Transit – used to cart around my sound and light gear.

A real rust wagon – powered by a 2.0 litre petrol engine that offered neither performance nor economy. Whether I was in the Escort or the Transit, I was always seen tearing around the streets with all the apparent vigour of a tortoise with gout.

Having had the Escort since acquiring my licence in 1996, during 2000 I began to look towards moving on. I was driving my dad’s car occasionally – a Vauxhall Vectra SRi (pictured here in 2005 at the Nordschleife entry gate – an episode I’ll cover later).

Suddenly I had all the modern luxuries – electric windows and mirrors, 15″ alloys, air conditioning, remote central locking – even traction control. Perhaps most importantly for me, its two litre engine developed 136 horsepower, with – compared to the Escort – very useful low down torque.

2000 was my first year of full time employment, so as 2001 arrived it was certainly time to stop borrowing the Vectra, and replace the Escort. Being 21, my needs weren’t very complicated: I needed to be faster than anyone else I knew, I wanted it to be reliable, and I had heard that rear wheel drive was A Good Thing. This ruled out the Peugeot 306 GTi6 I was considering, and the Audi A6 Quattro that wasn’t pure RWD, so I got myself one of these:

This car introduced me to a whole new world of motoring – both on-road and virtual. It absolutely ignited my passion for driving (and perhaps, oversteer) and also introduced me to car internet forums. The latter provided a double-edged sword – such forums attract all sorts – but one forum in particular led to some absolutely fantastic road trips around the UK. The first of these was a visit to the Lake District in early 2003.

While all this was going on my sound and light business had outgrown the little old transit, so I “upgraded” to a 1992 LWB 2.5 litre diesel effort. Look how beautiful it was!

Okay, so it was an eyesore. But it did offer significantly more load space and payload, and with power steering and a classic diesel chugger it was far more the freight machine I was looking for.

Still, back to the cars. With almost 200hp and over 200 lb/ft torque at my disposal, in the 328i I was fast, it was reliable, and RWD was good. After two years though it was time to move on, so in February 2003 I took the next natural step: it was time for an M3.

Still to this day this has been my favourite car. 321hp, 258 lb/ft of torque and a proper LSD. I didn’t care that the interior was a bit manky, and I liked the fact that it was a saloon and not a coupe. I used this car a lot. I shared my maiden voyage to the Nürburgring with this car, multiple trips to Cornwall, the Lakes and Wales, and had an epic tour of Scotland.

Sadly I was separated from this car by a local garage who rather carelessly wrote it off for me in March 2005. While the insurance wrangle was taking place I once again took ownership of the old family Vauxhall Vectra SRi. Of course, this was quite a step down, but as a utility wagon it was very useful. The transit had recently died, I had wound down my sound and light business, so it was a good one-stop interim solution.

There was however a complication. I had a trip to the Nürburgring already booked before the M3 was written off. I therefore had to take the Vectra – a grim prospect at the best of times – but significantly more so given that its gearbox was obviously broken. I therefore fitted a refurbished item and headed to Germany.

In convoy with an E36 M3, an E34 M5 and an E39 M5 the SRi was completely out of place – an utter embarrassment. However, it redeemed itself with some massive lift-off oversteer:

All jolly hilarious, until on the way home the car once again spat its gearbox. Having to come home from Bonn on a flat-bed transporter is horrible, and the entire trip was perhaps the low point of my motoring decade. The Vectra therefore finally left the family, and I was car-less.

By this time Diane and I were living together, so we got by using her Peugeot 106 Rallye. Despite being of French origin I feel this little car was certainly good enough to warrant more than a passing mention in this post. It was light, had over 100hp, and developed a good chunk of torque from its little 1.6 litre 8V unit. So despite being a touch unreliable and a FWD scrabbler, it was a lot of fun.

We had this car from 2004 to 2009, so it certainly made its mark on our motoring decade. So, back to March 2005 then when I was car-less. After much research, I concluded that for the money I’d received for the green M3 I simply couldn’t do any better, and so bought another M3!

Rather than the all-I-could-afford green saloon, this was perhaps my ideal E36 M3 Evo. Techno-violet with heated silver leather – this thing even had electric rear vent windows! :)

I had this car for a year, ensuring it took in all the usual Cornwall/Lakes/Curborough/Nürburgring trips, and even a camping holiday to La Rochelle. At the end of 2005, we once again – but briefly – became a three car family. Robin and I invested in a £50 Ford Sierra Ghia for our charity “Staples 2 Naples” rally trip.

The car was of course horrific, but everything worked, and it didn’t let us down at all despite thorough abuse all the way from Woking to Naples. We scrapped it in Rome and flew home; something I really regret.

By early 2006, despite the M3 Evo being a fantastic example, I felt it time to move on from the E36, so I traded it in for an E46 330d sport touring. This represented a significant step down in terms of performance and a shift away from motorsport in general. Yet the new car was a lovely place to be, extremely practical and pleasingly efficient.

In our first month together we went to the Lake District, to Birmingham, to Wales, to Scotland, and to the Nürburgring – some 5,000 miles! I chopped off the droopy tail pipe and sorted some nice straight tips, and changed the wheels to the more recent items (more recent above, originals below).

As we leave this decade, this is now our primary family car. We sold the 106R in 2009 when it became a little too unreliable, and frankly basic, for our liking. We’re now married, own a dog, and this is our car. I write this article from the Lake District – marking this car’s 4th visit there with me. However, this doesn’t end my motoring decade review – not by a long shot!

I realised that, much as I love my tractor (330d, above), it lacks a certain bit of motoring soul. I filled this in January 2007 with the purchase of a 1988 E30 M3!

With a screaming straight four and LSD I was back in the M-club, and what a party it was. I loved it so much I decided in July 2007 to upgrade to a 1990 E30 M3 Evo II.

I held onto this car for another year, during which it featured in two BMW Car Magazine articles and two trips to the Nürburgring.

In amongst all this I decided to take up a spot of rally navigating. Pictured here with driver/owner Simon Stevinson, I spent a few shifts in 2007 in the nav-seat of his E36 M3 Rally Compact.

It was a great little car, and Simon an extremely composed driver, who I can’t thank enough for being so patient with me while I learned the ropes. I had a massive amount of fun in that car – we had many battles, and I’ve even got a trophy or two as a result somewhere. It was fantastic having to deal with the elements, and at times fix the car, to get us through to the end of the day. I would have loved to have taken the next step to driving and car ownership, but I sagely (and perhaps boringly) concluded that I couldn’t afford to allocate funds in that way.


Ultimately though, when I became married in August 2008 I decided that both rallying, and E30 M3 ownership, and all the oil and rust which was involved, wasn’t really becoming of a husband. I therefore packed in the rallying and sold the M3. Immediately I realised that in doing so I had lost much of my identity, so 4 hours later I rushed out and bought a nice sensible family car:

That’s right, it’s a 2000 E39 M5 – 400 horsepower to you. This basically brings us up to date – we’re a two car family with a wonderful E46 330d sport touring and a V8 M5. The 330d is a great utility vehicle. I’ve modified it to play DVDs on the move to entertain my passengers, it has iPod integration, stealth sub and a built in inverter. It’s a fantastic, quick machine, boasting 200hp and 40mpg. We love it, and it is backed up by a super saloon sporting an astonishing blend of performance and comfort. While both cars have been around the block a few times (both just under 120,000 miles), they still scrub up nicely and provide everything we currently need on the road. Oh, with the exception of four wheel drive – that’s my prediction for the 2010s!

DSC_0174 [1600x1200]

This sums up my review of the decade. Throughout these years I’ve documented a good deal of motoring action which has, in some parts at least, been well received. I’ve even landed a regular slot writing for BMW Car Magazine. I’ve had an absolute ball these ten years thanks to my cars and my motoring friends. I can’t thank those friends and family enough for their support of my crazy ventures, and as my last blog post of the decade I’d like to thank you all for reading, and wish you a very happy new year. :)

M3 Repaired

I’m pleased to announce that the M3 Evo is no longer an ornament on my mother’s driveway – Ben fixed it yesterday! For those who don’t know, it had cut out on us one night and refused to start thereafter. We could tell that the ECU was alive and well, and as the starter would dutifully turn the engine we know the immobiliser wasn’t to blame. Yet it didn’t fuel or spark. We guessed therefore that the ECU wasn’t getting a signal from the crank sensor, as without that it wouldn’t know where to begin.

Ben whipped the fan off, and removed the crankshaft sensor and wiring – the problem was fairly evident straight away!

knackered crankshaft sensor lead

We’ve peeled the boot back off the connector, and the wires under there were badly frayed and one was broken. We fitted the same part from the old engine and the car came to life immediately!

On other matters, I’m pleased to report that the 330d passed its MOT without issues as I’d hoped. We’ve had a viewing for the 106R already – time will tell on that.

Weekend update

The first thing I did yesterday morning was to give the M5 what I imagine is a fairly typical weekly service: some fuel, a litre of TWS oil, and a pair of rear tyres. I failed to take the camera out with me for that trip, but it’s hardly photogenic stuff. I did consider getting Michelin Pilot Sports, but I couldn’t find them for less than £500 for the pair fitted, and I couldn’t find anywhere who could get them in stock in my size until February at the earliest. I therefore chose something rather more pikey: some Falkens.

I’ve had Falkens on M3s in the past, and I found them to be quite reasonable. Certainly in the wet, these new Falkens offer rather more grip than the outgoing (very worn!) Michelins. Time will tell, but at £256 fitted there’s quite a difference in wallet ache. Once I got back I did remember to take some photographs of the M5’s interior as Paul Stewart requested some after the diff seal work.



I really like the colour scheme – when searching for M5s I didn’t consider any other interiors!


That complete I turned my attention to the 330d, which of course didn’t need fuel, oil or tyres. It did need a new rear wiper, an item I’d grabbed from BMW when I got the M5’s diff seals. So, after a minute of maintenance I was finished with both of my BMWs. My day however was far from complete!

The other car in the family is a little Peugeot 106 Rallye. Diane’s had it for five years now, and a niggling problem has been some occasional hesitation in the mid-band when warm. I’ve made sure everything is clean and serviced, and have replaced the coolant temperature sensor, so yesterday I thought I’d try and replace the air temperature sensor too.



The result? The car drives a little more smoothly, but the hesitation still randomly occurs when the engine is hot. In any case, the car is due an MOT examination, so I replaced some failed bulbs and split wipers, and gave it the minor interval service that was due. While I did this, Ben changed Chavbo1’s front brake pads.



Finally we turned our attention to the M3 Evo that cut out on us on Thursday evening. I stuffed another 10 litres of BP’s Ultimate in there to ensure that fuel level wasn’t a problem. Prior to it letting us down, Ben has purchased some new spark plugs, so we fitted those and swapped the coil packs over from the old engine. Still the car wouldn’t start. A quick phone call to Ian Haynes gave us some further pointers to test the ‘spark’ side of the equation, and we deduced that the coil packs were alive and online.

We are therefore in a situation where we know the immobiliser isn’t the problem, and there is fuel in the car, and the main fuel pump primes. It seems likely therefore that the ECU isn’t running the pump or sending spark signals while cranking, and this suggests it’s not getting a reading from the crank shaft sensor. If this is the case, it seems rather more likely that the wiring is knackered rather than sudden and permanently sensor failure. In either case, we’ve decided that the way forward is to remove the crank shaft sensor from the other block, and dismantle the car to check the wiring and swap the sensor. I’ve also purchased a diagnostic reading kit from eBay – more on what it is when and if it arrives and I can test it!

Comparing: E39 M5 to E36 M3

E36 M3 EvoWe were doing a spot more work on the M5 today (unfinished – hopefully more on that tomorrow!). I needed to nip out and grab some more tools, so I took the M3 we repaired over Christmas. A section of road between Robin’s tool shed and Ben’s workshop is one of my all time favourites. It’s not that I’ve never driven an M3 Evo before – I’ve owned two  – but today was an opportunity to pilot one along  that favourite road just hours after I’d whisked the M5 that way; excellent comparison material. That’s all I’ll focus on here – the driving. Running costs and cupholders aren’t going to factor!

Today was cold – minus 4 degrees at midday. Come to think of it, I can’t recall temperatures that low during the day, nor such a prolonged wintry spell. As a result the roads were extremely slippery, tyres not up to temperature, and it’s also worth mentioning that the M3’s tyres are significantly newer and in better shape than the M5’s. The road opens up and the hammer drops. The M3 Evo is fast, but it’s not M5 fast. The gearbox is a little notchy, just like the big 5.  Here comes the first corner.

The brakes are strong, but aren’t BMW brakes always strong until they overheat? I know this corner well, I know that at this speed the M5 won’t turn in so well, and it’ll wash a little wide. The M3 is pin sharp, and tracks my intended line perfectly. Squeeze the throttle on exit. The M5 would, in these conditions, require judicious use of the controls. The M3 just grips and goes, but again, its tyres are better. It’d get around the corner quicker, but the M5 would catch it once things straighten up again. Ahead though, the road gets fierce: it ducks left and right over hills, camber is cruel, the surface is slippery.


The M5 can’t attack in these conditions. It’ll thump along making a gorgeous noise, and if I’m brave it’ll be a lot of fun, but it can’t really address the situation. The M3 is lithe by comparison; its more direct steering and lack of weight more than makes up for its 80 horsepower deficit. Here, the M3 is better. Which makes me wonder, is there a time when point to point performance is the goal, where the M3 isn’t the favourable vehicle? Maybe on an autobahn, otherwise though, the M3 is the tool of choice.

So it’s just as well that I’m considerably less interested than I used to be in getting from point to point quickly. As I age I’m more interested in lounging around in my V8 ambience listening to Radio 3. The M3’s engine has an entirely reasonable amount of grunt at low revs, but the M5’s V8 has muscle power right from idle. It’s simply the best engine I’ve ever owned.  But it’s no track car; it can leave that to the M3.

M3 -> back on the road!

(this article concludes a series of five, starting here)

I turned up after work today to find that Robin and Ben had basically finished the job – fortunately Robin took some snaps along the way. We left it on New Year’s Eve looking like this:


So the front of the car was rebuilt:




New exhaust brackets underneath:


Coolant was added by our proud sponsors:


There is some BMW coolant in there too, and the container was clean, I promise! Due to our disconnecting the steering rack we had to re-centre the wheel:


It was then time for the car’s first “warm run” – and we’re pleased to report that it passed with flying colours. All that was left to do this evening was to clean up the work shop and admire the vehicle.



Tomorrow we’ll need to get it booked in for an MOT. Stay tuned though – our Christmas break antics may not be over yet – if we can find something useful to do this weekend we sure will!

Great Picture

I found this picture, or perhaps it’s a diagram, on a forum and I think given recent engine antics it warrants reflection.


Looking at that – there’s not much of that car we didn’t take apart! Ben’s working on the car now – Robin and I will be there later so expect another update in due course.

Engine In!

I arrived late yesterday afternoon to find Robin and Ben had decided to source and fit a clutch – they’d assembled it all and attached the gearbox to the new motor.




Next job was to reattach the exhaust headers with new gaskets. This wasn’t the smoothest operation – some of the nuts had seized onto the bolts when removed so we had to free these up and reinsert the bolts – more tapping required here to fix broken threads etc. I left Robin and Ben doing this:


It certainly wasn’t a three man job, so I indulged in some relaxing cleaning instead. The car has been stored, uncovered, outside for a while, and so isn’t looking quite as beautiful as a nail-varnish Estoril blue car should.



The wheels were also in shocking condition. Sadly the lacquer has peeled off in large chunks – nothing I could do about that – but I could generally improve things. Should the car get back on the road satisfactorily I’m sure Ben will get them professionally sorted.



I think they’re the easiest-to-clean BMW wheels of all time! By the time I’d finished nancying around cleaning, the motor was ready for location.



Upon Simon Stevinson’s advice we’d dropped the subframe and steering rack out of the way to make this whole process a lot easier. We fitted new engine mounts and supported the subframe on a jack.


Robin worked on getting the gearbox all organised under the car while Ben and I tackled the daunting prospect of the massive wiring mess. What goes where? What does this do? How did this ever work? Etc! This took hours – roughly 10pm-1am. The next six photos show this process – hopefully you can see small progress between each!







In the meantime the under body heat shields were attached and the exhaust refitted. A question for the wise: the gearbox has an easy to spot reverse switch, but there’s also another couple of terminal connectors higher up on the same side. We’ve duly refitted them, but wondered what they were for! Also, there’s an electrical connector on the fluid supply to the clutch slave – what’s that for?!

Next came the refitting of the inlet manifold. This is a horrible task, as there’s an electrical connector, an oil drain pipe and two air pipes, one on top and one underneath, that need to be jubilee clipped to it – almost impossible unless you’re Mr Tickle!


Eventually this was done, so we set about slapping the induction on and completing the oil, coolant and a/c loops so we could test the engine.



In this comedy condition, we figured everything was ready. We gave the car some oil, and refitted the now fully charged battery. Here’s a video link to our first start attempt. What went wrong there? We left it in sixth gear with the handbrake on – pretty unfair on the starter motor really! So, second start attempt.

That turned out to be oil leaking from the pipes that leave the oil filter housing to go to the oil cooler. We left it there for the night (finished at gone 4am!), but Ben has reported today that he’s dismantled that and re-seated everything, rebuilt it, and it now runs just fine without any oil leak. There’s more good news – the engine seems to run without any knocks or rattles from the bottom end, the top end sounds sweet, and the Vanos is quiet. It’s early days with cold oil, and no coolant, but the signs are good.

Soon we’ll get the coolant in and bled, get the front back on the car and get it on the ground, but for now we’re going to celebrate this success and the advent of a New Year – cheers to all!

More engine swap progress

noodle/clutchA busy day today. We’ve not got much to show for the 20 man hours we’ve put in today, but we’ve overcome a lot of hurdles that we’re pleased to have behind us. We had a rounded bolt on the clutch assembly that caused a delay first thing.

The clutch doesn’t look new but is certainly serviceable so despite the potential for saving labour later by changing the clutch now, Ben has decided not to; we don’t even know that this engine swap is going to work yet!

So, left is the clutch and flywheel assembly, photographed with a torque converter couple of pot noodles.

Ben set about stripping the remaining assets from the outgoing block: fuel feed, throttle bodies, ancillaries; until we reached the stage where both motors looked about the same.

In the photo below the outgoing motor is on the left and the replacement is being prepared on the right.


The next job was to swap the sumps over. This was necessary because the ‘new’ motor had a damaged sump – it’s taken one hell of a whack. Here are the two sumps side by side – crack clearly visible on the right end of the lower item:


This was also an interesting step because it gave us the first chance to look inside the outgoing motor. The whole reason for this process is that the old motor has developed an alarming knock which sounds decidedly bottom-endish. I’d heard that it was common for the bottom of piston 5 to slip on the crank, and lo and behold this seems to be exactly what’s happened. I’m annoyed that my SLR won’t take video because it’s so hard to describe the issue with stills, but in the picture below the bottom of piston 5 is pretty much in the middle. The gold casing – a U section clamp around the crank, could easily be wiggled vertically by hand in a manner that the other 11 (both engines!) couldn’t.


Below are two items that I believe are referred to as ‘shells’; semi circular clasps that surround the point at which the con-rod meets the crank – a bearing like interface. They certainly looked worn, if not a bit damaged.


Note the wonderful fingerless mechanic’s gloves Ben’s wearing there! The photo below shows where the shells sit around the crank.


Sumps swapped, it was time to reassemble the ‘new’ motor. Lots of cleaning has taken place!


Above you can see the water pump, fuel rails and throttle bodies have found their way on. I also replaced all the VANOS bolts and VANOS filter in accordance with my article on the matter, and changed the oil filter and all associated seals and washers.



We were just popping the damaged sump onto the old motor for safe keeping, when Ben noted with alarm that there was a feature he’d not remembered seeing in the ‘new’ motor before we popped the good sump on that:


dsc_0028I guess that’s a second oil pickup protruding from the sump there. We removed the sump from the ‘new’ motor and found to our dismay that this part was indeed missing, and we could clearly see the oil pump assembly was broken where that arm had snapped off.

There was no other option – we had to remove the chain from the oil pump and swap the parts over. It all got a bit frantic at this stage so I omitted to photograph the oil pump assemblies out of the blocks, but to the left you can see the ‘new’ motor once we’d fitted the good parts from the outgoing engine.

This done it was time to refit the sump, and here we had another setback – despite using a torque wrench @ 12Nm I snapped a sump bolt. This prompted the sump to once again be removed while I surgically removed the bolt from the block, and we then chose to run a tap through any sticky holes as a precaution. Again, loads more time lost here!

Finally we’re in a position where most of the ancillaries are on the new block. Tomorrow’s jobs are to get the gearbox and clutch assembly on the new engine, and generally prepare matters for the unit to be reunited with the car.

Here’s how the block looks now – I can’t believe how much better it all looks for a good scrub!

'new' motor



Engine Out!

A couple of hours today saw a good deal more progress. I grabbed a spanner from Robin to get rid of the fan – I can’t tell you how much I could have done with that yesterday!


Then it was time to get the injector wiring out of the way, which marked the point at which all electrics were clear. We removed the power steering pump and tied all that gubbins out of the way to the car. The fuel lines were separated, and then it was engine out time!




A few bolts and a bit of a wiggle and we had the gearbox separated.



That was our objective for the day, so we finished off with a bit of a tidy. Tomorrow we’ll work on moving all the ancillaries, and the flywheel and clutch to the replacement motor block. So for now, the car looks a little like this!


Bored this Christmas?

My friend Ben Smith clearly is. He had a rummage around in his yard and found this:


That’s an S50B32, or for those of you who don’t speak in code, the 3.2 litre 321bhp engine from a BMW M3 Evolution. Which is handy, because Ben also has one of these with a dead engine. We dragged it to a workshop to do the deed – the hope is that we’ll successfully swap the engines, the more likely outcome is that we’ll put the whole lot in a skip!

Cars ready

First job, car up in the air.



We decided that taking the front of the car off should make things easier.




We had pretty rapid progress up until this point. Then we took the exhaust headers off – took about 4 hours!


We’ve disconnected most of the electrics, drained all fluids (inc already empty aircon), clutch slave out etc – the whole thing is now on the dangle.


That’s how we’ve had to leave it overnight. Next steps are to get the gear shift clear of the car, sort the power steering, and remove the electrics from the fuel rail. Oh, and disconnect the fuel supply and return. All good fun! So cast your bets now, success or skip?!