Specifically, it's a 2002 BMW 325xi, 5 speed, 160k miles.
As I've said in previous posts, I've been looking for a winter car. I've considered everything from cheap crapboxes (which don't really exist) to buying new to buying a used Bentley. My criteria was AWD and at least 1 more seat than a Miata. With the car market the way it is, I'd been erring towards the cheaper end of the spectrum to just kind of ride things out.
I popped open Facebook Marketplace this morning and someone up near Lake Tahoe had listed this car. Finding any XI, whether a 330xi or a 325xi, with a 5 speed is pretty rare. Let alone one that has survived without a bunch of rust and dents. As far as I can tell (I'll learn more when I finally detail it), this one appears to be pretty much dent-free.
I've always had a bit of a soft spot for the E36 and E46. I've test driven a few and they've never been quite good enough for me to pull the trigger. Usually, the owner is like "oh don't worry about the seat, it's bolted to the floor" or "I'm glad you drove 2.5 hours to get here but I forgot to mention that I put a high ratio rear end in and the top speed is now 50". Both these things have happened to me.
Before I get on with the story, I'll get the good and the bad out of the way.
- This car was basically mechanically rebuilt in 2020 as someone's pandemic project.
- Best E46 transmission I've felt. It's smooth and not vague. Shifts accurately. Was recently replaced, recent clutch, and recent transfer case.
- Suspension is tight. Car feels very planted. No rattles from worn bushings. Suspension suspends (owner says previous guy did coilovers but I'll need to verify this)
- No hiccups in power delivery
- No dents. Body is extremely straight.
- Paint is in shockingly good shape.
- Interior is mostly there.
- Full logbook of parts/maintenance from previous 2 owners.
- Purchase price $3700. Which is like $850 in 2019 dollars. #usedcarprices
- The CEL is on. Apparently it comes on when the gas level is low. Everything points to fuel pump (code is for lean condition). This is an easy job for me so I'll throw the parts cannon at it.
- Previous previous owner installed an oil pressure gauge under the steering wheel. Weird AF. The oil light pops on sometimes at idle, but it looks like it's the sensor, since the gauge reads fine.
- Needs tires.
- One wheel doesn't match. I'll just get some new wheels, probably. I'll need winter wheels and tires anyways. With all the shortages, I should do that sooner than later to get ahead of the rush.
- 2 of the window regulators need replacing.
- The trim around the shifter is loose.
- The shift boot is lose.
- The car needs a radio.
Now, getting back to the maintenance log book...
The owner in 2018 started the log and man, he really put way more love into this car than it was worth:
Alright, now let's talk about the journey getting this car, and hoooooooey, was it a journey.
I sent the owner (Matt) a message around 8:30am PST. He seemed legit, so we agreed to meet up around 5pm near his house. He made it clear that cash would be helpful (even if just in part) as he was currently pretty strapped. I let him know that if I bought the car, I would do part in cash - not a big deal.
On the way up, the weather started fine. A bit overcast but top-down weather. By the time I got to Incline Village, it was raining pretty good and I had to put the top up. They've been working on the road around the lake and that added about 15 minutes due to 1 lane construction traffic.
It started to absolutely downpour when I got to the meeting location. Matt pulled in and I grabbed the big-brimmed Columbia hat that I normally use to keep the sun off my face to keep the rain off my glasses. I didn't do nearly the amount of checking that I normally would do because of the rain.
We went for a test drive. Car was awesome. Reminded me of how tight the Miata is since I did bushing and control arms. I was pretty shocked by that. The whole suspension felt brand new. That seems to make sense since the logbook reflects that. We scanned the code and verified that it was what he said it was.
Now let's talk about Matt for a moment. Matt is a BMW owner, has two Jeep Cherokees (one is an AMC), and a 996 911. He also has a taste for nude women. His phone, prominently in a holder in a car, has a full-frontal nudity, legs spread, female model as the lock-screen wallpaper. He laughed when he realized I saw that and told me that he somewhat embarrassingly left his phone at Walgreens today and the clerk smirked when he went back for it - having obviously seen the wallpaper. Our meeting spot wasn't a good place to leave a car so after finishing the deal, we drove up to his house to park — a dated 6 bedroom house where he lives alone, smokes a lot weed, plays a lot of drums, and proudly displays a stack of vintage porn magazines. As I was leaving, he jokingly reminded me to update my lock screen wallpaper since I'm a BMW owner now.
I get the sneaking suspicion that Matt wasn't ready for being the person to shakedown a fresh mechanical rebuild. As I drank a seltzer and he took a hit of a very large bong, I realized that he was the classic destructo-type. The kind of guy that can take anything apart but never get it back together again. He asked if I had ever worked on a Porsche. I said no and we remarked on how they are engine-out for almost anything. Something tells me that his 911 isn't that healthy.
I chose to drive the E46 home since it was getting a bit late and I'd rather break down with that if it's light out than not. I left the Miata at his place and set off. I gassed up, headed home. Aside from the car's outside temperature sensor randomly deciding that I should watch out for ice, everything went fine.
I ran inside, used the bathroom, requested an Uber back there, and before I could even finish a piece a chicken, the Uber was there. William, a 30-something year old ex-cop, was a pretty nice guy. A broken person if there ever was one but all the genuineness of someone brought up by an atomic family. On the drive up the mountain, he told me how he went from highschool to army then army to law enforcement. He had a mental breakdown when his long time girlfriend broke up with him in a fireworks-filled announcement that she had been cheating on him for 5 years. He couldn't handle it so he quite his job and started driving for Uber/Lyft while he sorts his life out.
Somewhere around the midpoint of his story, his Lyft app buzzed. I really felt for this guy as it's clear that he really cares about people. He looked at the app — it was requesting a pickup at Sand Beach on Lake Tahoe, which was about 35 minutes from our present location. "There's no Ubers or Lyfts up there this time of night. Sorry, but if we don't accept this, these people are stuck up there with nothing but rain and bears for the entire night." He called Ellen on the phone to verify that she didn't have more than 3 people (she said it was her and her husband) and we picked them up. I swapped to the front so Ellen and her Husband could have the rear together.
William mentioned something about the 49ers to our new rear passengers and Ellen's husband broke out with "well I'm a Patriots fan". Well hot damn, I'm a Patriots fan too! Turns out he's from a town near Boston that's only about 45 minutes from where I grew up. Small world. They were happy to not be bear food. We dropped them off at a restaurant near their house and continued on. Total detour was about 3 minutes and the adventure was worth it.
As we got up to where my Miata was parked, the weather became a full on downpour. We got to my car, I thanked William and wished him the very best, then I started my drive home in the rain. It was uneventful but I did discover that the Miata's very aggressive alignment and summer tires don't love the rain.
I'm pretty happy to have "saved" this car. I think it's going to be a pretty decent winter car. I may give it an additional shakedown trip to Vegas next month. If that goes well, maybe I'll drive it cross country in December.