For the past 10+ years I’ve been daily driving a Nissan Titan, starting with a 2004 2WD LE, now with my 2009 Pro-4X.  Prior to that it was ’99 Chevy Blazer.  While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, they are not what you’d describe as rewarding drivers.  A truck by its very nature is utilitarian, I don’t care if the manufacturer claims it to be a “sport” truck, it simply can not match the feel of a well sorted car*.  This lack of driving experience comes with added detractors, such as poor fuel economy (try 11.5mpg city), difficulty parking, and limited maneuverability when you need it most (like avoiding concrete barriers.)  So why not just drive one of the other cars you ask.  Clearly you haven’t been following my blog for long; the Spyder is ill with a case of blown engine and the M Coupe is too rare and precious to be subjected to the drivers of greater Killeen, TX.  And yes, I do drive the M Coupe on the track, funny that I consider that less abusive than around town.  In any case, even if the MR2 were mission capable, it wouldn’t be the best choice in a DD.  Let’s just say it’s a little loud… okay, maybe I wear ear plugs under my helmet when driving it.  A 6-point harness doesn’t help its case either.

So, I knew I wanted something semi frugal, and no that doesn’t mean a Prius or a Civic.  My disdain for FWD still stands, I demand rear wheel drive in a sporty chassis.  In this day, that alone sharply narrows the field, and those remaining are often small sports cars (ie Miata, S2000, etc.)  I definitely didn’t need another two door car, I wanted something a bit more practical.  I also wanted something I was familiar with, something that I could easily work on myself, that had plentiful sources of both used parts and aftermarket support… I think you know where I’m going with this.  The E36 chassis is a natural choice, for many of the same reasons I chose it for a race car project.  They are very common, fairly inexpensive to operate and maintain, and it checks the sporty box.. twice.  I first considered a 318ti, given my penchant for semi-trailing arms and rear hatches, plus it can achieve pretty decent fuel economy figures.  Unfortunately, quality examples are far and few between, and those that are in good condition are now fetching a premium due to its rarity and rise as a bit of a “cult” car.  It also doesn’t meet my desire of four doors, so it was out.

BMW produced quite a few different sedan variants of the E36, but the ultimate was and will always be the M3 (even holding true with the recent naming convention reorganization.)  What of the E46 M3?  Still priced too high for an additional daily, and no sedan was offered.  So now to find an M3 sedan, shouldn’t be hard right?  I did have a few essentials; it had to be a manual, had to be on my short list of colors (no black, yellow, red, or purple…er Techno Violet), and of course it had to be in good condition.  I hit the interwebs at the normal starting points: forum classifieds, eBay, AutoTrader, and Craigslist.  Having learned my lesson (read: Spyder), it had to be local so that I could give it a good once over.  Lo and behold, on one of my first search attempts on Craigslist I found what looked to be a cherry ’98 M3 Sedan in Arctic Silver.  What was most promising was the advertisement itself, it was as though I had written it myself.  Too many times you read poorly written ads, filled with inaccuracies, half truths, or just down right dumb statements.  This ad spelled out the maintenance, the issues, the items remaining to be taken care of, and even included a list of extra parts included.  I shot the seller an email and was greeted with equally impressive correspondence.

1998 BMW M3 Sedan

As mentioned, the car is a 1998 M3 Sedan, with roughly 122,000 miles on the clock.  That shouldn’t be an issue, as these engines can go on for a long time if cared for.  It was originally owned in New York (not a plus) then Washington (also not a plus) then California, and eventually found its way to dry Texas.  The seller provided a very comprehensive Excel spreadsheet service history, showing all dealer, independent shop, and owner performed maintenance and servicing.  It had lived a pretty pampered life, including repairs to the most common headaches (coolant system, giubo, etc.)  What was very intriguing was that while in California the car had spent time at TC Kline’s shop, where it was outfitted with a set of SA coilovers and a few other goodies.  The previous owner had also done a little rust repair to the rear subframe, given the life it had spent on salted northern roads.  So I had to see it.

Just a short drive down to North Austin later and I was combing over the car in the driveway.  The car was cold on arrival, always make sure a seller hasn’t warmed up a car to mask any starting issues.  The seller threw me the keys and gave me a quick verbal route to follow where I could get it up to highway speeds.  A few miles in the car and I was nearly sold.  It wasn’t my first time in an E36 (remember my old white one once did move under its own power), but it reminded me of why I liked them so much.  It’s no S54 M Coupe in the power department, but it’ll get out of its own way just fine.  The car wasn’t without fault, but the seller had been honest with everything.  It had been experiencing some emissions related CELs (surprised right?), but he had replaced nearly every related component.  It had a new secondary air pump (SAP), new exhaust SAP valve, new vacuum tubing, and a few other odd bits.  The light wasn’t showing, nor did it come on during the drive.  The engine sounded good, with just a little buzz coming from the instrument cluster on high-rev decel.  It had a few dings, but overall the paint was in great shape, clearly a garaged car.  The interior was in very good condition as well, with just the expected wear on the bolsters.  The steering wheel had been replaced recently with a tri-color stitched three point wheel, much nicer than the stock four pointer.  It also had a ZHP knob, though the carrier bushings could use replacing.  Thankfully all the previous owners had enough sense to leave the stock radio in place, with a hidden Ipod adapter being the only concession to the modern age.

The bad; well it had a pesky oil drip coming from the back of the head, most likely the valve cover gasket.  The seller had a new one ready for installation.  The headliner was also sagging in the back, not so much you’d notice from the front seats, but something that needed to be addressed eventually.  A few of the wheels had a little curb rash, but I’ve seen worse.  I asked to put the car up on a set of ramps to check the rear suspension for the usual suspects; tearing subframe mounts, sway bar ears, and trailing arm pockets.  The owner obliged, and I shuffled underneath with a headlamp.  Everything checked out, no signs of tears or pulling or otherwise deformed metal.  While I was under I took a good look at the body itself for rust.  Again, everything checked out.  All in all it looked like a solid example, a good candidate to serve as my steed in the daily slog, yet something that wouldn’t drain my soul, say like a Kia would.  After a bit of haggling, both parties satisfied… oh what am I talking about, of course I wanted it cheaper.  In any case, I left with a not-so-new ’98 M3.

Stay tuned for many more updates on the car in the near future.  Like all my automobiles, I can’t leave well enough alone.  This car, however, is walking the straight and narrow path of daily driver, so all work is limited to that which will specifically ensure its continued reliability and nothing more… I promise (fingers slightly crossed.)

 

 

*Of all the full-size trucks I drove (Silverado, F150, Ram, Tundra), the Nissan Titan had by far the best steering feel.  I would describe it as car like, except that it actually has better steering than some cars.

 

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