600.1 Miles on the M3

For the past three weeks I’ve been using (read: abusing) the M3 as my primary means of transportation.  Partly because two of my cars are in various states of mending, partly because my truck gets a solid 11.7mpg, and partly because I needed to shake-down the M3 for its future life as a track rat.  The best way to find out what needs fixed on any car is to drive it, and drive it hard.  Since most of the components are well beyond their life span at nearly 200,000 miles, I knew half the car would be going in the trash.  The engine and chassis were my main concerns, plus anything salvageable from the drivetrain.

I’ve been on leave, and the car has yet to receive its DoD tags, so it hasn’t seen daily commuting duty, but has been my means for trips to and from Autozone, Chipotle, and a recent trip to Simpson’s HQs, which saw time on Toll 130 and speeds up to 90mph.  It’s hauled groceries, car parts, and a full Sonic Route44 has soaked its way through the back carpet.  Though this car is 18+ years old, I can really see the appeal of the M3 platform.  It truly is a daily-use sports car.  The back seats are just large enough to be used, the trunk is spacious, it gets decent gas mileage, it’s comfortable, quiet, low key, yet still fun to drive.  A sedan M3, as the new M3 will be produced, really is an all-around great choice.

Now let’s get the bad out of the way.  Bear in mind it’s edging 200k on the odometer, and judging from a few inspections, wasn’t owned by the most mechanically inclined folks in its past (O’reily brand fluids in the trunk, Pyle speakers, you get the idea.)  I’m not going to go in depth on the cosmetics, like the numerous small dents or its missing clear coat, it’s never going to be show car quality.

My first maintenance step was to run some Techron through the first tank of gas, at the same time I topped off the crank with a bottle of Marvel Mystery Oil.  Then I proceeded to run it hard.  The first couple of WOT pulls resulted in an impressive smoke show.  Something was clearly working itself loose.  It was happening on throttle, so I’m guessing oil rings, but really it could have been a number of things.  The good news it only lasted a few pulls and hasn’t shown itself again.  The second tank of fuel was treated with about 6oz of Marvel Mystery Oil, and the third another bottle of Techron.  Still running the original (dirty) oil for the time.  I’ll probably take a Blackstone sample of this oil, just to see how bad it is, at least give me a baseline, surely the next one will be a big improvement.

While on the subject of fluids, she’s dripping something, witness the oily stains in my driveway.  Likely culprit is the power steering lines, which are known to leak.  It’s usually an easy fix with new lines and a worm clamp.  The fluid level is midway on the stick, so it could also be oil.  Either way, the engine and all accessories will probably come out so I can give it a good once-over.  The coolant level was low when I got the car, so I topped it off with some distilled water, which hasn’t gone down since.  It also hasn’t exhibited any signs of overheating, though the gauge on the dash is little more than a go/no-go dummie needle, staying locked to the mid point regardless of the situation.

The chassis itself feels decently taut, though it creaks and groans like a wood ship over any undulations in the road.  I attribute that to what I can only assume are original bushings, which I imagine have long since turned into whatever rubber turns into when it fossilizes.  There are also a mix of shocks on the rear, one which was free hanging when I purchased the car.  I jury-rigged it for the time being, but I’m sure it’s not helping.

The drivetrain is making even worse sounds, there is a one-rev clicking which I would guess is one or more CVs going out.  There’s another much slower thudding sound, which I would also attribute to the CVs.  I’ll know for certain when I get it on jack stands and disconnect the axles one at a time and run it, hopefully the sound goes away, indicating the differential and drive-shaft are okay.  The transmission actually shifts pretty smooth, and easily allows for rev-matching heal toe shifts.  The shifter itself has quite a bit of play in the neutral gate, probably still has the original rubber and plastic bushings.  The clutch seems to grip fine and hasn’t shown any signs of slipping.  I’ll probably redo the shift pins on my 30k transmission from the M Coupe and put it in the M3, just for a little more peace of mind.

The brakes are of unknown age/condition, there’s a steady pad thickness warning on the dash.  I’ll be rebuilding all the caliper seals, replacing the rubber guides with brass ones, new pads and rotors.  The parking brake is definitely in need of some love, only the back right appears to be grabbing.  It’s an easy enough fix and will be taken care of when I rebuild the brakes.  A tire chock is serving as extra safety reassurance against my rather steep driveway.

Most of the ancillaries are in so-so working order.  The sunroof opens and closes surprisingly well, the windows occasionally refuse to go up on the first try, with the driver’s side not sealing completely.  The AC and heat are working flawlessly, which will help with the parts sale when I tear them both out.  The OBC refuses to do more than tell me to enter the time, so it’s coming out as well.  Fortunately the car is relatively old-school with manual seats, OBD-I, no keyless entry, or other high-tech complications.  The cruise control does work, even though it’s the older cable operated style routed directly to the throttle body.  It’ll be coming out as well.

I could probably go on with the deficiencies, but most will be completely removed as the car is paired down to the bare essentials necessary to go/turn/stop.  The good news is that the engine, despite it’s age and poor treatment, pulls decently strong.  It’s most definitely my slowest car, but still easily makes its way through traffic.  Dropping a lot of weight will definitely help, along with freshening up the engine.  No power mods are planned, other than a new air intake to ditch the clunky and restrictive stock unit.  Not so much of a performance modification, but the rather restrictive and heavy exhaust system will be simplified by way of a single 3″ pipe rather than the duals and heavy stock muffler.

Lots to do, just have to find a spot in the garage now.


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