As if my plate wasn’t full enough, I remember why I shouldn’t be left alone on Trademe.
Related Project Links
I had been looking for a second reliable road-legal car for a while since neither the Marina nor Tomcat fits the bill and having just the one working car for both of us has proven bit of a pain. Thankfully the couple I had looked at ended up falling over as they were up there in price and it turns out I needed the money to get the Tomcat back together.
Once the idea was planted it was hard to let go of, so I started keeping an eye on the lower end of the market, the sub 1K cars. Either something that I could fix easily or something that was already on the road ready to go.
After wading through pools and pools of utter shite on TM and FB, I bid on a cheap 1st gen Manual Honda Jazz that had failed a WOF on surface rust on the underside, but when bidding hit my upper limit I bailed out and let it go.
Next I spotted a cheap E36 Compact. Under a grand, and had hit reserve. It was local, but the auction finished that night, so no chance to go inspect the car.
The description on the listing was vague. The model, “a future classic??” and “sold as is because it’s an old BMW, please view”. was all that was said. On the plus side, it had a new WOF, current rego, and moderate KMs. The photos showed the car as in OK condition, and the seller had answered a question asking if it ran/drove and if there were any faults, with a fairly simple “no error lights, drives well, leaks a few drops of oil and has a dent in the side”.
What can possibly go wrong?
I chucked a couple of cheeky auto bids at it, kind of expecting to be outbid, but suddenly I was the highest bidder and the listing was closing. I turned to my wife who was watching TV next to me and said “Uh, I just bought a car”. Needless to say, she was somewhat surprised.
The next day I met the seller in town, had a quick look around and handed over the cash… $1050. It didn’t quite end up being sub 1K, but it’s hard to argue with a new WOF and ready to drive away.
That’s how I became the owner of a 1998 BMW 318Ti Compact with Motorsport options in a fetching Arctic Silver Metallic. It has the mighty M44B19 1.9L 4 Cylinder and a 4-speed auto. The engine has no fancy anything, other than fuel injection, but is a simple and reliable twin cam that puts out about 138hp. Compared to the N series engines that followed, with Vanos, Valvetronic and all manner of fancy gubbins, the old M44 is bulletproof.
The drive home was uneventful. The car had half a tank of gas in it, even if it was likely to be some old 91 octane. One thing that immediately struck me though was how slow it was. I’ve driven an auto 318is before, albeit in a coupe, and found the engine rather sprightly and loved to rev; this one was flat and felt down on power.
That was until I gave it a bootful when joining the motorway. My wife who was following me in the Honda, commented that there was a cloud of brown smoke, but suddenly the car was feeling a bit more lively. The more I drove it hard, the more the engine freed up. Clearly, it had been living an easy life, puttering around town never seeing more than quarter throttle.
The suspension is a bit soft but good for absorbing bumps for a smooth ride, and the auto shifts like a 90s auto. Not silky smooth, but not harsh or jerky (and no Jatco jerk like I had in the 323i).
I do really like the E36 series cars. It’s a classic design, easy enough to live with, and generally built quite well. There is also that distinctive smell, kinda like crayons. Getting into this car for the first time instantly transported me back to my first BMW (the 323i above) and it was very nostalgic.
On the way home I swung by a local river and grabbed a couple of quick photos.
I know the back end is a real Marmite thing; people either love it or hate it. After years of not really liking it I’m firmly in the love it camp, but only under certain conditions, such as this one where it has the Motorsport bodykit and topped off with that little spoiler on the tailgate. The poverty pack ones don’t do it for me.
And yes, that is a proper tailgate, not like the Tomcat with a pathetically small boot opening. The whole glass opens up on this to reveal a spacious load space, with split-folding seats. It’s very practical.
Interestingly, the compact weirdness doesn’t end with the back end. The front panels are from the saloon, not the coupe (saloon front is apparently shorter), the doors aren’t pillarless like the coupe (they are similar to the saloon doors but apparently bespoke to the compact) and the interior is just… weird. It’s like a crossover between the E30 and E36, but sharing little with either.
I can imagine a low spec model without half leather seats must be a pretty dreary place to be as its all hard plastics and the dash does feel quite low cost. To be fair, the whole car was designed to be low cost as it was the entry-level model, designed as a stepping stone into the world of BMW luxury.
The interior trim on this is kinda special for such a low-cost model; all the leather trim has blue stitching and it gained the MSport steering wheel which under all the filth, has the tricolour ///M stitching.
It’s all in dire need of a damn good clean, but it’s generally in good condition with only a couple of minor spots worn through the leather on the drivers bolster, a couple of cracks in the door trim, and some sagging at the back of the headlining; all common 90s car/E36 stuff.
The other major weirdness with the compact is that while it shares the front MacPherson strut setup with all other E36s, the rear suspension is completely different and more similar to the Z3 or E30, being a semi-trailing arm setup rather than the more modern multi-link setup.
The mighty M44B19 in all its filthy and unloved glory. No coil on plug, no Vanos, no Valvetronic, no E-throttle, just an iron block with an alloy head and two cams.
It has a sticker on the windscreen showing it’s been serviced in the past, which is a good start, albeit it’s due for another service by time (not KM). It also looks like it may have had a replacement radiator at some point as it and the coolant cap look quite new. Everything else is filthy though (and damn I hate people that write on the engine like that).
As the previous owner mentioned, yes, it does leak oil. I have narrowed down two of the leaks, to the valve cover gasket and the oil filter housing gasket, so have ordered replacements for those (along with service items). Both are super common E36 leaks. I haven’t looked under the car yet, so hopefully it’s not the sump gasket too.
One thing that wasn’t mentioned was the brake shudder coming down from speed, so as soon as I can I will check the runout on the rotors and see which ones need replacing. It’s not bad enough to fail a WOF, but it’s annoying. Same with the rough idle the car has when warm, also annoying, but harmless.
Overall, I’m chuffed with the car. It drives well, I like driving it, and the more I drive it the more it’s freeing up and not being so sluggish. Once I empty the tank down enough to fill it with 98 and reset adaptations hopefully it will open up a bit more power again. I’ve quite enjoyed being back in an E36 platform car again, even if it is bottom of the rung powertrain wise (well, let’s not even talk about the 316… ugh).
The day after picking the car up I was even brave enough to drive the car the 60 odd KM round trip to work. Other than the speakers all being shite, the car performed flawlessly.
Being the tinkerer I am, I tinkered with a few things on my lunch break. First was to retrieve the passengers window switch, which had been pushed into the center console. With the surround popped off, the switch was found and pulled out.
Thankfully both the window and the switch work perfectly, all that was needed was to refit the surround and clip the switch in. Pity the surround is cracked so it doesn’t hold the switch securely. It does still work, you just have to be gentle pressing the buttons. I either need to glue this back together or find a replacement.
Both switches refitted. The drivers switch needs replacement too as it’s damaged on the down button. It still works, but isn’t nice to touch.
I took a bit of time to check some other things too, such as the first aid kit that was kicking around in the back seat. This is complete and unused.
This is meant to slip down into one of the two pockets at the side of the boot floor, but the one it fits into currently has the Japanese owners manuals, and a wheel chock (both of which will come out at some point) so after finding the two straps with the tools in the boot, I strapped it to the boot floor for now.
Speaking of tools, this car has the complete tool kit, including the weird tools for lowering the underslung spare wheel
The red cap in the above photo is covering a hole in the boot floor, which if the spare wheel has been stowed correctly should line up with the tyre valve, so you can check the pressure easily. Sadly this one wasn’t stowed correctly and doesn’t line up.
Another weird little Compact thing is that the gauge cluster doesn’t have an economy meter (or oil temp for the M3) below the tacho, as all other E36 models have. It’s just a solid blank.
It’s not quite as good looking as my co-workers new F30, but it’s charming in its own right.
Another fix I have done to the car is to replace one of the center vents as all the vertical vanes were missing so the direction could not be changed, which was a pain as this was the vent for the driver.
I picked up a whole vent cluster from Pick A Part, but only replaced the actual vent as it’s quite easy. You tip the vent right down, and then push further until it clicks.
And then using a thin trim tool I gently levered the LH side of the vent against where the dial is, to pop the pin out of the clip and then the vent can be removed. Once the vent is removed you can see how it works; there is a little track on the side leading to a clip that a pin clips into for the tilt function.
This is why I was replacing it. Empty.
No sign of the missing parts, so they probably fell into the heater box. Doesn’t seem to rattle, thankfully.
And the replacement
To fit the replacement you slide the pins on the track and push the vent into place until it clips in, and then tilt it back up again.
Because I can’t help myself, I chucked an LED into the interior light too. I tried to fit one to the boot light (Which wasn’t working) but it seems the switch is at fault on that one, and it’s a Compact specific part.
That brings us up to date. I have had the car a week today, and have been driving it as much as I can. Various parts are on the way to fix a couple of things and to give the car a good service.
This will not become a project though. I swear.