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My First Bimmer

So I had an issue. I was moving to Wellington from Christchurch in a matter of days, and had just sold my only car (pending pickup). What do?

Trademe. Jumped on and found some cars local and since my car hadn’t been picked up just yet I went for a drive and test drove some. The one that stood out was this super tidy, low KM BMW 323i of the E36 chassis. It was a Japanese import, in Hellrot red, automatic with motorsport pack.

The day to sell the Galant arrived, and the moment the new owner had driven off I called the owner of the BMW. “hey, just sold my car, im at the mall near you, I’ll buy your car if you bring it to me”. Keeping in mind I was on the other side of town to home and had no car now, this was a gamble. Thankfully he agreed, arrived and a deal was done. Cash was exchanged and I dropped him home.

When I took ownership it had just over 72,000km on the clock, and looked it. No falling to bits interior trim, and the exterior was in good shape (although very dirty; not like I gave him time to clean it). Sadly it did have one major flaw. Being a Jap import it had the Jatco automatic transmission. These autos are well known for something called the “Jatco Jerk”, where when changing from 1st to 2nd gear it will give a hearty lurch. I didn’t really know what this was until I owned the car, but I soon learnt to just drive around it.

The time came to move cities from Christchurch to Wellington, so I loaded the car up and headed for the ferry. It was a long, 4 hour or so, drive alone, but it was great fun and the BMW made sure I didn’t get uncomfortable or tired. It did well, but unfortunately the combo of the extra weight, and the hard driving basically did the auto trans in. It was starting to slip badly and the jerk got worse.

I arrived safely in Wellington, and started to look into what to do with the auto. I could no longer trust it to get me across an intersection when needed, as the trans would lurch and slip before engaging drive. Terrible. I could service it, and I might get some more time out of it (although the jerk would stay, it’s a design “feature”) but in the end I decided to convert to manual.

I was recommended a local BMW independent workshop (who will remain anonymous, despite them shutting up shop and reopening under a different name) and they gave me a good price for the manual conversion, drive in, drive out. I sent the car in, and a couple of days later (of slumming it on the public transport system I must add!) and I got the call to pick the car up.

What a difference! The car felt alive, so much more responsive and fun to drive. This feeling didn’t last long, as the conversion was incomplete (missing the gearboot and had a loaner knob until the correct ones arrived) and was somewhat carelessly installed. The transmission was noisy and crunched into gear, so I swiftly turned back and enquired what was up. Turns out they had filled the trans with the wrong fluid, so a quick change to the correct stuff and it was much better.

They also didn’t fit ANY of the shifter bushings, meaning it was like stirring a pot of soup trying to get a gear. Bloody terrible, and when I hit them up about it I just got abused and told I don’t know what im talking about. Regardless, once the gear boot and knob arrived and were fitted I left and had nothing to do with them again. I swiftly got online and ordered a new set of shifter bushes from the States, as well as a pair of new shift linkage rods as the ones fitted to the car were cut and shut (welded) to fit the car and didn’t work well, so I got the correct ones.

Everything arrived and I got to work fitting it all. Not a major job to do, other than the bastard of a seal on the shifter rod in the box, that took ages to get out. After that shifting was amazing, so slick and direct. Should’ve been like this in the first place.

Only had a couple of other issues with this car, nothing too major. I had to replace both front lower arms and rear bushes due to wear. The car used to shimmy across its lane going over bumps in the road, this issue went away with the new parts. I also had an ongoing issue with the check control warning me about tail light failure.

I replaced the stop lamp switch with an aftermarket one, which although appeared to work for a while ended up coming apart. It was replaced under warranty, and the replacement was worse. The error kept coming back, but what I didn’t notice immediately is that occasionally I would completely lose brake lights. The reason I found out was one day on the motorway heading out in rush hour traffic to meet a potential buyer of the car, the error popped up. I happened to be stopped in front of a truck with a big chrome grille, and sure enough I couldn’t see any brake lights in it. The rest of the drive I used the manual button for my rear fog lights to at least have some bright red lights on the rear when I was stopping. I managed to fix that switch with the cars toolkit in the forecourt of a petrol station before the guy showed up. I threw out the switch and purchased a genuine one and didn’t have an issue again. I didn’t end up selling to this guy anyway.

Also had the typical boot wiring failure which I fixed by resoldering the broken wires. This showed up by the boot unlocking with central locking, but wouldn’t lock again. Was a PITA as it would leave my boot unlocked unless I used the key to lock it.

It was completely standard other than a set of really good looking 18″ CSL rep wheels, which when I got the car I thought were gunmetal gray, turns out they were just filthy and actually silver. I heard later on that the new owner had them stolen off the car, so some generic mag and turbo specials were fitted as replacements 🙁

After enjoying the car for a bit I decided it was time for a change. I always had a bitter taste in my mouth from the issues I had with the manual conversion which meant I kinda loathed the car deep down. I drove to Bulls and sold it to some kid whose family had a few BMWs.

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