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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
(To preface, this makes Darling #3 for me. My other darlings were a 4.0 Cherokee (my first-time homeowner beater truck) and an NA Miata.)

I had a Miata for 4 years, autocrossed it (mostly in STR trim) but by 2015, I had toned down the # of events I was doing and the Miata became mostly a commuter. I had wanted to get into track days with the Miata, but lack of a roll bar or hardtop had precluded that. Helping a buddy out with the install of a roll bar on his NA demonstrated that 1) I was unwilling to do that to my clean NA and 2) I didn’t want to live with the drawbacks of a roll bar in a street-driven Miata. Roll bar or not, I was still not happy with how much it would beat me up in the daily commute, so I sold it in early 2016 and bought a 2002 WRX sedan. I didn’t autocross it, but it was our getaway car for our wedding, which was cool.



Despite that memory, I never clicked with the WRX, so I sold it 6 months later - surprisingly at a profit, given the amount of maintenance I had to do on it - and set my sights on acquiring a vehicle that was practical (4-door sedan preferred) but trackable, which landed the E36 M3/4/5 in my sights. Didn’t realize ‘till recently that it was a TCL darling, but regardless I’ve always been fascinated by 4-door M3’s.

I drove a decent example a few months ago, and while I didn’t fall in love with it, the concept of owning one still stuck in my head months later. I blame the short test drive and stock-but-worn-in condition of that car.

Anyway, fast forward to today, this M3 popped up on Craigslist, the same place that birthed the previous 2 Darlings. The seller was unabashed about its condition and very upfront about its issues:
  • 201,000 miles
  • Been tracked (set up for HPDE/autocross instructor car)
  • Body rust
  • Rebuilt title
  • CEL on

Despite the downsides, there were some upsides:
  • Mechanically well-sorted, and owned/maintained by a BMWCCA instructor and motorsport shop owner
  • Decent interior - everything still works, seats aren’t FUBAR like in a lot of E36 M3’s
  • All the standard bolt-on suspension and braking goodies are there - refreshed bushings (diff mounts, RTAB’s, subframe bushings are all poly), Bilsteins/H&R’s, swapped front strut mounts, track pads, SS lines, etc.
  • Most high-mileage wear components (control arm bushings, wheel bearings, ball joints) are high quality replacement parts

Met up with the seller on a Monday night at his shop. As a testament to the condition described in the ad, and on the phone, the car looked rough but ran great. At first he took it for a spin (literally) to show that the LSD worked, and then we threw the car on his lift to go over the condition of the car, soup to nuts. I then took it for a rip, and fell in love with how perfect the car is set up. It purrs like a sewing machine at idle or while cruising, and it will play as dangerously as you want it to. A lot of the character that was missing in that previous car I test drove, as well as the WRX, was back in this beat-up old Bimmer. It even smells like an old Bimmer, which takes me back to my E28.

The seller was awesome in that he offered to replace the aftermarket cat converters (the car was throwing a CEL for catalyst efficiency) and O2 sensors for me to be able to register the car (emissions is still needed to register in CT) and drive it until emissions readiness was set. In the meantime, I went ahead and ordered a radio, and snagged an M50 manifold, a center console to cut up for a gauge cluster, and an amber corner light (the mismatch was killing me) from the local junkyard. Work picked up at the sellers shop and he didn’t have the time to drive it, I couldn’t wait any longer. I ended up driving up and trailering the car back home today. This makes the 4th car that the Frontier has towed home.

The seller included a set of snows, so it’ll be the occasional winter driver. I will still be driving my wife’s Mazda3 the 100 miles to/from work, but I’ll use the M3 for errands and maybe the occasional commute. Come spring, I will outfit it with a set of sticky tires in the spring and go racing. It’ll be a mix of autocross and some track days/HPDE events.

So, is this a flaming pile or does it have potential? I am leaning towards the latter since the rust isn’t that bad, but we’ll see how stout the S52 in the car really is. Even so, if the rest of the car falls apart, then E36 shells are a dime a dozen, and all the mechanical bits will swap in just fine. Worst case, I’ve already cut my chops on an LS conversion in an old Chevy truck, and I see no difference in an E36 ;). I’ve also got FCP Euro on speed dial, free parts delivery, and buddies with tools and beer (at my place and at their respective places) so I’m excited to see where this takes me. I’m excited because I kinda let life get in the way of my motorsports aspirations the last few years, so this will hopefully be a welcome relapse.

Now, onto a few potato pics:











 

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Discussion Starter #3
I love the E36 but this one looks like a huge pile of garbage...I am just being honest here.
No offense taken. Since pics are the only thing I can convey on the interwebs, it's a reasonable conclusion.
 

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a 200k bmw with a track used and modded history and a rebuilt title. not sure i could convince myself to pick-up something like that unless at a very (and i mean very) low price.

good luck OP, I have a bad feeling this one could be a lot of trouble.
 

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I'd say you are a vad gimmick account except he already did the beat to **** salvaged E36 M3 sedan thing years ago.
 

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Wow, 4 door M3 that isn't Autotragic! I say it has potential. Whether it is potentially awesome or potentially a disaster will be solely in the eyes of the beholder. Good luck, I have been eyeballing an E36 as a fun beater/toy ever since E28 and E30 prices have skyrocketed for even the most questionable examples. This thread is relevant to my interests!
 

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Knowing what you paid for it (ok, knowing what the seller was asking) means I give this the okay. My friend saw it on CL weeks ago and asked if I wanted to go in on it as a track toy but the garage is full right now. Wilie motorsports has a good rep around here and they seemingly know their e36/46 very well. clean it up cosmetically and enjoy!
 

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I wouldn't be able to find a used silver E36 hood for that thing fast enough. The "motor sports" decals would have come off before the first pic too!

But I don't really see any downside to this, after your description. It certainly sounds like you have a solid grasp of how to deal with the little issues, and it sounds like the major stuff won't blow up any time soon. I think you're gonna love that beast :thumbup:
 

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What's wrong with the suspension? Was the PO a stancebro or did he just leave some lead in the trunk?
 

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I'll go against the grain here--I think you'll be fine.

Remove all the decals, replace the hood, and paint the roof and you'd have a very presentable car. :thumbup:
 

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I'll go against the grain here--I think you'll be fine.

Remove all the decals, replace the hood, and paint the roof and you'd have a very presentable car. :thumbup:
I agree - apart from the title and rust, it could be a good cheap fun E36.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Looks like a decent pickup given all the mechanical freshening and upgrades. What's the roof painted with?
Thanks! The roof is plastidip. I'll remove it if it bugs me, but so far it doesn't. Can't see the roof when driving :peace:

a 200k bmw with a track used and modded history and a rebuilt title. not sure i could convince myself to pick-up something like that unless at a very (and i mean very) low price.
Low is a relative term, but I'll just say that I don't think I could even get another Miata in similar condition (i.e. with rust) and ready to track for the $$. As much as I'd like to get back into one, I'm not ready yet.

I'd say you are a vad gimmick account except he already did the beat to **** salvaged E36 M3 sedan thing years ago.
Didn't even think about that. Wrong coast to be Vad...

Wow, 4 door M3 that isn't Autotragic! I say it has potential. Whether it is potentially awesome or potentially a disaster will be solely in the eyes of the beholder. Good luck, I have been eyeballing an E36 as a fun beater/toy ever since E28 and E30 prices have skyrocketed for even the most questionable examples. This thread is relevant to my interests!
I thought hope was lost when I passed on a fairly presentable M3/4/5 a few months ago for $6700. I too looked to the E36 since I was looking for something nimble, and I've been around enough BMWs to know these aren't as dangerous to work on as they get made out to be.

If you got it for beater money I see nothing wrong with this.
Again, relative term. What some people call beaters do cost more than what I paid for this.

Knowing what you paid for it (ok, knowing what the seller was asking) means I give this the okay. My friend saw it on CL weeks ago and asked if I wanted to go in on it as a track toy but the garage is full right now. Wilie motorsports has a good rep around here and they seemingly know their e36/46 very well. clean it up cosmetically and enjoy!
Thanks! I enjoyed meeting Jake and he's a straightforward dude. I took a shot as well (I was similarly hesitant about the issues I mentioned) but seeing the car in person told a whole other story, and I'm glad I snagged it.

I wouldn't be able to find a used silver E36 hood for that thing fast enough. The "motor sports" decals would have come off before the first pic too!

But I don't really see any downside to this, after your description. It certainly sounds like you have a solid grasp of how to deal with the little issues, and it sounds like the major stuff won't blow up any time soon. I think you're gonna love that beast :thumbup:
I couldn't hold off on the write up, I'm so stoked. I already got the matching amber lamp, and the decals will come off as well, except for the header banner - I do like it. Those are vinyls on top of the banner, so I might replace the shop decal with an M or something else. I never do stuff like that so it'll be fun to be a little tacky.

What's wrong with the suspension? Was the PO a stancebro or did he just leave some lead in the trunk?
H&R's on an E36 will tuck the rear wheels. The alignment is set up for autocross and track. The front strut mounts are swapped to gain a bit of front end camber as well.

The car is also loaded up with the snow tires and wheels - 2 in the back, 2 in the trunk. My driveway is also at a slight incline.

I'll go against the grain here--I think you'll be fine.

Remove all the decals, replace the hood, and paint the roof and you'd have a very presentable car. :thumbup:
One of my good buddies is a body guy - he actually came along for the ride today - and he is telling me the same thing. We'll see what the availability in my 'shop' (if you can even call my 1-car garage that) is like with my Mk2 project - the next 6-7 months will be focused on the body of that car - and how easily it would be to slip the E36 in.

But the rust is much more cosmetic than the rot that was present on my $7,000 Bugeye WRX.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
I agree - apart from the title and rust, it could be a good cheap fun E36.
To get it registered, the rebuilt title doesn't add any extra aggravation. It'll also kill any semblance of value, so it lowers my inhibitions to not do anything to ruin a 'clean' example.

And the repairs (the car was rear ended in the RR quarter) are cleaner than the repairs to the rad crossmember on my clean-title'd E28. It was done right. The FL fender is also a replacement but it's a DOT-R replacement from BMW. The car has less silver variation than my friend's E39 (also clean title) that had some body work done to it over his 12-year ownership. I am actually kind of surprised.

E36's are on the rise around here, so I couldn't get this kind of performance from a standard-spec E36. A cosmetically-nice one could maybe been had, but then I'd be spending more dough on the performance goodies that this has.
 

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Other than the typical stancebro mods, I think it looks fine.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
Other than the typical stancebro mods, I think it looks fine.
Ha, unfortunately it's missing the Racelands and XXRs to be much of a stancebro. I like that the mods have stories: the hood vents were due to cutting out damage from a clutch fan failure; the hood pins are a result of a hood latch failure.

The plastidip, well I don't know why that's there, so I guess that's the only stancebro thing on the car...
 

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To get it registered, the rebuilt title doesn't add any extra aggravation. It'll also kill any semblance of value, so it lowers my inhibitions to not do anything to ruin a 'clean' example.

And the repairs (the car was rear ended in the RR quarter) are cleaner than the repairs to the rad crossmember on my clean-title'd E28. It was done right. The FL fender is also a replacement but it's a DOT-R replacement from BMW. The car has less silver variation than my friend's E39 (also clean title) that had some body work done to it over his 12-year ownership. I am actually kind of surprised.

E36's are on the rise around here, so I couldn't get this kind of performance from a standard-spec E36. A cosmetically-nice one could maybe been had, but then I'd be spending more dough on the performance goodies that this has.
that's what I meant by the rebuilt title comment. sounds like it was perfect buy for your intentions. should be a fun car after a little maintenance. :beer:
 

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For the right price, I'd say you got a fun car. E36 M3 is the most approachable M3 to own and now people are remembering how great they are to drive. Arguably one of the best. Enjoy it!
 

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Discussion Starter #20
that's what I meant by the rebuilt title comment. sounds like it was perfect buy for your intentions. should be a fun car after a little maintenance. :beer:
Gotcha :beer:.

I gotta say, while I was reading the E36 thread I saw your car and it is almost a spitting image of mine, rust included. Made me look forward to ownership even more. Fortunately my jack points are still together (another reason I bought it haha) and most of the rust is superficial. My body guy seems to think we can knock most it out in my driveway during a weekend.
 
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