Coming Out Of Hibernation: Restoration, Repair, And Rebirth

There is something so very special—so very sacred—about that first visit to the garage after a long winter. I understand that for many of our readers, this is an entirely foreign concept; perhaps you live in a climate warm enough to tinker year-round, or if not, you might be lucky enough to enjoy the luxury of an attached, heated garage. In either case, I envy you.

For us Bimmerphiles less fortunate, however, the cold, dead silence of winter is barely tolerable; in many cases, the only thing that can get us through is the promise of a warm spring and the gradually growing pile of new parts stacked up in the corner of the garage. Winter is a sort of purgatory for us car enthusiasts—but the spring holds endless possibilities.

And then there is the day, that amazing first warm day, when the silence is broken by birds chirping as those first rays of real, honest sunshine break through your bedroom window. If you’re extremely lucky, it’s a weekend day with no plans. Otherwise, you spend the day floating through your work in a haze, eagerly awaiting the visceral sensations of real work getting done—the stretch and snap of the nitrile gloves, the silky, ball-bearing slide of the toolchest drawers, the clang of the jack stands.

At this point, the onus is on you to determine what sort of possibility the spring holds for you and your BMW. For me, it meant finally swapping the rusty gas tank and doors, cleaning up the interior, and performing a substantial brake upgrade, plus various other small upgrades like European side trim and mirrors.

The parts for these various projects, while neatly organized, had all but taken over my garage; a pair of pallets in the corner housed the “new” doors and gas tank, while my stash of smaller parts had taken over the upper two shelves in the opposite corner, crowding lower levels with parts for everything from Mazdas to Mustangs, Porsches to Puch mopeds. In yet another corner of the garage, I had set up temporary shelving to house the interior components that had to be removed to gain access to the gas tank in my 1994 530i Touring (I award you no bonus points for guessing that it was an E34 when I mentioned replacing rusty doors).

I was, quite literally, surrounded with BMW parts.

Removing the dusty car cover with a slightly dramatic flourish, I set to work. Opening the rear doors and hatch, I descended on the interior components like a vulture, skeletonizing the cargo area of my wagon in a matter of minutes (I’d done it once before, when installing coil-overs. It’s always much easier—and faster—the second time around).

With the access panel for the fuel pump finally exposed, I closed the doors and hatch and set to work popping off the center caps on my Style 5’s. Years ago, I’d picked up a plastic-pry-tool set for interior trim, and I’m still discovering new uses for it to this day. I prefer these to screwdrivers, as it’s less likely to scratch the wheels or center caps during removal. With the caps off, I set about loosening all of the wheel bolts about 3/4 of a turn to make removal easier with the car in the air.

Finally, the fun part: getting the car off the ground. A couple of years back, I’d invested in a rubber puck with a channel cut in it to protect the pinch welds; on the already rust-weakened rockers, these are a godsend. Jacking up the right side first, I pumped until I felt resistance, and set about finding a convenient place for my jack stands. Luckily, my E34 is very clean underneath, despite its slightly ratty-looking exterior, and locating solid places to support the car was fairly easy. I continued pumping, slid the jack stands into place, and carefully set the car down on them, repeating the process on the other side.

Removing the wheels was also an easy task with the help of a long breaker bar and my plastic-sleeved wheel sockets. If there’s anything I hate, it’s curbing and tool marks on my wheels; it’s one thing if a wheel gets ruined by a pothole—a very real possibility in cold, snowy Akron, Ohio, and one that happened to me twice this past winter. It’s another thing entirely if they’re damaged by my own stupidity.

Upon removing the left rear wheel, I was greeted by an impressive pile of black dust, reminding me that one of the reasons I parked the car in the first place was to service the worn rear brakes. Another friend with an E34 Touring talked me into upgrading to 540i rear brakes, which are the same size at 300 mm, but vented. Most of those parts were on the shelf already.

Stacking the wheels and tires up in the last unused corner of the garage, I grabbed a broom and dustpan and swept underneath where the car had been sitting for all these months. It’s frankly amazing how much crud can hide underneath a parked car!

Finally pausing to admire my handiwork, I checked my watch. I had spent exactly one hour in my garage, and while I wanted to keep going, tearing into the rear brakes, I had other responsibilities for the night. Like my first kiss, it felt like an eternity, yet seemed to be over all too soon, and I remembered every vivid detail in stereoscopic 3D.

That hour in the garage revitalized me, reinvigorated me, and renewed my enthusiasm—not just for my E34, but for life itself. If you haven’t had a chance yet, I implore you to take one hour for yourself and go spend it in the garage.—Cam VanDerHorst

 

 

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