A Beater Keeps The BMWs Nice

My brother and I purchased our Z3 M’s within a month of each other back in 2007. Mine was a 2002 M Coupe (which I still have), while his was a 2001 M Roadster, which he ended up eventually replacing with a supercharged 2000 M Coupe. Shortly after our purchases, we both found the need for beaters to keep our M cars nice.

My first beater was an E30 325iS that I purchased sight-unseen from a shirtless man with a mullet. Protip: never buy a car sight-unseen from a shirtless man with a mullet… It looked fantastic, but looks can be deceiving. My brother’s beater was a 1989 Toyota Camry, one of the most reliable vehicles ever made. My beater E30 was too far gone to warrant any restoration, but it still lasted 15,000 miles before I finally declared it unsafe and parted it out. My brother’s Camry—despite having over 400,000 miles on the odometer—was rock-solidly reliable. Legend has it that it is still living on in some dark holler, where the sun don’t ever shine, somewhere deep in the backwoods of West Virginia.

Proud new owners of a 2001 M Roadster and a 2002 M Coupe.

My first beater, a 1987 325iS that I purchased from a shirtless man with a mullet.

My brother’s 1992 Honda Civic VX with my M Coupe.

The Civic VX’s unfortunate demise, upside-down and filling with water.

Since then, our beater tastes have evolved to late’80s and early ‘90s era Japanese hot hatchbacks. My brother opted for the EG-Generation Honda Civic. His first Civic was a 1992 Civic VX—to this day one of the most efficient, yet fun vehicles ever made. Unfortunately, that example was a little too fun, and thanks to his exuberance found its way into a creek—upside-down and filling up quickly—but at least the water prevented a potential fire. He escaped before the water was too deep, and only mildly scathed, a testament to how safe those small hot hatchbacks are. His current Civic is a 1995 Civic Si. He liked the Civic Si so much that he spent five-figures on a low mileage time-capsule example (more than it cost new). Between the two of them, he’s got a beater and a keeper, plus the M Coupe.

My brother’s next beater was a Civic Si, that hauled surfboards…

…and trees.

He liked it so much that he bought a time capsule Civic Si.

I took a different path when I was fortunate enough to stumble on a 1987 Toyota Corolla FX16 that I purchased on the side of the road for $400. The FX16 was powered by the 108-horsepower dual-overhead cam 4AGE engine, which traced its origins to a reverse-engineered Cosworth racing engine. The 4AGE was also used in the AW11 Toyota MR2 and the rear-wheel drive Corolla GT-S. The three-door FX16 hatchback was the lightest application of the 4AGE and arguably the most fun. In a 1986 review, Car and Driver called it a “pocket rocket.”

My 1987 Toyota Corolla FX16 beater, purchased for $400 on the side of the road.

With roughly 245,000 hard miles on the odometer, my $400 example was more like a rusty rocket. The fenders had been replaced with mismatched white fenders and the remaining lower body panels and fender wells did have some added lightness due to three decades of corrosion. Yet, despite its high mileage and cosmetic misgivings, the FX16 was one of the most fun vehicles I had ever driven. While certainly not fast, it was far from slow thanks to the 4AGE’s 7,500 RPM redline. It reminded me most of an E30 318is, evoking uncontrollable smiles on every drive. I knew it was a bad idea, but I liked the FX16 so much that I committed beater heresy and sent my $400 beater in for a $4,000 paint job. After that I turned it over to an old-school Toyota specialist who refreshed the engine, transmission, and brakes. Then I added a set of Panasport replica wheels with fresh rubber. It took nearly two years to complete, and I still need to do the suspension.

A $4,000 paint job along with refreshed mechanicals and the little FX16 cleaned up nicely.

It’ll haul plywood and dogs with room to spare.

But, true to its pocket rocket form, the FX16 has been nothing but an ugly little bundle of hot-hatch smiles. It gets nearly 40 miles per gallon when driven conservatively, delivers the quintessential slow-car-fast driving experience when driven aggressively, and has a proportionately large interior volume for its pint-size footprint. Most importantly, it will keep the BMW M Coupe and the M5 Touring safe and sound for those airport runs and rush hour commutes. I have spent far too much money to ever see a return on my investment, and similar to my brother’s Civics, I have made it a beater and a keeper!—Alex McCulloch

[Photos courtesy Alex McCulloch.]

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