BMW E46 Touring

Last winter I wrote about how all of my cars were red thanks to picking up a new Japanrot 2002 BMW 325xi sport wagon. The red wagon was a rare find; it was a fellow CCA member’s car: five-speed manual, sport package, all-wheel drive—and it was not white, black, or silver. Naturally being drawn to red, I bought it and started sorting it.

Over the months that followed, that wagon quickly became one of the best BMWs I’ve ever owned. I drove it almost every day and loved it! Compared with my S54-swapped wagon, it wasn’t particularly fast, but it was a proper BMW from the end of the marque’s golden era.

The 2002 Japanrot 325xi sport wagon was a special car.

Then, in what has become an all-too-common theme, I sold it.

In actually, I didn’t sell it—it sold itself. There were several suiters who had come courting, but I had always kept them at arm’s length—until a moment of weakness in the form of a flooring bill on our house renovation forced my hand. I ripped the band-aid off quickly, but several months later, I’m still mourning the Japanrot wagon.

The E46 market is at a turning point; clean, well-optioned, lower-mileage examples like the red wagon are hard to come by, and finding them isn’t getting any easier.

I originally bought this Titanium Silver Metallic 2003 325xi sport wagon in 2012.

I did, however, have an ace up my sleeve (well, really, it was more of a numbered card, but I digress). Including the Japanrot wagon, over the years I’ve personally owned four E46 wagons. The second was a 2003 Titanium Silver-over-black-leatherette automatic 325xi. I purchased it from another CCA member in the summer of 2012, and my wife and I kept it for the next six years.

Shortly after we got it, we deployed it on a mission that was perfectly suited to an all-wheel-drive BMW long-roof: We loaded up our mountain bikes, an inflatable kayak, a few days’ worth of backpacking gear, and my hang glider, and headed north into Wyoming.

We loaded up the wagon and headed north into Wyoming.

Camping at Teton National Park.

The Snake River and Grand Teton.

The first stop was Teton National Park, where we floated the Snake River and self-shuttled on our mountain bikes that I hid well off the trail. The wagon looked downright comical with all of the gear on the roof rack, but it handled the mission wonderfully. The next day we headed south to Jackson, Wyoming for some epic single-track, then I flew my hang glider off of the top of the tram at Teton Mountain Resort.

The great thing about a BMW wagon is that it can carry a hang glider.

The 325xi wagon takes the road less traveled en route to the Wind River Range.

From Jackson, we headed south into the Wind River Range to hike to the Cirque of the Towers. The wagon carved up the groomed dirt roads leading to the trailhead with poise. At one point I startled a pair of pronghorns who took off next to us out on the open prairie; the pronghorn is the fastest animal in the Western Hemisphere, which they proved by holding a sustained speed higher than the 45 mph on my speedometer.

We split the Cirque of the Towers hike into two overnights with a base camp halfway in. We earned our way to the cirque one step at a time, crossing creeks, treading our way through boulder fields, and enjoying the company of scampering pikas. The reward was one of the most surrealistically beautiful landscapes in the Lower 48 states.

Over six intense days, the wagon performed flawlessly, soaking up hundreds of paved miles with all of our gear and taking us to distant corners of the Wyoming back country.

The Cirque of the Towers, Wind River Range, Wyoming.

We sold that wagon in 2018, but earlier this year I bought it back after some engine trouble. As can be typical of E46s, around the 170,000-mile mark, it started consuming oil, which eventually lead to a critically low oil level and low compression in one cylinder (which came first is hard to tell). The couple that I sold it to offered it back to me, and in a nostalgia-induced bad decision, I probably paid them a little too much for it as a non-runner.

After hundreds of miles of dirt and pavement, the wagon was only hungry for more.

It wore a few more scars than when I sold it, and even had a few rust spots in the fenders, but I just wasn’t ready to retire the old wagon yet. Its salvation came in the form of a nearly identical 2003 E46 330xi sedan that was dumped on my doorstep due several thousand dollars of deferred maintenance that the owner did not want to catch up on.

A friend pulled the engine, re-sealed and refreshed it, and swapped it into the older wagon. I left it as an automatic, but I do have a speed-speed transmission and transfer case sitting on the shelf if I decide to manual-swap it. I was never planning on keeping this wagon the second time around, but when the Japanrot wagon drove off into the sunset, it became my new daily driver.

In the grand scheme of things, my time with the Japanrot wagon was brief, but that doesn’t discount how special it was. Moving forward, I need to decide how nice I want to make the silver wagon—but having it in my back pocket has made selling the Japanrot wagon a little less painful.—Alex McCulloch

[Photos courtesy Alex McCulloch.]

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