Who likes a good automotive adventure? What could be more exciting than flying out of state to buy a new project car and driving it home? Just over a week ago on Thursday, November 10th, I did just that in a fun-filled, twenty-hour day of planes, trains, and M3s. Two M3s to be exact, a Cosmos Black E36 M3 sedan and a one-of-a-kind Ferrari Red E46 M3 Touring.
This story starts at the end of October, when I came across a Facebook Marketplace ad for a Cosmos Black 1998 M3 Sedan with five-speed-manual transmission, also known as the M3/4/5. This particular car was located in Concord, North Carolina, which is about six-and-a-half hours away (by car) from where I live in Virginia.
On the topic of Facebook Marketplace, don’t you hate it when a seller seemingly takes photos while blindfolded, posting dark and blurry shots of their vehicle, with only a quarter of the car in frame and two fingertips blocking even that? Thankfully that wasn’t the case here. The seller and fellow BMW CCA member, Taylor Ward, had posted a number of good photos and had written an honest and descriptive ad. I contacted Ward, only to find out the sale was already pending. Drat! To my surprise, Ward reached out a week later and said the car was available again. The prospective buyer had backed out. Game on!
Now that the car was available again, Ward and I exchanged a couple of phone calls and he sent me a number of additional photos upon my request. I came to find out that he was the second owner of this M3. The first owner bought it at Hendrick BMW Northlake in Charlotte and owned it for fifteen years. Ward, who works as a tech at Hendrick, bought the car from the original owner nine years ago. So, not only had this M3 had lived in Charlotte and Concord area its whole life, but it had also been serviced at the same dealership since new. And while the car currently sat with 244,000 miles on the odometer, the hefty stack of receipts eased many of my concerns. Ward had replaced the head gasket, timing chain guides, timing cover, front crank seal, rear main seal (when the clutch, flywheel, clutch slave cylinder, clutch pedal and bushings, and transmission mounts were replaced), cooling system, alternator, starter—the list goes on and on.
With expectations set and schedules coordinated, I booked a one-way plane ticket for the following week departing from Dulles Airport in Northern Virginia and landing at Charlotte Douglas Airport in Charlotte, North Carolina. An early flight meant getting up at 4 a.m. the day of the trip. After catching a ride to the airport and a slog through security, I took the airport’s metro rail from the main terminal to my gate. (There was actually a train involved!)
Two uneventful hours later, I was in Charlotte. Ward was nice enough to pick me up from the airport and drive me to his dealership where I could inspect the M3 on a lift. As Ward pulled up, seeing and hearing the M3 in the flesh for the first time woke me up more than a cup of coffee ever could.
When we arrived at the dealership, I had ample time to look the car over. Ward had made a number of nice OEM+ and aftermarket updates to the car during his ownership—Style 24 LTW wheels, H&R springs and Bilstein shocks, an Active Autowerke exhaust, a Euro Boa Boa cloth interior with new carpet and Coco mats, and a Continental head unit, just to name a few of the items.
With the car on the lift, I grabbed a flashlight and peeked, poked, and prodded the M3’s undercarriage. Clean does not begin to describe the state of the chassis. When Ward said “no rust,” he wasn’t kidding. Between the cleanliness of the engine bay, interior, and undercarriage, I would’ve believed Ward if he told me this car only had 50,000 miles on it, not 244,000. Sold!
With payment rendered and paperwork signed, Ward helped me load the car with a mountain of spare parts. This included the original leather seats, which have a story of their own. This M3 was a “leather credit” car, as seen on the original window sticker. BMW had depleted their supply of the “M” leather towards the end of the production run, so instead used leather from a regular 3 Series and took $500 off the MSRP, bringing the grand total to only $43,615 in 1998. We also loaded up the original DS2 wheels, a set of new door seals, new rear window regulators, the original radio (with code), and some other miscellaneous items. It’s a good thing I didn’t bring a friend on the trip because I don’t think they’d have a place to sit! The trunk was full, the rear seat area had parts piled high, and my camera gear and other personal items were riding shotgun.
At this point, it was a little after noon and I was ready to hit the road, but I wasn’t going directly home. You see, there’s a gentleman named Brian Marks who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina and I’ve been following his E46 M3 Touring project online. The name may sound familiar because his E91 335d wagon was featured on BimmerLife and his E39 M5 Touring was featured on BimmerLife and in Roundel. I had reached out to Marks via Instagram the week prior, right after booking my plane ticket, and it went a little something like this, “Hi Brian, I’m flying into Charlotte next Thursday to buy a project car and drive it home. Can I stop by and check out your E46 M3 Touring project?” Marks said, “Hi, Mike. Sure!” (Ok, I may have mentioned something about photos and an article too.)
I made the three-hour drive to Raleigh in my “new” M3, likely grinning from ear to ear the entire time. I took some lessons learned from my 1991 318iS purchase, when I flew to Atlanta, bought the E30, and drove 650 miles home in a single day. Lessons like, never trust a gas gauge you don’t know. If you’ve driven 250 miles on a tank of gas and it still reads as full, it’s not actually full. Thankfully, the M3 had no issues on the way to Marks’ house. Aside from the central locking problem, and the rear passenger door not opening, and the seat recline gears needing replacement—but I already knew about those.
I arrived at Marks’ home and saw the Ferrari Red E46 M3 Touring parked in his workshop. What a sight to behold! There were so many wonderfully executed custom touches, from the interior to the proper metal M3 bodywork—and don’t forget the complete E46 M3 drivetrain. For a deep dive and full backstory of Marks’ E46 M3 Touring, stay tuned for an upcoming piece in BMW CCA’s Roundel magazine!
After chatting with Marks and his friend Jim Sullivan, who had been recruited for driving duty in his manual M4 Competition Convertible, we headed out to get some photos of this unique M3 Touring. Seeing the wagon in motion and hearing the wonderful music of the intake and exhaust from the passenger seat of Sullivan’s M4 Comp was a real treat.
It was getting late in the afternoon and I needed to get home to Virginia, so we headed back to Marks’ place. For one last adrenaline rush, Marks gave me a ride in his now-triple-turbo E91 335d touring, pushing 575 horsepower and 760 pound feet of torque to the wheels. He has made some updates since the BimmerLife feature and this 335d touring is certainly a force to be reckoned with.
Marks invited me for dinner and I gladly accepted as I realized I hadn’t eaten much since breakfast. After a quick bite, I hit the road. I’d like to give a big thanks to Brian Marks for taking time to share his masterpiece of an E46 M3 Touring and to his family for their hospitality. It was an experience that I won’t soon forget!
With a five hour drive ahead of me, I stopped to top off the tank. (See, I told you I learned a lesson from my E30 fly-and-drive.) I followed an E46 3 Series convertible into the gas station, pulling into the pump directly behind. As we both exited our vehicles, I noticed the SCCA decal on his back window. I wondered who would be the first to say something in this game of car-geek chicken. Just as I was about to say hello, I heard, “Nice E36!” which, of course, led to introductions and eventually exchanging information. The owner of the E46 convertible was Tyler Crabtree, Crew Chief and Director of Sales at Forza Motorsports LLC. His shop is based out of the Raleigh, North Carolina region, where Tyler says, “we do everything from brake jobs to engine rebuilds.” They also compete in the SCCA Time Trials National Tour in a Z3 race car. Crabtree gave me his card and graciously offered to assist if the M3 had any issues during my trek home.
Thankfully, the M3 ate up the remaining highway miles without issue and after nearly twenty hours of planes, trains, and automobiles, I arrived home around midnight. The M3 had plenty of fuel left in its tank, but I was running on fumes. Instead of going immediately to bed like any sane person would, I decided to unload the spare parts and have a quick fiddle with the locking system to see if I could get the rear passenger door open. As luck would I have it, after a few lock and unlock sequences, using both the factory key fob and manually inserting the key into the door, the rear passenger door opened. Oh, and the sunroof opened. Apparently if you hold the key in the unlock position for a few seconds it triggers the sunroof to open. As luck wouldn’t have it, this was also the exact moment it started to rain and I had parked outside. #e36life, here I come.
When the DMV opened the following Monday, I titled and registered the M3. I also stopped by a state inspection station—because that’s a thing in Virginia—to get the car inspected and emissions tested. It passed without issue, and I didn’t even know the inspector! I’m sure there will be steps both forward and backward with this M3 project, but I look forward to tackling them head on and enjoying this car.
I haven’t named my automotive projects in the past, but lately I’ve been binge watching M539 Restoration’s Sreten Milisavljevic restore classic BMWs on his YouTube channel. Taking a page from Milisavljevic’s book as inspiration, I am going to call this 1998 M3 sedan “Project Concord” as that is where I purchased it–Concord, North Carolina. And with that I can say, “Project Concord has landed!” —Mike Bevels