I’ll admit it: I’m obsessed with my new project car, the 244,000-mile 1998 five-speed manual M3 sedan that I’m calling Project Concord. The excitement of learning and working on a new BMW chassis and the satisfaction of systematically diagnosing and fixing things can be addictive. So when I’m not working my regular 40-hour-per-week software-development job, or working on BimmerLife, or chauffeuring my kids to activities and spending time with family, I’m either wrenching on my new E36, thinking about my new E36, or filling an online cart with E36 replacement parts.
It’s amazing the automotive things you take for granted until you no longer have them—things like four functioning doors in a four-door sedan. After regaining access to the rear doors by removing failed lock actuators, I moved forward with installing new OEM lock actuators. It’s a fairly straightforward procedure using this forum DIY as a guide. To oversimplify it: Remove the door card, remove the rods for the door handle and lock plunger, unbolt the latch assembly, and lower it within the door so there’s reasonable access to the actuator.
The “fun” part of seemingly any E36-related repair work is not breaking 25-year-old plastic parts. First, one of the door-card clips separated from the door card; the clip was fine, it was the entire clip assembly that was detached. That was easily repaired with epoxy. Then I broke the lock-plunger pivot, specifically the plastic expanding rivet and screw (part #51228119644) that holds the pivot bracket (part #51228132380) to the door. The design of these parts has changed, so I had to order both parts to install as an assembly, despite the pivot bracket being undamaged and really needing only to replace the plastic expanding rivet.
After verifying that the part was in stock, I placed an order with my not-so-favorite parts vendor because they were the only source that would ship within a few days. But after a week, the parts’ ETA was inexplicably changed to January. So I channeled my inner Hack Mechanic, took a trip to my local hardware store with my kids, and put together something which is, in my opinion, better than a plastic expanding—or exploding, in this case—rivet.
Yes, it required only one trip to the hardware store, not five. And I found all of the proper bits within ten minutes, whereas it would normally take a multi-day archaeological dig to find the hardware I was looking for. It was like I was being cosmically rewarded for some previous good deed.
What you see here is a stainless screen, stainless washers, a rubber washer, and a nylon-insert lock nut. When assembled, it’s the same depth and length as the old part, so there is no window interference. I trimmed off the remaining intact tab from the plastic rivet, allowing the pivot assembly to sit flush on the door with the new hardware passing through it. The rubber washer is pressed against the backside of the door panel, and the nylon-insert locking nut will prevent it from rattling off from vibration. This allowed me to button everything up and install the remaining door card.
With that, the rear doors (and locks) were fully working again. The door saga isn’t yet complete; the front passenger-side lock actuator has now failed, so I’ll be replacing both front actuators when the parts appear on my doorstep.
There are also a few paint issues, so I decided to have a go at some paint correction. The passenger-side front door needs a repaint due to failing clearcoat, but the roof could potentially be saved with some paint correction from a few deep scratches, likely caused by a bad car cover.
After cleaning the roof, I extracted my Harbor Freight orbital from its hiding place and grabbed a bottle of compound to see what improvement could be made. I didn’t initially bother taping off all of the trim, since I was focusing on the center sections of the roof, away from the edges, and this was supposed to be a quick trial run. An hour, some taping, and seven passes later, the roof was much improved; progress was being made, so I kept at it.
It’s not perfect, but a five-footer is better than a ten-footer. I plan to go back with a heavier-cut compound to further restore the roof’s paint, and some basic polish and wax for the rest of the car’s panels.
I’ve been reading a lot about bushings recently, so I figured it was a good time to knock out some low-hanging fruit by replacing the transmission mounts and rear sway-bar end links, which were showing signs of age with cracks in the rubber. While I’m not height-challenged at six-foot-five, my garage is, with only an eight-foot ceiling—too low for a lift to be installed.
My E30 may ride a little high on H&R OE Sport springs for certain tastes, but it does make for easy lifting; my floor jack can readily reach the front cross member and rear differential. This is not the case on the M3, which rides on sportier (lower) H&R springs; in order to lift the car, I had to deploy my least-favorite method of raising the car: the side-to-side dance, in which I jack up one side of the car, then the other.
Once the front end was high enough for me to slide under and reach the transmission mounts, I placed jack stands under the front frame rails and a backup set near the jack points—a total belt-and-suspenders move, but better safe than sorry.
Using a large floor jack and a piece of wood, I raised the transmission slightly to remove the old mounts and slide new ones into place. Thankfully, this car is rust-free, and despite 244,600 miles, most of the hardware still has its original shiny plating on it. The fasteners came off with ease, and the transmission-mount swap took less time than it took to jack up the car!
The rear sway-bar end links were next. My daughter came out to lend a hand with tools and hardware. After struggling with pressing on the new end links, I recalled the trick about dish soap. With some soap on the sway bar, the end links slid on with ease, making me feel a bit silly for wasting so much time trying to force them on with some lubricant I had in the garage.
I used my floor jack to load the suspension and torque the end links to spec, because you’re supposed to perform the final torquing with the car’s weight on the suspension.
To finish off my week’s work on this M3, I changed the oil and oil filter, logging the date and mileage in an online spreadsheet in which I track all of this car’s maintenance. (Isn’t Google Docs the greatest?)
I also took the passenger seat out to replace the broken recline gear, and when I opened up the seat’s gearbox, guess what I found: no recline gear whatsoever! Obviously someone had been in there before; the loose hardware should’ve tipped me off before I opened the seat’s gearbox.
Of course, there are times when I don’t channel my inner Hack Mechanic. Some jobs either exceed my abilities or I’ve done them before, and gladly hand them off to a trusted shop. That was the case this week for the clutch master cylinder and radiator replacement on my E36 M3.
A couple of years ago, I replaced the slave cylinder in my ’91 318iS. Perhaps it was lack of experience on my part, but even armed with a power bleeder, I had to remove the slave cylinder from the gearbox several times and pump it by hand to get a nice firm clutch pedal. And since I don’t have a lift, there were a lot of ups and downs on a cold concrete floor, sliding under the car while it was up on jack stands. So in the spirit of “been there, done that, and dealt with the residual back pain,” it was time to hand it off to the pros—you know, the people who aren’t immensely impressed with themselves (as I am) by cobbling together hardware to fix their door lock.
I headed over to Road Race Technologies (RRT) in Sterling, Virginia. Who better to perform the work than Billy Kennard, crew chief and driver of the RRT Racing team—a team campaigning two E36s in the World Racing League (WRL) endurance race series? They run an S54-swapped E36 M3 and a 3.2-liter M50-powered E36 in the GP1 and GP2 classes.
After taking apart the pedal assembly to get to the leaking clutch master cylinder, Kennard determined that both a new clutch pedal and new bushings were needed, which thankfully RRT’s owner and lead technician, James Muskopf, had the foresight to order “just in case” when scheduling this job.
Next up, the radiator replacement. Based on recommendations, I went with an all-aluminum CSF unit, new hoses, hose clamps, a new auxiliary fan switch, and a new expansion tank. The expansion tank was a last-minute necessity, but they were able to get the part delivered within an hour.
Upon completion of the work, Kennard scanned and cleared an SRS light that had popped up the week prior—a passenger seat occupancy sensor fault. The SRS fault will likely come back—I’m not that lucky—and I’ll deal with it when it does.
There’s always an initial push to get a recently acquired project car ready for regular use. At the risk of jinxing it, I feel like I’m over that hump, having spent the last few weeks making a mix of necessary and nice-to-have repairs so that I can start enjoying this E36 M3 with my family on a regular basis. Since winter is now upon us, I’ll start planning more repair projects for upcoming snow days: blower motors, sunroofs, and steering racks—oh my!—Mike Bevels