It has been two years since I sold my beloved 2000 E46 323i wagon. It was in proper sport-wagon spec, equipped with a five-speed-manual transmission, sport seats, and rear-wheel drive. In many ways, this was my first real sports car—just with five doors instead of two.
When I began searching for my dream-spec wagon, I scoured online forums and online classifieds, like Craigslist, local to upstate New York. After some months I finally found a suitable candidate. On paper, it checked all of my boxes—including some desirable aftermarket extras.
I had to have this car.
Through some shrewd negotiation—thanks, Ed Bolian!—I was able to pick up the car for less than $5,000, and for the next four years, I was the steward of this fabulous piece of long-roof German engineering. After spending some time focusing on much-needed maintenance and adding tasteful upgrades where I desired, I finally had my E46 in a great place.
It performed beautifully on the back roads of New England. The 323i was powered by a 2.5-liter inline six (M52B25TU) that produced 169 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque. Rowing through gears and using all of the wagon’s limited power became a joy as my confidence behind the wheel increased. It was certainly not the fastest vehicle, but a momentum car—and I enjoyed the linear powerband. As they say, it can be more fun to drive a slow car fast!
However, I still wanted to transform this E46 wagon even further with an S54 engine swap—the factory-installed engine for the E46 M3. While my car was great in OEM-plus form, I felt that the stock powertrain held the car back; there was much room for improvement.
I wanted to create an E46 M3 Touring, a vehicle that BMW never built (except for the one-off prototype).
The idea of an S54-swapped E46 wagon made all the sense in the world. With more power and better intake and exhaust sounds, it would make my already special wagon even more special. I just needed to maintain the reliability of the current powertrain and keep rust at bay until I was at a point where a project like this would be feasible.
For some, the longer you own a car, the less special it becomes. Relatively small problems become bigger ones, and that initial magic starts to fade away. I had always planned on this E46 wagon being my forever car; if I were to sell it, would I be able to find another? After taking so much time and effort to find it in the first place, getting rid of it didn’t feel like an option.
However, there were times when the wagon’s reliability was questionable, which was a major issue, since it was my only mode of personal transportation. Additionally, I was concerned about the negative impacts of winter-salted New England roads: rust.
Meanwhile, as the pandemic set in, my interest in classic four-by-fours grew. I slowly started to realize that this wagon might not be my forever car after all; I wanted something more daily-driver friendly and a bit more comfortable. (Granted, the polyurethane-subframe-bushing “upgrade” was my idea in the first place).
Importing a 1995 Land Rover Defender began to seem like a logical choice.
Knowing that I couldn’t own two project cars, I slowly came to the conclusion that I had to find a new home for my E46 wagon—but finding the right buyer was not going to be an easy process. I wanted to find someone who would bring my dreams of an E46 M3 Touring to fruition.
I began to piece together my for-sale ad for the car. I took detailed photos of every piece of the car, including all of the highlights and small imperfections, which I included in the novel-length description of the vehicle. I posted the for-sale listing to the same groups, forums, and classifieds that I had scoured when I was looking for this car. I expected a high level of interest.
During the first few days, I received several messages from different people expressing interest in the car. However, as those conversations went on, I gathered that these potential suitors didn’t really share my E46 M3 Touring vision.
And then I heard from a serious BMW nut from southern New Hampshire. With a deep background across the BMW-sphere, Dan was looking for a “relaxed retirement project.” After we chatted, I decided that he might be the perfect steward for my beloved wagon. We planned to meet in a Home Depot parking lot the following week.
Dan arrived exactly as you’d expect, in his meticulously kept E46 M3 coupe—a good sign. After introductions, Dan and his friend started to comb through the wagon. I did my best to be as honest as possible, sharing everything I knew about the car. I pointed out dings, rust spots, and remnants of a sketchy shock removal. I wanted to pass my knowledge over, both good and bad. After a few hours, Dan decided that he wanted the car, but at less than my asking price. I told him I’d sleep on it, and we went our separate ways.
Over the following days, I thought seriously about Dan’s offer on the car. I thought about his intentions, and about my wagon’s new life with its next owner. Above all else, it was important to me to see that the wagon was going to be well cared for; it was only right that Dan should be the next steward for my humble 323i.
We reconnected, agreed on a price, and set a pickup date—something I’d never thought I would do. Saying goodbye was difficult. Driving from my house to the delivery spot was pure bliss; I don’t think I had ever driven the car better than on our last ride together. Every downshift was perfect, every gearshift felt so satisfying.
This, of course, made the feeling even worse about selling it. Was I making the right choice?
I met Dan back at the all-too-familiar Home Depot from the week before. Arriving again with his stunning M3, he and his friend gave the car a final once-over. After swapping cash for keys, he was off.
As I watched the car drive away, I didn’t feel upset or anxious, I just felt happy to have spent the time with it that I did. I was proud to have been part of this wagon’s history. This car was the start of my passion for the automotive hobby; I learned to work on cars during my ownership of this wagon.
Since I sold him the car, Dan and I have stayed in touch. We check in on each other’s automotive lives every few months. Dan has been busy, documenting his new project on the E46 Fanatics forum. We plan to reconnect in person over the summer so that I can see his project’s progress.
Other than Dan, I don’t think anyone is as excited to see this wagon finished as I am!—Tucker Beatty