The idea behind finding a new-to-me car was simple. I wanted a fun daily driver I could take to the track every now and then and maybe do some local autocross events. There were also a couple of other boxes I needed to check.
It had to have four doors so I could shuttle our kids around. It had to have a manual transmission. I wanted a rear-wheel-drive platform and I didn’t really want anything turbocharged. Oh, and I didn’t want a red or black car. My budget was around $10,000. When you look at those parameters and my budget, it didn’t leave much wiggle room. The car dictated by my needs and budget was either an E36 M3 or an E46 sedan.
I started looking at M3s, but the venerable 3/4/5 cars — M3 with four doors and a five speed — weren’t all that abundant to begin with and finding a clean, well-kept example in my price range proved to be a challenge. I looked at a few and they were either in need of considerable work or had a price that was too high.
So I started looking at E46 sedans and sort of stumbled upon the ZHP cars. The ZHP package cost about $4,000 when new and it included an uprated suspension, a six-speed if you got a manual, better seats, sportier front and rear fascias, uprated cams and some other fun bits. Now all I had to do was find one.
Hunting locally, I found nothing, so I expanded my search a bit and found a good prospect in Phoenix, which is a $75 Southwest plane ticket away. Wanna get away?
When I got to the dealership, which had a buy-here, pay-here kind of vibe going on, the car didn’t look as clean in person as it did online. Lots of little items were broken: sunroof shade, window switches, thigh support in the passenger seat, and some other items, but it ran and shifted well and seemed to have “good bones.” Long story short, I bought it and drove it home to Southern California. Of course before I got it home, the check engine light came on. Along with the services and fluid changes I had done, the repairs cost me another $3,800.
An oil leak had killed a coil pack and an O2 sensor and collapsed an engine mount. New to BMWs, I had all the electronic repairs done by a professional shop. It needed some other work, including rear shocks and motor mounts, but I knew I could do those, so I saved some money and did them myself. So far, I’ve been under it a lot and haven’t been able to take it to the track, but I will — eventually.
I found a video on YouTube and it didn’t look too difficult, so I brought it home, jacked it up and went to work. Part of the challenge, at least on this car, was that the engine mounts collapsed as a result of oil leaking on them. That makes them easy to get out, but getting the new ones in isn’t a simple matter of reversing the steps and changing the direction the wrench rotates.
Because the new mounts were taller than the crushed mounts I took out, I had to jack up the engine farther to get the new mounts in. That wasn’t much of an issue on the driver’s side. I was able to get the new mount in with little trouble. On the passenger side, I couldn’t jack the engine high enough. Once I had jacked it up to a certain point, the car began to lift off the jack stands. The exhaust was hitting the bottom of the car and the transmission might have been hitting the top of the tunnel. Either way, the engine wasn’t getting any higher and I still couldn’t get the new mount in place.
The guy on YouTube used a ratchet strap to pull the engine up and to the left by connecting it to the left front wheel and letting the straps ride over the fender. Not wanting to damage the paint or sheet metal, I elected to remove the bolts that hold the engine mount bracket to the engine block on the right side. That way I could get the clearance I needed to get the new mount in on the right side, then just reattach the bracket to the engine block.
With the application of the right tools, and some select profanities, I managed to do the job, but it was a little trickier than I thought it would be. Now I’m one step closer to putting it on track, though the car still needs more work before I can do that.