With me coming into Valencia things seemed different immediately. From travelling on the Spanish motorways with barely any traffic we suddenly saw many more cars around us! The cruise control would not be all that useful now! But at least I was in the right car for the job.
When it came to parking the car up however you could tell the car was hot. The temp gauge was stuck smack bang in the middle of the gauge and the viscous fan was fully locked up. Yup, it was warm alright. But at least the car could have a well deserved rest for a few days; it even had a companion in the form of a friend’s E89 Z4 30i sDrive. It’s just as well as I had heard on the grapevine that Valencia is not what you would call car friendly. But for once that didn’t matter.
The accommodation was spot on for the break. In the heart of the city with it only being a stone’s throw away from the main square it certainly felt like we were living the high life! Gorgeous buildings with a chilled atmosphere and variety? This is the place! Oh, and a bit of sunshine to go with it.
But I had to be honest. Valencia is no place for a car. With that in mind a friend suggested that we store our cars at Valencia Airport while we were there. After seeing the many webs of one way streets in Valencia this seemed like a good shout in hindsight.
But a lack of cars between us would not spoil the fun, oh no! After all, a lot of the a places to visit in Valencia were accessible by foot. However, they were even more accessible by bike! It’s almost like Valencia is built for bike travel ; it’s matrix of cycle lanes make it a breeze to go around on bike ; I could have been there all day! The UK could learn a thing or two here in the quest to harmonise and reduce traffic. Make no mistake, I love my cars, but I also hate traffic jams and waiting!
With that in mind we were just lapping up the scenery. However, the day would come that we would have to leave Valencia. This would not be without sampling part of the Formula 1 track first. After all, when in Rome, even if it was on bike!
The next leg of the trip would be interesting. Partly because it was very familiar territory to use. But also partly because we had a surprise in store as well.
It is fair to say that I was dreading the leg from Calais to Pamplona. It was a 10 hour drive with stops allowed for with almost 600 miles to cover in a day! All to be done in a car with a reputation for not being mega reliable, and high performance one at that getting on for 14 years old! You can imagine my relief that it made it down! Then again you always worry more when it is your own car.
It was then time to explore Pamplona, and what a city it is! Famed for the questionable bullfighting as well as Ernest Hemmingway residing there during the 1920s. Yup, there was plenty to see, but we decided to try something different first, something carcentric. But in Spain? How? This one was simple. We took a 40 minute trip out in the M3 from the great city of Pamplona to Circuito de Navarra.
Experiencing the atmosphere at a clubman level in Spain was very interesting. Interesting enough for me to say that it was fantastic. Sure, there were pit girls and the usual stuff at the bike event but there was more. There were loads of people present to watch the entry level series where the youth would prove their worth by their skill level, not necessarily by what the bikes could do. The bar was rammed with people ordering Jamon bocadillos. Beers, soft drinks and the odd coffee were being ordered too, all being sold at reasonable prices! There was no overpriced bar here, just loads of people having a great time and watching the racing their mates and loved ones.
It was strange how the entry level events were more fun to watch than the bigger Super 1000s. There were more chances being taken and more rawness present during the racing! If there is an event on here it is well worth the visit.
After this day however we decided to chill out in the city itself. The second day was mostly spent looking at Café Iruna, a lovely café that Ernest Hemingway used to frequent, as well as a bar in the same square, again another one of Hemingway’s haunts.
From then on thanks to some local Spanish company we ended spending quite a bit of the day indulging in many canas and quite a lot of tapas! From mussels to strangely fried eggs it was all lovely,
The day would come however that we would move onto our second destination, Valencia. In comparison to driving down to Pamplona this trip was quite a bit shorter! It was however as hot as Bordeaux the closer we got to Spain. At one point it did go hotter, 35 degrees centigrade to exact! The car’s viscous fan fully locked up on a number of occasions on the way down once the temperature went north 30.
However, Valencia does not have a reputation of being kind on traffic. I had heard from a few sources that Valencia could be a pain to drive in! How would we cope? By the looks of it some cars were forlorn already at Valencia Airport! Our fingers would be crossed.
From where I last was with the the old girl it was fair to say that it was busy redeeming itself. For the next 3 months it was nice where the car had been spend free for once. It was 3 months in come August when I would broke this rule. Why? I needed cupholders and an SMG relay. While the relay could be justified what about the former item? This was easy ; I was going to drive the M3 down to Spain for a bit of a trip.
Given their reputation these days for many things going wrong I was apprehensive about doing so. Thoughts about the head gasket, SMG pump, VANOS and bottom end issues all went through my head. I had taken £200 shitters previously across Europe so why worry so much about this trip? I guess when it is your pride and joy that has cost you a few quid to maintain this feeling is quite normal.
Since the car had a service during the oil cooler saga only months before I left I knew it would be a case of checking the car over. Before I knew it there was little else to do but fit the new cupholders. While there was a mixup with the colour of the cupholders being delivered to me Cotswold BMW to their credit bent over backwards to get me out of this jam.
The correct items in place. The colours actually OK despite the photos showing otherwise
I did not hesitate to fit the grey cupholders and to pack my tools and spares for the trip. Little did I know the time for me to leave the UK for Spain would creep up very quickly! But at least the car was a joy to drive down, with me having some great company in the form of a good friend for the trip. Leaving at 6pm on a Thursday night however would hamper how much progress we made in France that day, especially when the Eurotunnel had a delay on of an hour until we actually would get onto the boat. With that in mind we made ourselves comfortable and attempted to sleep on the train and while waiting for the train with limited success.
Once in France and the time now being past 12AM we decided to call it a night and stopped off just outside Calais to rest and hit the road the next day.
This day would be testing. We would be driving from Boulogne-Sur-Mer to Pamplona, Spain. In a day. Yup, it was not going to be a short hop. With that in mind we jumped into the car and hit the autoroute. The M3 did come into its own here
Despite it being 14 years old and with a few miles on the clock it literally cruised all of the way down through France. 4 hours felt more like 2 and even the weather was cheering up for us. This would all change when he hit Bordeaux at 4pm that day. Going through the hot traffic you could hear the car’s fan operating at maximum speed as the heat went up to 33 degrees centigrade. The car by this point had been running for 7 hours with us only stopping for lunch and fuel. Before 5PM with the car crawling around Bordeaux a few warning lights came on! It was running cool (albeit the oil temps going to over 100 degrees centigrade) and generally fine however. With this in mind I decided to stop off and let the car cool off for ½ an hour and let the traffic die down. Oh, and treat myself to an ice cream.
You have to love the French motorways. Quick and stress free driving!
The M3 certainly was a great companion in France
With that done it was then time to hit the road again with our next stop being Pamplona. After Bordeaux however this leg would drag on a little. However, we made it to Pamplona for 9:30 to meet up with our friend who had been there for quite some time. Not a bad time to get there really!
After having a beer and a small meal we all knew it was time to get to bed and to see what sights Pamplona had to offer. The truth is it was more than I was expecting!
Events. They can be funny old things. When you book the events 6 months prior to go and spend the remainder of the time preparing for them they seem so far away. Little do you know the event you have booked has crept up on you like a warm kitten and it’s your time to shine. Only then do things seem to slow down.
It was no different for me here. After previously being invited to one of Darren Langeveld’s superb Destination Nurburgring (DN) events a few of us decided to go along to one! Here we would see what makes his events so different to a Terroristsfah., I mean, Touristfahten (TF) event.
What was so different about about a DN event? Quite a lot. A lot of it is down to being briefed in a great and understandable way before hitting the track. As is less traffic and the emphasis of having good etiquette on track. Oh and free breakdown recovery should the worst happen, even if the expense of crashing is still present, albeit far less so. This was just as well as the meeting up for the driver’s briefing a day before had one word being said quite a bit. Rain.
For a few track days rain can make or break the event. In a 340BHP rear wheel drive car it did not sound like a great combination. But I did at least have experience of driving wet track days previously and refreshed my memory by looking at a few known YouTube video guides including Rent-RSR’s mistakes, and Dale Lomas’ driving the ‘ring in the wet with a RWD car; The only wet track day I had done was at Oulton Park. Didn’t someone say fail to prepare and prepare to fail?
With that in mind it was time to hit the 13.5 mile circuit. With it being dry for a part of the morning I went around relatively calmly, trying to get a feel for the car in the dry. I looked forward to seeing what it would do in the dry after a few laps. Before I knew it there was drizzle present. This would soon turn into a very wet track and have me being a little fearful of crashing!
Another perk to a DN event is getting tuition by following an instructor in their car in with walkie talkies to communicate with. At least I would be prepared for the conditions. With a few laps of tuition my fear of the track slowly began to ebb away with caution present. The chap gave me some great pointers and certainly helped me in getting to grips with the track. Every time I go to the Nurburgring I always learn more and more and notice more things about the track. This tuition certainly helped there! Enough for my lap timer in my glove box to claim that I did 10:29 BTG lap by following him. In Auto mode (D4) for the SMG owners wondering; Yup I admit I wasn’t taking chances. Quite a step up from my 12 minute laps when I was bothered to check the lap times after going out!
It was then time to see what a proper driver could do in the wet. Who? None other than Nigel Pinder with his superb Pinderwagon. While on the face of it this car may look like it has crashed through Halfords and the Demon Tweeks catalogue it is actually the result of 10 years blood, sweat, tears and cash culminating into one fantastic package:
With him taking me out for a lap it was a real experience. Here was a car with no driver aids and full wet track tyres I would not have been anywhere near as brave as him in the wet! Man this guy was quick in the wet! It seemed that we were overtaking everything! M3s? Not a problem. 991 GT3s? Eaten alive! This car was a seriously good contender! In the dry he puts down a mid 7:30 to around 7:50 depending on traffic. In the wet? 9:30. My rather slow time didn’t seem too terrible after than (I was more in the 12s for the rest of it!). But seeing how smooth he was in the car was an absolute joy! If you get an opportunity to have a ride out in the car you really should! It’s a testament to Nigel and his immense skills behind the wheel!
Driving the wet ‘ring (silence now folks!) was interesting. I was very glad that I had new Michelins all round with the suspension and gearbox improvements in place; the car felt at home! That said I was a lot more cautious and seemed like I used my indicator quite a bit to let others overtake! I even had the track all to myself on one lap as others started to go home!
By the end of the day I actually did begin to overtake a few others and was having a good time behind the wheel while not going idiotic! Although Darren did claim that I wasn’t trying hard enough! The cheek!
With the DN being held the same day as my birthday I decided to go and celebrate with a meal and a few beers in Adenau. With a hazy head it was time to go to sleep for the 5AM start the next day. The only thing? I wouldn’t be leaving at 5AM!
I woke up in my humble abode at 7am, two hours later than I should have, giving me 2 hours less to get to the Eurotunnel! It’s a good thing that Haus Sonja in Adenau provided a great night’s sleep and at a great price.
I had to be at the Eurotunnel by 12:25 the latest. A bit of a tall order when Google Maps tells you it will be a 5 hour trip!
With the car stuffed full of my gear it was time to set off:
But with a 1/3 tank of fuel in a tired state I was never going to make it to Calais on time! With than in mind I made a dash to the Aral. While meaning to pickup some 98 I ended up filling up with 102 RON! Whoops! I guess it is only money!
However, I took an executive decision to not stop. With a 2 litre bottle of water and a bag of Haribo sweet and sours I was set! This would be a bit of a test of man and machine!
Going through Germany wasn’t too bad at all! The roads while being very wet were clear. From doing a steady 75MPH on the motorways I soon easied my speed up. All I will say is that when I had the cruise control set it was set to less than 100MPH. Sure, the contraflows, traffic etc. slowed me down but they would anywhere in the world in busy areas! With me getting closer and closer to Brussels I could see the traffic building up and up! However, the car soldiered on relentlously, running surprisingly smoothly.
What did annoy me at times much to the amusement of the proper ‘box fans was the SMG’s auto shifting in auto mode. Say you were going up a hill on the motorway. I’d put my foot down and it would go to 5th when I wanted to stay in 6th. I initially found this annoying. Right until I put it back into manual and found my mistake ; the engine doesn’t really want to do much at 50MPH in 6th while climbing a hill on the Autobahn to overtake a few people. Yup, it was careless throttle action and user error in my sleep deprived state.
But when I got my head around that I found the car as a package an absolute joy to bring back to Blightly. I was eventually toggling in auto for the roadworks and reverting to manual elsewhere, a perfect combo and certainly a quick and relatively relaxing drive. Yes if I had a more careful foot I wouldn’t have needed to but I guess we as humans are flawed things.
The car was wonderful. It proved that as a complete package it did have elements of a GT car about it! And what a soundtrack to come back home in! By some miracle I managed to get back to the Eurotunnel in Calais for 11:55! Not bad for rush hour at all! I did not even feel tired! I did however need the toilet, badly!
Yup, the ‘ring and the return trip really had me bonding with the car more! It seemed that my hard graft on the car had been worth it! The rear end being planted gave me the ability to put my foot down as did the Michelin’s performance in the wet passing trucks where the spray thrown off them could have you barely seeing where you were going! Yup, maybe that expenditure was worth it after all. It wasn’t even that taxing on the fuel count!
How untaxing? If the trip computers are to be believed:
-The M3 did 28MPG ; it did drop on the laps but rose again ; it averaged 29MPG on the trp when I did the calculations on pen and paper! That includes it doing 15MPG on track ; it was wet remember.
-The Clio 220 Trophy EDC did 31.3MPG ; No I am not joking and that was with him doing a sedate 75 all the way back ; he left before me remember
-The Clio 172 Cup however unsurprisingly was ahead of the M3 but surprisingly ahead of the 220! 38MPG! Man I miss those figures for the power!
It seems then that after this trip the M3 certainly had earned its respect from we as well as proving itself very well! Damn, I guess I was getting a little smitten with the old girl!
I would have thought that my tales of living with an M3 would have put a few people off! Did it? If not it is my duty to keep rambling on about how the first year of ownership with an E46 M3 can be!
However I can report that after the Evo Triangle trip April was actually going surprisingly well! The car was behaving and drive the best it ever had done under my ownership! The tramlining had completely gone, the car thanks to the Michelin tyres actually gripped in wet conditions very well and it was a joy to drive on back roads as much as it was on long motorway trips. But with a trip planned to Germany in the Eiffel region it was not a time to sit on my laurels.
Sure, the car had the Rear Axle Carrier Panel (RACP) reinforced with uprated bushes and new tyres all round and a general clean bill of health. But what about things like spare brake pads, oil and other consumables? It would be wise to take them, especially given how the car would be pushed to its limits! It was time to get ordering!
The first thing I would order and fit would be a power steering hose. I had a hose made up by a known face in the industry with it being a very similar design to what BMW sell. Suffice to say it did the job well and allowed me to change the PAS fluid at the same time. Compared to the old hose the new item was a great improvement.
After extensive research and previous experience with brake pads I decided to go with the expensive but great Pagid RS29 fast road brake pads for the front. A Renault Clio 220 Trophy from Rent-A-Race-Car had these on when I went to the Nurburgring in October where they performed well! With the front pads sorted it was time to look to the rear brakes ; stock items were ordered from Euro Car Parts. The issue? They were from a 330i after looking up the part numbers more closely ; they would fit but the compound would be wrong. Had I known this earlier I would not have purchased these from ECP. However, with limited time I needed a backup if my rear brake pads died. As I learned previously at Silverstone the M3 if the DSC is left on can be very hard on the rear pads ; I managed to have them smoking there!). With a bottle of Super DOT 4 brake fluid thrown into the boot the car was ready on the parts side. Oh, and some Brexit number plates to make the car more Euro friendly when abroad:
Before this I had the alignment checked by BT Tyres in Rugby. Ross has treated me well in the past and I knew the car would be in good hands.
All that was left to do was to clean the car, check the levels and the pressures, pack some tools just in case and then sort out myself. OK, may there was more to sort than I realised! A friend of mine in a Clio 172 cup also prepared in a similar fashion, but a chap in a Clio 220 Trophy? He just sat back, and seemed to think that we were fretting for his own pleasure! Or so it seemed.
Then came the Monday morning. With no sleep at all and a 3am start we set out towards Folkstone. Much to my surprise the car went there without a hitch, despite me enjoying the derestricted Autobahns along the way! It was then time to sort out accommodation. My friends stayed at the superb Blaue Eke in Adenau found at this website while I was at a great appartment within Adenau called Haus Sonja ; it had plenty of facilities and was great value. While my car was fine, Dev’s would require some attention. This would only be changing the wheels over. While three of them were relatively simple one was a nightmare! Even a 2 foot breaker bar struggled to break the nuts off! But we got there! Mechanics. You have to love them. With the wheels now tightened up with a torque wrench at least they would no longer be such a chore to remove.
After a meal later on that night it would be time to hit the Green Hell. So, to put it another way, I am in a car with north of 300BHP, with a Marmite gearbox, and forecasted rain. How bad could it be?
It is fair to say that there were undercurrents of bad vibes in the last blog about my old M3. After all, it was beginning to falter and start to empty my wallet out, leaving me feeling more dejected about the car. The car did seem like it was trying to win me back however. With all of the repairs and servicing carried out it pulled a lot better than before and generally drove more like I expected an M3 to and not a large 330i. It also sounded superb with all of the noises that engine made really getting me excited.
The first way I decided to reward the car was to get the SMG CSL software update done. What this does is to change the SMG’s working to becoming similar to that of an M3 CSL. I was apprehensive about how bad this would be. After all, I didn’t find the SMG that bad at all and got to work or master its quirks. I even managed to heel and toe with the SMG as well; yes really! But many spoke about this modification being a gamer changer. After I bought the software I did not realised just by how much.
The gearbox now worked as it should have done from the factory, and really opened up another dimension to the car! Was I regretting not buying a manual? Not a chance! The ‘drivers’ could keep their ‘porridge stirrers’ as another friend put it! I really loved driving the car again and was gelling with it more.
Another treat I had in store for the car was to book it in with ETA Motorsport for the Rear Axle Carrier Panel (RACP) reinforcement to get around a problem area ; the boot floor or RACP from cracking too much. With some poly bushes ordered you would have thought the car would behave. If only it stayed like that.
Upon coming to top the screenwash up one day I noticed an oily damp patch on the undertray near the pulleys. I initially thought the power steering pipe was seeping. It was dirty after all. However, it was the oil cooler. Damn! At £300+ they were hardly cheap either! After the cooler saga I had with the Triumph Stag I was through taking chances on coolers. The cooler seemed to have become porous which is why it was not leaking too much.
That said the day came a few days later where I took it into ETA for Mike to work his magic. 2 days after dropping the car off the plates were fitted, the subframe bushes replaced and the car was ready. Wow this thing drove differently! It felt tauter than it ever had done. While the reinforcement may have helped I suspect the poly bushes aided things massively. If you guys own an E46 3-Series this is definitely an area I consider looking at, even if using stock bushes:
With me getting slightly soft towards the car I decided to change the front two tyres, something my MOT tester reluctantly passed ; I felt he was being harsh personally. So off I went to the great BT Tyres (www.rugbytyres.co.uk) where I picked up a set of newly released Michelin Pilot Sport 4 Ss at a great price and superb service from Ross as always. These tyres were very impressive from the moment I saw the first roundabout! They certainly get a massive thumbs up from me! The joy however would be short lived
Why? The oil cooler saga was far from over. Seeing that Mister Auto were selling an OE branded oil cooler I decided to take the risk and buy one from them. A week after placing the order I was greeted with a faulty oil cooler, complete with wayward fins but worst of all a large chip present in one of the cooler pipes. Attempting to source a replacement from Mister Auto seemed fruitless ; they were only interested in refunding me. As was attempting to get a new cooler sent over from them within a week with extra money offered for faster postage. It was strange how they managed to restock another oil cooler on eBay once I had returned my faulty item. Would I use them again? No chance. The lesson had been learned. But I had an iffy cooler and I needed another cooler fast with less than a week left until the weekend.
It looks like a spot….
But it was a true chip
Yup, it’s definitely a chip!
Why did I need the car that soon? I had organised a weekend months beforehand to take our cars to the famous Evo Triangle in North Wales. With that in mind I begrudgingly ordered an oil cooler from Rybrook BMW after begging them to give me some discount. Within the next day it arrived. Great! With the two coolers side by side things were looking to be on the up! Or so I thought.
Upon removing the old oil cooler I came across a problem ; the oil cooler connections had corroded onto the cooler along with the bolt joining the two together doing the same. This was not what I needed 2 days prior to travelling to the Evo triangle. After seeing the prices of poorly ended oil cooler pipes on Ebay I went once again to BMW to beg and borrow once more! Being at work with no possibility to get the time off I was left with the Friday night and Saturday morning to fit them. Pleased was not a mood I was in!
Instead of going down for a beer with the usual friends on the Friday I was on my driveway messing around with the oil cooler. It is fair to say that my language was colourful at that point in time. With the cooler put into place as well as me giving the car an oil and filter change while I was there it was time to fire the car up. Hallelujah! The car was now leak free for the first time ever! Suddenly it looked like I might be able to make the Evo triangle trip.
Of course, Saturday morning was spent doing the same thing as Friday night. Somehow, by 11am I had an assembled and running car again. My friend’s ambitious start time of 11am from Hopwood services was never going to happen. Despite the car now running better than ever and being leak free the atmosphere was very sour around me. After all, I had thrown £1800 at the car in the space of a few weeks with a lot of hassle around it! You can hire a quick car for less than that over a month with a warranty! While I was asked to clean it I really did not have the time or even the heart to do so. It had been needy, and far too much so. It was time the car to stop bleeding me dry and give me something back!
The bad mood did soon begin to ebb away however. The more miles that I piled onto the M3 the more I began to enjoy it again. After all, it was now a sorted car with it now driving better than it ever had done. With some good company, great weather and roads that looked like they had been crafted by God himself things were certainly looking up! The car even managed a respectable 31MPG over the trip! OK, that figure did drop around the roads in Wales but still!
But enough of that. It was time to enjoy what the M3 was built for ; enjoying the roads. With the SMG gearbox update, the subframe bushes and decent tyres this now felt like the M3 it should have been! The gearchanges were spot on (way better than a manual now), the chassis felt like it was part of the car and it felt like it wanted to be driven. Hard! It finally became the part time grand tourer and part time out and out backroad machine!
So, I changed the rear subframe bushes, reinforced the RACP and fitted new tyres. The former bits probably did not need to be done. But why was I doing this? Simple. I was heading to Germany in May.
It was fair to say that I enjoyed the Silverstone Sunday Service back in October 2016. It certainly looked like the car was earning its keep!
This is why it was surprising to hear that BMW were recalling BMW 3-Series cars of the E46 vintage for the driver’s side airbag recall. When it came back the car came back with good news. The car was given the green light for the best part including the subframe. I say the best part as the car was flagged up for having 2 tyres on the limit of being legal in addition to the 2 rear not being much better. Furthermore, the intermittent driver’s side headlamp decided not to work either when at the dealership. Not a bad result overall. At least the steering wheel looked a little nicer:
Since the car looked to be earning its keep I decided to treat the front to a front end respray. Suffice to say it did look alot better afterwards! Enough for me to consider taking the car to the superb Pistonheads Sunday Service at Prodrive, Banbury in the future!
Another annoying issue had been the rear view mirror. Like most E46 M3s the mirror had started to look a little funny, like it didn’t know what shade it wanted to be. Thanks to a man in the trade known as ‘MirrorJohn’ (no, really!), the mirror was fixed and as good as new again.
This is where it seemed I had started to become complacent. Come December and the car lost a cylinder, misfiring badly driving back from work. With all of the M3 horror stories on the internet I began to fear the worst. This was not helped upon me plugging in my el cheapo code reader into the car which claimed all was fine too! It was only when I plugged in the known INPA software that the car that the issue became apparent; there was a misfire on cylinder no.6. Off I went to order another coilpack from Euro Car Parts of the Bosch flavour. All of a sudden the car looked like it was going to be a reliable runner. It was wishful thinking to think it would stay like that.
Since I required an estate for a day or two my father and I switched cars. When it came to switching the cars back I was informed that the car had an intermittent alternator light. Driving the car proved seemed that he wasn’t lying; The battery light was one for a few second and then off again. Putting the voltmeter across the battery terminals also confirmed that the alternator was charging intermittently. With the battery and earth connections it did look like the alternator. When I initially tried to source a regulator for the alternator I was greeted by £100+ regulators, the same as what BMW wanted. With this in mind I grit my teeth and splashed out a little more for a new alternator. Like the valve clearances I ended up taking off a fair few parts just to get to the alternator. At least I now had a rhythm for removing them quickly mind you. Since the front of the engine was sounding rattly I also checked the auxiliary belt tensioners and pulleys. Two of the tensioners were in a bad way so these were also changed for new items which soon silenced the noises.
All of this just to change an alternator?
But at least on Christmas day on a quiet drive back from Birmingham Airport it was frugal. In M terms!
It was fair to say that the M3 landing me these bills over Christmas was not appreciated. At least one of us got to enjoy Christmas. But I knew the car needed another niggle sorting ; the pesky driver’s side headlight! It was like playing headlight bingo every time I turned them on. There was nothing for it but to take the headlight apart.
I changed the bulbs when I first bought the car which seemed to fix the problem intermittently but I had a strong suspicion that it was the headlamp ignitor that was at fault. With that in mind I bought a spare ballast and ignitor so as to plan for this. Upon changing the externally mounted ballast I still had no headlamp! There was nothing else for it but to completely disassemble the headlamp assembly, simply to change one part! Seeing as I was taking the headlamp apart I also took the opportunity to change the headlight lenses. It was fair to say that it was not a job I was looking forward to. However, I was then rewarded with headlights that were finally reliable for my efforts as well as a brand new looking front end.
For the next few months all seemed well. So well that I decided to treat the car, and a minor issue ; the rear Rear Axle Carrier Panel/Rear Subframe also known as the RACP. It’s a known issue that the subframe mounts and the RACP can crack and break away from their spot welds irrespective of age or modifications with an E46 3 Series. To be honest my car also could have felt tighther despite driving well. With that in mind I booked the car into ETA Motorsport for the reinforcement work. This was despite the car being given the all clear from BMW. In short, despite what BMW said my car had cracked on further inspection ; things that are only apparent when the subframe is dropped:
For a few months it seemed the car appreciated the car it was getting some needed TLC. That would stop a fortnight before I dropped it in. I initially saw a wet mark on the undertray. I assumed that it was the power steering pipe ; this has dried on dirt possibly from oil on it:
Little did I know not only was Christmas an awkward time for the car but I had another awkward time coming, and this time for Easter! Would my festive cheer begin to wane?
It is about time I picked up this dormant blog. After all, I did get a little sidetracked with the French wine tour blog for a while. With that, it’s time to come back to the Land of the Living.
I left the last blog see what would happen regarding the exhaust mounts ; I knew they were gone when I bought the car. Despite the exhaust wobbling about more than a pair of wobbly knockers and sagging just as much I knew those mounts were begging to be changed. All of the tales of sheared mounting studs put me off. There was nothing for it. Off I went to order the exhaust mounts. I was tempted by cheaper mounts but seeing as there was big question marks over their longevity lasting months I bit the bullet and went with genuine items. After all, the car still had the original mounts on going by the date stamps.
Coming to August 2016 I soaked them 2 weeks prior to working on them in WD40. It was then time to tackle the inevitable. Removing the exhaust mounts. Amazingly I did not break a single stud. It is just as well as the exhaust mounts were hanging. Quite literally!
However, it seemed that my perseverance paid off. However, I did not want to struggle with these again. With that in mind I order some new hardware from BMW including the all important copper washers. It also seemed rude to not paint the mount brackets either. It’s a shame to have something so small ruin the details!
For the first time ever I had an exhaust which now sat correctly against the bumper. There was no time to waste however ; I had an Inspection I approaching and truth be told I was not looking forward to tackling the job. Over time I got the ball rolling by acquiring more and more of the parts necessary to complete the job. That is the gaskets, the special tools as well as the usual oil and filter etc.
So, how did I start the job? That’s simple. I initially started by going to the superb Southampton Boat show. What a wonderful place that is. You can almost lose yourself in that place! There were so many boats about the place ; it’s easy to see why some people become water gypsies!
With that in mind I then had a great offer I couldn’t refuse made to me. I had the opportunity to go to one of Darren Langeveld’s fantastic events as part of his Destination Nurburgring outfit. DN16. Being a double weekend this was a special one. It was even more special with it being Darren’s Birthday as well! This would be mega! With a Rent-a-Race-Car Renault Clio 220EDC prepped specifically for the Nurburgring it seemed things couldn’t get better. We had the car, we had the people, and most importantly, we had the post driver’s briefing with beer :).
It was fair to say that procrastination was treating me well! But I could put it off no longer. I’d have to do the Inspection I. So, what is the big deal about the Inspection I? Honestly? Most of it is simple. I started the ball rolling by changing the oil, and also checking the brake pads, adjusting the handbrake as well as briefly checking the spark plugs. At the same time I noticed that the auxiliary belts were not in their first flush of youth, so they also got added to the list.
Then I would hit the small matter of checking the valve clearances. Checking them is a simple after and a small task. Changing the small little blighters was a more arduous process. Removing the shims was not much of a problem. But ensuring that they did not fling out when I removed them was trickier than I expected. I certainly held my breath a few times it has to be said! No shims “almost” dropped into the engine. I did however end up with a situation. Since I did not buy the shims I had an issue of where the shims that I required were on backorder from BMW with a 7-10 working day lead time. Not what you need when you need the car running within the week. Thanks to PistonHeads a fellow E46er came to the rescue and got me out of a sticky situation. I managed to obtain my hands on a set of Wiseco shims. With days before I required the car it was ready to go.
So why did I need the shims so badly? That is simple ; I had put myself down for attending the PistonHeads Sunday Service at Silverstone. To be fair all of the effort did seem worthwhile from the moment I hit the track.
With that in mind it was time to call it a day. But would the remainder of my first year of ownership be plain sailing?
With the end of the holiday coming up we knew the drill. Wake up, clean up, followed by your typical continental breakfast before starting on the final leg. Oh, and admiring the receptionist while you are at it. The routine will sound familiar to many of you. Of course, it would have been nice if this was the case. It would be a case of being so close but so far.
Before we left however, I did come across this rarity! You have to love the old Renaults:
But there was no time to waste. We had to get a move on! The train would not wait for us after all!
After travelling over 900 miles in the superb Citroen the stress of being dormant for so long was beginning to show. Yup, that clonking from the driveshafts off load was showing no signs of getting quieter. Although the car was actually fine at motorway speeds on the smooth French toll roads. If you ask me you wonder if the car didn’t want to leave France! After all, this example had been imported to the UK in 2012 with it now being back on home soil. However, it didn’t stop the car getting plenty of attention.
It certainly was getting a lot of attention in France! At petrol stations the car was a superstar. If people were not looking at it they were videoing the car! I was only hoping to go on a wine trip in an old French car, not to feel like some Z-list celebrity! However, one bloke did admire our car quite a bit. A Belgian. It’s fair to say that we admired his motor too. Seeing as it was a Jaguar Mk2 it’s not hard to see why. With some great modifications made including better brakes and larger wheels it was lovely to admire the car. With him speaking a little bit of English and us a little bit of French we somehow managed to chat for ages and ages. I guess old cars do that, they have their own language! It certainly was a great time!
But we were not foolish. With the car begging not to be coasted the return journey was going to be interesting. Somehow we managed to make the boat back to the UK. Hurrah, we could relax.
Upon leaving Felixstowe and heading onto the M20 all was looking well. We could keep the speed up to motorway speeds and the traffic was minimal. Unsurprisingly this would all change as soon as we hit the M25, heading towards the Dartford tunnel. The traffic went from being minimal to being surrounded by slow cars everywhere! It’s not an ideal situation in a car that you can’t coast in. With the car knocking more than Katie Price’s assets on a binge fuelled night it was getting tense. We attempted to coast the car but as we failed more and more to do it in the traffic the knocking simply got worse and worse. Eventually we were driving so erratically that motorists behind us must have hated us.
Despite stopping at two services the traffic showed no signs of slowing down. The car decided it would protest even more. Pulling into South Mimms we heard a metallic banging sound followed by the wheel trim overtaking us. As soon as it hit the kerb we heard a gong! While the car was trying to humour us we were far from impressed. The car was having enough, we were having enough and at this point an RAC truck was not yet an option ; with the traffic we would have been waiting hours for the truck to arrive. Not what you want after a drive from Cambrai.
As the knocking got worse I soon had visions of us ending up in the Herts Tribune, with imagery of the wheel falling off and us going under a truck. Going past Daventry things got worse on the A-roads. The interior of the car got very hot, ideal in a car without a temperature gauge. What’s more, it looked like the Chinese Voltage regulator was having enough with the voltage slow dropping closer and closer to 12V.
By some miracle we arrived back home. A feeling of relief, joy and accomplishment all culminated into banter towards the car, towards us and towards future trips with such brilliant planning. When we got back we soon had an idea of why the car was getting so hot. The answer stared us in the face when we opened the bonnet:
Yup, those belts were destroyed! But let’s be honest, the breakdown was part of the trip! It made it different, it made it tense. Dare I say it the trip was possibly a bit more fun! It’s something to talk about down the pub after all!
You have to love a bit of a cliffhanger eh? There are you folk eagerly awaiting the presence of wine and wine fields! What have I been delivering? Pictures of drunk folk in France as well as a questionable Citroen! But I guess as they say “Whatever floats your boat” But wait no more. There is some wine involved I am glad to say. Vinyards too!
For the final leg of the trip we made it to Beaune, Burgundy. In this quiet French town we had an Ace up our sleeve ; to book a wine tasting session on a bike! Were we initially aprehensive? You bet! OK. Most of us were. I was secretly looking forward to it. After all I love biking and I like the odd tipple now and again ;).
And so we hit the bikes, provided as part of the wine tour. This shot is of one of the wine enclosures in the region of Burgundy. With a relaxed and banter loving French wine tour guide we lapped up the information he gave us. I never thought I would know so much about wine! The trick to getting a good bottle of wine besides looking at the punt of the bottle? See if it originates from a town or an enclosure. But most of all, use your taste.
It was joyous going around the vinyards. So lovely that a friend of mine soon forgot he was a Brit and started acting like a Frenchman!
Although it must be said at least he was cheerier than me! I was pleased to be there, despite my facial expressions!
Before we knew it we had cycled quite a few miles, looked at quite a few vine stalks and crossed over some busy roads! It was then time to relax. What better scenery to relax in Burgundy other than the sacred wine fields?
With the rest period in place it was finally time to cheer to some lovely white wine and to simply lap up the fantastic surroundings.
It’s fair to say that I choose my place to drink carefully, even with inquisitive Americans about the shop. But I must say they were great company for the wine tour! But where was my glass. And my comrades glasses? Fear not, we all have a glass eventually!
But there was no time like the present. After a quick taste of some OKish “Application” wine we went on and hit the road. Or rather the cycle path. The next bit I did not get any photos of. What the next path entailed was stopping at a winery. My God the wine was good there and cheap! Why can’t we get that stuff at similar prices over here? If I knew I’d probably have started selling the stuff over here! So good was the stuff that we all ended up bringing back a couple of bottles of Pinot Noir and a ‘Ville’ wine ; A Pommard for those wondering what bottle of Red I returned from France with.
It was fair to say that the car was doing great! Not so fast! The next day we drove from Beaune to Cambrai. Even with no AC we were loving sitting in the old Citroen with the engine lapping up the miles with ease and the suspension absorbing every little bump. Even a whiff of petrol now and again could not break that illusion! That would all change when we came off the motorway when we decided to visit Laon, where the superb Laon Historique event is held (http://www.circuit-historique-laon.com/en/). It seemed the car however was not too keen to go to Laon, or should I say to not leave France again.
Yup, as soon as I pulled off the motorway I heard clunk clunk clunk coming from the offside wheel while coasting. Going slower and thus coasting more seemed to make it worse! Bad enough for me to consider left foot braking while I wasn’t on the accelerator! With the noise and feeling of it getting no there was nothing for it except to pull over.
With this in mind we let the car rest for a bit and gingerly pushed onto Cambrai. It was time for a well earned beer but also to see how we would make it back to the UK.