Don’t you just love people who claim you can own an object of desire for a pittance? That the world is wrong and they just don’t know where to look? This certainly seemed to be the case for me and my search of a car I have wanted for quite some time ; the BMW E46 M3.
With its individual throttle bodies, great looks and lovely handling it had me written over it. Sure there is the question of image but who cares when you are having so much fun?
So, the budget. What would it be? If eBay is to be believed and other people down the pub this should have been dead easy Oh, and the internet is always right, right?. After all, back in 2014 M3s had dropped to an all time low in value! So off I went in my search in May 2016, with a budget of £9,000 but hoping to stay around the £6,000. After all I don’t mind getting my hands too dirty but I also hate a money pit! We all know have a £6,000 car can quickly become an £11,000+ car, still with its faults. But we all cannot resist a bargain:
I don’t think that I was too picky with my specification. I wanted the following if I could help it:
Any car except Titan Silver
Preferably a manual
Evidence of good maintenance over the years, be it specialists or simply receipts to show what work the car has had done
Good service history from when it was new
New Discs ; I was wise enough to check the price of these!
New but good Tyres ; I was also wise enough to check the price up!
A half decent drive
With the latter two my jaw almost hit the floor when I saw the prices of them
With me previously owning a Clio 172 and a Mondeo V6 with 250,000 miles I thought the above should have been easy.
I had a few contenders to go and see. These included the following:
A Titan Silver Car with a black leather interior. It was a manual coupe with 128,000 miles on the clock. Oddly it was the only one I saw being sold by a trader and also it was the cheapest. £6750 to be exact.
A Mystic Blue with Grey Leather SMG model. This would be the first SMG coupe car I saw. It had 112,000 miles on the clock, a new clutch and only 2 owners. This car? £8,100
A Laguna Seca Blue and black leather M3. Also a manual this had 111,000 miles. It did have many new parts including discs and an exhaust put on. This was on for £8,000. It was however in Northern Ireland
A Phoenix Yellow and black leather Cabrio. As another manual this had 75,000 miles on the clock and was owned by a retired BMW technician. The price? £9,000.
A Carbon Black and red leather Cabrio. This was another SMG. It had a bit of work done to it including new lower arms etc. and so on. This was one of the cheaper cars for sale at £7,000.
Another Titan Silver and Black manual entered the scene. This was an 84,000 mile car being sold by a dealer. It had 12 months MOT and was ready to go. This one was £8,900.
This is almost like Deja vu! I found an almost identical car to the above! Another Mystic Blue car with Grey leather! It had more miles on at 122,000 miles and also had been owned for just over a year with plenty of MOT left.
All were claimed to be in great condition upon the first glance of the advert and the pictures. After all a picture can speak 1,000 words. So with that respect, surely 8 pictures can speak 8,000 words combined together?
While I did not expect perfection I wanted a clean and tidy car. I figured with my then 2003 Clio 172 being very tidy for its age this should have been a walk in the park. With plenty of tools at my disposal like My Car Buying Guide it should have given me an idea of what I was about to see! Surely they would pass the mark with flying colours.
Little did I know, I had no idea what I was about to let myself in for.
There was me leaving you folks on a pleasant ending. I had around 7 cars to evaluate. If I had been told correctly this should have been a dead easy! After all the adverts are always truthful right?
Enter exhibit A:
2003 128,000 mile Manual in Silver/Black; £6750 being sold by a trader. –
Despite this car being at a local trader’s it was the cheapest car for sale. It was also the first car I saw. You know the drill here. Give the seller a call and see what they say. Sure enough I was told “it was in good condition for the year” and with no real rust to speak of. It did look nice in the photos too.
Upon going to see the car I knew it was a pup, even with it being one of the wettest days in May 2016! The shotblasted looking bumper that was going black complete with appalling front panel alignment, the rusty arches all round as well as the tatty and scratched interior all showed that! With the wheels being CSL replicas they looked great from a distance even they were kerbed a bit!
Surely inside it would be nicer. Not a chance! Besides having an interesting smell as well as a sticky floor the interior looked very tired inside. What’s more the plastics were scratched to Kingdom Come. Had a cat lived inside this car or had one too many adventures being happening inside it?
Mechanically I thought “Maybe it won’t be that bad”. I was in for a disappointment. Shot discs were present all round! It even had aftermarket ballast packs. That’s before I get to the dash bathing me with error lights present. All would be forgotten as soon as I turned the key.
Well, I say that, but it would take the assistance of a battery pack to fire up the old girl. My God it sounded lovely! All of the faults were forgotten! But you should never buy the first car you see, or the wise men tell you.
It did however have a nice stash of receipts to show the maintenance done.
However, stepping back into my clean Clio 172 which was a mint car in comparison had me asking myself “What the hell am I doing? Going from a good car to a wreck?”. This car however did sell within two weeks of being put for sale. I was not even going to offer him anything like £6k for the car!
It was time to move onto the second car. Maybe my luck would change.
NOTE: This car is either SORN’d since 2016 or scrapped going by the DVLA now.
2003 ’53’ reg Mystic Blue SMG, 111,000 miles £8500
This was the first car I saw for sale from a private seller. After seeing the silver shit hours beforehand it was easy for me to like this car! On first impressions it looked a lot better! It would also be the first time I drove an SMG ‘boxed car as well and see if the truth was as bad as people made out. It also had a sunroof which oddly enough I wanted!
In short, it didn’t disappoint. The car did not knock at at all from anywhere and it held the road very nicely! The gearbox wasn’t as bad as I thought either. It didn’t pull as well as I expect but maybe I was expecting too much ; after all they have a very high revving engine and I didn’t quite take it to the redline!
But closer inspection of the car soon began to reveal the flaws. While the rear of the interior looked immaculate the front didn’t.
Further flaws became apparent on closer inspection. Every panel had quite a bit of scratching on. Despite the car being advertised as damage free the front bumper didn’t suggest that. It clearly had a cheap blowover at some point (complete with concealed stone chips beneath the orange peel paint) as well a repair Stevie Wonder could have done better while drunk! The discs also were as bad as the silver car’s and an advisory to bootTo top it off there was no service history (it was lost) and only 1 key. All of a sudden this car didn’t look to be worth £1.2k more than the Silver manual.
But then I would come across what is said to be the daddy of all specs:
Laguna Seca Blue and Black Manual Coupe. 112,000 miles £7950.
I do wonder if I was harsh about this car or that maybe I was simply a timewaster!
On the face of it the car looked superb in the advert. It had clearly been detailed to the hilt. With new discs, backbox and subframe reinforcement it looked like the ticket!
A phonecall would change that. Despite being described as immaculate the owner spoke of rust on the front wings that you had to get onto your hands and knees to see, and that the interior was more tired than the photos made out on closer inspection. What’s more he had a couple of warning lights come on now and again due to the wrong profile tyres being on the front. Oh, they were Marangoni Zetas. Seeing that it failed an MOT on the boot floor cracking badly also put me off ; maybe it needed a complete floor in reality if it was bad enough to fail an MOT.
That and he was not open to any offers even before I raised the question. When he declined to send me further WhatsApp photos of the interior and exterior regarding the areas he mentioned I decided that the trip to Northern Ireland may not have been worth it after all to be disappointed.
It did however sell after a price drop to £7500. Funny, he was saying he wouldn’t lower his price. If he was willing to negotiate we may have talked a deal. NI is quite a way to go just in case the car is a pup. After all I had just seen two and was dissapointed!
3. Phoenix Yellow & Black Nappa Manual Cabriolet with 75,000 miles. £9,000.
To most people this should have been the car I should have bought. It had to most people the driver’s gearbox and sensible colours along with less miles by quite a way. I was going to view it but unaware at the time a friend bought it. it was owned by an ex-BMW mechanic and it had 4 good tyres and new discs. When I initially saw it I thought happy days! That impression would not last.
Firstly, the bodywork. It was not shiny at all, but that can be corrected easily. Despite having the least amount of miles the front seats had not worn as well as you would expect. Dare I say it, the seats in the 111k Blue/Grey SMG car were better bar a bolster being collapsed in a strange position (right at the top, as if someone was pushing on it)). While I know it’s a convertible the AC can be handy during the rain or winter, espeically in a convertible. It didn’t work. All you got was alarmingly loud hiss from inside the car. Then I came to drive it.
The way people speak of the manual is that it is amazing and not comparable to the SMG. They were not kidding on the last part! The manual has a long throw, is not the most precise thing and at times reluctant to go into gear. If you read online you’d think it’s as good as an MX-5 with gear changes. Are you feeling the love? Me neither!
It later turned out that his back box was held on with zip ties (I am not joking!) and that his engine had a few leaks all round from the rocker cover gasket, CPV and a couple of other areas. Sure it was not a bad car but it was not perfect and not for me! It was not for him either, seeing as it was sold 2 months after he bought it…
I also almost saw and bought the car below
2001 Silver & Black Manual Coupe. 88,000 miles, £8900 from a trader
On paper this car looked good. But the seller was surprisingly honest over the phone and even sent some shots over of the car to me. It was good to see this and I almost went for it!
He was honest enough to say that there was rust on the car but he had performed Smart repairs on them. After having rusty cars before I decided it was too big a risk to risk Smart repairs not rusting again. That and the interior was as tired as the higher milers as were the discs from his vague description and more than the car that I would buy. I was tempted but not at that price.
Picky I know but I’ve never had leather seats wear here even after 250k
This looks OK, ish.
Until you see this! Not bad but I’d expect better for the mileage
The others were fairly similar to the above. While I didn’t settle on the best car IMO it was a good one overall.
Other candidates included the following:
Carbon Black & Red SMG Cabrio, 101,000 miles £7200.
This was tidier than most of the cars but it wanted discs, tyres, mirrors repainting, rust sorting in various areas. It also had the the dreaded SMG cog light appear. Interior was surprisingly good, probably the best I saw out of all of the cars. The owner spent a fortune on servicing it, polybushing it as well as new arms, but he ran out of steam.
It seems I wasn’t alone in the struggle going by someone else’s search
Anyway, I digress. I started looking at the lower end of the market – after all it was meant to be a stop gap car, not something that I wanted permanently in my collection. Well, anything below £8k is an absolute dog – have seen 4 cars and all have rusty arches, tyres not fit to be drifted out, let alone be driven on, shagged and doddgy carbon fiber interiors, dubious mileage histories once the MOT history and service history was consulted. All had the subframes checked – funny, how it is not the subframe, but the boot floor which actually tears apart, and had SMG pumps giving “nice, long primes”….
One of the cars was actually a diamond in the rough, but I just could not bring myself to pay the full asking considering the amount of time needed to bring it up to scratch. Hence, unless you are prepared to DIY a lot, there are hardly any bargains left…
By this point I was getting ready to sack off my search. I came very close to throwing in the towel. Maybe my Clio was that good a car!
The advert seemed honest mind you. He said the car was good overrall but that the interior could use a clean. Furthermore, it had 4 newish Falken tyres and a full service history.
The owner of this M3 was a pain to contact. All of my voice messages went straight to his answerphone. After contacting him through WhatsApp Voice calling (no I am not joking here!) I finally had a chat with him. It sounded promising. He said the bodywork had scratches on it, the interior was grubby and that the brakes were all new with genuine BMW parts. It also had a full service done by Mobile Tune BMW in Birmingham. Furthermore the AC system had been checked over and regassed in addition to the gearbox being checked over from top to bottom regarding the sensors where the stuff was taken apart etc. I agreed to go and take a look.
It was refreshingly good in the flesh! The bodywork had a real honesty about it despite being tidy. Sure it had the odd touchup and and there but it was clean! The interior at the front could have been better but it was good overrall. The seats despite needing TLC were better than the other cars I saw bar possibly the 75k Phoenix Yellow car. It drove well too but it could pull harder. I noted that it wanted a replacement viscous coupling in addition to some next exhaust mounts. It did seem to have some wedge thrown at it mind you! The rear dampers were relatively new as were odd little bits around the car. After some talking a deal was struck
After a while we came to a deal. My fate was sealed. I was now the owner of an E46 M3! But had I chosen a good car? Time will tell.