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 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?
Reviews are like anything else. They are the opinion of someone who gives their take on a certain matter. What makes them different is how they encapsulate the audience ; the reviews grab the attention of the viewer and by the end of it you want the car more! In some cases it does seem to be the opposite. It is surprising how the reviews can be taken as gospel, it can make or break how an individual perceives a car.
With this is mind it was wonderful to see Classic & Sports Car embrace the BMW E46 M3 and take it under their wing in April’s issue. Their review highlighted a few good points to look at and as a whole was a great review given the short piece it had! For the best part it covered the car very well but as always there are a few points to consider.
While the engines do have issues it seems the world wide web has a habit of exaggerating them. Sure, head gaskets do go on the S54 engine, as do the big-end bearings have issues. But, there are a number of cars out there with big mileages without the above done to them ; they are still on the original head gaskets and VANOS parts.
But what about the subframe cracking?
The Rear Axle Carrier Panel (RACP) does however have a habit of cracking, with an increasing number of specialists now providing relatively inexpensive solutions of preventing a total failure for occurring. Not all is bad there!
What about the SMG? It’s clutchless, right?
Then we get to the SMG Gearbox, or clutchless as the writer called it. I guess the fact that the gearbox itself and the clutch are the same as a manual M3 doesn’t count for it having a clutch? The gearbox getting stuck in 4th gear is also a new one on me. I would really like to see where they got their information from regarding that. They do drop into neutral as a the pump dies, yes (as a precaution) but not a gear. A pedalless gearbox maybe, but not clutchless? Not by a long shot.
Like anything, the pump is a little like the bullied child from school. It’s picked on by those who don’t know much because it is easy to and rarely without having a deeper understanding for the system in mind. With some logic the system is a little easier to diagnose. Sure, they have their faults but like anything they are easier and generally cheaper to solve with the right know how.
While it can have issues including the pump the issues do tend to reside more in smaller issues. Slow shifting has almost nothing to do with the pump but there will be more regarding much cheaper parts and software issues; BMW did a software update fairly early on during the M3’s life and inexpensive springs breaking can also cause slow shifting problems. But they will never be as quick as a dual clutch ; after all, there is only so much physics can do.
Anything else? What about running costs
While Ferraris may make the M3 look like a cheap car to run it is not as cheap as say other cars in the price bracket.
The price of certain items will raise eyebrows, even for a BMW. How pricey? Let’s get started. If you consider consumables:
Front Brake discs and pads – £330 for OE branded items or £500 from BMW
Tyres : Even a Falken will not leave much change from £150. A Michelin? Try closer to £200. That’s each.
This is an interesting. From asking around and seeing who does a correct Inspection I (many don’t)
Oil Service :£150 every 15,000 miles or 2 years, whichever comes first
Inspection 1 : £500 every 30,000 miles or 4 years
Inspection 2 : £700 every 60,000 miles or 8 years
Why are the Inspections so expensive. The valve clearances are looked at. It is not the most pleasant job to do and a number of specialists are all too keen to gloss over the issue.
While the review encompassed what the E46 M3 is all about it seems that a few areas were misrepresented. I do wonder ; was this down to poor research or simply being rushed for time? It would be great to see accurate portrayals from such a prominent magazine
It did however serve a purpose. It’s got the M3 even more noticed as a good buy that ticks the boxes of many a red blooded male out there. But better still, it’s helped to establish it more in the world of modern classics.
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.