Buy An E36, It’s The Scandinavian Lego BMW

“What do you believe that no one else here does?”  A question asked by Peter Thiel, billionaire entrepreneur, when hiring his company.  In order to make great advancements today we need to think differently than others.  Last week on YouTube, Motor Trend’s Jason Cammisa put together a beautiful and extremely well done love letter for the E30 BMW.  It got me thinking that if I were buying a BMW with a $5,000 budget, would it be the E30 or E36? E30 and E36 are the chassis codes for the BMW 3-series, from 1992-1999 (E36) and from 1982-1992 (E30).  After much thought and deliberation I’ve decided to feature a 1999 BMW 328is as this week’s “Caveat Emptor,” buyer beware, which celebrates intriguing cars being sold online for less than $5,000.

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The premise of this weekly column is that it’s fun to pretend purchase cars on a limited budget.  If you have a $5,000 budget, I’m here to help.  

The rules are subject to change at any given notice (it is my weekly series):

  1. The car must be listed on www.CARS.com or www.AutoTrader.com, www.Craigslist.com, or www.Bringatrailer.com.
  2. It must be for sale by the time this article comes out.
  3. It must be under $5,000.
  4. It can be any type of car. Bonus points for enthusiast cars.
  5. It must be for sale in the United States (local in DC is best).
  6. Creativity (I know it when I see it) is welcomed.
  7. I’m open to submissions, mthompson@rightfootdown.com.

This week’s winner, a 1999 BMW 328is, is for sale in beautiful South Jersey on Craigslist, buy here.

NOTE: Caveat Emptor: Buyer Beware.  This is not an endorsement of this particular car for sale.  I have not driven it nor do I know the seller.  

What do I believe, that others don’t?  Buy an E36 BMW NOW.  Prices of the previous generation E30 BMW are on the rise, because people know that it’s a great car. The E30 has its own spec racing series (http://spece30.com/), the E30 M3 (a homologation race car) is selling for $30,000 (ten years ago it was about $10,000) and Motor Trend dedicated a whole 20 minutes to it waxing poetic justice on its YouTube channel.  But the E30 BMW has no airbags, a less sophisticated rear suspension setup, less horsepower, smaller interior space and not as well designed as its older brother the E36.

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The E36 was instantly recognized by the automotive press as a smash hit.  In the 90s, Saved by the Bell dominated the TV airways, just like the E36 BMW dominated automotive magazine comparison test and Car and Driver’s 10 Best list in the 90s.  It was bigger in all proportions but its handling was instantly recognized by the press, and it was characterized  as having the soul of BMW’s colt classic hit the “2002 tii”. Since its debut in the 70s the BMW 3-series has always been the sports sedan that other sport sedans aspire to be, but the E36 cemented BMW in the sports sedan hall of fame.

The E36 cemented BMW in the sports sedan hall of fame.

The time is now to buy an E36 BMW. It is known to enthusiasts as the last true BMW.  BMWs, like Americans, have continued to bloat in weight and size since 1999.  With the exception of the BMW M235i, BMW is currently losing the enthusiast market to Cadillac.  Try and go back 25 years, tell BMW that a Cadillac will have better steering than their 3-series and they’d laugh in your face. Today, the Cadillac ATS-V and CTS-V will eat BMW M3’s for breakfast on the track.  A feat that even surprises Cadillac, because their average car buyer age is 65 years old.

If you want the best E36, buy one from 1996-1999.  BMW upped the DOHC 24-valve engine size from 2.5-liters to 2.8-liters, changed the name from the 325i to the 328i.  Horsepower did not change much (190-193), but torque was increased a hefty 14 percent.  The engine block was upgraded to aluminum, making it drop weight like a high school wrestler, about 51 pounds.  If you want to do track duty, car to buy is a 328is. The (s) designating the coupe version of the sedan, two less doors means less weight. How do you make it better for the track?  Add the M Sport Package: bilstein shocks increased the handling performance, and a M3 appearance package increased its curb appeal with upgraded the wheels and body kit.       

Our owner and founder Josh Taylor, has had four E36 BMWs.  Yes FOUR, and he drifted and tracked them all (GOD).  His favorite aspects of the E36, they are like LEGOS.  You know those fun colorful scandinavian blocks that you can build whatever you want.  Yup, the BMW E36 parts are interchangeable among the 325i, 328i and top dog M3. Take the basic lego, a 325i. upgrade it with the M3 cams, intake manifold, M3 rear axle and M3 body trim pieces.  Now you just built yourself a LEGO M3, that can spank those E30s on the track.

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In 1998 Car and Driver praises the BMW 328i. “The heart of the package is a smooth, powerful, rev-happy six that’s coupled to a slick and precise-shifting manual gearbox. A sophisticated rear drive chassis with a supple, well-controlled suspension provides vigorous grip without beating up the passengers on even the worst sort of road.”  In 1997 Car and Driver award the E36 M3 as Best Handling Car Over $30,000.  Want to hear its list of competitors? A Porsche 911 Carrera S, Toyota Supra Turbo, Ferrari F355, Dodge Viper, Chevrolet Corvette, Acura NSX and a Porsche Boxster.  Those are all cars that are still demanding HIGH price tags, with a 1997 Porsche Carrera S worth more than the house you are living in currently.  Even the Toyota Supra Turbo is at unattainable prices.  Why not buy an E36 M3, and save some of that hard earned cash from that job you hate.   It’s also good to note that the BMW Car Club of America had to beg to the get hot BMW M3 version in the US.  When it did arrive (1995), it did not even get the same engine as the European M3, which had even more horsepower.  

 With such a great deal, why are waiting around?  Buy this 1999 BMW 328i I found on Craigslist in beautiful South Jersey.

What do you look out for when buying?  Two simple things: the rear subframe tears/cracks and the front suspension bushings.  Replacing the rear subframe will put a bigger dent in your pocket, costing around $1,500 from your local shop.  This is a MUST DO if you are going to track your car.  Safety first kids.  The lower control arm bushing are a much cheaper and simpler do-it-yourself type fix.  Only taking about 30 minutes to do, you can watch on YOUTUBE here.  Other odds and ends to check for replacement are the water pump (made from plastic), and the radiators (also plastic).

This 1999 BMW 328is has 74,000 original miles, two doors, and has the factory M Sport package.  The seller is asking $4,950, just shy of my $5,000 budget.  It has a five-speed manual transmission, heated seats, power sunroof, and the interior is in great condition.  The outside looks like it’s not a garage queen, but who cares?  Buy this car, drive it into the ground. Period.  While I head off to South Jersey to pick up this excellent E36 328is, contemplate my questions.  “What do you believe that no one else here does?” Buy HERE.  If you do want to buy it, make sure to check the rear subframe and the front suspension bushing.  To check for good bushings, tap the brakes from any speed and you should hear a clap or feel a shutter if they are shot.  

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1999 328is From Craigslist
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Odometer Showing Low Mileage
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Interior Is In Great Condition