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butters 318i project, S54door...

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    butters 318i project, S54door...

    Now that I'm 400 miles away from my pride and joy, I'm bored enough to put together a build thread chronicling my experiences and travels with it. A couple weeks back I was relocated for a 6-month gig at a plant just outside Cleveland, and decided that's where I draw the line as far as where I'll bring my e30. I left it with my family near Philly until I return in July, and of course for occasional visits which I can update in this thread.

    I picked up this car 2 years ago, February 4th 2011. In January of that year I lost my 2008 GTI to a snow accident, which luckily was caused by someone else and that car protected me well. It was probably on the edge of being totaled but I actually had it on the market and was actively looking for an E30. I had wanted one since 2006 but only at that point was it becoming legitimately possible and not unreasonable to downgrade to a much cheaper car. I didn't argue with insurance and they paid me a very good value for the VW. Within a couple weeks I came across a white four door '91. They are all equipped with 5-speed and this one was a basic variant slicktop vinyl and the only option was the 4.10LSD. I would rather a coupe, yes, but honestly I like the additional understated-ness of the four doors, my GTI was a 2-door and I was ready for a break from "letting people in the back," and no one can deny that as far as non-enthusiast owners, the likelihood of a four door being relatively beat up and neglected is much lesser than with the coupes. While black is my favorite color and I enjoy taking immaculate care of glossy black paint, I had that for 3 years with the VW and was actually looking for a white E30, figuring that the immaculate paint I enjoy would be extremely hard to find on a 20-year-old car.

    Anyways, here are the photos the seller shared with me, I came across the ad on Craigslist central NJ.

    I hadn't looked at any cars in the flesh, only talked online with a few sellers of average cars, contemplating how to deal with slight rust etc. This car was a breath of fresh air, and I fell in love. Everything felt like new, the garage-kept freshness really came through, down to the working side mirror adjuster.

    Non-glamorous picture from when I went to check it out:

    138k miles, the seller was the 2nd owner, having bought from a "NYC lawyer" - in 1992! He (my PO) was probably around 40, and explained that he tried to keep the car forever but wanted a (then just coming on market) F01 5er and had no space for the E30 anymore. He worked at SiriusXM and naturally, the only modification aside from H4 headlights was an Alpine fancy touch-screen pop-up head unit with all the bells and whistles - IVA-D310 with Sirius box and nav/traffic box along with DVD player and (as confirmed later) a halfway decent installation. Non-premium speakers sucked but I couldn't complain, the guy added nothing to the asking price for this $2-3k stereo. It's outdated now but I kept it despite how much I hate it in my interior because it's pretty nice.

    This PO was extremely organized with a spreadsheet of all expenses back to 1993. That combined with just how clean and straight the car was really sold me on it. I actually nearly lost the buy, when the seller told me someone staked a first claim but looked at it after me and said he wanted it after I committed to asking price. To put his mind at ease I offered +500 and he took it. Even at that, I'm still happy with what I paid, especially with how the market is these days.

    Towards the end of my years at school I worked at the local BMW dealership for an outside detailing business that handled their cars in their nicely equipped lower-level detail center. Loved doing that despite the occasional crap-tastic customer car (think beat to shit X3's and E46s trashed by toddlers etc), got to see and take the plastic wrap off of all the newest cars and put my sweat into protecting them from typical just-get-it-out-the-door dealership detailing mentality. It probably made my OCD worse, but was great for my black GTI :)

    Here's one of a few pics I have of crazy cars I got to touch or maneuver around the dealership:

    Immediately I removed the pinstripes from the E30. Unfortunately PO likely had them freshened up for selling, I could tell there were 2 distinct layers.

    The car was never in an accident worth reporting, only a fender bender that was repairable (slide hammer remnants visible inside the front right fender nose end) and the rear bumper oddity (PO claimed the dealership painted it, claimed the waviness was normal). Still, it definitely was resprayed partially, I'm thinking to stave off oxidation. The car moved with PO from NJ to southern California for a few years and then central Texas, confirmed by carfax, before returning back to NJ in the late 90s. I wanted to buff it but never got the chance and partially wanted to not be so obsessed with the paint yet.

    Unfortunately, a couple weeks into owning it I did attempt to pressure wash under the hood. Typically with modern BMWs we would go to town and do a great job, never worrying about anything. I was carefuly to avoid wiring and really only hit the frame rails, strut towers, and the core support, but as soon as I pulled out of the wash bay the starter sounded off. By the next day it was dead. I was a noob to this car, and went through the trouble of replacing the alternator before realizing the starter was what died. Not wanting to attempt that task quite yet, I paid someone else to do it. Oh well.

    First photo on a trailer shows the window shadowlining and the newly acquired iS lip, both of which I did with signing vinyl:

    Signing vinyl is great for non-permanent blacking out. It has held up just as well as paint over the last 2 years, and when I want to paint the lip white I can just peel it off and go. The window trim has a couple cut lines that are visible up close but only barely. Plus, signing vinyl is very cheap ($10-20 worth did the trim and lip).

    Next up on my agenda was window tint. I know some people hate this, especially with an older car like the E30. I am a big proponent of tint for protection of the interior and cooler temps in summer, as well as privacy. Don't worry, I got over my era of 15-20% and went 35% on the BMW:

    Car Pretty in northeast Philadelphia has done more cars for me, family, and friends than I can count. They do a great job, at the best price, while you wait (no need to drop off which I like).

    In early March 2011, while trolling the classifieds as usual, I came across an S50 swap package within driving distance down in Maryland. Engine and trans with harness, all accessories, iX/E32 booster and E32 master cylinder, mounts, a few new seals, and driveshaft. The price was good so I asked my dad if he minded my storing all this in the garage until graduation when I can do the swap. He said go for it so I borrowed a truck and made the trip to pick up the motor. Thinking back on it, I now recognize the relative scarcity of M42 cars and this would have been a great one to refresh and keep that way. I was anxious at the idea of the S50 E30 though so I went ahead with it anyway.

    Here it lurked for a few months:


    while I was distracted by this:

    and occasionally this:

    yes, even nearly bone stock, this car attracted a little attention. You can see I also added Euro non-smiley ellipsoids, a clean set had come up. I painted the surrounds black and went with the inexpensive DDM 55w HID setup, in their 4500K temperature (I forget the exact number they use, but it's the stock-white option with as little blue as possible which I prefer so as to look OEM and get the most output). Love them, money well spent. One headlight struggles to ignite while cold if the engine is running. Same behavior as a buddy of mine with an E36. Have to fire the headlights then start the engine for trouble-free operation. Not the best but I can live with that.

    Once I graduated I dove into the swap. Of course, I was not ready, and wound up delayed many times over due to wanting this or that part to be new or finding out the parts I didn't have.

    For example, this is one of many orders placed with Pelican or Blunt:

    Initially I was confidently saying it could be done in a couple weeks at most. Ended up taking about 6 weeks, and I had it driving with open headers only 2 days before DAS came to pick the car up. Oh yeah, I took a job that involved relocations for 2 years, and my first assignment was Portland, Oregon. At least there was no wintry nightmare to worry about right?

    Luckily my good friend was in a position to loan me this bad boy for runs to parts stores etc:

    Baby M42 in there, sorta, and also a 1991 (K bike).

    The main specifics of my particular swap, at initial installation:

    S50 w/ZF
    E28 motor mounts, E21 trans mounts
    M3 flywheel, DXD stage 1 clutch & pressure plate, M3 slave cylinder
    A/C and P/S not installed
    KAMotors intake
    eBay 2-piece headers (which fit like a charm)
    E32 brake booster & master cylinder, 2002 remote reservoir
    nando-modified wiring harness, spliced connector for no messy adapter
    M42 radiator, SPAL 16" slim fan mounted as a puller

    I did the usual basic "re-seal," along with new exhaust studs, water pump & t-stat with aluminum housing. I sent the valve cover out to be blasted and powdercoated black.

    I have a few pics from throughout the swap:

    Before shot:

    About ready to start pulling:

    Dropped the entire drivetrain at the same time, I was searching for a taller ratio than the 4.10 to mate up with the ZF gearbox out of the M3.

    Painted the engine navy blue just to be a little different but not too crazy:

    Getting it in there I should have taken more photos, but here it is as I began buttoning it up:

    Hood closes!

    I did my research and learned that the E36 M3 OE rear end was either 3.15 or 3.23. Others existed iirc but these were most common. I decided that with the lighter weight of the E30, I would be comfortable to go with a taller ratio. Also gas prices were and continue to be a nuisance and I may as well have decent highway manners. Winding a car out above 3k rpm for cruising just doesn't compute with my brain, I tend to feel like I'm overworking the engine.

    Happily, a 2.93LSD came up in the classifieds west of my home location and I met up with the seller for a highway handoff of that beastly unit. He even gave me an E30 M3 t-shirt which I still have.

    I made a mess of opening up the diff in the driveway, naturally, and changed the cover gasket. I painted the cover silver and the housing black, and filled her up with Swepco gear oil. I heard great things about it and was planning on using it to refresh the Zf310, but of course at this point that was moot.

    The diff went in a bit more easily than getting it out, but still tough with just a standard floor jack. My axles looked good to go so I just bolted everything up.

    I saved the damn driveshaft for the end, this was one aspect I knew I couldn't tackle myself without massive frustration. I detailed a technician at the dealer's E36 in exchange for him separating the d/s and installing the new CSB with the carrier backwards. I bought a brand new guibo and hardware, and installing that was a relative breeze.

    At the dealership for a once over and to share with my buddies in the service bay:

    I'll have more photos from underneath it later.

    Shortly thereafter it was time to move to Oregon. I actually missed the driver, my dad snapped some pics for me:

    that's where I'll leave it for today. it's going to be awhile to get everything into this thread lol. I'll have to search around for my obligatory start-up video, but I recall that I missed the actual first firing. Plenty more to come, with phase 2 - Portland, Or.
    Last edited by butters; 09-11-2017, 07:12 PM. Reason: photos

    Tuned in. That is a very clean example. Awesome build!


      Im diggin the sleeper look. Ive been wanting those wheel covers for years! Alls good so far. :up:



        Car looks super clean - nice work!
        PNW Crew
        90 m3
        06 m5


          Thank you! I forgot to touch on the sleeper aspect aside from pointing out the pros of the four door. I bought the swap so early on in my ownership and I want to really be sure the engine is running perfectly and the swap is seamless, so that's where my e30 money has gone. more on that later. this way the car has stayed very stock looking and in fact still looks today as it does here. On the outside anyway :)


            awesome car! love sedans!
            Your signature picture has been removed since it contained the Photobucket "upgrade your account" image.

            Trust me it stock :yawn:


              Beautiful sedan!! Keep it classy and stock.


                Glad to finally see a build thread, buddy.
                '72 2002 pickup | '88 M5 | '89 330is | '89 M3 | '01 Z3M | '11 328xi-t


                  Nice write up Stephen. Are you enrolled in another internship in Cleveland?


                    Thanks Keith, yea my final "rotation" brought me to a manufacturing facility here just like what initially brought me to Portland. My time traveling ends in July.

                    Yikes, sorry the photos are a little large, they make the page too wide for my square monitor at work but I suppose not too bad on the usual widescreen.


                      Back to the story. Car goes on a 2 week journey to Portland, I fly out and enjoy a rental.... so forgettable that I forget what it was.

                      This shot on the trailer shows the situation underneath:

                      I tried to swap out the input shaft seal on the Zf310 and wound up damaging the input shaft bearing. That sucked. I decided to just eat the cost of upgrading to a rebuilt Zf320, and Drive-Gear in NJ hooked me up by meeting an hour and a half from his location and took my '95 transmission as a core in a WaWa parking lot. It was still a significant additional expense, but I take comfort in how beautifully it operates and knowing that it is good for a long time.

                      You'll also notice the open headers. My neighbors loved me but I wasn't home long with it running and only drove it to the dealership to get it on the lift. I couldn't resist..

                      Anyways, I arrived in Portland. Obligatory mural photo.. kicking myself that I never bothered to go back with the E30.

                      I picked up my car at the DAS terminal, gave it a cursory wash myself (was filthy, under the hood too ugh) and popped ear plugs that I grabbed from work for the 30-mile drive south to Canby muffler. The noise was civil <5% throttle... and then it droned like nothing else. I could visualize the throttle plate cracking open as I put the slightest load on the engine and it reverberated into my brain. Luckily the drive wasn't too long and no one seemed to notice. Honestly. I was able to keep it pretty quiet but couldn't help but jab the throttle here and there to feel the power that wanted to be unleashed.

                      I figured this exhaust work was going to be temporary until I pieced something proper together, and kind of wanted to play with the car while loud for awhile anyway. So I went as cheap as I could and for a couple hundo the shop fitted my UUC System U rear section to the 2-piece eBay headers via crush-bent straight piping. He did a number opening up my valence, which was addressed only just last month.

                      I had been, up to that point, behind the wheel of mainly turbo VW and Audi cars, which you can throw straight pipes on without much fear of excessive volume. I was not prepared for the result of this straight-pipe straight-6 naturally aspirated concoction. Videos don't do it justice, the drone was almost as bad as with open headers. I can't believe how long I drove it like this, but again, priority number 1 remained the engine.

                      The iPhone 4 video camera is great, but the microphone not so much, and the startup is not as impressive as traffic goes by:


                      90 seconds is probably too long for an exhaust clip but I wanted to capture it and I'm glad I did. Interior sound:


                      It was too loud but it ran great (aside from what I later found to be a stuck open ICV causing the high idle)and I was ecstatic. With the skinny tires I was traction limited so hooliganism only happened on the highways which, I have to say, are disappointingly rough in Portland. Probably my only complaint.

                      Things were looking up, and on my first visit to the DIY carwash I ran into this gentleman:

                      I said hello and I believe he was going to a local event, which happen all the time in the wonderful world of the Pacific Northwest, just like sightings of other nice classic cars.

                      Safely in the garage in SW Portland:

             be continued.
                      Last edited by butters; 10-15-2017, 09:16 AM.


                        It does seem a bit loud but as long as you are having fun. Looks really nice under the car though. :up:



                          So, that's what my car will sound like! Maybe not quite as loud, as I still have cats and two little resonators, but that sound is incredible.

                          The guy with that E28 is Jay (Jay2 on mye28, iirc) from NorCal. Neat guy. S38 powered euro'd E28. Pretty sure you caught him on the way to 5erWest. lol
                          '72 2002 pickup | '88 M5 | '89 330is | '89 M3 | '01 Z3M | '11 328xi-t


                            Originally posted by N2MYE30 View Post
                            It does seem a bit loud but as long as you are having fun. Looks really nice under the car though. :up:
                            Thank you. I did finally rework the exhaust last summer, I'll get to that part soon.

                            Originally posted by Austin! View Post
                            So, that's what my car will sound like! Maybe not quite as loud, as I still have cats and two little resonators, but that sound is incredible.

                            The guy with that E28 is Jay (Jay2 on mye28, iirc) from NorCal. Neat guy. S38 powered euro'd E28. Pretty sure you caught him on the way to 5erWest. lol
                            I'll have to get updated sound clips, it's not so dramatic now with cats/res. 5erWest definitely rings a bell as what he mentioned. Badass car.


                              The only real trouble I ran into initially was that high idle. I attempted to clean the ICV and it was frozen in place, stuck open. Matrix Integrated, a great European specialty shop in Portland, happened to be across the street from my apartment, and they hooked me up with the part on short order and at a great price. I installed it and all was well for the time being.

                              As soon as I got into town I went onto the r3v PNW regional forum and discovered how awesome and active the community is. Right away there was an upcoming event, the Maryhill Loops Tour. BMW CCA membership was required so I signed up and registered with Trayson, the local E36/BFc guru who put the whole thing together via the car club.

                              I got up at the crack of dawn for the long drive out to The Dalles area of Oregon. The drive was great, incredible views highlighted by a rising sun and blue skies as the scenery goes from lush to dry desert.

                              Vineyard at the loops road:

                              The upper sections of the road:

                              I'm trying to keep the photos limited but there are too many good ones not to share. I have a bunch of pics in my photobucket from another BMWCCA meet/drive that took place a couple weeks later, and the Griot's Garage meet from that same month. And a little road trip I made to the Pacific ocean, which I had to do while in Portland right?

                              Around this time I started to experience problems with the car. Back when I swapped the ICV I knocked the TB line loose and lost some coolant. Not a significant amount, but I believe this put air in the system and subsequently caused me to overheat. I had heard that the engines are susceptible to blowing the HG this way so I called roadside assistance and got a tow home rather than driving it into the red. Re-bled and was fine. Still, looking back I think I may have done damage.

                              I had been consuming oil excessively, like 1 quart in <1k miles, and since the motor sat for awhile I was concerned that the valve seals were the culprit in addition to the usual wear on these engines. Since the Maryhill event my lifter tick was getting worse and worse, really making it miserable to drive. Loud exhaust combined with a feeling that the engine needed to be babied was awful. I started contemplating a top end rebuild and how in the hell I could accomplish that given that I needed to be at work every day of the week no exceptions. I began to notice blue smoke which was not surprising given recent events and how much oil was being consumed. Rislone treatment helped for a short time, and switching to Rotella T6 helped but was just a band-aid.

                              I started threads, searched here and BFc, and eventually threw it out there to the PNW crew that a shop quoted me $1200 to pull the head and refurbish it and I would really love to give someone this work on the side, with the caveat that I need means of transportation. My savior made himself known, Corey Abraira aka blackangusinc. Corey PM'd me and said he could do the job at a reasonable rate, and bring the head to the masters at M&B Cylinder Heads. Plus, he had a "beater" e30 that he could loan while my car was down - I love beater e30s!

                              We met at my first Abe-b-q, a PNW gathering, and someone was kind enough to bring a compression tester. This revealed what was by then obvious - terrible numbers and a definite blowout between 5 & 6. Corey and I arranged to swap cars at the end of October, after the HorsepowerFreaks Dyno Day (

                              I ran my busted S50 on the dyno for the hell of it. What a champ, she did 208 whp shutting down at 6500rpm.

                              You'll notice the seats have changed in this photo. I went through a cardinal red phase where I wanted to do the upholstery up really nicely with these vert seats up front. Those plans were dashed by engine trouble of course.

                              The next day, Corey began his work. Here's a shot of how the engine looked up until this point. I hadn't even gotten around to trimming the wiring and squeezing it under the M42 harness covers.

                              More on that with my next post..
                              Last edited by butters; 10-15-2017, 03:06 PM.