[Click photo for link to full set of photos on Flickr.]
After months of a low level search of various message boards and Craigslist, I finally found the car I’ve been looking for: a 1989 E30 325is. I finally got to the point where I’m running in the fastest run group on the track and am generally one of the faster cars in the group. With the extra speed came the realization that if I go off the track, I could really mess up my car. Hence the genesis of the idea of a dedicated autocross and track car: The ultimate sleeper car, stripped of anything that doesn’t help it go faster, painted in radar-evading flat black.
I wanted something with about the same power to weight ratio as the MINI, but rear wheel drive (so I can finally graduate from the NCC Instructor Program — besides number of days, I need to do a full lap of oversteer on the skid pad. Tough to do in a front wheel drive car…) I wanted a car that can easily be resold; has lots of cheap parts available; and was relatively inexpensive to run on the track (15 inch wheels mean inexpensive tires; light weight means less expensive brake pads, etc.) I figured on getting a good 325is under $2K; put about $2K into it; sell off all of the parts I take out to reduce weight; and I might break even when I eventually sell it. Worst case is I smack a $4K car; best case is I’m just out the cost of the wear items I would have had to buy for the MINI. Depending on how the engine tests, I may even be able to swap the engine into the convertible, then spend the winter rebuilding the convertible engine for next season in this car. Win win.
So what to do with the car? It’s currently painted in what I like to call, backyard flat black. It didn’t start out that way, but somewhere along the way it picked up a very pad paint job that’s very thick and very oxidized. What I liked about this car was that it had a clean CARFAX report; it was a Florida car for most of it’s life; and all of the body panels match indicating it hadn’t been in any major accidents. The right front fender is a bit messed up, but that appears to be very recent. The engine is very strong and the transmission isn’t a complete pile of goo. I figure it’s a project in about four stages:
Stage 1: Get it registered. I want to keep it street legal so I have to fix up enough to pass the Maryland State Inspection (MSI). Although this program is primarily a jobs program for the shops that inspect vehicles, at least it provides a basic safety baseline. So far, I know I have to replace the windshield, one headlight, and the hole I just found under the battery. We’ll see what else pops up when I drop it off at the local inspection shop. I figure I’ll replace brake pads and rotors all around regardless. You have to know you can stop before you go. Once I get it passed the MSI, I’ll get it dyno’d and weighed to establish a baseline.
Stage 2: Replace known wear items. Since the car sat for several months and I have no repair records, I need to do some preventive maintenance. Replace all of the hoses; flush the cooling and brake systems (stainless steel lines at the same time); replace the timing belt; water pump; thermostat; fan belt; and oil change.
Stage 3: Lose the fat. I’ve actually started some of that as I’m peeling back all of the trim and carpet to see the underlying condition of the chassis, but my intent is to remove anything that isn’t required to go fast. That means trim, carpet, rear seats, rear seatbelts, headliner, sunroof cassette, stereo, speakers, speaker wiring, antennae, center console, etc. I’m hoping I can get 100-150 lbs. out of the car. I want to get to where I can autocross it and take it to the track in August. That should give me a good idea of what the car can do in stock form without any suspension mods.
Stage 4: Improve the suspension and install roll cage. I’m trying to comply with the Spec E30 rules as I mod the car. Not so much because I plan to race, but I’d like to get there eventually. If I stick to one set of rules, it should be easier to sell the car should I need to in the future. By complying with a spec class, it also gives me better way to compare my performance to others over time.