Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
5/11/18 8:22 a.m.
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We're always looking for our next project car. Even when we're working–Every vacation, business trip, or drive to a race has us scouting every overgrown field for that rare barn find.

We found just that in a towing yard just south of Highlands, North Carolina last year. Sitting in the corner, overgrown with weeds and covered in moss, was this E30 BMW. We knew it was rare at first sight, too–having no sunroof makes it a coveted "slick-top," among the lightest E30s BMW built. We had to stop and see what the deal was. A few hours later, we were loading the BMW onto a rented U-Haul car hauler for its trip home to Florida. The owner read Grassroots Motorsports and had dreams of building this slicktop into a Spec E30 race car, but decided to sell it to us for just $450.

What exactly did we buy? It's a 1991 BMW 318is, and was last registered in 2008. The seller said it was towed in with some sort of engine problem, but he hadn't had a chance to diagnose it yet. All we knew was what we could see: a very clean body, hardly any rust, and a complete (but ruined) interior.

This may seem like a great deal, but we're not sure exactly what we've gotten ourselves into yet. No matter what, this is a 27-year-old BMW with issues, so we asked our favorite OEM parts provider, FCP Euro, to partner with us and help bring this E30 back to life.

FCP Euro is an online automotive parts retailer headquartered in Milford, Connecticut. Originally a local mom-and-pop parts store, it's grown into a destination for European car parts. They've got an awesome website and great customer service, too, and every part–even motor oil–comes with a lifetime warranty. That's important for us, because we're not planning on letting this 318is go anytime soon.

So, what are we going to do with this car? We're not quite sure yet, but we do know what we're not going to do: Turn it into a six-cylinder monster. Compared to BMW's 325i, the 318i drops from six to four cylinders, and sports driveline components that are similarly smaller. The "s" at the end of our model's name makes it a sport model, meaning two doors and nicer wheels. Conventional wisdom says the four-cylinder cars are the runts of the litter, but we have a different opinion: This is among the lightest and most tossable BMWs ever built, and our goal is to improve and restore this car without ruining that unique character.

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Flynlow
Flynlow HalfDork
5/11/18 9:14 a.m.
Tim Suddard said:
 

So, what are we going to do with this car? We're not quite sure yet, but we do know what we're not going to do: Turn it into a six-cylinder monster. Compared to BMW's 325i, the 318i drops from six to four cylinders, and sports driveline components that are similarly smaller. The "s" at the end of our model's name makes it a sport model, meaning two doors and nicer wheels. Conventional wisdom says the four-cylinder cars are the runts of the litter, but we have a different opinion: This is among the lightest and most tossable BMWs ever built, and our goal is to improve and restore this car without ruining that unique character.

Read the rest of the story

K20 swap? devil

duke906
duke906 New Reader
5/11/18 9:22 a.m.

When you sell it put me on the list.  I did a Bilstein spring/strut combo...lowered the car about 1 to 1.5 inches, improved handling and the ride.  It took me a long time to find a slicktop so I could do a BMW HPD without hitting my helmet on the roof.  I miss that car so much.......

FYI I couldn't keep up to the rest of the "racers" at the HPD school on the straights, but the corners and transitions were something else, only limited by my bravery  

 

Have you seen the SEMA 318is on Bring a trailer?  

jharrill
jharrill New Reader
5/11/18 9:26 a.m.

You know, Highlands is the rainiest spot east of the Mississippi, right? 

manydubs
manydubs New Reader
5/11/18 9:38 a.m.

FCPEURO is awesome!

 

This should be an excellent build.  I vote for s50 swap.

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Digital Experience Director
5/11/18 10:04 a.m.

In reply to Flynlow :

Something like that. wink

maschinenbau
maschinenbau Dork
5/11/18 10:25 a.m.

You guys have the VQ35 laying around. Just do that.

Campbelljj
Campbelljj New Reader
5/11/18 10:45 a.m.
maschinenbau said:

You guys have the VQ35 laying around. Just do that.

Nothing against a VQ35. I love Nissan; but, don't dare put anything in that engine bay but the m42.  Metric mechanic builds a pretty awesome m42 that has ample power and loves to rev.  That was a good buy Tim!  As for the body, I would definitely tear into the left rear quarter.  Too much rot already starting there.  Clean that area up, blend into the drivers door & save the rest.

 

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Digital Experience Director
5/11/18 10:49 a.m.

Hah, I actually sold the VQ35, so no worries there. It was just in the way and giving me too many bad ideas.

Shaun
Shaun HalfDork
5/11/18 10:56 a.m.

Clean! (if dirty)!  In 97-98 or so went for a spirited ride in a tastefully modded E30 that had a wee 6 banger in it and it was everything I would ever want in a driving centric sedan still. Nice find.

I'm not generally very inclined to take time and laud a parts company, but FCP have always been really helpful organized and high value. They recently spent a fair amount of time and several emails getting me all the receipts I have with them for a 1995 Volvo 855 T5R I am going to sell.  They had to poke around in digital dust bins to get info from 2004 or so and it was a very friendly process.  Eager to help even.  So there you go, FCP is alright.

jaball77
jaball77
5/11/18 10:57 a.m.

I would love to see it kept 4-cylinder and NA...  What about a Honda K-series swap?  How cool would that be?

HarrisonMotorsports
HarrisonMotorsports New Reader
5/11/18 10:58 a.m.

So when the time comes to find a forever home for this lovely little 318is, please be sure to contact me.

Cherie

Joe Gearin
Joe Gearin Associate Publisher
5/11/18 11:13 a.m.
HarrisonMotorsports said:

So when the time comes to find a forever home for this lovely little 318is, please be sure to contact me.

Cherie

Funny---- there is already a line forming.    Lots of love out there for the "baby" E30.

DesktopDave
DesktopDave
5/11/18 12:02 p.m.

Great choice! I have the one-year-only-special sedan model myself, lovely little car. They were sort of the "bargain basement" BMW, but a lovely car nonetheless. The earlier cylinder heads are a little more resistant to warping, so the inevitable expansion tank seal rupture might not have killed your M42.

elky999
elky999
5/11/18 12:55 p.m.

K24 swap or bust. Keep it light, keep it tight

Flyman615
Flyman615 New Reader
5/11/18 4:49 p.m.

I also owned a 1991 BMW 318is. Red with a black interior. "Tossable" for sure, and loads of fun...in the summer. After the snow flies, put it in storage as it will get stuck if the rear wheels were on a small banana peel.

Hope you keep the "improvements" incognito as the 318is is the much better, modern reincarnation of the original 2002, which I've also owned.

Keep it simple and classic, will you?

Scott Z.

Feedyurhed
Feedyurhed SuperDork
5/12/18 5:15 p.m.

The seller says he hasn't had a chance to diagnose it yet.............in 10 years??! And I thought I was slow at car projects!

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
7/9/18 11:46 a.m.

Guys,

I am already well on my way. We have a very detailed engine build in the Oct. issue of GRM. We are keeping, but modifying the original engine and head with the help of Metric Mechanic. I am really pleased with how it is coming out.

And don't worry, I have been building these project cars for 35 years and will keep it reasonably priced,  and sensitive to originality.

As for selling the car, I have wanted another E30 for many years and this one is a keeper.

 

 

Robbie
Robbie PowerDork
7/9/18 11:51 a.m.

I recently looked at a back issue of grm for the original mgb Miata swap stories, and came across the supercharged 318is.

Can you give us a comparison between the two project cars? (Maybe just reflections on the builds and character since the red one might be long gone)

I read that the white one should be an m3 contender, how did the red one compare to the m3?

Tim Suddard
Tim Suddard Publisher
7/9/18 12:54 p.m.

The red one was faster than an M3 by a good bit. Not sure this one will be quite as fast, unless I dive into aftermarket fuel injection, but we shall see. Honestly, the chassis worked well on the last one and we will do some similar stuff that keeps it streetable.

stuart in mn
stuart in mn UltimaDork
7/9/18 1:06 p.m.
Tim Suddard said:

As for selling the car, I have wanted another E30 for many years and this one is a keeper.

We've heard that line before.  wink  Looking forward to seeing how the finished car turns out.

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