I have had a multitude of cars over the years, but one that’s always eluded me was the E46 BMW M3 (2001-2006). The car I always liked but never really wanted was the E36 (1995-1999). Well, during the pandemic and lockdown I said, “Fuck it, I’m buying an E46 M3. This money isn’t lasting forever…” My wife, as a supportive, loving woman, told me to find one. She sent me link after link about M3s for sale. I talked about it on The RawAutos Podcast (episodes 15 and 22), and I called my dad and brother to discuss their opinions on various cars I’d found.
Randomly on June 16, 2020, a Tuesday, I found a Carbon Black over Grey M3 manual coupe that was only twenty minutes from my home. The next day he called me and we talked about his car. Reba, my wife, couldn’t believe I was actually going through with this. I don’t like being rushed, and everything was coming together very quickly. She said she was a little worried because she never expected me to be this serious and jump on a car so soon. I met him at his house on Thursday to take the car for a test drive, and I listened to him blabber on somewhat annoyingly about how perfect the car is, and then about how great his Arctic Silver Metallic 1996 M3 was and how I had to drive it, too. So, yeah, I drove it.
On Friday I dropped the E46 M3 off at a local BMW dealer to have it looked over and checked out. I spent nearly $800 on everything. I said I wanted them to take the car apart if they had to. I had a compression test, leak down test, and the usual used car inspection. The owner of the car offered to pay half of an inspection, but when I told him of all the stuff I was paying to have done his eyes widened a tad, and he kind of offered to still pay half… I don’t know, it was weird. I told him not to worry about it and to take this as my down payment and to prove how serious I am about the car.
The car went into the dealership around 9 am, and they had it most of the day. The owner of it kept trying to get me to take it for the weekend, but I told him I was in no way interested in that. The reason I didn’t want to was because the car had a temporary sticker that was over a year old. The guy kept telling me he had the title and sticker for the plate somewhere but that he just moved… I actually took a photo copy of his license and made him sign a piece of paper stating that he gave me the permission the drive his car knowing it did not have up to date tags, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, I started to figure out more and more of his comments were a lie. The car actually checked out well mechanically, but there was a ton of panels that had been repainted, terribly I might add, and when I called him on this he was very shocked I figured it out. Basically just listen to episode 22 of The RawAutos Podcast for the entire story. It gets even crazier. He tried to increase the price… yeah, it’s worth a listen.
After that incident I spent months looking for M3s all around the country, and I just couldn’t find the right one. I thought, maybe I’ll buy an E36 M3 instead. They’re cheaper to purchase, the parts are easy to come by, and my wife prefers boxy cars. She actually likes the look of the E36 over the E46. I know, weird. But, not everyone can understand perfection.
While looking and looking for the right car, I stumbled upon this Luxury Packaged Boston Green Metallic over Modena leather 1997 M3 in November. It had 182,xxx miles, and it looked rough. The owner had just marked it down on Facebook from $11,000 to $9,000. I showed it to my wife and we decided I should message the woman who owned the car. She took days to reply, and when she eventually replied she was very vague, and then she didn’t reply again. I decided that it wasn’t worth it and chose to stop looking altogether. Randomly around Christmas my wife told me that she had been texting with the woman who owned it. I was like, “What, why?” She said, “Well I like it. I like green, and I know you love green. She’s really nice. We’re going to test drive the car next week.” I was shocked and weirded out. I didn’t expect my wife.
To keep a long story short (too late), we went and test drove the car. We noticed it had quite a few problems. Like, well, a lot. Mostly paint and some mechanical, and also an SRS light, which in E36s can become a real nightmare. Personally, if a car has an airbag I would like it to have airbags that work. The clutch was bad and seemed to be slipping (it turns out it wasn’t), the brakes need work, the shifter is vague and sloppy, the interior is shit, and the exterior paint is even worse.
Before we went to drive the car we had agreed with the owner that we weren’t interested in the car at anything above $6,000. Well after driving the car we told her via text that we understood if she turned us down, but that we couldn’t offer anything over $4,800. She countered with $5,000 and we said yes. Before we drove the car I knew of a couple of people that tried to buy the car for between $6,000 and $9,000. She told us that a guy in New York offered her $9 grand sight unseen, and another in Charlotte that offered $7K. The reason she didn’t take those offers, she said, was because she wanted people to know what they were getting into, and she also wanted to see the car go to a home that wasn’t going to ruin it. Since then I’ve met a few people locally who actually went to check out the car, and one who actually offered to buy it.
Anyway, here’s what’s wrong with the car: it needs a new clutch, flywheel, shifter bushings, front bumper, interior trim, brake lines and pads, power steering lines, rear suspension, the driver’s seat is destroyed, the passenger seat has a hard stain that won’t come out, the rear seats have the same hard stain, the car is missing clear coat, there are more than half a dozen dents, both large and small, the paint is very gritty in certain parts, all of the wheels have curb rash, the front tires are 215s instead of 225s that were originally equipped from the factory, there are randomly cut wires in the engine bay, the volume knob only works sometimes, there are a number of speakers that are blown, it needs new spark plugs, a new thermostat, every fluid except for the oil needs to be changed, the oil pan gasket is leaking, and even though it’s brand new, the clutch slave cylinder is leaking a little.
I’m sure there’s something I’m missing… but that’s good enough for right now. So follow along with me as I’ll be posting photos and videos updating what all I’m doing. During this time I’ll be referring to this as the Project M3, the $5,000 M3, and the half-million mile M3. Yes, I’m going to try and keep this car alive for 500,000 miles.