1993 BMW E36 Street and Track Build - Introduction

by Joey Sacco on January 16, 2015

The BMW E36 has grown to become an extremely popular car for track use due to its increasingly lower price, and of course, its extreme performance on the tarmac! In the 90’s the E36 was supposed to be one of the best handling vehicles, even when compared to sports cars many times more expensive.

A little background: I owned a 1993 Laguna Green 325i for about four years, and did some work to it, poly bushings in various locations, Bilstein sport suspension, M3 contours, all black interior, manual swap and some aesthetic components. This car was built during my college career, so money was tight, and only so much could be done with time, since most of my time was spent studying for my mechanical engineering degree. Tegan and I jokingly said that this car always had bad juju… The reasoning behind this, was a number of unfortunate events that had occurred during my ownership of the vehicle. When I attended college, rather than paying for a parking pass at the University of South Florida (which are extremely overpriced), I would park at a nearby grocery store and ride my bicycle to class. I used to have a roof rack mounted to the car for my bicycle. During my attendance to the college, while parked in the grocery store parking lot, locals had smashed my rear window, and attempted to steel my roof rack with a pry bar of sorts (it left some hefty dents in the roof). When I was hired for my first engineering job, during my first week of work, on the way home a pedestrian ran in front of my car and smashed up the front end, smashing the front windshield, grill, hood, bumper, and pushed the passenger side A-pillar down about 1 inch. It was definitely the fault of the pedestrian, who was tested positive for intoxication, and was running across 8 lanes of traffic during rush hour in the middle of Tampa, FL. I was able to repair these issues so that it was functional…. somewhat. When the impact happened, the mechanical cooling fan exploded, taking out the radiator, which overheated the engine and totaled the motor. One thing an E36 inline 6 cannot do is overheat! So a new engine was swapped in at 150,000 miles. The car was driven for a little while, and then parked when Tegan and I needed a vehicle to pull our enclosed trailer for local market events and pulling our trailer with metal supplies. After 8 months of setting, I decided it was time to put this thing back on the road and upgrade it the way I really wanted. The tires weren’t in the best shape, so new front tires (BFGoodrich sport comp-2) were installed, and rears were ordered. At the time, I was working 70 hours at the power plant and literally could not take the rear wheels to get new tires installed, so I drove the car with the not-so-great rears. Shortly after the front tires were installed, I installed a set of Turner Motorsport sway bars (these REALLY changed the car), and the car came to life in the way of handling, so I was driving more “spirited”. One day during lunch, I was driving through an S-bend near the power plant, the rear tires broke loose, sending the car into a spin, where a concrete power pole stopped the car in its tracks. I suppose we were right in saying the car had bad juju. I was EXTREMELY lucky in that I walked away, along with two passengers, with no injuries whatsoever. The concrete pole was sheered and knocked right over. I definitely have a new respect for the strength of a unibody-constructed vehicle.

Well, I had already invested money in E36 parts, and I had a set of E46 Power Stop brakes in the mail to be installed on the now wrecked green E36. So, the only answer was to purchase an E36 shell to swap all the parts over. I always wanted to have a coupe, though I wish I could have found one in the laguna or boston green. I found a 1993 325is in Brilliant Rot (bright red) that the owner was asking $1,000 for, with an engine with a blown head gasket and an auto transmission. The car was partially parted out in the front, however the shell was in excellent condition. One rust spot showed its ugly face in the front passenger fender near in the lower section. No fender liner was installed, so I assume that road debris had been kicked up from the tires and had been collecting there until it finally rusted out. No biggie. Some of the undercarriage was a little rusty, making me think that the car was definitely owned by someone near the beach. That didn’t matter to me, the shell was solid, and I could swap parts over from my green car. I negotiated the car down to $500, if I removed the engine and transmission and returned it to the previous owner. I actually preferred it this way so that I knew that all wiring and hoses were not damaged in the process.

The red E36, and many other cars of this vintage with solid colors (not metallics) feature a single stage paint job. This made it cheaper and easier to make a car look good from the factory. It also made it easier to repolish and touch up in the future. In the pictures, the paint is very oxidized and almost looks pink because of the white haze that accumulates on the surface. No worries, though, this is able to be polished out, and should look sharp once again with a little work and elbow grease.

The red E36 on the left, and the green E36 on the right ready to be torn down for parts. Of course, I was an idiot and forgot to roll the driver window up before pulling the engine and wiring harness, so a garbage bag and masking tape would have to do until the engine was reinstalled.


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