Cars I've Owned (Part 1 of 14)
The other day I mentioned casually to a couple friends that I’d owned 5 BMW’s and that led to a conversation and an eventual request, nay – a challenge, to chronicle each of them. I’ll be focusing on the chronology that includes the (mostly) European stuff, not the muscle cars or motorcycles that snuck in there, so blame Sean and David if you don’t like this series of posts.
1982 BMW 320i
Owned: 1990 to 1998
Aka: “The Workhorse”
This car was so named because I put 243,000 miles on the original engine, with nothing more than changing the oil religiously every 3,000 miles and replacing a blown water pump that ran me around $60 installed. That’s not to say the E21 chassis, first generation 3-series, built from 1977 to 1982, wasn’t without its quirks. The thing would start to overheat if it sat at idle in traffic for more than 5 minutes, but I quickly learned how to feather the throttle to hold it steady. Using my left foot to depress the clutch, I could heel-toe the brake and gas pedal simultaneously with my right foot and that did the trick. Something comical to all of my friends was the in-dash emergency flasher button, which had a profound design flaw. It was in the off position when it was depressed, relying on two small plastic tabs to keep it in that position. These tabs were quite brittle and inevitably failed every couple of years and snapped off, so my emergency flashers would instantly pop on while driving. The only way to turn them off was to a) pull over, pop the hood, pop the fuse box cover, and remove the fuse which also killed all of the turn signals and lights, or b) the easier method, pull the dongle of wires out of the dash that trailed like an umbilical cord behind the flasher unit and simply unplug it. So, I usually just rode around with the dongle sticking out of the dash an inch or so, so that I could quickly remove the unit when it failed. This was a running joke with my friends; I ended up replacing it about 3 times over the life of the car, for about $50 a pop. This was a true California car, making many road trips to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Lake Tahoe, all over the San Francisco Bay Area, over the Highway 17 hill to Santa Cruz, down the coast to San Luis Obispo, up to Napa Valley, and all over the San Joaquin Valley. It never stranded me anywhere; the closest I came was a dead battery pulling out of LA one time, but I was able to limp it all the way home to San Jose, never once stopping for gas. After all the mods, the thing would get close to 40mpg on the open highway. The 320 did not like the wet. It would get silly just looking at rain. I spent a couple winters sliding around the snow and getting winched out of drifts by friends with Jeeps. I learned to drive this car in the sweeping back road “s” curves of the Gold Country and could push it to its limits, hanging the ass end out with a little oversteer and snapping it back with a throttle tap. I modified the shit out of it. Let’s see… Bavarian Autosport front air dam, Racing Dynamics lowering springs, Bilstein shocks, Suspension Techniques front and rear anti-sway bars with polyurethane bushings, Ansa exhaust system, K&N air filter, electronic ignition, an oversized radiator to correct the overheating problem, relocated the battery to the trunk for better weight distribution, tinted the windows, tricked out an Alpine stereo, and threw in a Momo steering wheel and shit knob, with aluminum racing pedals (including a “dead” pedal). These cars came stock with silly little 13 inch lawnmower wheels, so I upgraded to 15 inch (the biggest you could get with spacers, without doing some serious body work on the fender rolls) wheels with some very sticky (and much wider) Dunlop tires. It only had like 130hp, but in a car that ended up weighing a little over 2,000 pounds, the 5-speed was quick enough and it handled amazingly well with all of the suspension work. Mine was black on black leather like the vintage ad up top, but this silver one below probably best represents what mine looked like.