the *REAL* m3


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Photo: Semi-Assembled Engine
Block with pistons, head, cam carrier, cams, and a few accessories. We're getting there...

Feburary 1 2004:
Here's a list of what remains of my rebuild project:

  • Replace cracked vacuum hose to throttle bodies
  • Replace coolant hoses in engine bay
  • Replace fuel lines
  • Replace engine mounts
  • Re-check tightness of all fasteners/clamps
  • Place engine on hoist
  • Fully seat pilot bearing
  • Install flywheel/clutch assembly
  • Install bell housing
  • Install engine
  • Replace transmission mounts
  • Install transmission
  • Fill fluids
  • START CAR, let warm to operating temp
  • Check for leaks, change fluids
  • If all checks out, install exhaust
  • Drive away
There is a small handful of parts that still need to arrive, but almost everything is here. While waiting for parts to arrive, I can still replace the mounts and engine bay hoses. If I can work on this project at a reasonable pace, I expect to have this done in the next two weeks or so. I hope.

January 15 2004:
I'm waiting on the arrival of a few more parts. The engine rebuild is nearly complete; the next phase will be some minor cleanup of the engine bay, replacement of the oil cooler, and engine installation. I hope to be done with this by the end of the month! More pictures are coming after the engine is complete and while it's lifted into the engine bay.

December 20 2003:
Happy birthday to me! I had a little time before dinner tonight, so I headed back to the garage. The timing chain rail tensioner was replaced relatively easily. The replacement kit consists of a new tensioner piston, spring, and cylinder. The other part, which consists of an oil nipple and a piece that it screw into, was inctalled next. Everything went in without problems, but I could not find an o-ring of the right size to fit the nipple. I'll have to replace that before I'm finished.

In addition, I added the lock plates to the cam gears. I didn't do this when assembling the gears, because I wanted to make sure that the timing was set -- the lock plates can really be used just once, although I suppose one could bend them back. I also installed the rear portion of the cam carrier, which uses a paper gasket that doesn't seem to fit very well. It shouldn't be much of an issue, I hope; at least it's easy to access, should I need to replace it later. Tomorrow I hope to install the covers for the cam gears and put a little detail on the block.

December 19 2003:
I took a day off of work today to install the cam carrier. There is no paper gasket between the head and carrier, so a good anaerobic flange sealant is required to mate the two surfaces. It's very important to get a good seal here, otherwise the engine will leak more oil than it should. (Yes, S14s do leak oil as a matter of course.) After installing the carrier, I decided to go the extra step and install the lifter buckets. Since those looked so good, I then installed the camshafts. I topped it all off by installing the cam gears and setting up the engine timing. I still have to install the lockplates and chain tensioner.

I also installed the oil filter head and water pump. The filter head thermostat seal was replaced since it's an easy procedure when the engine is out of the car.

December 14 2003:
After a too-long hiatus, I've made some good progress! A few weeks ago I mounted the oil pump and oil pump chain. On Saturday, I set up the timing chain and timing chain guides and rails on the block. After setting up the gaskets, the timing cover (with new front seal) went on next. I also replaced the rear main seal. The original seal just wouldn't budge from the carrier, so I purchased a replacement carrier after trying unsuccessfully for two or three weekends to pound it out. Today, cleaned up the mating surfaces and installed the head gasket and head. The head has a very specific torquing order; this is done to avoid warpage or even cracking. I made sure I followed the directions and double-checked the torque before calling it a night. The engine looks great! Sadly, I'm still quite far from having a running car, but these are some big steps in the right direction.

October 19 2003:
I hung my #2 piston on its connecting rod today, then installed the rings and placed it in the block. The clips that secure the wrist pins are a MAJOR PAIN to install, and I spent quite some time trying to come up with a method that works well. I managed to get them in without making too much of a mess. I had some trouble getting the piston ring compressor to properly keept everything together as I tapped the piston into the block. After several tries, I finally got everything together. I'm worried that the tapping I did on the uncompressed rings may have damaged them, in which case I'll have to order a new set of rings and re-do that cylinder. Not a big deal.

October 18 2003:
The rebuild phase has begun.

I pressed the new crank sprocket onto the crankshaft today. I started out with my regular 36mm socket positioned over the sprocket, using my hammer to tap it into place. Unfortunately I ran out of room on the socket. After trying a number of homegrown solutions, I ended up buying a deep-well 1.5" socket and taping the sprocket home with it. In the process, I mangled my new woodruff key, so I replaced it with the one from my old crankshaft. I then cleaned and dried the block-side main crankshaft bearing area, after which I mounted a clean set of main bearing shells. After a generous coating of assembly lube, the crankshaft was very gently put into position. The main bearing caps were then cleaned and fitted with fresh bearing shells, then put into position and torqued to spec.

It definitely feels good to be putting the engine back together. I hope to make some significant progress over the next few weeks.

October 16 2003:
I got the head back from VAC today. The work was expensive, but I can't believe the results. The head looks freaking unbelievable. When I took it to them, the valves were covered in carbon deposits, and the exhaust valves had a reddish tinge to them. I assumed that the valves would just look like that forever, discolored from the heated gas. All of the valves look BRAND NEW. The rest of the head looks new, as well. I still can't believe how nice it is. Two BIG THUMBS UP for VAC Motorsports. I only wish I had the money to send more work their way.

October 7 2003:
It's been a while since the last update. In the interest of catching up, here's a quick recap of the last two months:

The crankshaft nut was removed in late August with the help of an impact wrench, and not just any impact wrench. I borrowed a friend's compressor, and another friend's impact wrench. This particular wrench produces about 600 lb-ft of torque in reverse, and I needed all of it for about a minute before the nut finally broke free. So far, it's the only time I've used a non-hand tool on the engine. I intend to keep it that way.

In the first week of September, I received two large boxes from iigomotiv containing most of the parts I need for the rebuild. I drove the block, new/used crankshaft, pistons, and connecting rods to VAC Motorsports on 9/8 to get machined. I picked them up on 10/3, and they look FANTASTIC. Everything seriously looks brand new, especially the rods and pistons. The block was measured for taper and honed back to shape, the crankshaft was checked for straightness and balance, the connecting rods were all refinished and balanced, and the pistons were cleaned. All four rods ended up being redone after being measured at the shop. They are now balanced within 0.5 grams of each other, which exceeds BMW's specifications. And they look stunning, absolutely stunning.

While there, I dropped off the cylinder head to be rebuilt to stock specs. This is not totally necessary, but I would like the assurance that any copper flakes possibly in the head will be cleaned out, and that the valve guides will be totally fresh. I hope to pick it up within one or two weeks; meanwhile, I can start to assemble the bottom end of the engine.

August 11 2003:
I had a great time at SIGFest, and I left only wanting more desperately to get my car back on the road. Despite the rainy weather, I saw some 50 E30 M3s, ranging from concours queens to race monsters. With a lot of help from my wife, I created a poster to bring to SIGFest in lieu of my car. In addition to starting some great conversation, I got a few tips on rebuilding that engine that will come in very handy.

Speaking of rebuilding the engine, I am now ready to remove the crankshaft from the block. I have intentionally avoided using air or power tools up to this point, and I intend to use only hand tools to remove the crank. This may not be possible. The nut on the end of the crankshaft is torqued down to 317 ft-lbs, and it has had 16 years to get itself stuck well beyond that figure. I plan to use plenty of penetrant and a VERY large breaker bar to remove it. Should this prove to be impossible, I'll have to give up and borrow a friend's compressor. Replacing the nut on the new crankshaft will absoolutely not be done with anything other than a hand-powered torque wrench. I have found one online that is inexpensive but has a 3/4" socket drive. 3/4" sockets are expensive and I have yet to find a 3/4" - 1/2" socket adapter. In a pinch, I can simply use a breaker bar and a scale to estimate the torque. By standing on the scale while leaning down on the bar, I can estimate torque by multiplying the weight I put on the bar by the length of the bar itself. It won't be perfect, but it will work.

August 4 2003:
The head was removed from the block on July 20, and last night I removed the pistons from the block. Surprisingly, everything I've dismantled so far looks great. The block is in excellent condition, the cylinder walls are clean and smooth, the pistons are intact and clean, and even the connecting rods all look healthy. I'll have to measure the inner diameters to be sure, but I may be lucky enough not to require a replacement connecting rod.

I'm almost disappointed to see everything in good shape. Because of the overall condition of the engine, I am now leaning towards a regular 2.3L engine rebuild. There's just too little wrong with this engine to require that much work, in my opinion. I can find a used 2.3L cranshaft in great condition for a fraction of the cost I would incur in a build-up. Of course, now that I'm more familiar with the S14, I may purchase a worn-out engine in the future. That would be an excellent candidate for a full-on 2.5L rebuild project.

In other news, the E30 M3 SIG is hosting an event next weekend. SIGFest East 2003 will be held in New Jersey from August 8 through 10. I plan to show up, even though my car is undriveable at the moment. I've got a set of wheels waiting for me, and I hope to find someone with a used connecting rod (if necessary) or crankshaft in good condition.

July 16 2003:
I got the engine onto the stand last night. The hoist was dismantled and put into storage, and I finally cleaned up the garage. With the tools put away, the M3 pushed to the side, and the engine parked in front of it, there is now plenty of room for Kim to park her Civic.

I posted a photo of the O-rings to see if anyone had opinions on the issue I noticed earlier. Because the leak would have been on the "atmosphere" side of the intake, any leaks would be minimal. The greatest risk would have been very small debris making its way into the cylinder. I'll be paying close attention to cylinder 4 as I continue to tear down the engine, looking for any clues as to why the crank and bearings were so heavily damaged.

July 14 2003:
The engine (and transmission, and radiator...) is out of the car! It is currently hanging from the engine hoist, as I was unable to remove the bellhousing bolts last night. I should be able to break those free tonight and mount the engine on my stand.

I started the job on Friday, when a friend of mine stopped by to help me assemble the hoist and stand. I spent roughly three hours afterwards draining coolant and pulling out a few parts from the car. Roughly 12 hours were spent on Saturday; I was working at a leisurely pace, and several people stopped by to watch or help. By 10:30pm, everything had been removed except for the engine. I then spent about three hours on Sunday to set up the hoist, remove the engine mounts, and raise the engine out of the car. The garage needs to be cleaned and reorganized, which I plan to do tonight after getting the engine on my stand. Then the REAL work may begin.

I have already noticed something interesting. The throttle bodies mate to the metal intakes on the airbox with four rubber o-rings. The o-ring on cylinder #4 is mangled at one point, and I wonder if that caused enough of a leak to lead to crank and bearing issues.

June 22 2003:
After a great day of karting today, two of my friends followed me home to check out the M3. One of them was able to stay late enough to help me pull off the hood, which is sitting on towels on the garage floor. We went to Home Depot to pick up some hooks for mounting the hood to the wall...which was great, because I got to drive his 2002 (E46) M3.

The car is really, really fast. It doesn't have the torque of a Z28 or C5, but the engine positively screams at high revs -- something that reminds me very much of my '88. I was stuck by the stiffness of the chassis and the suspension. BMW somehow managed to make a car that remains very flat in corners, yet provides a very comfortable ride -- this, with 18" wheels and wide, low-profile tires, combined with a very impressive set of springs, shocks, and swaybars. I was VERY impressed.

My only gripe is that the car does not feel "edgy," in the way that my '88 M3 feels edgy. Despite its phenominal performance numbers, driving the car is a much more relaxed and much less involved affair. It has impressiv performance, to be sure, and it is definitely very capable on the track. Still, it isn't an outright replacement for the E30 M3. It's a different design philosophy that succeeds in its own way, and now I see what the fuss is about. It's not pushing the '88 out of my garage, but I would love to complement it with an E46.

June 9 2003:
I have now amassed the larger tools that I will need to take out the engine. Someone on the local BMWCCA mailing list posted an engine hoist and a stand for sale; he was asking $100 for both, and I couldn't resist. I originally wasn't going to buy a hoist, but at that price I will probably save money over rental costs, and I will certainly save a lot of time by having it in my garage. I also picked up a set of car dollies and a load leveler for the hoist. My car is now pushed to the side of the garage so that Kim can park her Civic indoors again.

May 31 2003:
Ever since I discovered the damage to the engine, I've been trying to decide the next course of action. The engine must be removed, and working one reinstalled. That much is easy, but I have come up with three ways to have a working engine:

  1. Replace the existing engine with a used one in good working condition.
  2. Upgrade the existing engine with a 2.5L crankshaft, pistons, and balanced connecting rods (effectively replacing all of the damaged parts).
  3. Upgrade the existing engine as above, but include head work.
Another option would be to replace all of the damaged parts in my existing engine with good used parts from another 2.3L engine. I discounted this idea because the labor and costs involved with such an operation are not far removed from the costs involved with upgrading the bottom end of the engine to 2.5L specs. I also estimate that option 1 would not cost me much less than option 2 if I do the work myself. Option 3 would be significantly more expensive, due to the costs involved in machining the head and purchasing upgraded cams, valves, and springs as required.

I am currently leaning towards option 2. It is the best compromise between being cost-effective and doing significant work while the engine is out of the car. Head work would greatly enhance power output, but that can be done at a later date. Due to the relative youth of the engine (roughly 82750) miles, I should be able to reuse most of the stock components for quite a while on the 2.5L parts. I still haven't committed myself to any option, however. And once I decide on a course of action, there are many more questions to ask. I expect to firmly decide what to do in the next few days.

Meanwhile, I am preparing to remove the engine from the car. My M3 is currently sitting in the middle of the garage with the oil pans still removed. It obviously can't be moved under its own power, and Kim would really like to park in the garage again. I believe a set of dollies, one under each tire, should let me push the car around as needed. I also need to purchase an engine stand, and once the car is ready for engine removal I will need to rent or borrow a cherry-picker type engine hoist. Kim and I will be driving down to see her parents next weekend, and there happens to be a Northern Tool retail store on the way down. I was planning to order the parts but I can save a significant amount on shipping this way. Stay tuned...

May 30 2003:
New car, new page. On April 25 2003, I officially purchased a 1988 BMW M3 from a fellow enthusiast who lives nearby. I have since discovered a serious engine problem that will require a full rebuild, and I plan to document the process here. First, however, a brief history of the story so far (in chronological order, which may be confusing to most blog readers):

February 24 2003: After deciding that I am quite interested in owning an E30 M3, I join the E30 M3 Special Interest Group (SIG) within the BMWCCA. Part of the membership includes access to the email list.
April 2 2003: A sale ad from the SIG mailing list catches my eye: A black '88 M3 with only 82000 miles, located just 30 miles away from home! After strongly considering cars located in Pittsburgh and New York, this is certainly an intriguing car. I emailed the owner and we started a dialog; it turns out that we share the same service advisor at BMW of Sterling.
April 3 2003: I get a phone call from my service advisor: "Hey Blair, are you still looking for an E30 M3? I have the car for you." He was unaware that I'd already contacted the owner. Three hours later, my service advisor calls me back to tell me that the car is parked outside his window and the owner is sitting across from his desk. He passes the handset and we arrange to meet in person for a test drive.
April 6 2003: A Salazar team member and E30 M3 owner drives to my house (in his M3, of course), and we head down to see the car. Overall the car looks very impressive with only some minor issues. I can tell that the owner is extremely attentive and detail-oriented with the car's maintenance; nevertheless, there are a few things that need to be addressed immediately, and I make a note of them. Most significantly, there is a crack in the windshield that must be addressed before the car can be inspected and registered in Virginia (the car is currently registered in Oregon). There is also a sort of rattling/ticking noise coming from the engine at about 3500 rpm; after discussing it with my friend and the owner, we think that a valve adjustment might resolve that issue. The owner also mentioned that the engine was pinging around that RPM range; since the car was due for new spark plugs and other routine maintenance, we dismiss the noise as easily addressed.
April 20 2003: After emailing the owner several times back and forth, I meet with him in person and agree to a price. It is a bit lower than he originally asked but I believe the price is still very fair to both of us. I write the owner a deposit check and apply for financing for the rest. We agree to do the formal paperwork the next weekend.
April 25 2003: The paperwork date was moved to a Friday in order due to a lack of notary public availability on weekends. Of course, it decides to rain and the owner gets rear-ended on the way to the notary. We manage to get there before closing time, and I make plans to pick up the car the next day.
April 26 2003: At 9:00 am, the new owner of my '99 M3 came to sign the paperwork and drive it home. At 11:30 am, I was going through the contents of the '88 M3's trunk. It was parked in my garage by 1:00 pm. I noticed the engine sound during the drive home and babied the car accordingly.
April 29 2003: The car goes in for a replacement windshield, valve adjustment, and throttle body synch.
May 3 2003: I pick up the car after the windshield has set (the first windshield arrived cracked, then there was some time lost while other mounting parts were ordered). The car now idles much better, but the engine noise is still there.
May 4 - 14 2003: I spend several days trying to identify and resolve the engine noise. Loose or missing exhaust headers or nuts can cause a similar engine clatter, so I retighten them and install a new nut to replace one that had been lost. The noise remains. I then look underneath the car for any loose heat shields, but everything looks tight.
May 15 2003: I change the oil. The oil from the oil pan looks fine, and nothing was found when I dredged it with a magnet. However, the filter was emptied and found to be full of copper flakes. This is typically a sure sign of significant rod bearing wear.
May 25 2003: I inspect the rod bearings. The results are extremely bad. The bearings on cylinders 1 through 3 are worn, but the crank journals for those cylinders are still fine -- mirror smooth. The bearings on cylinder 4, however, are very worn. They are not cracked or broken, but they have worn nearly past the copper layer. The crank journal is scored and scratched in multiple locations. I post an email to the E30 M3 SIG to ask for advice. In the coming days, the prevailing opinion is that my car is certainly not driveable at all with that crankshaft, and that a rebuild is definitely required.