the ultimate driving machine

blairlee:

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My '99 BMW M3 Coupe

May 30 2003:
I have owned my '88 M3 for about a month now, but have only put 150 miles on it. I have recently diagnosed a serious problem with the engine which will require a full rebuild. I have created a new page for the project and I expect to update it regularly as I go about my work.

April 26 2003:
It's been a while since my last update. And, yes, if you read the entry just before this one (oil change), you will see that I have decided to sell the '99. It's been on sale for several weeks now, but a buyer came around at almost exactly the same time that I located an '88 M3 very close to home. As a matter of fact, I officially bought that '88 M3 last night, and I will be picking it up today around noon. And my '99 is officially being bought, and driven away, this morning.
I love this car and I'll be sad to see it go. The torque, the handling, the way it makes me feel...its only equal is another M3. There's a lot more coming up, but I have to get going -- the new owner will be here soon, and I still haven't showered. I have at least one more entry on this page, and I have to create a page for the '88 and for the Jeep. Yes, the Jeep.

Date: 04/22/03
Mileage: 25096
Maintenance: Changed Oil, Reset Service Light
Cost: $30
Description: In preparation for the sale of my car, I changed the oil tonight. I used BMW Synthetic Oil this time, which I believe is made by Castrol. And instead of using a genuine BMW filter, I used an AC Delco filter that I purchased some time ago for comparison purposes. It looks to be a solidly built filter, like the rest of their line; I have no qualms about using that non-German part in my car's engine. :) The service interval light was reset with the help of my dealership service advisor, who was gracious enough to let me borrow the reset tool. The new owner (see next entry) will be good to go for a while.

February 26 2003:
Trouble in paradise? I'm starting to have some second thoughts about my M3. It is a fanastic, awesome car and has no quality flaws at all...but I have a few observations that I've made over the past several months.
It's a very nice car, too nice for me to drive it super hard without feeling guilty. It's also very civilized, almost too civilized. And when significantly modded, it becomes difficult to live with in and around Pothole City U.S.A. It's my only car, so if I break it, I walk until it's fixed. Finally, it's relatively expensive. The monthlies and insurance are not a problem, but track time, autox time, and mods start breaking the car budget. Still not a problem, but not what I really want to do. The car budget is closely watched by the boss (aka wife).
So what's the solution? Maybe nothing. But for roughly 2/3 the price of my M3, I can have something like a '97 Ford Explorer and....an E30 M3. Yes, I have an obsession with M cars, and for good reason. I test drove a friend's '88 M3 and wrote down my impressions. Here they are:
The technical details: It was an '88 M3, Lachsilber (translates to "Salmon Silver") with red leather interior. The car had about 155k on the non-digital odometer and was stock except for a Borla exhaust, UUC short shifter, some 17" wheels with "winter tires," and some other minor/unimportant items. The owner said that he much preferred the stock 15" wheels with Falken tires for grip.
Overall the body was in excellent shape -- the paint looked just as good as mine and there wasn't a hint of rust. Not bad for 15 years of use. The upholstery was creased of course but not torn anywhere, and the cushions were still in great shape. One of the headlights had burnt out and the check control's "WASHER FLUID" light came on during the test drive, which the owner thinks is due to a leak somewhere. The engine bay was clean and everything in there looked tight.
The first thing I did after starting the car was to familiarize myself with the shifter. I rowed through the gates a few times to familiarize myself -- it felt different from mine, yet vaguely familiar. I then played with the clutch and was surprised at its lightness. I was starting to doubt the whole idea until I let out the pedal in gear. The feel was amazing! The clutch on my car is much more direct and communicative than the E46, but the clutch on this car was fantastic. I could tell exactly where the clutch started to engage and when it was fully connected. Plus, there was none of the slipping clutch syndrome from very fast shifts at high RPM.
After a brief warmup period (which we measured by watching the oil temp gauge, located where the ergonometer is on most Bimmers) I started to drive more aggressively. At first I was underwhelmed by the car's performance. I was expecting a lack of low-end grunt, but this seemed unreasonably slow. I was again about to give up...until I realized that I was barely applying half throttle. Apparently the gas pedal nearly hits the floor on the E30 M3. The off-the-line performance then became much more agreeable. Where the engine really shines, however, is at high revs. The engine really starts to sing around 5000 RPMs and it pulls hard up to redline. The acceleration in that range was awesome.
I was struck by how quickly the engine revved and how quickly the revs dropped with the clutch disengaged. It seemed to be instantaneous -- I'd stab the pedal and the tach would swing right up to 4000, then drop back to idle. Much faster than my S52US engine, which itself is the fastest to rev and fall that I'd seen until tonight.
After getting used to the straight line characteristics, I took to the curves to check out the car's handling (like I said, this car's suspension is stock). I took an onramp at moderate speed, followed by a trip through some twisty backroads at progressively higher speeds. It was dark so I didn't really push it, but the car felt very sure-footed and balanced. The lightness of the car made a HUGE difference in the way I drove it, and the fabled feel was there in spades.
Speaking of feel, I can't say enough about it. The car's suspension felt softer than mine -- perhaps due to age -- but I've never felt more in touch with the road. I desperately wished it was brighter outside because I really, really, wanted to push the limits in this car.
I want to drive the car again in the daytime, and I want to drive an M3 that's been modified. The darkness and my unfamiliarity with the E30 made me too nervous to drive as hard as I would've liked.
So what's the verdict? This is a tough one. First of all, read my subjective opinions with the knowledge that I am a performance-oriented enthusiast. I cancelled an order for a brand new 330Ci because I drove an E36 M3 and fell in love. And now I'm facing an interesting choice: Is my car better than this '88 M3, or is the E30 a better platform FOR MY NEEDS?
First, an indisputable fact. The E36 M3 is much faster than the E30 version and the torque makes a HUGE difference in normal driving. In my car, I can hit the gas in nearly any gear, at any RPM, and pull away rather well. My car really shines from above 4000 RPM to redline but I can do just as well from idle. In contrast, the E30 M3 really needs to rev before it feels powerful. From 5000 RPM to redline (~7200), the car pulls very hard. I don't know if it pulls harder than the E36 -- I doubt it.
Another fact: The E30 M3 is easly 300 pounds lighter than the E36 M3, and it shows. There is a BIG difference in tossability that can only be explained by the weight difference. While the E36 is no pig, the E30 is a waif by comparison.
The E30 is much less refined and much less comfortable than the E36. While the seats seemed cushier in this '88 M3, remember that my car doesn't even have 25000 miles on it. The cushions are practically brand new. Other than that, the shifter buzzes at around 4000 rpm and I understand that this is a common E30 M3 ailment. The exhaust makes PLENTY of noise in the cabin (remember that this car had a Borla, but still) and the cabin vibrates slightly from the noise. The interior, while familiar to any 3-series owner, is not as cushy as the E36. And we all know how the E36's interior compares to the E46.
Now for the subjective stuff. To me, the car really does have the edge in feel. I want more time behind the wheel, but in my half-hour test drive I could tell that the chassis is far more communicative. That should translate to more confidence in corners, but again I didn't have the chance to push it. The feel through the clutch was awesome, which I didn't expect at all. The engine, while less powerful, feels much racier than mine.
I also feel that in capable hands, the E30 M3 would be very hard to beat on the track. The weight and suspension on the car make it more tossable than the E36, and I feel like it's more of a no-nonsence racer. Its lack of power is offset by the ability to carry much more speed out of a turn. And anyway, with some money put into engine mods, it's possible to create the 2.5L engine from the European M3 Evo Sport. Think roughly 230 hp in a 2800-lb package.
I don't think it's possible to say that either car is better than the other for all people. For every day commuting, I would have to say that the E36 is the better choice. It's the best way to have a reasonably practical car that can also kick ass at traffic lights or on weekends at the track/autox. The torque is always on and the car is relatively comfortable.
For dedicated sport driving, however, the E30 has the edge. It lacks horsepower but is a much rawer (is that a word?) experience than the E36. Its agility can't be matched by the E36 without mods, and even then its light weight gives it an edge that the E36 simply can't match.
I'm not sure where that leaves me. I need to spend more time behind the wheel before deciding to ditch my car. But for now, I'm very impressed! I wasn't too happy when I started the drive, but the details that make the E30 so wonderful made themselves evident one by one. More impressions as I get more seat time. For now, I'm starting to think that the SUV/E30 route makes a lot of sense for me. And I won't miss the comfort of the E36.

January 13 2003:
I went up to the 2003 North American International Auto Show in Detroit this year with two friends. We rented an XTerra (not a bad truck/SUV if it weren't for the absolutely AWFUL powertrain) and left home Friday afternoon, arriving in Detroit around 11:30 that night after driving through two short blizzards. After going to the show from 10:00 to roughly 2:30, we grabbed some food and left Detroit around 3:30. We were home by 11:30. Yes, we drove 16 hours for 4.5 hours of NAIAS...but the experience was well worth it. Not only was the show great (better than last year's, which I also attended by driving with a friend) but the trip gave us all a chance to get to know each other a little better.
My favorite concepts this year came from GM, with the Cadillac Sixteen being the runaway hit in my book. The new Mustang was also available for viewing but I was not bowled over by it, nor was I blown away by the new GTO. I was very pleased to see that the new RX-8 was available for people to touch and sit in, and the high-dollar production cars were a sight to behold as always. Given the area in which I live, I suppose I'll have a chance to see the new Lamborghini Murcielago roadster or the Enzo Ferrari in person one day...but I got to see both in one day. The new Rolls Royce and ultra-lux Maybach were also on display.
BMW did not have much new to show, but they did have a Z4 equipped with the SMG gearbox and a nice ///M display with two M3s sitting side-by-side. I can say that the show did not make me want to ditch my car for anything at the moment, but perhaps that is more of a cost issue than anything else. ;-)

Date: 12/23/02
Mileage: 23310
Modification: Removed ///M3 Badge, Installed M3 License Plate Frame
Cost: $0
Description: I was given an M3 license plate frame for my birthday (thanks Eric!), and I'd realized for some time now that the replaced M3 badging from the dealer was somewhat crooked. Today, during a regular detailing session, I decided to install the first and get rid of the second. A hairdryer and some floss took care of the badges, and the frame install was trivial. There's some "badge residue" on the trunklid, but some of that will disappear over time. Now my car is still badged an M3 in the back, but without the crooked trunk badge.

December 9 2002:
The BMW club went karting yesterday. The last time I went, we did an "Open Sprint" style event, where each driver got to drive in five separate mini-races and points were totaled to arrive at a ranking. Yesterday we went with a "Mini Grand Prix" format. We formed teams of 4 drivers, went through a 15-minute warmup sessino, and then had 1:30 of racing. Driver changes were entirely up to us as a team. I wasn't sure about the format before we started, but it turned out to be great! It was very interesting to see how different pit strategies led to different results, and to see first-hand how driver changes can affect the standings. I'm definitely more interested in F1 and other forms of "real" racing now. I was in one team with three other people from bimmerfest.org, and we came in 5th place out of 10. The first three teams were easily five laps ahead of the rest of us, and there was a very close race for the fourth place between ourselves and another team. We were doing quite well until the last five minutes or so, when a slow driver from another team prevented us from overtaking our time delay from the driver change. Still, we had a blast and I'm sure we gained some experience for the next event.
On a related note, I now have newfound respect for race car drivers. Commuting might be easy, but racing sure as hell isn't. Even the short 10-12 minute stints we had in the karts were relatively tiring, not completely from the effort of turning the steering wheel. It's more draining than I thought to concentrate on the right line and to be aware of all of the traffic around me. I don't know how those guys can go out there for a 24-hour race, or even for a simple two-hour event. Just awesome.

Date: 12/04/02
Mileage: 22942
Maintenance: Topped Off Coolant Tank
Cost: $1
Description: Over the past few days I'd gotten the "CHECK COOLANT" message on my on-board computer. Upon inspection, it turned out that my coolant level was somewhat below the "full cold" mark on my car. Ideally, I would've bought a jug of coolant, mixed it 50/50 with distilled water according to directions, and added it. However, I apparently need to buy BMW's special blend of coolant in order to stay fully compatible with the fluid already in there - a dark blue long-life formula, unlike either the traditional "green stuff" or the long-life "pink stuff" I had in my Grand Prix. I won't have easy access to a dealer until Saturday, but I have a day at the track on Friday if the weather cooperates...so I just added enough distilled water to bring the level back up to the full mark. This isn't perfect, but the coolant/water mix is not off by much. And while the coolant does serve to prevent some corrosion, its main job is to prevent the water from freezing. In fact, pure distilled water would actually be the *best* way to keep your engine cool, if only it didn't freeze below 32F and boil above 212F. I think the new 45/50 or 48/52 mix is more than sufficient.

December 4, 2002:
It turns out that the Blitzsafe XM/CD adapter failed on me. The adapter will allow me to connect both a CD changer and the XM tuner to the factory wiring harness in the trunk, which means that I can easily listen to XM the way it was intended (no FM modulation or tape converter, thank you). After speaking with Blitzsafe customer service, I packed up the adapter and mailed it out to them. They will ship me a free replacement, so everything should be squared away sometime this week.

November 27 2002:
I spent several hours last night trying to install XM radio in my car. I think the install looks pretty good; there are maybe two inches of exposed wire, and everything is secured very well. But I have a problem - the display unit isn't powering up at all. Everything worked perfectly when I tested the system in the trunk of my car, but now that the display unit is in the right place and the antenna is mounted, I can't get the darn thing to do anything. Ugh...I picked up a few suggestions online today, so hopefully tonight I'll be listening to satellite radio.

November 23 2002:
The results of the BMW club autocross last weekend are in. I placed 4th in my class (SS), ahead of several very good drivers. Gotta love weather anomalies. :)

Date: 11/22/02
Mileage: 22809
Modification: Installed Smoked Corner Lamps
Cost: $50
Description: The stock corner lamps on my car are amber, but European BMWs came with white/clear lights. I originally wanted to install those, but after looking at a pair I decided that they stood out rather strongly against my black car. I therefore compromised by finding a pair of smoked corner lamps to match my smoked sidemarkers.
Installation: Installation was literally a snap - with the help of a screwdriver, I quickly pulled out the old lamps and inserted the new ones. The "smoke" is a shade lighter than my sidemarkers, but they look good enough. I haven't decided if the stock Euro look is better.

November 18 2002:
Another double autocross on a very rainy weekend. On Saturday, the BMW club held their final event of the season at Six Flags amusement park. The lot was excellent and the course was a lot of fun - especially, or perhaps in spite of, the rain. On the plus side, I spun out for the first time in my car. For some reason, I couldn't start the car immediately afterwards; it took a few seconds of waiting, followed be a few seconds of priming the fuel pump, before it would start again. I still managed to turn in some respectable times on my other three runs. Salazar held their event on Sunday, again at Six Flags. I showed up in the morning to help with setup and stayed through the early afternoon. The rain was a big factor again, but the course was very fast and very entertaining. Unfortunately, it appears that they ran out of daylight before all competitors got in their last runs. Results for both events should be up soon.

November 12 2002:
Whew, what a weekend. Last Saturday (11/9) I held a small gathering at my house - Jetfest 1.0. Several people from Bimmerfest attended, as well as some local neighbors and two friends from the Grand Prix club. My service advisor showed up with some t-shirts from BMW of Sterling and promised me a box of freebies from UUC this week. Thanks, Chris! And, of course, I installed several things on my car. Check them out below.

Date: 11/09/02
Mileage: 22397
Modification: Installed BMW LTW/Convertible X-Brace
Cost: $110
Description: The '95 M3 LTW, and later the M3 convertible, came with an X-shaped crossbrace mounted to the underside of the car. It essentially attaches the engine mounts to the subframe and substantially stiffens the vehicle. Coupes and sedans came with a simple bar attached to two of the X-brace's mounting locations. I got the kit (which includes the brace, mounting hardware, and a rubber buffer stop) from Pacific BMW.
Installation: My car was already on jackstands for the shifter install, so this one was a piece of cake. Six bolts, one torque wrench, and ten minutes later, and all was done. I took the car for a test drive around some sharp curves and immediately noticed the difference.

Date: 11/09/02
Mileage: 22397
Modification: Installed UUC Motorwerks Short Shift Kit
Cost: $300
Description: I bought the short shift kit at Curry's Clash several months ago, but wanted to get more accustomed to the car before installing it. Jetfest was the perfect excuse. While there's a lot I could say about this awesome modification, I'll just defer to the UUC Motorwerks website for product information. In a nutshell, this is one of the MOST FUN mods one can do to their Bimmer. The throws are now S2000-like in their brevity and feel. The UUC kit is extremely high-quality and I have no doubt about their ability to stand behind it.
Installation: Oy. Unlike cars like the C5, SSK installation on my car involved work from both inside and underneath the car. Modifications were made to the shifter itself and to the carrier, and removing the carrier is NOT a simple task. However, now that I've done it once, I should easily be able to do it again in about two hours with a spotter. As it was, it took me about four to five hours with help from various people throughout the day. The "clip from hell" required a little prying, but it isn't as bad as it may seem. The primary difficulty is that carrier removal is done largely by feel, as the transmission and exhaust piping get in the way of your vision. Not an easy install for the beginner, but the average shadetree mechanic should have little problem with it. Two thumbs way up.

Date: 11/08/02
Mileage: 22397
Modification: Installed European Ellipsoid Headlights
Cost: $400
Description: I got antsy the Friday evening before Jetfest, so I decided to install my headlights. Like many things, the American philosophy toward headlight housings appears to be "cheaper is better." The stock housings are made of plastic, which pits and yellows easily, and the reflectors are imprecise to say the least. While they meet DOT specifications, the stock housings on my car have a very unfocused beam pattern and throw the light about in a vague shape in front of my car. Yes, they are better than the stock housings on my old Grand Prix...but trust me, that is saying very little. The European ellipsoid housings have glas lenses and feature a very well-defined, tightly focused beam. The lights have a sharp horizontal cutoff on the left and gradually angle the beam upwards and to the right, which illuminate roads signs without disturbing oncoming traffic. The light output of the H1 bulbs is also superior.
Installation: I got the housings from Lava Lighting, along with a set of plug-and-play wiring harnesses. Total install time was well under an hour. My nighttime visibility is GREATLY enhanced, and I didn't even opt for the higher-ouput HID bulbs. By the way, Lava Lighting was great to work with. One of the housings I was sent was damaged, and Jerry shipped me a replacement immediately so that I could install them over the weekend.

November 8 2002:
Tonight I checked my oil and found the marker below the low notch on the dipstick. I promptly bought a quart of Mobil 1 5W-30 from the gas station (RIP-OFF) and poured it in. A quart of oil in under 2000 miles seems a littl excessive, but I have been driving hard over the weekends. Also, I've seen signs of oil leakage out the top of the filter housing. Perhaps I didn't torque it correctly when I changed the oil; I'll have to double-check that next time.

October 26 2002:
I installed a cosmetic mod today, after a day or two of aborted attempts.
Date: 10/26/02
Mileage: 21739
Modification: Installed Smoked Sidemarkers
Cost: $25
Description: The stock sidemarkers, which blink with the turn signals, are yellow. BMW makes clear sidemarkers for the European market, but I wanted something tinted to match the black exterior of my car. I bought a used pair of aftermarket smoked sidemarkers from someone on an internet forum. I was initially rather disappointed, as I just couldn't get them to stay in place. The retaining clip is metal on the OEM piece, but is made of plastic on the set that I got. The passenger side fit tightly after a little work, but the driver side was dengerously loose no matter what I tried. I'm guessing that it doesn't provide nearly enough tension for the sidemarkers to stay in place on my car; perhaps the holes were cut on the higher side of the acceptable tolerance on that body panel. A bit of "ghetto ingenuity" fixed the problem rather well. I took a very small wad of duct tape and jammed it in the crook of the plastic retaining clip, thus providing more resistance and tension. The light snapped into place and it looks pretty solid. So far they work as advertised, although there's a little condensation in the sidemarker after a recent rainstorm. No big deal. They really improved the car's appearance in my opinion, and they cost nearly half of a new set.

October 24 2002:
Got the car back today. My ///M badge is now brightly colored, my headrest is tight, my engine no longer has a rough idle, my door handle is flush with the interior panel, and my seat now snaps up responsively when I need to get into the back. Awesome! :-)

October 22 2002:
I took the car to my dealer today for a few warranty items. Even before I got to tell my service advisor anything, he mentioned that he noticed the driver's side door handle wasn't sitting flush. Wow - I hadn't even thought to ask about that! I'm also getting the faded ///M trunk badge replaced, having them inspect my falling headrest, and possibly service a rough idle problem I have with a cold engine. I should have the car back today. Meanwhile, I'm driving a rental.

October 20 2002:
The local chapter of the SCCA held their last autocross of the season today at FedEx Field. I was there from 6:30am to help set up the event, and I didn't get home until 5:00pm or so. For the first time I was able to get controllable oversteer. I attribute this to raising the air pressure in my front tires to about 38psi cold, and leaving the rears around 35psi cold. The weather was cooler and the course was very slightly damp, but I've encountered both of those conditions before and they didn't change the handling of the car. My times still weren't fantastic but I was very pleased at my newfound ability. Upon further analysis, it looks like I was the second-fastest M3 in my class - and the M3 in front of me is actually misclassed! :-) Results are available here.

October 12 2002:

Blair at the NCCBMWCCA Autocross, 10-12-2002
click to view a larger picture
The local BMW club held an autocross today. I ran in the first half of the first heat, and I was rather proud of my times....until everyone else started to run. I went from having the second-fastest time of the day to having one of the worst times in my class. :P I'm not expecting to finish near the top this season, but that was both frustrating and very funny. Nick Rubenstein took some great pictures of my runs, one of which is posted above. Results should be listed here later this week.

September 23 2002:
I changed my oil for the first time tonight, and I installed another mod.
Date: 09/23/02
Mileage: 20890
Maintenance: Changed Oil
Cost: ~$50
Description: I drove the car onto ramps with a neighbor spotting me. BMWs have some of the easiest oil changes ever: the filter is right at the front of the engine, and all that's required is a socket to open the lid and pull out the old cartridge. In fact, it took longer for me to find the drain plug than it did to change out the filter. It took a LONG time to drain all of the oil! Seven quarts and it seemed to take forever. The filter came from BMW of Sterling and the oil was Mobil 1 5W30, which is almost shockingly thin.

UUC TMEs with Bushings
Date: 09/23/02
Mileage: 20890
Modification: Installed UUC Tranny Mount Enforcers with Transmission Mounts
Cost: $70
Description: In addition to changing the oil (man, 7 quarts takes a LONG time to drain!) I decided to install the UUC Tranny Mount Enforcers that arrived in the mail today. Here are some installation notes and driving impressions.
Installation: Very straightforward. Unless you're a stick figure, Rhino Ramps are going to be way too low to do this comfortably. Stick with jackstands. The directions are easy to follow, but I got held up with the upper nut on one of the bushings - it was slightly rusted and took a LOT of effort to break loose. I ended up using a long screwdriver for leverage against the combo wrench. BTW, on my '99 M3, all of the nuts down there were 13mm. You'll need a ratchet with a moderate (3" or so) extension and a combination wrench to do this easily. On one side, the heat shield from the exhaust covered the crossmember bolts. The shield is very soft and can easily be bent out of the way; just remember to bend it back when you're done. Once I took care of that #@$!! cross brace, total installation time was maybe half an hour. The new mounts, besides being red, are obviously beefier and much stiffer than the stock units. The metal enforcers just add to the stiffness, of course.
Driving Impressions: Wow, what a difference! I instantly felt more confident with all of my shifts. The lever just slides right into gear now, no more guesswork or rubbery feel. There is no vibration at all inside the car, but there is a little more noise. I can hear the transmission more clearly now. However, I didn't notice anything until I turned off the radio and climate control. A few WOT runs (while looking around nervously for cops in the middle of the night) really made the TMEs shine - upshifts happened quickly and surely. I can see how this product would help to prevent accidental overrevs, but I don't consider that to be the primary benefit of this mod. This should work very well with my short shift kit, whenever I decide to install it.
Overall, it was money well spent. It really does live up to UUC's claims and I can't wait to really wring it out in the next few days and at an autocross.

September 22 2002:
This was a double autocross weekend. Saturday was a BMW club event at Rosecroft again, and today the SCCA held one at FedEx Field. The events were very different from each other - Rosecroft is a pretty small lot, but the course doubled back on itself several times and speeds were relatively low. FedEx offers a very large lot, and the course was wide open yet still technically challenging. Times for the first event were actually longer than times for the second. Today I managed to lose control of my car and the rear started to swing around - a first for me. I never spun out, but I overcorrected several times and my runs suffered as a result. It's more important that I'm learning for these first few events, and that I'm having fun. I can see this turning into a regular hobby of mine, at the detriment of my tires and my wallet. But hey...if I didn't intend to drive it like this, then when did i bother buying it in the first place?

September 15 2002:
My first autocross in the M3 was fun, but I obviously have much to learn. According to the results, I did well enough to place me at the bottom of my class (B-Stock) and fourth from last on the indexed novice list. I don't mind; it's all part of learning to drive, and I'm sure I will improve. My next autocross is this Sunday, at a much larger venue.

September 14 2002:
I went to Curry's Clash today. Curry's Auto Service is a shop in Chantilly and Ashburn that specializes in European marques. Among other things, I finally got to meet several people with whom I'd conversed on the forums at Bimmerfest. I also bought a UUC short shift kit for my car, got some some information on superchargers from RMS, and saw some truly sweet machines. Some of the highlights included a gorgeous black Z8, and the turbocharged, 6-speed 740i that participated in this year's One Lap of America. I had a great time, and it was only 15 minutes away from my house!

I also made my first modification to the car:
Date: 09/14/02
Mileage: 20404
Modification: Removed airbox baffle
Cost: $0
Description: This took all of ten minutes with my car parked on the shoulder at Curry's. With encouragement from Tom, Josh, and Nick (all guys from bimmerfest), I pulled out the stock airbox and removed the noise baffle from inside it. I doubt there's a measurable horsepower increase, but the car sounds a bit louder and I seem to feel a little more grunt. The butt-dyno is notoriously inaccurate, of course, but that's fine.

August 23 2002:
I finally changed the photo up there. Not the best shot, but it's certainly better than a picture of someone else's car.

August 22 2002:
I've now had my car for about a month. Aside from the little incident the other day, I can say that I'm moderately comfortable with the manual transmission. The clutch is definitely tricky; from what I've read, this is one of the car's little quirks. There's definitely a good amount of feel to the pedal action, but the friction point is rather high and it's not as progressive as the clutch on a typical passenger car. I can shift reliably but smooth driving is still a bit of a challenge. They key is to let out the clutch smoothly and slowly, and I don't have that level of finesse just yet.

My M3 is obviously much smaller than the Grand Prix, but I was shocked at the magnitude of the difference. Last weekend found me in a rental Taurus, and I couldn't believe how far away Kim was sitting from me. Furthermore, the corners all seemed to be way out there, and the car was long enough for me to use extra caution when parking. Finally, last week I noticed just how much more space there was around the car after parking it in my garage. Before, there was almost no way to get two adults into the car without first pulling it onto the street; now it's no problem, even with the coupe's longer doors.

As far as performance goes, I can sum up my experience so far in one word: Frustration. This car is an absolute jewel. It's quick, fast, and carves corners better than anything I've ever driven. I dream of the day when I'm capable enough to really push its limits. There are two roads that best suit this car - an open country lane with twists and undulations, and an open stretch of highway. I've yet to find EITHER one in my driving. During the week, the M3 serves as my daily transportation to work. I've chosen a route that includes a short stretch of highway and miles of wonderfully twisty roads, but I've yet to find even one instance where the path hasn't been clogged by rush hour traffic. Weekends have been packed with out-of-town visits or other events that prevent me from fully enjoying the car's performance. Every time I idle in traffic or putter along at 30 mph, I can sense that the car is at least as frustrated as I am. It quivers with energy that it can barely contain, just waiting for even 100 yards of free asphalt. It wants to sprint and roar, but it's all I can do to prevent myself from stalling as we go from exit to exit, from jam to jam. Every outing with this car has been a tease, a bare scent of raw, naked potential...covered beneath a woolly blanket of cars and SUVs blocking the path ahead.

I finally got sick of tantalizing myself one early Saturday morning (8/12, see below) and took the M3 out for a spin. After picking my way out of the neighborhood, the engine was warmed up and eager to go. I stopped at a light, with nothing but pavement in front of me. The light turned green and I shot off like a rocket! I finally got to hear the engine sing at 6000 rpms for prolonged periods of time, shifting nearly at redline and feeling the push from the incredibly smooth engine. No, it doesn't make a ton of horsepower or torque, but it doesn't have to. I definitely didn't feel as fast as I did in my friend's C5 but I was definitely not disappointed. In fact, the road feel and overall feeling of control, even at 100 mph, was the single most satisfying sensation I've had while driving a car. I then found some s-curves and took them somewhat faster than the posted speed limit. The car's lean was evident but very slight, and again I was blown away by the road feel. I swear I felt every pebble and crack on the road, and I could tell when the tires were starting to slip before anything got out of control. The car attacked the corners with a finesse well beyond my own driving abilities. I was too focused on keeping the car on the road to pay attention to much else, but I swear I heard the engine laughing, screaming with joy as the suspension worked its magic on the corners. Every gear snicked into place, every stab of the pedal brought on a shriek of acceleration-induced pleasure from the engine, and every turn of the wheel brought a bigger smile to my face.

Once the road straightened out, I made a U-turn and coasted to a stop at the traffic light. I wasn't sweating, panting, or even out of breath, but I felt exhausted...and exhilarated. The light turned green. I eased out the clutch and took my time going home, opening the moonroof and windows to get a whiff of the sweet morning air. I came home to wash and polish the car, my first since taking it home.

So you see, every commute is frustrating. Every minute spent creeping along, watching the pedestrians travel faster than you, is an exercise in self-restraint. I want to shout, but I can only whisper...until I have another free morning. I love this car.

August 20 2002:
Well, I almost killed my M3 today. On the way into work, I was coasting in neutral at about 20 mph. The traffic cleared ahead of me, so I shifted into 3rd gear and let out the clutch....WHAM!!! Oops, I guess it was 1st gear. Thankfully I wasn't going fast enough to overrev the engine and blow up my car.

August 15 2002:
It looks like the 330Ci I ordered has been delivered to someone. The Owner's Circle site no longer has an order tracking link available to me. I guess it's time to remove that car from my portfolio - really, I should've done it weeks ago.

August 12 2002:
I spent four hours on Saturday detailing the exterior of the car. I did the whole shebang - wash with Dawn to take off everything else, use clay on some rough spots, apply Zaino. I actually put on three coats of Zaino, thanks to the new ZFX accelerator product. Man, what a diference! My car is literally as smooth as glass now. I think I'll take a beauty shot and finally replace that 330Ci picture up there.

On Sunday, I went to my first BMWCCA event - karting at Allsports Grand Prix, which turns out to be just down the street from my house. I had a BLAST, although I realized that I'm a horrible kart driver. That's okay, it was my first time. I'm determined to improve the next time we head out there.

On my way home from karting, I was stopped at a light when a black M3 pulled up next to me. We both rolled down the windows and talked. It turns out that Chris just bought his '99 M3 in February, and that he's a service advisor at BMW of Sterling! My light then turned green (I was in a left turn lane), so we waved and I took off. As I was turning into the neighborhood, a light went on in my head. Sure enough, I went around to find Chris parking his car in front of a house in the neighborhood! I've walked Taylor past this house many times - he has an E36 325is, a '99 M3, and now a Mini Cooper S (was an E46 325xi until recently). We got to chat for a few minutes. He's definitely a car nut like me, and now I have an acquaintance in my local service department. What a day!

August 8 2002:
Yesterday, I was driving home from work in moderate traffic. I was heading down a twisty road, with the sunroof open and the windows cracked to prevent buffeting. The weather's finally cooled down to the point where the air wasn't interfering with the air conditioning; instead, I could smell traces of the fields and forest through which I was driving. The car was responding to my every thought, and I was just cruising along. Finally, it hit me for the first time in the M3. That delightful sensation that everything's aligned, that you are in harmony with the car, which is in harmony with the road, which is in harmony with nature itself. It was my first brush with "car nirvana" in the new Bimmer.

Unfortunately, I had to stop for traffic a few minutes later. Oh, but how delightful were those minutes!

August 6 2002:
Hmm, I guess today marks two weeks. Kim and I carpooled to work this morning, and she commented that my driving was much smoother. Thank goodness! It looks like all that rush hour driving has helped, although I'm sure the clutch is worn quite a bit now. I'm slowly able to take my conscious attention away from shifting, which means that I'm starting to really appreciate the car. The steering is pretty heavy, but I really like the feedback I get through the wheel - I feel like every pebble on the road is transmitted through the steering wheel and to my hands. The few times I've been blessed with open road, the car's acceleration has left me with a wide grin on my face. I've been rather easy on the corners due to my inexperience, but this car is very flat....and I find myself going faster than I did in the Grand Prix, even though I'm not even testing the limits.

July 30 2002:
I've had the car for a week now, and my comfort level with the clutch continues to rise. I'm getting to the point where changing gears while in motion is relatively easy, but I still have to think about starting from a stop. I'm also slow to let off the clutch pedal because I'm still concerned about stalling - hopefully, that will fade with time.

I keep meaning to post some driving impressions about the M3, but I keep putting it off - mostly because I don't think I'm confident enough to truly comment on this car's manners just yet. Maybe in another week.

July 26 2002:
Haha, zero stalling on the way to work today. I'm getting used to the stick, and I'm slowly getting used to the dynamics of the car. I can't wait to really explore the limits at an autocross or track event.

July 25 2002:
Drove the car to work today. Typically I drive from Sterling to Reston, but today I have meetings downtown, so to D.C. I went. I stalled only once, about five minutes after I left home in no traffic. The rest of the trip was stall-free, although there was a little drama here and there. I ended up using the parking brake on steep hills, and I tried my best not to overuse the clutch in stop-and-go traffic. This is going to take some work - and what better way to get used to a stick than to drive it in rush hour? Eventually, I'll get to the point where stopping and starting are second nature.

Last night I drove up a hill in my neighborhood at least 10 times, probably more. I started at the bottom, hit the brakes, and practiced starting without rolling back or using the parking brake. Then stopped and did it again, and again, and again, until I got to the top of the hill. Then it was time to circle through the neighborhood, get to the bottom of the hill, and try again. And again. And again. Eventually I got to the point where I was stalling less than I was starting, but it's definitely a skill I'll have to really practice. Until then, there's the good ol' parking brake.

July 24 2002:
I got my first "random car talk" last night, while I was filling up at the local Exxon. Someone who was also filling up just walked over and asked what year it was. I always love those conversations - it's cool to find car enthusiasts anywhere.

Now, for some driving comments. This car is really, really strong, and it feels like it's brand new. I've yet to really push it hard, but it feels so connected to me already - and I'm still learning to drive a stick! It's very level in the corners, very strong in a straight line, and very confidence inspiring overall. My only complaint is the lack of a CD player, but a changer is on its way already. Man, what a great ride. I can see myself getting very attached to this car, very quickly.

And yes, I do miss my GTP. As I was getting ready to drive away, one of the porters at the dealership started up the old car to drive it away...and immediately asked me, "woah - this car has a supercharger stock? And a heads-up display?" Ah, what a great car...and what great memories.

July 23 2002:
Well, barring any issues, today is the day. And I'm both very excited and somewhat sad. I'm excited, of course, because I'm getting a '99 M3. This thing is nearly perfect for me, and I can't believe I found one with so few miles on the clock. I'm going to love every mile I'm in it. However, I am really going to miss my current ride. It's my first new car, and I have some very dear memories. After ordering it from the factory, I coincidentally took delivery on my birthday. I remember driving it to Hampton to surprise my then-girlfriend just a few days later. I took a different car up to Cornell to propose to her, but a week after that I drove the Pontiac up for graduation. On the way home, I hit a deer and got my first-ever speeding ticket. The story goes on and on, and I really do like the car a lot - it's just not what I really want/need at the moment. I can only hope that the next owner takes half as much pride in owning and caring for it as I did.

Update: It's here! The guys at Auto Advantage did an AMAZING job on the car. To say it looks new would be an understatement. Look for yourself: Front 3/4 view; Engine bay. This car is drop-dead gorgeous! And man, does it drive like a champ. As luck would have it, the skies decided to rip open and it poured the entire way home. I do miss my Grand Prix, a little bit. In my haste to get home, I accidentally left a number of items in the car. I asked the dealer to mail them to me, but perhaps I'll try to get them myself at some point.

July 22 2002:
I called the service department this morning and was informed that the car should be ready by the end of the day tomorrow. That's faster than I expected, and I am most pleasantly surprised.

Folks, if anyone out there is interested in purchasing a pre-owned BMW around D.C., you have to check out Auto Advantage. Yes, their prices are a little high compared to a private seller...but they are lower than most dealers, and they are truly a pleasure to work with. Every single employee I've met, from the car detailer to the manager, has been unimaginably professional and courteous. Forget the typical "car salesman" image, and forget about the "used car salesman" image as well - these guys are fantastic. On top of the sales experience, their service department has been just as wonderful. I wouldn't consider buying a used Bimmer anywhere else before giving these guys a good look.

Does this little bit of free advertising make me a hypocrite, after my glowing review of BMW of Sterling? Not at all. BMW of Sterling is also a great place to buy a car, and I would go there to purchase any new car. Their pre-owned selection is small but top-notch, and in my case I couldn't find what I wanted there. I'm still going to head over there when it's time to order something for Kim, or a new toy for me...in the future, of course.

Stay tuned - I'll have pics from the delivery coming soon!

July 20 2002:
Long story short: I'm going to own a '99 M3 soon. :) I went to Auto Advantage to examine the M3 I'd reserved. Apparently, they've gotten numerous phone calls and inquiries about the car - it's a good thing I acted quickly! It hasn't been reconditioned by the shop yet; the only thing they did was wash it and park it in front of the dealership. The car is in need of some minor work. Most significantly, it looks like the wrong tire/wheel is mounted on the rear driver's side corner. My guess is that the car got a flat tire not very long ago. There are also some minor scratches in the paint, and a loose rear trim piece.

Other than that, the car is in fantastic shape. The seat is barely even worn, which speaks to the car's youth. During the test drive, I could tell that the car isn't totally broken in yet - amazing! I went through the paperwork today, and once I inspect the reconditioned car early next week, I'm going to drive it home. This leaves just a few days to enjoy my Grand Prix. Man, I'm gonna miss it.

I took a picture of the car sitting on the lot. Here's a pic of the driver's seat - notice the lack of wear.

July 19 2002:
I left voiemail and email regarding the car last night. I got a call around noon today, and after a long game of phonetag, I was able to supply a credit card number fo keep the car under my name. Wow, this could be the one! I'm going to go see it tomorrow afternoon.

July 18 2002:
Hmmmmm....a local pre-owned BMW dealer has a black '99 M3 coming in. It has under 19,000 miles on it! I'm going to give them a call tomorrow.

July 15 2002:
Well, now it's time to start looking for a nice '99 M3. I should have money in hand by Wednesday or Thursday. A quick search shows some interesting models, but nothing absolutely perfect. More news on that later. I'll have to remember to write a letter to BMW of Sterling. Yeah, it's pretty typical to back out of an order, but I'm convinced that most dealerships would've handled it very differently.

July 12 2002:
My salesman called on the 10th to confirm the order cancel. I was amazed - Mohammed didn't even blink. He was so amazingly professional. I can't say enough about BMW of Sterling. Anyway, I've still been checking on my car's status, just for kicks. It went 152 (paint shop) on the 10th and hit 155 (completed!) yesterday, which means it's right on schedule. From here it needs to get on a truck to the port, on to the boat, and over to the U.S. I hope the new owner is as obsessive over the car as I've been.

July 9 2002:
I just called the dealer to tell my salesman of my decision. Unfortunately he's out today, so I left voicemail. I seriously feel guilty about doing this to him...maybe I'm just too nice. Yesterday I faxed a letter to the used car salesman I worked with at the same dealership to specify the kind of car I'm looking for: A '99 M3 Coupe, Cosmos Black or silver (black preferred), black interior, 5-speed, Contour wheels, and pretty much loaded. Hopefully with under 40,000 miles on it. I actually spoke with the used car guy (Tom Grady) before I met Mohammed; in fact, my first contact with BMW of Sterling was to drive a '99 M3 convertible they had on the lot.

July 8 2002:
Well, I've driven both now, and the verdict is in: I want a '99 M3. While both cars are similar in terms of performance, the edge goes to the M3...and in terms of driving feel and overall fun, the M3 wins by a MILE. Here's an excerpt from a post I made on bimmerfest.com:

=======
Again, both cars are excellent. It's a matter of what you want. Do you want to be noticed, cruise from place to place, and still take on the occasional stoplight Grand Prix? Then get the 330. It's perfect for your needs, and it can be modded to improve handling and acceleration if you want to compete at autocrosses or track events. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the car, in my opinion.
On the other hand, do you want to drive hard most of the time, be able to drive anywhere you need comfortably, and feel more at home at an autocross or road course? Get the M3. It is not as "nice" inside as the 330, not by a long shot. But it's still heads and tails above other cars in the same class, and it will outdrive them all, too. It holds up very well in stock classes, and responds well to the tons of mods out there. At its core, it is a more pure performance-oriented vehicle. There's absolutely nothing wrong about this car, either.
=======

So there you have it. Now I have to go about canceling my order with the dealer and finding an M3. I feel really bad about canceling; my salesman has been nothing but perfect, and I really hate to do this to him. But what can I do?

July 7 2002:
Uh oh....trouble on the horizon.

Well, not "trouble," per se. I've spent a lot of time thinking about the car this weekend...yes, somehow I found more time in the day to think about cars. Anyway, I'm concerned that the 330Ci will eventually disappoint me. It is a fantastic vehicle with great power and excellent handling, and it's very luxurious inside, but I'm afraid the driving experience is a little isolated. I test drove one yesterday optioned almost exactly like the one I ordered - previously, I was only able to test drive an automatic version. I was immediately made aware of the car's performance potential - in that respect, there's no way I could be disappointed. However, I also noticed that I felt somewhat disconnected from the road. It feels a lot like a sporty luxurious car, which is exactly what BMW wants it to be.

So what car am I considering? A '99 M3. The numbers are similar, but the car is reportedly much more connected to the driver and the road. The interior does not approach the new car in terms of refinement, but I'm a performance enthusiast first - I can indulge in luxury when I can afford to do so without compromising on performance (think E46 M3, mmmmm). I have to test drive one today to see if the driving experience is worth losing the newness and luxury of the 330Ci. Stay tuned.

July 4 2002:
First of all, happy 4th! In my excitement yesterday, I forgot to check for the VIN of my new car (which was assigned at the same time it went Status 150). Here it is:

WBABN53462JXXXXXX (last six places are X'ed out)

Here's what I can glean from that number. "WBA" means that the car is built by BMW. "BN5" marks the car as a 330Ci. "3" means that my car is a United States model. "4" denotes dual, depowered airbags. "6" is the check digit. "2" makes this a 2002 model year car. "J" shows that the car is being built in the Regensburg plant. Finally, the "XXXXXX" is the six-place serial number of the car. Pretty cool, huh? Once the car leaves Regensburg, it's off to the Bremerhaven port for the long journey to the States.

July 3 2002:
150!!! Woohoo!!!! My car's status went to 150 today!!! Status 150 is "Production Started." According to the customer service rep, the car probably won't hit 151 (Body Shop Started) until the 8th or so. 150! Yea! Sweet! Awesome! Wow! Cooool! Now I can sit here and dream of what my car must look like...perhaps little more than a bucket of parts and a few big pieces of welded steel at the moment. After doing a tour of the Pontiac Grand Prix plan in Fairfax, Kansas two years ago, I have some idea of what happens. Right now, I'm guessing that the big parts of the unibody are being welded together. So exciting!!!!! Woohoo!!!!!!

...Uh, can you tell that I'm excited? :-D

July 1 2002:
Not much news on the order status - we're still at 112. I will give props to BMWNA's customer service line, though. The service rep told me that I may call "as often as [I] like" to check on my car's status. How many companies would actually tell that to their customers for something this silly? I'm a happy man. :)

Late last week I took delivery of my first mod, a good six weeks before the car is scheduled to arrive. A friend of mine in California sold me a pair of body-colored front reflector replacements. Thanks for the parts, Bobby! They'll be installed right after I give the car its first bath.

June 27 2002:
Aha, another way to track my car's progress. BMWNA's customer relations call center (800-831-1117, ext. 3) just told me that my car is currently in....Status 112, same as before. According to the very helpful service rep, Status 150 occurs just as the car begins production. Week 28 ends on July 12, so I can expect it to turn 150 around a week before then.

In other news, here's a quote from a BMW message board:

In case you guys haven't heard, here are the changes for the 2003 3-series that were announced by BMWNA at the annual CCA meeting 2 weeks ago. Dealers should be getting this information soon as it will be in their 2003 ordering guides.

DVD based navigation
In-dash CD now possible with navigation
Rain Sensor/Auto Headlights in 325's premium package
Rear seat - third headrest and 3 point seatbelt standard
Aux input on rear of head unit for MP3 player, etc
Sunroof standard on sport-wagons
NO ANNOUNCED FACELIFT for coupes/convertibles
Minor wheel style changes
No announced color changes

So, looks like no Clubsport for me either way. No big deal, less money spent. :)

June 26 2002:
Just to make sure everything's in order, I ran a credit check on myself. All accounts in good standing, nice solid credit score. Good! Kim and I have some experience with being credit card fraud victims, so I tend to be very careful about this stuff.

June 24 2002:
Mohammed tells me that my car went Status 112, probably last Friday. It's still Week 28, so now I'm fairly certain that it will be built around July 12. Man, the wait is killing me! It's actually pretty fun though, in a masochistic head-meets-brick sort of way. Come to papa, come to papa...oh well, at least I have the Owner's Circle site to keep me busy.

I also asked him about the front license plate holder and its potential removal. Apparently the car will no longer pass Virginia state inspection without a front plate bracket, so I'll have to take delivery with it attached. :\ Now, it's possible to order a replacement strip for the front bumper that does not have the bracket...but I'm guessing that it comes unpainted, which is bad because 2002 cars have body-matched bumper trim. If I decide to get rid of the front license plate, I may have to get the part painted myself. Ugh.

Mohammed is also going to fax me a sheet with several driver preference options - things like daytime running lights, "Driveway Sentinel," and various other doodads. Apparently, the dealership will program some of this stuff prior to delivery. I guess it's not as simple to program as the radio presets or the seat configuration.

Finally, I asked Mohammed about the Clubsport package, and he claimed not to know anything about it. I believe him, and I also think that'll be the case untill 2003 ordering information becomes available. BMWNA is notoriously tight-lipped about such things...and I can't say that I blame them.

June 20 2002:
It appears that car shoppers in Europe have access to the 330Ci Clubsport package. Among other things, it includes some cosmetic doodads and an M-tuned suspension. I can go either way on the spoilers and interior trim, but the suspension and wheels are very exciting! Unfortunately, it's not an option for 2002 here in the USA. I want to learn more about the suspension upgrades to see if it's worth waiting, in case it's available for 2003.

In other news, I discovered that BMW's online Owner's Circle lets you see the details of your order. A brief check confirms that all of my options are represented correctly, and that the car is currently scheduled for production around July 12.

June 17 2002:
Weird...my car went from status 112 back to status 111. Furthermore, the production date slipped from Week 27 to Week 28. I was going to ask my dealer to send me a copy of the Vehicle Inquiry Report (VIR), but it looks like I'll have to wait a bit longer on that. Meanwhile, I decided to lock in with BMWFS's money factor for a 36 month lease. It's sort of a hedged bet in case I don't want to finance the car when it arrives.

I've also spent some time lately perusing the BMW sites and getting ideas for mods. Yeah, it's sick - I don't even have the car and I'm already thinking of ways to void the warranty. BMW North America, if you're reading this....JUST KIDDING! I would *never* do anything to modify my car outside the bounds of the factory warranty. :-)

June 14 2002:
Just got off the phone with the dealer, my new best friend. Apparently, yesterday (June 12) my car went into status 112, which means my order is scheduled for production. At this point, any changes I request have only a limited chance of making it into the car, but I don't plan to change the order. My car is now scheduled to be built during the week of July 1, with delivery around the end of July or early August. Woohoo!

In less happy news, I asked my dealer about their interest rates on a 60 month loan, and I was rather discouraged. It's frighteningly high at 7.25%! However, Mohammed told me that they usually can get lower rates through other banks, but not this far away from delivery. I'm still trying to decide between leasing and buying at this point. I can swing it either way, but I'm not sure which way is best.

June 10 2002:
Mohammed called me to let me know that the changes I requested had made it into the ordering system. My car is still status 111, which means that I can still make changes without any problems. I took advantage of that by replacing the heated seats with the full Cold Weather Package. We also discussed some financing options over the phone. I'll have to decide on that in a couple of weeks.

June 8 2002:
I put in the order today! Here are the specs (information on packages can be found at edmunds.com):

  • BMW 330Ci
  • Topaz Blue Metallic
  • Black Interior
  • Bi-Xenon Headlights
  • Dual Heated Front Seats
  • Premium Package
  • Sports Package
I worked with Mohammed Abugideri at BMW Of Sterling. He was very professional and helped me get a very fair price on the car. Now comes the hard part...waiting. The car is scheduled for Week 29, which means it should get built around July 17.