Tuesday, June 25, 2013

In The Beginning, There Was Nothing: Project e30, Part 1

It's 10 AM on a Wednesday early in the summer.  The low diesel hum of the tow truck grows closer as we stand around the red coupe that sits on the lawn.  It's stationary, immobile, motionless, call it what you want; this car doesn't run and it has a long path ahead of it before it does.  My friends and I joke around but it's not enough to overcome the air of nerves, excitement, and an ominous touch of "you don't know what the hell you are getting yourself into."  This is exactly how it's supposed to be.

Every car guy has their project car.  For some it's the old car they've been working on with their dad since they were a kid; for others, it's a car in a video game that they only touch through a controller, spending imaginary dollars and credits to modify every bit of their virtual ride as if it were real.  Then there's the guy who sends his hundred-thousand dollar supercar to a shop known for transforming "super" to "hyper," gives them a check with enough zeros to buy a house, and in turn receives horsepower figures that float somewhere in the stratosphere.  Yet in between these groups lies the "every-man," the guy who starts a project out of passion, excitement, and love, simply for the sake of his own enjoyment.  This is one of those projects.

Welcome to The Chronicles of the e30.

The e30 BMW is an icon.  It's the epitome of late '80s and early '90s entry-level luxury, it's the car that when equipped with the ///M badge helped set the performance standard for years to come, it's the BMW of BMWs.  Surprising, no: the chassis is nimble and willing to accept big power increases, the car relatively affordable and surprisingly reliable.  It's the caliber of vehicle that attracts everybody, with sub-groups like those who lower them, those who race them, and those who beat them up on the rally course.

This project is going to bridge the gap between all of those groups.  Think of it as that venn diagram you were taught in grade school that has the 3 big circles that overlap, leaving a little section in the middle where the color is darker and you have the best qualities from each.  It's going to be a car that can be driven comfortably every day, can be taken to the track for auto-cross, and can be whipped around the unpaved roads of upstate New York without the need to change wheels, tires, or suspension setup.  Easier said than done?  Of course; I'll undoubtedly bite my tongue and change my mind hundreds of times as the project progresses.  But for now, it's "challenge accepted."

So there I sit in the black leather driver seat of a 1989 BMW 325i Coupe that I "adopted."  The car is older than myself but the odometer has only done 100,400 ticks and as such has been driven less than my 2005 Avalanche that is 16 years younger.  The car's battery is old, the body an 8/10, the interior dirty but unbroken.  Hours after the tow truck picked up the car and transported it to its new home in Connecticut, it's show time.  My friend watches as I hold the key in the ignition, take a deep breath, close my eyes, pray silently, turn the key slowly, beg the car gods for it to start...but all we hear is the sorry sound of nothing.  No crank, no spark, no combustion, nothing.  The turning of the key is the only sound to be heard aside from the sighs and jumble of curses muttered under my breath.  We try another ten times but there's no point, this car is dead.

Yet there's beauty in this.  It's going to be a project from the beginning, from Phase I.  The car doesn't start, it doesn't move when it does (blown transmission at fault), and it needs more than a fair share of attention in the vacuuming and Armor-All'ing departments.  It's going to be a long, slow adventure, but it will allow me - and those crazy enough to want anything to do with an old BMW that hasn't run in years - to do everything perfectly, the way it should be done.  Do it once, do it right, from the ground up.  The worst part?  I don't have a clue in the world what the hell I'm doing.  Project e30 has begun.

Phase 1: get the damn thing running.

Project e30 will be updated as repairs, fixes, and modifications are made to the car.  Check back once in a while, as I'm hoping to get it running in time to cruise the beautiful roads of the Northeast during the peak of the fall season, and if I'm lucky maybe even make it to a few races.

- Ross, 6/25/2013

Credit for the photoshop work in the first picture is to my friend Jaime

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