We're a small team of regular fu...folks who beat up an old E30 because we all otherwise have fairly reliable, and mundane daily driving vehicles that we use to ferry parts for the E30 back and forth from the abyss.
We’re taking a holiday break to reflect on all of the parts we should’ve bought ourselves instead of buying gifts for others. This is a short essay we were inspired to write a few years ago when we visited the Giant’s Despair Hill Climb site in Wilkes-Barre, PA while on a job. Enjoy this essay, and enjoy the war on Christmas, no matter what side you’re on.
The height of the climb is a ghost of the yearly event. Just outside of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, mud and cleared trees on the north edge of the road, where timing officials and spectators have matted the terrain, are adjacent to the permanent finish line spanning the breadth of the two-lane road. Just beyond its peak, a shining building I only caught a glimpse of in passing. A fortune-telling of the dynamics I would experiences as I made the journey down the road and through the town at the bottom of it.
Doing my best not to turn my rental Mazda 6 rotors into french fries, I cruised down the steep decline, taking in the view of the valley as my sinuses rapidly compressed. The first major turn came with plenty of warning that I simply had not headed. A sharp, banked right-hander made me do my best Cousin Eddie ‘woo!’ impression to the audience of empty seats in my sedan.
I won’t bore you with the details of the remaining ride because the obvious gem is the uphill. Tumbling out of the straightaway at the bottom, an officially named “Giant’s Despair” park simultaneously greets you and waves ‘goodbye’ with its brevity. Down through what feels like a landlocked seaside town, you wouldn’t be surprised to see someone taking a wicked pissa outside one of the countless (and windowless) bars. And almost as if the same poet that named the Giant’s Despair had been the city planner, the scenery changes drastically as you pass over onto the other side of the tracks. Porches and abandoned cars in driveways turn to projects and abandoned cars in parking lots. A pair of police cars turn off their emergency lights and disband as I pass through the first major intersection. I imagine the demarcating tracks separate color more than they do class. An unfortunate juxtaposition to the thrill of the nearby hill.
I turned around in the lot of the B’nai B’rith Senior Apartments and dodged potholes that would make a Chicagoan proud, as I made my way back to the starting line. By the time I arrived, it was just after dusk. Into manual mode I went, and up the hill and away from the despair I’d climb. The ascent was fantastic. Quick dips that turned into almost-hairpins and frequent undulations through the straighter portions of the steep grade made me feel like I was escaping feds in a cigar boat.
I reached the top and and book-ended my trip with the shining building; a building I’d come to realize was an adult addiction rehabilitation clinic. I felt the road was not the despairing one, but the region itself. Perhaps in naming it, they’d meant to embrace their trials as a method of coping. If you asked me where to start and end the course, I’d tell you to start at the bottom and work your way to the top as best you can like the rest of us. The finish line is up there somewhere and I hope we both make it.
Cowering behind the steering wheel, you wonder if with all of the abuse you’ve reaped on your engine, will you be held to account when the guillotine (or ‘clutch’ in this metaphor) finally drops?
Beyond the faded paint, and rusted door corners. Beyond the hibernated, storage-unit affair of its interior.
Underneath the makeshift sunshade, used to protect only the most highly sensitive electronic equipment…
…lays a digital tachometer.
A purveyor of the most vital information besides water temperature, engine speed is an essential diagnostic measurement for maintenance and reference for track driving. Our preference is for a digital, as opposed to analog, readout of that information. We found a home-grown LED counter and sweeping shift light combination called the “SL10” on eBay from a French seller (and designer) named rgtracetech883 with a tonne of functionality for it’s size and price. But you can use any you prefer as long as it can read a 5 volt or higher pulse signal and be powered from a 12 volt system.
Even if you only have a tentative understanding of electricity, this really isn’t that hard! We’ll try not to drone on about theory, but getting you to understand your car (whether it’s an E30 or not) is what we’re here to do, so no promises. In this case, we’re going to try not to bore you with the installation of this simple power/ground/signal tachometer.
Step 1: Unfuck the Cluster
If the first word you think of after “cluster” is “fuck” then you’ve come to the right blog. We pulled this entire dashboard out for what was ostensibly no reason once, and in subsequent efforts, just the cluster at least a dozen times, so a few steps might be missing since we’ve left a few things out to streamline the process. As you’ll see in the picture, the plastic trim panel that hides the manufacturing nether-regions below the cluster has already been removed (and misplaced). After you’ve navigated to a better resource and figured out how to remove the outer-most panel, grab a PH1 screwdriver (or bit, extension, and impact gun) and remove the four screws imprisoning the bezel. Once that’s removed, there would normally be two more screws holding the cluster itself to the ceiling of the dashboard. Pop those out and get to wigglin’.
It’s in there pretty tight. This is normally where we’d say “that’s what she said” but our adjacent German-language erotic Scott Pilgrim fan-fiction blog only comes out once a month and we don’t want to spoil anything for you by going on a tangent. We found that if you pull up on the bottom, and swing it in towards the front of the car, you can use the space inside the dash to point the face at the floor and eject it like a DVD of Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
Here’s the part where we could just walk you through the details to make it easy for you, but knowledge is power, and power is something you’ll need when you have a 238,000-mile old M42-powered BMW.
Step 2.0: The Basics
The M42 tachometer is aesthetically analog, but is technically digital. It receives a digital signal that gets translated and represented by a sweeping needle across a handsome 6200 RPM redline face. That signal comes in a pulse directly from the computer. That pulse is a beat of 5 volts so-many times per second (where in the off-beat it sends nothing, like turning a light bulb on and off). That beat of so-many pulses-per-second is the hertz frequency or just hertz. So if the computer is sending 5v pulses 20 times per-second, that’s a 20 hz frequency. In the case of the M42 owner specifically, those 20 count, 5v pulses-per-second, represent 800-900 revolutions of the engine per minute.
Step 2.1: All the Right Signal
Now that you’re a little more knowledgeable, it’s time to test that theory on some of the wiring behind the cluster to confirm which wire you’re going to circumcise for the good of your new tachometer signal input. Remove the blue connector and disassemble it as shown in the pictures. Since we’ve already installed ours, you should be able to tell that the black wire is going to be the one sending that 5v, 20hz signal from the computer. Start your engine so you have a frequency to read and place the setting dial of your multimeter in the “Hz” position. With your black wire still attached to the blue connector, you should be able to stab the red lead of your multimeter down into the top of the harness and hopefully contact the bare metal of the wire, and complete the circuit by attaching the black lead to any metal that is attached to the frame of the car. Grounding circuits out to the frame is a concept we won’t go into here because we have to get back to the Planet of the Apes marathon and there simply isn’t time. If at idle, you see “.02 khz” (move the decimal over a few spaces and you’ve got 20 hz) come across the screen then by Jove, you’ve done it! Splice into the black wire and lead your new wire away from the cluster to a location that will let you hook it up to your new tach. Our old tach no longer worked, so we opted to cut it out completely before re-routing it to the top corner of the dashboard on the driver’s side. Turn the engine off for these next steps or you’ll risk turning components of your new tachometer into tiny mushroom clouds.
Step 2.2: POWER!
With the hard part over, and depending on the state of things in your car, you are now tasked with the trial of finding a way to power the damned thing. With most of our HVAC control and radio missing, we had a treasure trove of wires to choose from to give life to the tachometer. Specifically, one that would gain power when we turned the ignition to ON and would invariably lose power when we turned the car off. We determined that by testing the voltages of wires as we turned the ignition ON and OFF. A tedious process, but an effective one. An easier option would have been to defer to a repair manual with an updated wiring diagram, finding a circuit that met our needs, and confirming with our multimeter. Run that power line from its source to your digital tachometer and move on to the next step.
Step 2.3: Don’t forget the little people – Staying Grounded
Remember when we said we didn’t have time to go into series circuitry? We still don’t have the time. Battle for the Planet of the Apes just started and we’ve already missed the crash landing of the spaceship into the Forbidden Zone and we don’t want to miss Taylor’s first meeting with Nova. Oh, Nova. But we will tell you that it’s not like a battery. You don’t have to route the ground cable back to the battery, it can simply be grounded to a nearby bolt, as long as that bolt has an all-metal path back to the frame.
We’ve learned to always anticipate that things will be removed for maintenance or upgrade, so instead of crimping or soldering the tachometer directly to our newfound power, ground, and signal wires, we snapped them together using parts from the same connector kit we used to adapt the oxygen sensor in our exhaust manifold blog entry from last week.
If you haven’t already, go ahead and plug everything in and give it a test! If you see numbers that make more sense than the timeline of the five original Planet of the Apes movies, than you’re now basically an electrician. Go out into the world and remember that it’s not the voltage that’ll kill you, it’s the amperage. Luckily for us, our Hitachi Magic Wand only pulls about 1.5 amps at the most. Don’t ask us how we found that out.
Now get out there and use that new digital tachometer for good by racing your E30!
We will never be exhausted in our attempts to exhaust the potential of using derivatives of the word “exhaust” in our wordplay. But we sure are exhausted from working on this exhaust. Plainly put, “Hi Exhausted, I’m Dad.”
We apologize for the cliffhanger in the last post. Years of surprisingly good, serialized television has made us incapable of just wrapping up a story (thanks for nothing Breaking Bad). After a bit of manual machining with our battery-powered drill, set on the low gear and with light and continuous trigger pulls, we opened up the mounting holes on our stainless steel manifold’s baseplate so that it could now freely mount to the head. Poor, or no quality control left us with a manifold that was off by several millimeters so mounting was impossible.
Once it was in place, we go to tightening the nuts and studs. A good practice when re-using hardware (that’s safe to be re-used), is to clean all of the surfaces and use anti-seize or thread-locking materials. If you’re comfortable with the use of a threading tap, find the right one (because if you don’t, you’ll be living a popular South Park meme format), and give each threaded hole a good what-for so that your not fighting any grime, dirt, dust, or chips that may have found their way inside.
With most of the nuts and studs hand-tightened, we ran into accessibility issues particular to this manifold. The bottom nuts on either side of the cylinder-two piping were impossible to screw with our power tools. However, being familiar with the plight of un-powerable (clearly sic) bottoms, we resorted again to the technology of the proletariat, the combination wrench. Not being so foresighted as to have ever obtained a ratcheting 11mm combo wrench, we toiled away at the two small nuts with a fever, knowing that the sooner it was over, the sooner we could get back to talking trash about Breaking Bad’s younger sibling, who won trophies, but could never seem to really make mom proud, Ozark. With the last two snugged, we tightened everything else in a sort-of star pattern to evenly apply pressure across the manifold as best we could.
If you’re lucky, the old oxygen sensor came out with some gentle persuasion from a rented or purchased oxygen sensor socket and some propane heat around the bung. If you’re even luckier (like us; suckers), you have an uninstalled sensor sitting around in your spare parts bin from a Miata that you should have never sold. Why did you sell it? Because you didn’t have the space? It still drove. You could have parked it at a friend’s house until you had…Don’t worry about that connector that doesn’t match. We happen to have a small case of 2-8 pin male and female connectors for just these occasions. We bought it online a couple years ago because, who’d’ve thunk, splicing wires together with electrical tape in many ways proved to be a sub-standard repair. You can go to any hardware or automotive store and get a kit like ours, or just get a single connector set to replace the ECU and sensor sides respectively. With a new connector and matching thread (most oxygen sensors regardless of application seems to be M18x1.5 pitch thread), we plugged it in at one end and tightened it down in the other. Unless you have more exhaust work to do because the layout changed so drastically, as ours did, cross out the line on your to-do list that says “Fit Stainless Steel Manifold” and then go out and race your E30 (or whatever other peasant-mobile you’ve been working on for ten or more years*).
*Note from the Editor (who also happens to be the writer, media liaison, intern, and barista) We’d like to take the blog in a slightly new direction. Focusing on E30 specific content is always going to be the purpose of this blog, but we want just as many people to race their cars as we want every E30 owner to race theirs! Our writing style will change a bit to be inclusive to the learning hobbyist so we’ll probably spend more time on tool use, automotive theory, and safety, and other team members have their own projects that will be guesting on the blog. But it will mostly always be through the lens of our rusty trusty sedan.
Countless comments and posts, in countless forums, reiterate relentlessly that the M42 exhaust manifold (on some accounts, to have been sketched by Da Vinci in his Italian artisanal workshop alongside drawings of the Vitruvian Man and the ornithopter flying machine), is more than perfect in its functions of rate and flow. But this isn’t a perfect car, and we’re not perfect people, but the following analogy will be; Da Vinci’s flying machine likely never flew, and neither will we! Wait…
Step 1: Target Acquisition
Because we’re as committed as is reasonable to reducing waste, we acquired an exhaust manifold in a parts lot after convincing ourselves that the crack in the old one that we welded shut, will likely crack open again anyway, and thus warranting replacement. We’ll do our local metal scrap guy a solid and leave the old one at the curb instead of throwing it in the recycling bin. We paid $100 for a used fuel tank, spare M42 ECU and the titular exhaust manifold from a guy on Craigslist after following him from his college dorm apartment to a barn in the sticks, disregarding every thing we learned in every true crime podcast we’ve ever listened to about not going to a second location. The deal was too good to pass up obviously.
If you want to make future removal of post-manifold exhaust bits easier, weld on a flange. We found this one for $25-shipped on FB Marketplace and you’ll see how we affix it properly later on after a few more riveting blocks of images and text.
Step 2: Swinging – Getting that lower control arm out of your face.
Make the entire process easier on yourself by in-order unbolting the lower control arm bushing brackets (also known by fuckboys as lollipops), anti-roll bar endlinks, and anti-roll bar bracket on the exhaust manifold side of the car. This will let you swing it away from the car so that there won’t be as much banging around as when you were smashing around blindly in the dark for that condom your dad gave you a year ago after you finally moved out.
We removed the entire 22mm ST anti-roll bar to touch it up in a few spots where rust has started to develop. Because it’s made of a spring steel, rusty spots will exacerbate a decline into un-spring-steel-like qualities. This was also a lesson in proper preventive care because one of the few things we did right in the early years of building this car was using a proper silicone grease inside the anti-roll bar bushings. While anti-seize is an alternative we used in other areas of the car, it would’ve been detrimental here. Most off-the-shelf anti-seize products eventually dry out by design, leaving a powdery barrier between metals, but, would have been abrasive to the painted surface of the bar, eventually leading to rust. We’re also going to recondition the fasteners, washers, spacers, and brackets before we re-install it all later.
Step 3: Manifold Removal – The only danger to it, was us.
Removal, surprisingly, was the easiest part. While it can be done with a simple combination of a 3/8″ ratchet, 11mm deepwell socket, and a short-ish extension, you’ll save yourself a sore chest by using some sort of right-angle device. We used one that chucks right into the 1/4″ drive of our knuckle-savior impact gun. That and a 6″ magnetic bit holder placed betwixt the gun and the right-angle attachment (not pictured), gave us all the access we needed to reach every nut without having to switch back to simple primitive, proletariat hand tools. Seizing the means of production doesn’t imply that we can’t use power tools. An air-powered ratchet is a cheap alternative if you have a tank and air hose available.
In our case, this manifold had been removed and retrofitted with a new flange once before, so your disassembly process after the 4-to-2 collector might be different, but moving the suspension components out of the way will still be necessary to a hassle-free extraction of the manifold itself. Once we had all of the fasteners removed, we unbolted it from the aforementioned flange, and snaked it out like a toilet rooter from a clogged septic tank.
Recommendation: You’ll find that the fasteners will come out as either the nut alone or the nut and stud together. If both come out, watch this surprisingly short (50 seconds) and effective video on how to remove the stuck nut so that you can re-install the studs and use them as guides during the new manifold’s installation.
Step 4: New Manifold Preparation
Apologies in advance, but this process will be a little pacific to our situation. As in, the wrong side of the ocean. This was our second time dealing with an incorrect manifold, both having been built for a right-hand driven car, and we weren’t ready to fuss about the time and money required to tool-up a new one. The original manifold’s third cylinder tubing, ( a manifold which we will euphemistically refer to as “eBay sourced”) didn’t clear the motor-mount by any reasonable stretch of the imagination and for lack of material and welding skill, had to be replaced.
We got lucky and found one that was known to be persuaded with minimal percussive maintenance, so we glad-handed the old one off to some sucker for 20 dollar-menu burgers, and got to work dinging the new one up (with a combination of propane heat and a claw hammer) and welding on the appropriate accouterments. Because this one was still more than a little wrong we had to open up the bolt holes on the base plate to help align it, and weld a new M18x1.5 02 sensor bung to a mirrored position near the end of the manifold since it was making kissey faces with the floorpan of the passenger-side of the cabin. After that, we cut down the flange to the necked-down smaller diameter and welded it to the end of the manifold. We accidentally used an E71TGS instead of our stainless flux core wire so we’ll have to keep an eye out for premature corrosion since there’s no chromium in the weld to help protect against it.
Next week, check back in for the thrilling conclusion, where we deliberately post pictures in conjunction with textual descriptions of all the ways this process went wrong and how we eventually struggled together as a crew to pay our copay for group therapy in the aftermath.
If you’re looking for Mission: Incompetent I – Manufactured in West Berlin; don’t bother. The title was just a delivery device for the “Electric Bugaloo” gag. On the other hand, the mission of building this car has always existed and was inspired by the Grassroots Motorsports $2k-and-change Challenge. If we could, we’d try to mainly do two things: take whatever we had lying around and turn it into a repair or a performance modification and use pre-owned or cross-compatibility upgrades before we resorted to brand new tech. Mission objectives are to prove to the MacGuyver fans that we’re on the level and to show that we’re wise and humble purchasers to potential mates. In the process, we’d also try to be smart about durability and not doing any work twice.
We’re not so good at the former. In reading about the $2k Challenge Subaru Impreza Rally knock-off so many years ago, we were struck by the ingenuity of taking an antique refrigerator and re-purposing it as a fuel cell. If we’ll ever have the opportunity to effect something similar, we can only hope, but we’re proud of our handful of patch jobs nonetheless (see the stainless steel hack job in the featured picture). We’re hoping to step that game up over the winter with two large stainless steel panels we found, staged near some local dumpsters, that we plan to use for a few small projects like plugging the sunroof and forming blanks, switch panels, and an instrument cluster panel backing.
The latters, we’re not bad at. Our 4.10 limited-slip differential was a junkyard find from a ’90 318is. If you have an M42 and mostly autocross, stick with a quick ratio differential to squeeze power out of it. TRMotorsport C1s with 4-year old (at the time of purchase) Kumho Ecsta XSs from a friend’s brother. The rims are strong, but lighter than stock rims will be, and the tires were built for autocross with a quick warm-up and low treadwear rating. If you can find a never-used set, grab them, because it seems they’ve been discontinued. The master cylinder was a brand new replacement for an E32 series 750il. It will give you better pedal modulation but not more power. You’ll have to do hardier, more expensive upgrades to most of your brake components for that. We paid $40 for a set of stainless braided brake hoses from the owner of a lifted Miata and M40-powered E30 Estate, and when the time came to install them, were replaced in stride with the front lines. Lines that were rusting in more than a few places and we’re unlikely to survive any further re-positioning, especially after removing the ABS pump from the system. That was done with new nickle-copper line.
The main suspension components were done at hefty (but still heavily coupon’d) sums though. Costs that were unavoidable considering a side-quest for the car was to replicate the SpecE30 suspension since it was known to work well and we didn’t care much for guessing. If we can recall correctly, it was about $400 for the Bilstein B8 shocks, $250 for the ST anti-roll bars, $100 for used H&R Sport springs, and $200 for polyurethane bushings (which ultimately ended up being free because of unintended customer service related consequences). Because our hindsight vision was closer to Mr. Magoo than it was The Terminator in the beginning, things like making sure the adjustable endlinks on the anti-roll bars staying properly greased has yet to be rectified and now parts that would probably last a long time, won’t live to see their children graduate high school.
The pee-ass-day-resistance among all of these modifications however is the Z3 steering rack. If you do nothing else, apart from good tires, rip out the old steering rack (which, given the common mileage on old E30s, is probably ready for hospice care anyway), and put in a fresh Z3 rack. We chose to treat this modification like starting over from a messy divorce by dating someone 10 years younger with a refurbished steering rack from an M44 powered 1.9L Z3 (so non-M from 1996-2002). There’s talk online about different colored tags to help you identify the rack and whether you should get it from an E36 3-series, Z3M, or E46 3-series. We bypassed all of that arguing by simply asking the supplier to physically verify if the rack we were interested in was truly 2.7 turns lock-to-lock and once that was verified, had it shipped. Don’t forget that you’ll need E36 inner and outer tie-rods and. Compliment it with a used steering wheel hub and knock-off Momo steering wheel.
If you’re on a budget like we are,
perpetually, follow our philosophy. After that, sell all of your
belongings, and give us the money. By doing so, you’ll pledge your
allegiance to us and the Cult of the Malfunctioning Dashboard
Cluster. If you don’t have a budget, build the car with all brand
new, lightweight, parts and use your imagination for boring things
like how much money is in your hedge fund instead of ingenuitive ways
to build a unique and well-sorted E30!
If you grew up on the internet at the same time we did, you’re probably a craigslist junkie too. Below is a list of sites to check regularly for deals. Don’t be afraid to check in on your favorite builds or find new ones on forums and in magazines for inspiration! And as always, go out and race your E30 already!
For Sale> Free
For Sale> Auto Parts
For Sale> Barter
You can use this site to search
several craigslist.org regions all at once!
A BMW forum with a heavy E30
community and an active classifieds section.
A aggregator search site for
junkyards that lets you search by year range for a specific model
and set up alerts when participating junkyards get the model you’re
Facebook’s classifieds sections
are recently on-par or better than craigslist. We recommend using
this as much as you would CL.
We’re not really familiar with
this site but we got a good deal on a PS4 to play GT Sport on so
give it a shot.
We have many fantasies. Most, if not all of them, could be shared with you here, but they would take away from the focus of this article. We’ll save those for our other blog, “What Macaroni Shapes are Best When Bathing in Tubs Full of Classic Italian Pasta Dishes?”
Today’s non-carbohydrate fantasy involves the awakening of something inside our childhood spirits. The dreams of those 11-year-olds, sat in front of standard definition televisions, fighting for their lives on that final Gran Turismo Super License test, have come to life. We are adults now, with wallets and eBay accounts. We now have a vinyl Gran Turismo windshield banner! Life is now the realest driving simulator!
All the “greats” have and had them. The words adorn instantly recognizable cars and events like the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb and the Nissan GTR Nismo GT3. Now, finally, it graces another legend in the motorsport community; our 1991 M42-powered BMW 318i!
How can you grow up to be like us, you ask? Follow these steps and be prepared for the onslaught of highway thumbs-ups and on-the-spot marriage proposals from women, and men, because you’re going to be swimming in them thereafter once you’ve hit the road.
Not Pictured – Tissues for Wiping Away Tears of Joy
Tooling is pretty light on this one. Especially compared to what we needed to install the flux capacitor. We’ll go over the tools you’ll need from left to right and then up top.
1. We had a small felt lined squeegee left over from a long-ago attempt to recreate a Marlboro theme on our hood, but you can just use a credit card. If you don’t have one of those, use your favorite adult video store loyalty rewards card. It will likely work much better because the felt lining wasn’t as aggressive on the bubbles as we’d have liked.
2. We used an old putty scraper to remove a sun-faded car class sticker from an event we ran at the Autobahn Country Club over the summer. This is another tool that could be successfully substituted with your adult video store loyalty rewards card.
3. In your mind’s eye, picture a can of brake cleaner or Goo-Gone next, to help you get all of the left-over sticky residue free of the glass.
4. (Imagination time again) Painter’s tape will help you keep everything in place while you line up the banner.
5. Use a smaller blade like ours if you can because cutting away the excess is going to need a precise hand, unencumbered by something bulky like a carpet cutter.
6. Use the microfiber and towels to clean the surface area that the banner will be affixed to.
Scrape the Pain Away
Cleaning the windshield is likely going to be the easiest part, but arguably the most important. Bubbles can form around debris stuck underneath after a time, even if you manage to completely squeegee them all away initially. It’s the simplest part of the job to get right, and you wouldn’t want your mother to be disappointed in you again, would you? Especially after that stunt you pulled at your high school graduation?
If you have something as dreaded as what was nothing more than a package label stuck to your windshield, scrape as much away as possible with something that won’t scratch the glass beneath it. Use some brake cleaner to apply a fatality to the remaining goo.
Profession: Video Game Livery Editor
Now that you have a flawless windshield, line up your decal as best you can. We used the bottom seal of the windshield as a reference by making a mark at its center (green squares in the picture below) with a permanent marker. We found the center of our banner and matched it with the centerline mark (green) as best we could. Then from either side of the banner (upper yellow marks), we measured from its bottom to the bottom seal of the windshield (lower yellow marks) to make sure there were even distances. Throughout, we used some painter’s tape to temporarily hold the banner in place as we moved it around.
This is the tricky part. With the banner held in place by the painter’s tape, pick a side of the car, and as best you can, with a partner, pull the backing away a few inches and start applying the banner. Once you make the initial contact, start squeegeeing. Squeegee in the same direction as you are applying the banner. Get most of it laid down with this method and then worry about squeegeeing the edges. Don’t push too hard into the corners because you might cut into the vinyl. To make that step easier, cut away the excess, but leave yourself about two inches to grab at. Gently, (petting-a-kitten gently and not lock-the-door-and-mute-the-sound gently) pull that two inches up at a 90 degree angle to the glass as you push the vinyl into the corners with your edge.
Once you feel satisfied you have a fairly bubble-free and cornered banner, grab that small cutter. We recommend that you do this in two or three evolutions. Cut away 90% of the excess in a slow and steady pass. Be careful not to put too much weight on the windshield and bust it because you’re too focused on edging. If you see what we did there, go ahead and pat yourself on the back. In your second or third pass, cut away the excess right at the intersection of the seal and the glass. That should leave you with an aesthetically and nostalgically pleasant vinyl banner!
Imagine you’re nervous because you’re on a stage about to give a presentation in front of the guy who created the recycling symbol, Bill Nye, and a turtle with a plastic six-pack ring around its neck. To help you feel less nervous, imagine them in their underwear. If that doesn’t help, imagine that the world’s not on fire around them.
Around here, we’re lovers of life but are disappointments still in the eyes of Captain Planet. Buddhists in the sheets and Dominic Toretto in the streets. Which is to say we recycle as an ethical imperative. But like the Fast and Furious antagonist, as a fact of life, have to survive in a world we were simply born into, gravelly voiced and balding. This goes for throwing our water bottles out in the green bin, buying used parts before considering buying new, or repurposing entire engines. But making cars go fast, whether in a circle or in a zig-zag makes waste. Just because you’re experiencing project creep, doesn’t mean you can ask for a waiver from Greta Thunberg to pollute. We’ll give you a few examples of how projected creep on our build turned into opportunities to be smart with our purchasing and appropriation of parts and materials.
Right in the (Tool) Sack
Hold on to your fasteners. Corralling all of our nuts and bolts from part-outs and broken dreams, especially because we mostly deal with metrically challenged cars, has been incredibly useful. We are intimately familiar with M6x1.0 screws, nuts, and threaded holes in particular. Don’t ask us how. The came in handy when we needed to replace the majority of the cap screws necessary to reaffix our M42 timing chain case when the profile gasket let coolant out into the crankcase like a bribed nightclub bouncer. Five autocross events and zero-screws-purchased later, the timing case appears to be holding on.
Exceptions should be made for torque-to-yield items like head bolts and flywheel bolts. New fasteners aren’t always necessary. Reusing old ones, especially on 30-year old race cars is totally acceptable in most cases. Leave those new ones in their bins so they don’t eventually take up space in the bottom of a trash can! Potential spending: $0, Time and Money Saved: Not having to drive to the local hardware store just to pay to bag and label your own fasteners.
A Tap to Die For: A Threaded Insert Story
If your ugga-dugga-dugga shoulda only beena ugga-dugga, but wasn’t so ugga-dugga-dugga-dugga that your thread is unsalvageable, then there might be salvation. Sometimes you might need to only chase a thread to salvage it. You don’t always need an entire length of thread to achive the full strength of the fastener combination, so if upon inspection you only see small areas of damaged thread, give a thread tap a go. Get a thread pitch gauge a tap set from a hardware store, preferably with a tap wrench and equivalent dies, and try your hand at the basics of machining.
If you’ve demolished the thread like a corn cob in the mouth of a Gen-Z’er who learned only the day before how to use a cordless drill, then there is still hope in re-threading the hole with the appropriate drill and tap or threaded insert. Both processes have their nuances so get some practice in and reference some helpful Youtube channels like This Old Tony or AvE before you go re-patterning your wheel hubs.
Consider buying a few other tools as well to help finesse parts that might just need small touch-ups to operate properly like thread files, hand files, and sanding stones. Buying new parts means a new part gets manufactured to fill that gap in a parts store’s inventory. Fix that old part and let that new one collect dust! Potential Spending: $30-100 for a good metric thread tap set with common sizes, $25-$40 for a single thread size and pitch threaded insert kit (Helicoil or Fix-a-Thred). Time and Money Saved:Not having to replaceentire parts over minor thread repairs.
Craigslist> For Sale> Freedom is Slavery
Remember the time someone bartered his way through craigslist.org until his paperclip turned into a house? Our “For Sale>Free>1/3hp Craftsman bench grinder” isn’t as impressive as that, but the site served us and our prime directive quite well nonetheless. While we didn’t get anything for free this time, it was still well-served for us recently when we wanted to facilitate one of our finest and clearest examples of project creep.
It’s as if the craigslist seller was Christopher Nolan and planted the seed deep in our potato-y brains. First we wanted to build a head that could be ported and polished in preparation for an inevitable swap. Next, we had to find the head on craigslist. The mission is accomplished when we find an entire engine on CL. But, it was mission: accomplished in a big “mission: accomplished” banner across the bridge of a naval vessel that was less warranted than a wet floor sign at the bottom of a pool type of way. We had no way of getting the engine out of the bed of our truck, much less onto our none-existent engine stand. Back to craigslist we went, where we found a used engine stand and a used hoist. The hoist was massive and not easily disassembled as only the arm and hydraulic piston could be removed. The wheels needed to be greased as well because moving it around was otherwise futile. But $50 couldn’t be argued with.
The engine stand was nearly new and at $40 was another easy purchase. We said goodbye to the hoist in a move to a new home but the stand is still doing the lord’s work. Watch sites like craigslist, Letgo, and Facebook before you download that Harbor Freight coupon and keep these tools from ending up in a landfill or metal scrapyard. Potential Spending: $100-$250 depending on the quality of the engine hoist and stand. Time Saved: None. It would have been way easier to go to any parts or hardware store and pick these up brand new, but we paid a quarter of the price of just the hoist for both.
Periscope Drown (Keep your eyes open if your not afraid to dumpster dive)
There’s a thin line between budget fabricator and hoarder. If you can’t let that oblong piece of 18 gauge stainless steel that’s been rotting away slowly from surface rust that you salvaged from an old shop shelf go, then maybe reconsider your hobby. Otherwise, while your’re out and about in the world, watch out near dumpsters for healthy pieces of metal for projects, benches or tools that can be rehabbed for use in your shop, or midnight babies that can be raised in the care of a nurturing home so that it may one day go on to seek its revenge on the villainous human that left it there to die.
For the borderline hoarder, paper, glass, and plastic recycling has unfortunately turned into a cointoss in recent years. Alas, you can be relatively guilt free about your metals, by leaving them in a pile at your curb for the local scrap collector or drop it off yourself in exchange for a (very) few shiny dollar coins. Potential Spending: $0-College tuition. Time Saved: None. And you’re covered in warm spicy ketchup and raccoon fur. But it was free!
What you do to help the stave off the inevitable climate crisis may be minuscule. We certainly wish that the oil industry would stop trying to kill electric cars* so we wouldn’t have to replace entire engines when interference designs chunk hundreds of pounds of cast iron and aluminum in an instant. Until then, reuse and recycle as much as you can, if not for the environment, at least for your race budget.
It’s dark and dank underneath the intake manifold assembly, so if you come out of this repair only missing an arm and a small wax-covered paper boat, you’ll come out ahead.
Take your M20b-whatever, with it’s easily accessible coolant and vacuum lines and shove ’em! We’ll bare all of our compensatory machismo through our teeth and tell you that you’re not a real automotive enthusiast unless you have to disassemble upper and lower intake manifolds, detach the throttle cable, move the intake boot and MAF aside, remove the throttle body, and tell your wife’s boyfriend that the suit he’s wearing for his date night with her fits him well, just to be slapped in the face by the swarm of emissions-related vacuum and heater plate coolant hoses on the vehicle that must be removed to facilitate the bypassing and liberation of said heater plate! Apart from all of that, it’s not terribly difficult, in theory.
The hardest decision to make, is
whether you want to effect this modification or not. If you live in a
warmer climate, it’s a shame your car came with it at all as it
almost appears to be a cog in a conspiratorial machine to get you
into a service bay. There’s a tangled combination of wet and dry
hoses tucked snugly underneath and behind the intake manifold
assembly and a wiring cache that make it impossible to do any of this
work without removing both halves as if it were an aluminum chastity
belt with a black plastic heart for a belt buckle. Its purpose is
genuinely served in sub-zero temperatures as a preventative to a
stuck throttle plate, but for everyone else, it’s a must-go. By now
in 2019, even if the car hasn’t been driven much, these lines are
dry-rotted and if they’re not leaking coolant already, you should
play the lottery.
Upon first glance, this is a rather confusing diagram of how to re-route this system, but from personal experience we can confirm that it works and is accurate. Fast forward to having the intake manifolds, throttle body, and everything adjacent removed, you’re looking at pile of hoses that remind you more of overcooked spaghetti noodles and watery sauce than a precise German automobile. We won’t complain about over-engineered emissions components because honestly, we’re as tree-hugging as the next co-op volunteer, but we won’t admit that it didn’t make us grit our teeth. The basic route of coolant flows from the head to the heater plate and then into the block. The heater core circuit flows from the head to the heater core, to the block, through the radiator, and eventually into the head again through the magic of the coolant passageways.
Get all of your tooling together. Mostly hoses. Get one or two foot lengths of 5/16” hose, 19/32” hose (or close to it), 5/8” hose and enough hose clamps to cover each end of each hose. This would also be a good opportunity to replace the two temperature sensors located near the front of the head. A great enthusiast would take notes or pictures to ease the load on the memory or identify which sensor goes in which hole, but a good-enough enthusiast would notice that the holes are two different threads. As an FYI, one of the sensors reports to the dashboard cluster, and the other to the ECU. Get your coolant ready because you’ll have to replace a little bit of it afterwards, especially if you forgot to tighten the rearmost coolant hose on the head after you already reinstalled the intake manifolds. Fortunately we had a cheap USB-micro borescope handy to help us identify exactly where it was leaking from so we could use a small 1/4″ drive ratchet to tighten it. Hopefully you have a BMW compatible coolant left over from replacing your thermostat housing because our theory is that the corrosion we experienced on the aluminum housing was likely from an off-the-big-box-parts-store-shelf green coolant. Take some time to study the above diagram, because you don’t really need a step-by-step if you can make sense of it, but we’ll give you a link to a great tutorial on it anyway (linked in the description of the re-routing diagram). You’ll be happy with the results because it relieves the stress of ever having to chase down hard-to-reach vacuum leaks again and if you like to play around with injectors, it makes removing the manifolds twice as easy, and nearly downright pleasurable to do. Use this is a guide or follow the dozen good instructional forum posts out there and enjoy the fruits of your labor because just like Secret Santa they’re completely invisible to the on-looker unless you tell them.
A focal point of our brakes, and ultimately our racing styles, is our $35 Wilwood adjustable brake proportioning valve. Keeping the system free of variability so that we can be assured that our proportioning valve is truly giving us the courtesy of a reach-around is key to setup and execution. With a fresh booster, fresh master cylinder, no ABS pump (and thus, almost zero potential for trapped air in the lines), one of the last things that needs to be tightened up in the hydraulic system is the hoses. Stretch in these components means fluid breaks out into the extra volume under pedal pressure and you lose consistency during its travel into the darkness. At this point in our Shakespearean tragedy of a racing career, we’ve only replaced the fronts with the braided stainless steel ones we picked up from a guy that owned a lifted Mazda Miata and an M40-powered touring E30 down in Nashville on a work trip. Not buying it when it was offered to us is one of our greatest and most dishonorable decisions we’ve ever made. Our family lineages will likely be cursed as a result.
The rears will see their due when we pull the rear subframe for it’s refresher course. Installation was simple after replacing the front lines. It’s not terribly difficult to install them on old lines, but make sure you have the right tools because the old fatigued metal of the fittings won’t survive a line wrench that is “close enough” in size.
49-51-49, The Ideal Brake Proportioning
We did most of the hydraulically related work over a matter of months. At times, we’d say things like “Good enough”, “we can’t see it from your mom’s house”, or “We’re here for a good time, not a long time.” The OEM proportioning valve was unnecessarily difficult to reach with the master cylinder and booster in place (parts we had already replaced by this time), so we chose to abandon it in-place and re-locate the new Wilwood adjustable one to an easily accessible position. We bracketed ours to the ledge that the old air box used to sit on with the convenient mounting holes built into the valve’s body. We might cover the basics of installing a new proportioning valve in absence of an ABS pump in a later post. We highly recommend this valve because it’s inexpensive and vastly adjustable; up to 49% can be split to the rear.
The Easy Part – Calipers, Pads, and Rotors
Your front and rear calipers are going to be the easiest components to address if you stick to the originals. Basic blank rotors were satisfactory as we were looking for longevity over anything else. We had to use a simple rebuild kit for our rears because at the time, coming across cheap used ones was difficult. Five years later, they’re still squeezing. Otherwise, if you need new front ones like we did, you can get them from any parts store easily and inexpensively. There’s an argument out there about Girling vs. ATE calipers but we know nothing of it because we’ve only recently learned things like times-tables and simple grammatical concepts. Too much book learnin’ involved. Hawk HPSs have proven to be more than enough for the low pressures of autocross. If we have more than an approximately 60% split on our proportioning valve, the front wheels lock under heavy braking. They’re not as squeaky as other pads either, and it seems that they like to be hot so whenever these wear out, we’ll be looking for something that works better with the short stints in autocross. Conversely, that was helpful when we rode the north course at the Autobahn Country Club. Keep the guide pins greased like any other passenger car brake system.
Ever heard of 6-Minute Abs? How about no ABS at all?
Come back in time with me as we recount the horrors of chasing the source of our poor vacuum braking performance. After replacing the power brake booster and master cylinder, and bleeding the brakes a necessary amount of times in between, we could tell as immediately as we hit the brakes to slow down our decent into “madness” (a fun and stable nickname we have for our slightly sloped driveway), that there was no joy. The pedal was still stiff but there was no power behind it. A wavering prerogative to make the car simpler, and coincidentally, lighter, inspired the removal of the ABS pump, located just behind the driver’s-side headlamp assembly. The dashboard had been removed in the past to chase a faulty ground and a connection for the ABS system had remained mysteriously and unapologetically unaccounted for. The warning light on the dash was our only indication since the poor vacuum meant we couldn’t road-test for ABS function. Removing it was a simple decision, but the labor was unwelcomed.
It was old, but the lessons learned were invaluable. Among them, on the recommendation of a teammate, tightening brake line fittings slightly to help free them before loosening them completely; like gas-lighting a small child by telling them that you’re going to a fun theme park, but in reality are taking them back to the orphanage. Once the pump was out of the way, we re-plumbed the lines with nickle-copper brake line so that the front-calipers port on the master cylinder was split between the two front with a t-fitting and the rear port plumbed directly to our brake proportioning valve. Once it was bled, another backwards trip into madness was made, and as you might have suspected, foul language was used. That was a particularly frustrating day in retrospect. We’d spent nearly ten hours, much of it soaked in brake fluid after we’d run out of latex gloves, routing, bleeding, spilling, swearing, eating, and aching. However, the next weekend made it seem like it had all been a bad soap-opera-series-finale fever dream when we finally realized the master cylinder O-ring was bad when we pulled it forward to inspect the paper filter that mated the flat surfaces of the master cylinder and power brake booster.
We awoke wet from that dream. From sweat this time. Never had we been more satisfied to tear down our local frontage road Nurburgring simulator. Chirping like birds in heat, our tires skipped across the faded concrete under the weight of our feet on the pedal.
Make sure to say “ahh” when flushing the brake fluid from your eyes with cold water and use this as your culture guide to what you can expect after the car purchasing haze has worn away.
Braking is essential. Abstractly, it is essential to speed. A terrible and violent philosopher once said “Speed has never killed anyone. Suddenly becoming stationary, that’s what gets you.” In the course of it’s essential nature, to spite it would suggest that you truly only enjoy the opposite in the way a grandmother loves her grandchildren; that at the end of the day, she’s glad they go home with their parents. Is that a genuine love that respects boundaries, capabilities, and is unconditional? In this way, braking is essential to speed. Now that we’ve scared away all the cretins, it’s only you here with me fellow intellectual, free to breath in with your eyes, this narrative brake refresher course for the E30 you will inevitably sell (in the environmentally hopeless future) to raise money for an in-home, emergency CO2 scrubber.
We’ll start from the beginning. Where your foot hits the pedal. This is more labor intensive than it is financially burdensome. Much of our braking journey’s framing device involves chasing down a poor vacuum, evidenced by a stiff pedal that traveled all the way to the end of the master cylinder’s stroke before the car would ever come to a full stop. We replaced almost everything before we finally realized it was a fossilized rubber gasket between the master cylinder and the power brake booster. The moral of the story, before it even begins, is to start small and cheap. A lesson-learned here was to stick to the scientific method. Our symptom was a stiff pedal – indicating a solidly bled hydraulic system – so vacuum would likely be the culprit. So instead of throwing money at the catch-all problem of “brakes” by replacing anything and everything brake related, we should have stuck to variables that were vacuum related and rectified them one-by-sucky-sucky-one. Had we done that however, we wouldn’t have been able to bring our vast knowledge of repair and replacement to you here in this blog, written under the drone of fluorescent whine and rattling air conditioning (of course we didn’t quit our day jobs).
Absolute Power Brake Booster Does Not Brake Absolutely
We won’t use any part’s basic functions as filler. Just how they fit into the story and what you can expect when you try to replace them. If you find that the booster has sucked it’s last suck, then relax; it’s as hard to pull out as you’d think. After this repair, it turned out our 200,000 mile booster was actually sucking, but had re-watched The Brave Little Toaster so many times that the VHS was worn out, so they were both replaced anyway. We used a new one from mom-and-pop local parts shop. Our VHS was ironically replaced with a DVD. This was the priciest part of our learning experience at $196 after returning the core. You’ll have to remove the four nuts holding the rear of the assembly to the firewall by way of 3/8” extensions and a 13mm socket. Fortunately, the one that you’ll find the most difficult to remove, has a coinciding hole drilled through the brake pedal for easy access. Don’t bother wondering if you need to remove the master cylinder to get it out of the way. It’s gotta go. However, if you skip ahead to the sections on upgrading the master cylinder and brake lines, you can disregard that advice. Now, replacing the booster is a pain in the way that changing your bed sheets is a pain. You could just take a shower before you jump into bed to make it feel like the sheets are clean, but that feeling will wear away as soon as your skin dries and hardens again and you’re left with the stretched and worn fabric of your procrastinations. You can disconnect the master cylinder with the two 13mm nuts securing it’s base and do your best to wriggle it away and clear the pushrod from the booster, but the inflexibility of the steel brake lines will stop you plenty shy of any achievement. The lines will have to be disconnected too, facilitating an inevitable bleeding.
Yes, Master Cylinder (E32 Upgrade)
master cylinder is a different pain. Knowing that you absolutely have
to disconnect the lines as a matter of necessity and function makes
it easier to ride the waves of brake fluid. The hurt is still there
when you’re forced to contort to remove nearly every fastener.
Removing the reservoir relieves some of this pain. Just be ready to
catch the escaping fluid. Two 13mm base nuts that are most easily
removed with a ratcheting wrench on the passenger-side and a regular
combination wrench on the other, get it freed from the booster. An
11mm line wrench and a brief persuasion of the righty-tighty (maybe a
1/10th of a turn) before you left-loosey helps get the lines off. If
you have the time and materials, this would be a great time to remove
your ABS unit, re-route, and re-plumb with nickel-copper brake line.
We’ll cover these modifications in later subsections. Once you’ve
removed the old master (keep it around if it was still in working
condition so you can use it to troubleshoot if you ever have trouble
with the new one), pop you’re new E32 750il master cylinder in for a
stiffer and slightly more manageable pedal response. We felt like we
experienced a shorter throw in the pedal too. You won’t see an
increase in power, but if you’re mission is accuracy, make this a top
priority like you would the Z3 steering rack upgrade. And for the
love of every Dr. Who companion, change the O-ring!
Brake Lines – Don’t NiCopp an Attitude With Us
Whatever you’ve heard about nickel-copper lines is a lie. They’re tough while still being flexible (enough to get the master cylinder free of the booster without disconnecting them), cheap, and can handle the pressures of steel lines up to a negligible margin. If you’re going to remove the ABS unit, which we won’t condone or approve of because it’s necessity varies upon vehicle use, you’ll have to make custom lines anyway. For us, the steel lines didn’t make it through the surgery of removing the ABS pump so this was unavoidable. Right now, we’ve replaced the front lines all the down to a point where we made a previous splice just underneath the driver’s seat. There’s a learning curve when flaring this kind of line, but our rule of thumb was to set our line up in the flaring tool clamp to about 2/3rds the height of a steel line after having done our best to cut it as square as possible. It’s as easy as thinking about pink elephants when you’re told not to, to flare it off-kilter. Hold on to the small plastic brackets that hold the lines in vertical order, and re-use them when sculpting your masterpiece around the edges of your engine bay.