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.
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!