Wednesday, June 15th, 2011...08:11

BMW M Coupe

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In college, I got by without a car. Whether it was going to the grocery store, a punk rock show, the airport etc. I walked, skateboarded, took public transportation or bummed a ride from a friend. Cars were an unnecessary expense and parking was a pain in the ass. When I got a job, I made sure it was convenient to take mass transit. In 2001 my girlfriend’s 1984 Honda Accord was on its last legs so I decided it was time to buy a replacement; the utility and styling of a hatchback resonated with me; Ford had this new car called a Focus; it came in yellow with a sunroof; I was sold.

That car was totalled less than a year later. I was behind a car at a stop light that had just turned green. A car came crashing into me from behind at 30+ MPH as I was lifting my foot off the brake to accelerate, thereby sending my car crashing into the car ahead (my wife will tell you I had ample time to react and slam on the brakes, but I was in too much shock from the impact). I still liked the styling of the Focus, it had served us well over the last 8 months and they had just come out with a 4 door version; so without much thought I took the money from the insurance company and bought another one.

We had no need for two cars and only had one parking space where we lived, so getting a second car wasn’t a priority. Fast forwarding to 2009, we still had the Focus, approaching 100k miles and it seemed like a viable replacement in the form of an electric might be just around the corner. Tesla’s roadster, while neither affordable nor practical as a replacement for a 5 seater, proved electric cars could be built with ranges of 250+mi and their Model S was slated for a 2010 release. We purchased a house complete with a driveway, ready to install a high voltage charging circuit. In 2010 our Focus passed 100k miles, but the Model S had been delayed until 2011.

As 2010 rolled on, it appeared both the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt would be available to the public before the Model S. Unfortunately the Leaf’s specs just didn’t cut it (80mi average on a single charge put overnight trips to places like Santa Cruz and Sacramento into questionable territory and Yosemite and Tahoe completely out of reach). The Chevy Volt remained a viable option, but also ran into production delays. Then in early 2011, my wife mentioned she had seen “one of those cars I liked” meaning a BMW Z3 or M Coupe (note this is not an M1 or M3 Coupe even though it shares many of the same parts from the M3 Coupes produced around 2000) . I realized I hadn’t seen one of them on the road in several years. Only 17,751 Z3 Coupes + M Coupes were produced world wide between 1998 and 2002, of which 4,746 sold in the US (2, 695 of which were M Coupes). Over the last decade I had casually looked into acquiring one, but the combination of no place to park it as well as the steep prices kept me away.

Now that most of the cars were 10 or more years old and we had a driveway along with ample, relatively safe street parking, I decided to check on the market. Pre-2001 Z3 Coupes were fairly cheap, but the 2.8L 193hp/207ft-lb engine left something to be desired. 2001-2002 Z3 Coupes with the 3.0L 228hp/220ft-lb engines were in short supply and commanded a premium, but could still likely be had for < $10k. However, finding one within driving distance proved challenging. A high milage one turned up in Danville, CA so I took it for a test drive. It seemed to run fine but the owner was hesitant to take it to a mechanic for a pre-sale inspection; so I put in a low offer and got outbid. At nearly the same time a 2000 M Coupe showed up in Redwood City, CA for sale by Evan of Art-U-Drive. The asking price was quite a bit higher, it being a M with a 3.2L 240hp/236ft-lb engine, a more performance tuned suspension, larger cross-drilled brake rotors etc. It had significantly fewer miles on it, but didn’t look to be maintained as well and the previous owners had removed things like the rear windshield wiper, roof mounted antenna (replaced by one behind the rearview mirror) which are common “deletes” and as I found out later, the windshield washer fluid tank, wtf? After taking it for a couple of test drives, going nuts over used car pre-purchase checklists, having it inspected by a Carrera Motors, talking to Ken at Nippon European Motors about the items in noted in the inspection and receiving assurance that it would pass the smog inspection otherwise my deposit would be refunded, I decided to purchase it. It’s possible I could have waited for a car in better shape, but for the price and convenience of not having to fly somewhere for a test drive, then ship it back to California and hope it passed the smog test, it seemed like a good deal.

I took it to German Auto Sport and had them fix a couple of the issues from the pre-purchase inspection needing immediate attention. They also did an inspection of their own and gave me a laundry list of items which they recommended be replaced/tended to in the near term as well as their opinion of some of the pre-purchase inspection items. I picked up a couple of books, the first being a BMW Z3 Service Manual which has proved to be mostly useless as it seems geard towards professional mechanics i.e. not many photos, very light on descriptions and step-by-step instructions. The second, and so far much more useful, was 101 Performance Projects For your BMW 3-Series by Wayne R. Dempsy one of the founders of Pelican Parts Online (if you don’t want to purchase the book it turns out most of the articles and photos are online). After reading through it I figured many of the tasks were within my abilities to complete provided I was willing to invest in some tools e.g. car jack, jack stands, metric wrenches, pressure bleeder etc.

So far the book has helped me replace the fuel filter, spark plugs, valve cover gasket, front brake pads, brake discs, brake lines, rebuild the brake calipers, bleed the brake lines and replace the trunk lid shocks. I’ve also removed the external amp and speaker that were jankily bolted down in the trunk and replaced the shift boot.

Here are some photos I took while performing the work (view full set)
On Jack Stands

New Fuel Filter in Place

S52 Engine

Old and New Spark Plugs

New Front Brake Rotor

Not everything has gone smoothly e.g. I broke off a brake fluid bleeder valve that had rusted shut in one of the calipers and I had to drill out the brake disc rotor screws which were also rusted in place (lesson learned, buy all the little parts that could brake [no pun intended] before working on a project). I couldn’t get the brake calipers clean enough to paint them, even after using a steel wire brush attached to a drill. One of the brake discs didn’t mount flush on the wheel hub and required some grinding to fit properly. In addition while crawling around under the car I noticed the front passenger fender liner was busted (which I was able to replace myself, thanx BMW of South Atlanta!), there were some screws missing where the rear and front bumpers were attached. When I replaced two of the bulbs in the center console (found a new use for shish kebab skewers in the process…if you ever see someone walking down the street with a pair of them it’s likely they’re looking to steal some car stereos) a different one (albiet much less important) went out that I was unable to successfully swap. The check engine light also came on during the first week but after taking it to Nippon European Motors, it appears to be the result of me not tightening the gas cap and/or the car having a cheap after market gas cap. Just to be (since replaced with a “genuine BMW” part) and the light hasn’t come on since.

The car has made several trips to Sacramento, one to Yosemite, several down to the South Bay as well as numerous shorter trips around the East Bay. Aside from a few rattles here and there it seems to be running fine. Both mechanics I’ve taken it to rave about the condition of the engine so I’m hoping the next few years will just consist of routine maintenance and replacement of minor things like door handle seals, head lights, etc. A small part of me wishes I had waited until finding a good deal on a lower milage car with a well documented history, but then I’d likely still be waiting as only a handful of those probably exist amongst the 2,000 or so M Coupes in the US. Not only that but they’d cost twice as much and I’d be 10 times as mad when something went wrong or someone nicked my bumper (which has already happened).

So if you’re in the market for a unique car with some oomph without breaking the bank or just curious to learn more about these cars, check out Jon Martin’s excellent M Coupe Buyers Guide.

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