High-Mile Club: One Million Miles In A 3-Series

Not many cars come with their own info stand...
Not many cars come with their own info stand...
A million miles is a long way. It will get you to the moon and back a little over four times. It will take you around the world almost 40 times. And it would take you 83 years to clock up if you stuck to the 12,000-mile national annual average.

It is also fewer than the number of miles that has passed under the wheels of an unassuming E30 BMW 3-series that was recently delivered to PH Towers as my weekend wheels.

There are some leggy cars out there, and surviving examples of the E30 3-series are far from immune from big miles, but how many of them have clocked up seven figures? A quick trawl through the classifieds failed to turn up any E30s showing more than 200,000 miles. The closest I got to the million was a younger E36 318i that had, according to its advert, amassed 610,000 miles, although I suspect the uploader had hit the '0' key one too many times.

Bodies in white - three generations of BMW
Bodies in white - three generations of BMW
So the million-mile BMW is a rare beast indeed, but it's at this point that I have to confess to a bit of a cheat. As you'll no doubt be able to deduce from the stickers, this car is a promotional tool for Mobil oils, and so all is not quite what it seems.

This particular car, a US-market 325is auto, was bought by Mobil back in 1990, its engine was filled with synthetic oil, and the car was plonked unceremoniously onto a rolling road. Where they ran it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For four years. It was serviced according to BMW service intervals and run at speeds varying between 45mph and 85mph.

Okay, so a million miles in lab conditions isn't exactly representative of the wear and tear that a car goes through during its lifetime, but it's still an impressive feat, and we wanted to see how the venerable straight-six felt.

Riggers feeling special, but not over-indulged,,,
Riggers feeling special, but not over-indulged,,,
First impressions are of an extremely tight car - albeit a rather tappety one. The sluggish four-speeed auto 'box does rob the straight six of some of its enthusiasm, but the car still pulls strongly and smoothly - that synthetic oil it used on the rolling road has clearly kept the motor singing sweetly. (Are you on the blag again Riggers? Ed)

The rest of the car is also a bit of a time-warp. According to the odo, the car has done around 40,000 'real' miles, so it's rather like driving a three-year-old car, just one that's been around for 20 years. It reminds you how good the 1980s 3-series was. It's taut, compact, lively, and is possessed of just enough luxuries to make you feel special without being over-indulged.

It's the sort of sporty, compact car that BMW no longer makes (though the 1-series coupe gets close) and, as well as testing the longevity of the old 325i, Mobil's million-miler has proved to me that I really, really want an e30 of my own. If only I could find a lower-mileage example...

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  • Tallbut Buxomly 04 Dec 2010

    If it makes anyone feel better my a4 has 305000 miles on it on seconds clutch (release bearing went on first one).
    Still runs well.

  • stuckmojo 04 Dec 2010

    W00DY said:
    My E30 318is had over 140k when i crashed it and it felt as tight as any brand new car i've ever driven. It did have a ridiculously comprehensive service history with specialists replacing all bushings etc. but it made me wonder why anyone would want a new car. I miss it a lot and regret not buying it back from the insurers. I suspect most cars could do 1 million on a rolling road though.
    aye, my Z3 has 140k as well and it's still perfect. Now I am at the point where I could only sell it for peanuts, can't part-exchange it, and costs bugger-all to run. So, I will keep it until I have enough cash to buy something faster (996 or 350z), but the zed will stay with me. I'll probably take it to Italy and put her in storage.

  • M3333 04 Dec 2010

    Our van a 2005 Transit Connect TDDI was bought at aeound a year old with 19000 miles.

    It is currently on 160000 miles. It is used a service van and spends a lot of time on the motorway. Its had good oil and a service every 15k, cambelt, one! set of disk and pads, 2 x sets of tyres.

    I can honestly say it drives no different to when we bought it, flown through 3 mot's with no failures or advisorys.

    Was thinking about replacing it but i think clocking in the commercial world will be even more rife, will probably keep it, grass is greener and all....

    Last van we had, put almost exactly 100k on it, same circumstances but that did start to feel tired. 2002 Citroen Berlingo. We paid £3700 for it with 26k, sold it for £1800 at 126k!

  • hairykrishna 02 Aug 2009

    Pentoman said:
    It's an interesting car with an interesting history, I liked the feature. The actual achievement is possibly not that impressive, there's countless more real-world ones which sound better, off the top of my head I know of the brand new 190E 2.3-16 being run for 31,000 miles non-stop FLAT OUT on a real banked oval, I believe they averaged over 150mph including pit stops. I wonder if the engine wear of being maxed out for 31,000 miles is worse than normal driving for 1,000,000 miles.... probably is.
    That's brilliant. Much more impressive test than the roller one.

  • Pentoman 02 Aug 2009

    It's an interesting car with an interesting history, I liked the feature. The actual achievement is possibly not that impressive, there's countless more real-world ones which sound better, off the top of my head I know of the brand new 190E 2.3-16 being run for 31,000 miles non-stop FLAT OUT on a real banked oval, I believe they averaged over 150mph including pit stops. I wonder if the engine wear of being maxed out for 31,000 miles is worse than normal driving for 1,000,000 miles.... probably is.

    In fact I just googled it

    said:
    Southern Italy, August 13 - 21, 1983. In the early morning of August 13, 1983, under strict supervision of 102 FIA sport commisioners three Mercedes 190 E 2.3-16's (labeled green, red and white) started out on a 50,000 km high-speed test run, demanding any amount of stamina on the part of cars, drivers and test department staff. According to the regulations the cars for the record runs were just slightly modified compared to the future production cars. The bodywork was lowered by 15 millimeters, the front apron was extended downwards by 20 millimeters, the fan was removed and the power steering was replaced by mechanical steering. The Nardo cars also featured self-leveling suspension on the front axle to keep the ground clearance at a constant level. The gearbox had a longer 5th gear ratio to reach 250 km/h at 6000 rpm. Reverse gear was unnecessary and therefore removed, this would have costed 0,4 km/h top speed. The record track in Nardo is precisely 12.64026 kilometers long, has a diameter of some four kilometers and slightly banked lanes, hereby permitting driving almost without lateral forces even in the speed range over 240 km/h. According to the engineers' calculations, the cars were to reach the 50,000 km target in the morning of the eighth day, provided there were no problems. The pit stops were performed as scheduled and the 18 drivers (six per car) were up to the strain. Lap times were to be three minutes and five seconds to reach the targeted average speed of 240 km/h including pit stops. Due to the cars' low Cw value of 0.30, they were expected to reach somewhat higher top speeds than the production versions. Every two-and-a-half hours, the cars came in for refueling and a change of driver during a 20-second pit stop. The fuel tanks had a capacity of 160 liters instead of the standard 70 liter tank. Fuel consumption during the record run was a slightly over 20l per 100 km's. The heavily strained rear tires had to be replaced every 8,500 kilometers and the front tires every 17,000 kilometers. During these five-minute tire change breaks, the oil and oil filters were also replaced and the valve clearance was checked. In total 243 stops were made. The mechanics changed every 14 hours and had to do a pitstop every 50 minutes. To protect the headlamp lenses against soiling and damage during the daytime, they were covered by plastic caps. The radiator mask was fitted with a quick-change insect screen to prevent clogging of the radiator. After 201 hours, 39 minutes and 43 seconds, two of the cars had clocked up 50,000 kilometers with an average speed of 247 km/h and the 190 2.3-16 achieved three world records and nine international class records. The replacement parts carried on board in compliance with the regulations had not been required - the cars had been running perfectly smoothly despite the extreme strain. The third car was laid up for three hours by a broken distributor rotor arm - an item costing just a few cents, which the pit crew were not allowed to replace but had to repair. For enthusiasts, one of the cars that took part in the record run can still be seen in the Mercedes Museum in Stuttgart (Germany).

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