PH Fleet: BMW 328i (E36)


Last time I wrote about my car, I was a bit down. Actually, to be honest, I was gutted. My quirky and amazing-handling Mazda RX-8 had blown up, and I'd sold the non-running wreck for only a grand.

Evidence points to a different former life
Evidence points to a different former life
From idea to purchase, and purchase to driving, the world at large (and the PH forum) told me that the Wankel-motored RX-8 was a bad idea. But I ignored the accumulated knowledge of the PH massive, and in the end I was bitten.

So when replacing the rotary ring tool, it seemed like a good idea to listen to the opinions of others for a change. One car that I'd dismissed as too obvious and too boring quickly became the number one choice.

BMW's E36 3 Series was more than just a sales-rep status symbol during the '90s, it was a saloon-car racing superpower. And a quick ask around some of my Nurburgring friends revealed more local parts and knowledge for this car than any other option.

Plush for a car that'll live on track!
Plush for a car that'll live on track!
So I've gone with the flow, I've not done anything new or daring, I've bought an E36 328i. And I'm pleased to report that I'm happier with this car than ever before.

My particular car was sourced in the UK by a fellow British Nürburgring resident. Boasting a decently solid four-door shell, but a completely knackered motor, this car might not sound like an ideal purchase. But Richard sourced a nice nearly-new engine, fitted it and brought it across to his house at the 'ring for only a tiny bit more than the €1,000 euros I had left from the RX-8 sale.

I love the four-door shape, and a common bit of Nurburgring gossip will tell you that the shell of the four-door saloon car is the best choice for a race-car due to its superior stiffness and a lighter stripped weight than the coupe. Maybe that's true, maybe it's not. I don't really care.

Moment of truth: the 328 hits the 'ring
Moment of truth: the 328 hits the 'ring
One thing I do know is that the standard car is a long way away from being described as either stiff or light. Tipping the scales of the public weighbridge at 1,380kg with a full tank and that tow-bar, there's nearly a couple of hundred kilos to still lose. And the standard SE suspension doesn't just make the steering feel remote. Radio-controlled steering via satellite would probably be an improvement.

None of this stopped me taking the standard car out for a lap on the Schnelleschwaben event. In standard trim, with knackered, leaking dampers and questionable brakes the 328i recorded a 9min3sec BTG laptime. Not bad, but a country mile away from the nimble RX-8.

A few mods slashed the lap time (pic: Frozenspeed)
A few mods slashed the lap time (pic: Frozenspeed)
One week and a whole bunch of secondhand parts (plundered from both friends and friends of friends) later, the laptime improved significantly to a very pleasing 8min20sec BTG. New (OK, secondhand) H&R Cup struts and springs could never be called sophisticated, but they're a massive improvement over stock. Some borrowed wheels and an almost-dead set of Toyo R888s managed to find their way on the car, as well as some pattern discs, EBC Bluestuff pads and Goodrich brake lines. All the fluids were changed for Motul including their 300V racing oil and RBF660 brake fluid.

Since then I've put the car through it's German MOT, which it passed easily enough. Right now, I'm on a high with the 328i. It's quick, it's cost me comfortably less than €2,000 to get to this point and I'm not worried about the engine going pop. And even if it does, it's a few hundred euros of parts, not a few thousand. The RX-8 is dead to me. Long live the 328i.


Fact sheet
Car:
1997 BMW 328i SE
Run by: Dale Lomas
Bought: September 2012
Purchase price: £950
First month: Thrashed it, serviced it, modded it, thrashed it more, planned more mods

Onboard video of that 8min20sec lap

 

 

P.H. O'meter

Join the PH rating wars with your marks out of 10 for the article (Your ratings will be shown in your profile if you have one!)

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Rate this article

Comments (134) Join the discussion on the forum

  • sc4589 19 Nov 2012

    Karyn said:
    ...if you could remember that next time, instead of aiming for the kerb off the roundabout... hehe
    Had to say that to one of my friends trying mine out last night. Happy days. biggrin

  • Karyn 15 Nov 2012

    les3002 said:
    The major thing for me is turn in, the 328 just feels lighter at the front and more willing to tuck in, whereas the M3 can feel a bit heavier.
    ...if you could remember that next time, instead of aiming for the kerb off the roundabout... hehe

  • les3002 15 Nov 2012

    s m said:
    Just for interest, why do you think it is better, cheaper parts? Less temperamental? 75% of the car for 50% of the money.........?
    I think Karyn covered it pretty well. The major thing for me is turn in, the 328 just feels lighter at the front and more willing to tuck in, whereas the M3 can feel a bit heavier.

    The other thing is cost, the 328 is probably worth half what the M3 is, all the 328 ever needs is routine servicing plus the odd consumable. On the other hand the M3 has had the best part of £3k spent on it in the year I've had it, although I think that's more a measure of my particular M3 than M3s in general. It is getting more reliable now with the continual stream of money poured into it, I can almost see the light at the end of the tunnel where it can be run for reasonable costs.

  • Karyn 15 Nov 2012

    s m said:
    Just for interest, why do you think it is better, cheaper parts? Less temperamental? 75% of the car for 50% of the money.........?
    (Hope you don't mind me replying instead...!)

    All of what you said... plus better ride, a clutch that doesn't require hulk hogan's leg muscles, a throttle that isn't binary and feather-light to boot, sharper 'round town... and... well... the M3 only really comes into it's own when you nail it in 2nd/3rd, and keep your foot down. Then you know what it's about, with the power and handling. The 328, you don't need to do that (put your foot down, I mean, to enjoy it) - although you can (although obviously it's not got the same "oomph" as the M3 when you do) - day to day driving is more fun in the 328 because of the sum of the above. The M3, it's a doozy to drive when you don't need to be somewhere, and you can work it... for all else, the 328 surpasses it, in my (our!) opinion.

    That said, I do love the M3.


    But not as much as I love my 328.


    Plus, my coupe shape is so much sexier than his saloon shape. laugh




    ...Les'll be along in a minute to give you a more grown-up/mechanically-minded view! hehe

  • s m 15 Nov 2012

    les3002 said:
    Here's another! My OH's daily driver.



    We've got an M3 Evo too, as much as it pains me to admit it, the 328i is a better all round package for the money.
    Just for interest, why do you think it is better, cheaper parts? Less temperamental? 75% of the car for 50% of the money.........?

View all comments in the forums Make a comment