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Shed of the Week | BMW 330i (E46) Touring

Make green great again with a Shedly slice of classic BMW

By Tony Middlehurst / Friday, July 12, 2019

How many chickens can you fit into the back of a BMW E46 Touring? It's not a question you hear every day of the week, admittedly, but the sight of a Rhode Island Red running around the Old McDonald location of today's sub-£1500 tempter has taken Shed back to a time when you could barely hear yourself think for car cabin capacity guessing competitions. How many kids can you get into a Mini, how many footballs will fit into a caravan, how many dead squirrels go into a Ford Zodiac, that sort of thing.

Shed seems to recall that the earliest versions of these comps had an actual purpose to them. In the early days of the Beetle's US invasion, Volkswagen was very keen to show a doubting American public how many people actually could fit into it. The current Beetle record stands at twenty, but that wasn't about convincing buyers, it was university students drawing attention to human trafficking. How far 20 sweating fools would get in a Beetle in traffic is another question, though it would probably have been a bit further than three and a half tons of people would have got in this unsuspecting VW camper van.

In terms of how many chickens you'd be able to ram into an E46 Touring, the number wouldn't be that high. The 3 Series wagon was never that serious a load-carrier. It was much more a lifestyle vehicle designed to give other road users the impression that you were a thoroughbred enthusiast type who occasionally had to stoop to the level of carrying stuff. Shed says this without a trace of sarcasm, having owned an E46 Touring himself. Fact is that you could probably shove more chickens, living or otherwise, into a Mondeo hatch than you could into a Touring.

Far better to look at this Shed as a powerful Three with a funny shaped back end. Then you can concentrate on the good bits, of which there are a lot. And judging by the ad, many of those bits are quite new too. Shed's never quite sure what to think when a big schedule of works appears to have been carried out on a car. It reminds him of the bittersweet moment many years ago when he passed 60 and thereby qualified for free prescriptions. Great that his drugs were suddenly free, not so great to realise that overnight he had officially turned into an old git.

With this BMW, it's great that all this work has been done, but perhaps not so great that it all appears to have been done relatively recently. Combined with the absence of much in the way of paperwork, you come away with the impression of a car that was either starved of attention or ruthlessly beaten earlier on in its life, or both. Which raises the next question: what else might be in store?

Well, you won't have long to wait there because you'll be inheriting a few ongoing faults with this car. Cracked screen, non-functioning sunroof and rear wiper, faulty central locking, scuffed alloys, blowing exhaust, patchy paint, and an oil leak (despite the new rocker cover gasket fitted by the previous owner). None of them individual deal-breakers maybe, but enough to give you pause and make you wonder about the gap between perception and reality when it comes to 'premium' vs ordinary marques. It doesn't matter what badge a car wears, if it's been treated poorly it's going to struggle to wag its tail like a happy puppy.

To his credit the vendor does describe his 330 as imperfect. If you can take all the negatory stuff on the chin and carry on with the good maintenance/mending work, you'll be looking at a refined and big-hearted petrol six (the M54B30) with 228bhp at 5900rpm, 221lb ft of torque at 3500, a 155mph top whack, a six-second 0-60 time, and mpg figures in the low 20s in town, or around 30 overall. Road tax will be £265 a year, but insurance on a classic policy shouldn't be too ruinous.

Other stuff might be though. Problems with the VANOS variable valve timing system have been trumpeted far and wide, and Shed thinks this car has the doubled-up system, but if you ask a BMW specialist they'll tell you that VANOS failure on an M54 is rare. If you're unlucky, fixing it on an M54 will be dear. Like £3k's worth of dear.

These engines have another gadget which is called a DISA valve. DISA stands for Differenzierte Sauganlage, or differentiated intake system valve. Some folk call it an intake manifold adjusting unit. It's basically a flap that controls the length of the variable intake manifold, increasing low-rpm torque and high-rpm power. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but in a 20 year old car a swivelling flap is just another thing to go wrong. The symptoms are a rattle, a buzz, possibly a click, and maybe a woo-hoo, plus a lit SES warning light, rough idling and poor low-rpm pull. If you ignore all that lot, the ultimate symptom is engine failure. For sixty notes or less you can get DISA repair/upgrade kits that let you replace the dodgy flap and driver.

Door lock barrels, door seals, window regulators, ignition keys, thermostats and tail light circuit boards all blow. Seatbelts squeak. If the airbag light stays on, it might just be a faulty passenger occupancy sensor, which can be cheaply bypassed. Driveshaft 'flex disc' failure can rip up the diff. Leaks from the diff are often output shaft seals, which are inexpensive to replace. Rear springs snap on the bottom coils, the top rear suspension mounts get stressed, front and back subframe bushes go. Floors crack around the subframe mounts.

The oil filter gasket hardens up and leaks, and the crankcase vent valve can fail. Either of these could explain the wetness on this engine. The PCV problem can also cause sludging. The coolant system can go in any number of places, and by the looks of it this car has suffered mightily from that as the entire system seems to have been replaced.

Shed thinks that the colour of this one might be Boston Green, but he's made wild claims like this before and lived to regret it. Please pop your own opinions and knowledge nuggets in the usual place. The MOT runs to next July and mentions a couple of light nicks to both front tyres, along with the aforementioned oil leak and exhaust blow. It doesn't mention rust, which is unusual. Wings, arches and jacking points are all vulnerable areas on E46s. So, the big question: how many people will fit into a 330 Touring? Well, it depends on the people. If it's Mrs Shed you're talking about, just the one. And even then only if you lie down both front seat backs.

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