Shed of the Week: BMW 328i

Who here doesn't love big power? If you put your hand up just then, please stop reading this and surrender your PH badge on the way out. Thank you.

Right, now that they've gone, let's talk about this BMW 328. You may not consider 190hp to be big, but when it's shoved into a small and light E36 3 Series it's more than enough to shift you along at a very handy rate.

In Shed's view, the potential of powerful engines in relatively small cars has never been properly exploited. Not many people know this, but in the bright optimism of post-war Britain our own motor industry dabbled in this sort of thing. Who, from those who knew about them, will ever forget the Austin A75, an A35 powered by a big-block Chevy 454 motor, or the Armstrong-Siddeley Chuffmaster, which used one-half of a blown 18-cylinder Napier Deltic engine from the Class 55 diesel locomotive?

The 328 was never quite up there with these fine examples of British engineering, but to its great credit it did come with the distinct advantage of not blowing up every fifty yards. The E36 version was only on offer for three years, from 1995 to 1998. That, plus the manual gearboxed version's suitability for motorsport - well, drifting anyway - has turned the E36 328 manual into a rare bird. We've not had one in SOTW for the last six years at least.

A 328 isn't just about wasting rubber on a car park or airfield though. A well sorted E36 328 will show its pedigree in a highly credible fashion on a challenging track like the Nurburgring. Here's a vid of our old mate Dale Lomas having no bother keeping up with an M3 there about five years ago - and perhaps even more impressively, here's Dale driving the 328 away from the Ring on heavily snowed-up roads. RWD no good in bad weather? Pish and tush!

This 328 looks good. It's remarkably original, right down to its chrome grille and ten-spoke alloys. The vendor tells us of some TLC being required. He isn't specific about it, but the pics show no obvious faults. Looking at the F-Type in his garage you get the feeling that maybe his standards are a bit higher than those of the average Shedman.

Unmodded 328s don't have lightning fast throttle response, and the inlet manifold is a little stifled (Shed thinks an M5 one might fit?), but even as it stands the M52 2.8's torque (210lb ft at 3,950rpm) combined with its willingness to rev makes it one of the best engines ever. If the clutch and flywheel need replacing, going for M3 items is a worthwhile mod, or you could go for a solid flywheel conversion. Bung on the LSD from a 328i Sport and you'll be laughing all the way to the trackday.

There are some areas of concern with an E36, as there will be with any 20-year-old car. One is specific to pre-1998 E36s though (including the M52), namely the Nikasil-block engines which as you know were not best known for their reliability. The bores would be worn away by the sulphur that was present in a lot of UK petrol at the time, resulting in bad starting, high oil consumption and poor running. Twenty years on, the assumption is that most if not all Nikasil BMWs will have had steel-lined blocks fitted by now, and if they haven't, that's because they've somehow avoided the wear problem - which does happen.

Cooling system problems are the big danger on these cars. Ignore faulty radiator hoses at your peril, keep your eye on the thermostat housing and expansion tank, and bin the water pump if it's of the plastic impeller variety. M52 misfires mean that a coil has most likely gone. Window motors are known for burning out, the instrument panel electronics don't last forever, and the suspension takes a right old beating.

That final point brings us to this car, and the particular areas that are going to need addressing in the not too distant future. The MOT advisories tell of a generally worn front end that will need re-bushing and maybe a ball joint or two that will need, er, re-balling. All four tyres were low at the time of the test (June) so you'll need to budget for that, along with some new brake pipes.

The good news is that you've got no turbo to worry about here. The even better news is that many E36 parts are surprisingly affordable. As an everyday running proposition you benefit from 'big motor in light car' syndrome: if you stroke it along on a run, you really can get mpg figures in the high-30s, maybe even the low 40s. It'll drop to nearly half that in town, mind.

This Shed is no bargain-basement offering at Β£1,495, especially with the work that it will need, but what you're paying for here is originality and low miles - attributes not often found individually in E36s nowadays, let alone together in one car. Lovely.

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Comments (159) Join the discussion on the forum

  • aarondbs 12 Oct 2018

    Great shed and manual 328i feels like it would be a great drive. I’ve never driven an E36 but had a E39 and Z3 over the years. Let’s hope it doesn’t end up drifting if that is that still a thing although I don’t feel sad bad if it becomes someone’s weekend track car. Drifting somehow feels a less worthy pursuit!

    I seem to have a vague memory that the inlet manifold from a 325i was the one to have??

    Edited by aarondbs on Friday 12th October 06:17

  • Hellbound 12 Oct 2018

    Would certainly make a decent track car if those rear seats are fixed. If they are it's meant to be stiffer than the coupe (I've owned both the coupe and saloon and the five door felt stiffer and better planted although it did also feel bigger and less communicative).

  • Patrick1964 12 Oct 2018

    I recognise the images of this car, has it been in “readers cars”?

  • Limpet 12 Oct 2018

    My neighbour ran an almost identical one of these as a daily until last year. It always sounded superb as it came past the house. Good shed. Looks like one worth preserving rather than turning into a drift or track slag.

  • SidewaysSi 12 Oct 2018

    Wow that is cheap! Buy it, spend a few grand on it with some choice modifications and you will have a cracking driver's car.

    I really enjoy driving mine despite it sharing garage space with a couple of far more focused machines.

    Brilliant things and worth all the money and more IMO.

    I have often thought about an E46 M3 but against my car in its current spec, the M car is far less fun. And a lot more expensive to buy and run.

    My heavily modified 328 which is the fun family car:

    Edited by SidewaysSi on Friday 12th October 07:24

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