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
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



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Comments (134) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Motorrad 09 Oct 2012

    Quick on a budget........this I like.

  • marson 09 Oct 2012

    IV got one of these i run on the track, a black 328i with a yellow roll cage and 140k on the clock
    every couple of months i take it to a different track and thrash it to within an inch of its life and it still comes back
    begging for more, they are fantastic cars and if you change the oil every few track days will last for ever !!!

  • drpep 09 Oct 2012

    Yes!!! Good work! This makes me very happy indeed. I'm looking forward to embarking on a similar project. E46 M3 or E36 M3 or even a 328, strip, cage, lim. slip diff, bushes, suspension => Weapon.

  • Liquid Tuna 09 Oct 2012

    That's better!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • s m 09 Oct 2012

    I'm sure your friends have told you Dale.....get a Z3(non-M) rack or an E46 Compact one.

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