17 Sep 2013

Speedmonkey fleet - I've bought a BMW E36 323i SE Touring

Far from dithering about whether to buy a replacement for the Audi S4 Avant, which sold on Saturday, I was straight into the classifieds to find a replacement.

Once the cash was in my hands I worked out the budget (£2k max) and hit eBay and Autotrader.  The car needed to have a boot large enough for my 3 dogs and needed to be fun to drive.  Front wheel drive would only be acceptable for hatchbacks.  Petrol was the only option.  I don't do diesel.  I eyed up Mk2 Golfs, Subaru Legacys and Imprezas and a host of BMW 3-series.

For £2,000 the market is varied.  Cars that look identical can be priced £1500 apart and differ wildly in condition.  Some cars are starting to become classics and the price is on the up.  Mk1 Golfs were too expensive, most Mk2s were 'enthusiastically' modified, Mk3s were attractive only in VR6 guise but after reading about them I decided the VR6 would be too wallowy.

I've owned several Subarus and know the parts can be mega-expensive.  Plus the non-turbo models are too slow and those with turbos are too risky.  A blown turbo can go at any point and costs circa £700 for the parts alone.

BMW E30 Tourings were too pricey and E46s are either the slow as a snail 1.9 litre or massively tatty if they have a bigger engine.  That left E36s but most were rotten, sold as spares or repair or just looked wrong.

But all along I'd had my eye on one particular car.  The advert was brief.  1998 BMW 323i SE Touring, full service history, leather interior, climate control, electric sunroof and 1 fastidious lady owner.  1 owner!
BMW 323i SE Touring

The S4 buyer turned up Saturday morning with the cash and by Saturday afternoon I'd arranged to go and see the 323i.

A friend came with me and I took the £1450 asking price with me - just in case.

It was in mint condition aside from three rust spots - one small one on the tailgate, and one on the trailing edge of each rear wheel arch - a direct result of not clearing out 15 year's worth of mud that builds up in that area.  The rust is under the surface and reachable from behind so shouldn't be too hard to deal with.

Otherwise it is in fantastic condition.  Black leather interior, metallic Fern Green paintwork, the carpets are like new, every nook and cranny is clean.

The owner had bought the car for his wife in 1998. He paid £25,000 from a main dealer and had it serviced there for the first three years and thereafter at a local specialist.  There is a large file with every MOT, bill and tax disc.  It comes with three keys, four new Firestone tyres, an almost new Firestone on the spare wheel and two more brand new tyres.  It has 12 months MOT and 12 months tax.

It has a tow bar, which would normally be a cause for concern, but the trailer it towed was a tiny box for garden clippings.  The owner didn't want them making the car dirty.
BMW 323i SE Touring

It had been stored since 1998 in a huge garage, with a dust sheet over the top.  The owner had been as fastidious as he said in the advert.

On the test drive it drove perfectly.  The clutch has tons of life.  It steered straight and true and the brakes had plenty of bite, although they do judder at speed - a trait my old E36 (that I owned in 1995) had.  A wheel balance should sort this - if not it's warped discs which won't be too expensive as I'd fit them myself.

The car was in such good condition I paid the asking price and that was it. We drove it home.

The only thing I plan to do in the short term is fit a new radio head unit with digital radio and a USB connection.  The existing BMW unit has a radio and cassette only, although the owner gave me a huge box of cassettes, which will have to do for the time being.

So now I've got a 1986 Porsche 924S, a 1998 BMW 323i SE Touring and a 2011 Triumph Street Triple - and the wife's Land Rover Discovery 2 TD5.
BMW 323i SE Touring

BMW 323i SE Touring

BMW 323i SE Touring

BMW 323i SE Touring

BMW 323i SE Touring

BMW 323i SE Touring

BMW 323i SE Touring

Article by Matt Hubbard