9 Oct 2013

Speedmonkey Fleet - Matt's BMW E36 323i SE Touring and Porsche 924S

The Speedmonkey fleet articles flit backwards and forwards between Colin and me.  His collection of cars is much newer than mine.  As you know if you follow me on Twitter I am currently running a 1998 BMW E36 and 1986 Porsche 924S, and having fun with both.

@harding27 recently said to me on twitter, "I think following the fortunes of a £1500 car is as interesting as a new one."  So that kind of gave me the impetus to write an update on my two £1500 cars.

I sold my 2004 Audi S4, and made a loss over the 8 months I'd owned it, due to a few big bills.  And that's why, financially as well as philosophically, I've decided to stick with old cars for a while.  It's all very well and good buying a 5 to 10 year old car for peanuts but running the thing can cost a fortune.

You can sell your own car with Deal4yourwheels

Factor in modernities such as dual mass flywheels, CanBUS wiring, swirl flaps and other ecobollocks and either the engine grenades itself with the loss of one small plastic vane or it costs a fortune to put something small right.  A DMF in a year 2000 Mini Cooper costs over £1000.  Ugh.

I plan on sticking with cars built before 2000 for the time being.  And I'll be avoiding engines with turbochargers too.  Even a reconditioned turbo for a 90s Saab costs £700 - I know, I paid that a few years back.  I fitted it myself to avoid a further £400 bill.

The BMW is essentially a dog wagon.  The 2.5 litre inline-6 engine is super smooth and sounds like silk being torn apart when all 170 horsepowers are being pressed into use.  The clutch is light and the bite point halfway up, so it's got plenty of miles in it.

The brakes are progressive but don't have the instant bite many new cars do.  They don't lack stopping power, you just have to push down a little further to find it.  The discs are fine. Maybe I'll invest in a set of pads at some point.

The accelerator in both my cars is floor hinged which I quite like, although I drove a new 435i recently and found the pedal too far forward so the bottom end was fouling with your foot.

The BMW's gearbox is very smooth, almost too smooth.  When I jump out of the Porsche, with it's firm, bolt-action gearbox, into the 323i I sometimes find myself being too aggressive with it and change from 2nd to 5th, instead of 3rd.

The BMW is super comfy and has full leather seats, a factory fitted option.  It's also got an optional BMW Business stereo, with only FM radio and a tape player.  Gah!  I seriously need to get a new stereo fitted but have been too busy recently to find the time to do so.

For longer journeys, and journeys without the dogs I use the Porsche 924S.  The passenger window still doesn't work (again, a lack of time) but Colin has removed the stupid aftermarket alarm so now I can leave it for a week at a time and the battery still has life enough to start it.

The Porsche makes for pretty basic motoring but I love it to bits.  The controls require real input.  The steering is lightly assisted at low speeds and unassisted at higher speeds.

I've driven more than 50 new cars over the past 12 months and have yet to find one with better steering feedback and feel.  Even the 2013 Porsche Cayman's steering doesn't have as good feel as my 1986 924S.  It's better in every single other area though, possibly apart from absolute knowledge in what the car will do at the very edge of adhesion.

Porsches are such epic communicators.  It was gratifying to find how much Porsche DNA my 924S has, after spending three days in a Cayman.  Sure, the newer car is faster, looks better and has a better interior but Porsche DNA is all about the car being designed for a purpose, to satisfy the driver, and using the best components available to that end.  Practicality, comfort and convenience come afterwards - unlike almost every other manufacturer's cars.

Talking of old/new similarities it was also interesting to see how the BMW 435i and my 1998 323i share BMW DNA, in terms of steering feel, handling, materials and interior design and, particularly, the feel of the gearbox.  The E36 has a ZF 5HP18 5-speed gearbox.  I've not been able to find out who makes the 435i's 6-speed manual but they do feel pretty similar, despite the 15 year gap.

I plan on keeping both cars for quite some time.  If I come somehow come into a windfall I've decided I will still replace the 924S with my dream car, a 911.  But now instead of a modern Porsche I'd buy a 964, just like the one run by Great Escape Cars.  I must sort a go in it.

In the coming weeks I've got a trackday and factory tour with Lotus, up at Hethel, and a track day in a Radical at Silverstone.  I love new machinery and love how much fun you can have in a purpose built sports car, I just don't like the running costs when they get a few years old.

I'll also try and get a few days riding done on the Triumph before winter arrives.

Winter will also be interesting in the cars.  Older cars don't have quite the same capabilities in grim conditions as new ones.  Not in terms of road holding but convenience.  Neither has remote central locking and the Porsche has dire lighting, inside and out.  Being lighter I expect the Porsche to perform better in the snow but at night you can't see much at all, and there's the possibility of the flip-up headlights being frozen in place.

Such is life.  Until the next time.

Article by Matt Hubbard