Newbie looking for first steps in right direction

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Hi all. This is my first time here and my first post. Currently I belong to the Volvo forum and visit a few sites like Brickboard and Turbobricks.com. I fixed up two Volvos over the last year, a 1987 740
and a 1985 245 Wagon. The 740 has 203,000 miles and the 245 has 230k.
I mention this because I've enjoyed working on these clunky, tank-like cars that just seem to last and last with proper care. However, they have nothing as far as the style and sportiness of BMWs.
In short, I am thinking I may want to take on a BMW as my next project. I would do this on a pretty tight budget (maybe trying to find a project car and investing up to around $3500 total). I'd probably make it a daily driver since I only work about 1 mile from home.
Lastly, I'd like to start getting some background on these cars, as I know nothing about the history of reliability, the good years, the bad, the ones to look for and the ones to avoid. Wild guess - I'd say maybe I'm looking for a late 80's to early 90's 5 series? Wild guess.
Can ya'll start me off in a direction? I'd like to read here, but are there other sites to supplement this?
I suppose I should ask at least one question to begin. Here goes. "What would you say would be by far the most common year (range) and model that I could make a project out of?" I ask this because that would mean a good selection of project cars, and better availability of parts.
I am Northeast of Dallas, if that makes any difference.
Thanks! Jamie
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Early E34 525i cars can be had for $1500 - $2500, depending upon engine (M20 or M50) and transmission. However, an E30 325i might be a better choice, as they are somewhat less complicated in their anciliary systems.

Check www.koalamotorsport.com and http://www.unixnerd.demon.co.uk/bmw.html for some general info. Also, the roadfly forums are pretty active: http://www.roadfly.com/bmw/forums /

As I already have an E34 525i, I'd go that way. But the E30 3-series, as I mentioned, might be better - there were many more of them than 5-series, parts are often cheaper, and the E30 community is very active.
FloydR
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Thank you VERY much. After I posted here, I just skimmed Craigslist in Dallas to simply see what was out on the market. I like the 3 series also. I am not sure why, but the image of a mid-late 70's BMW came to mind. I think I just like the classic style, but I think that would put me in the harder to find things category.
I guess now I'll need to see if between 1980 - around 1995 was there a year or years to really avoid.
Thanks!
Jamie
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Your price would also get you into early E36 318i/325i, which have significant advantages from the handling/performance standpoint, related to the better rear suspension. The E28 5-series ('82-88) is also quite good, and pretty cheap. Earlier models (E21 3-series and E12 5-series) are nice, but it's very had to find one (without rust, especially) that is worth working on.
FloydR
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Thanks again. I was just assuming that for the price of under $3500, it would have to be something REQUIRING work. It appears that there are cars on the market in that range that might already be completely fine, but of course due to the age and mileage would require regular attention.
I'm still a bit gun shy with BMWs. My ignorance of them still echoes the thought, "fun to drive, expensive to own." Would you say that BMWs can be dependable and inexpensive to own if one can do some degree of his own mechanic work and have parts readily available.
Or, would you say they are a constant source of pouring money into them? (to keep them going, not modifying them)
jamie
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I think that most BMW people would say that they are very dependable. With the caveat that there are always little niggly things - electrical systems for instance - that are always causing trouble. The engines (and usually the transmissions - automatics excluded in some models) almost never fail. But those darn Germans design cars like helicopters: when something gets to the end of it's lifetime you have to replace it. Suspension parts are in that class. Brake rotors. Cooling systems can be troublesome, and you NEVER want to let a BMW overheat because it will usually warp the head. The M20 engine's cam belt (only BMW engine with a belt - in the US; everything else is a chain) *MUST* be replaced at 60K mile intervals or it will fail and trash the engine (interference design.)
FloydR
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Well put. I skimmed through the Unix Nerd site and it is amazing. A wealth of knowledge and the only other time I have seen the word "niggly."
Looks like I am on my way. Many thanks!
jamie
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JamieB wrote:

I would say that you have captured it in a nutshell. BMWs are typically only expensive to own if you must rely on a BMW mechanic to maintain it. Parts are readily available and relatively cheap. The cars are also pretty well engineered and so easy to work on for the most part.
You never said where you are located, though you are using Craigs List, so I know you are in the US. If I were you, I would look for a late 80's E30 325i with a 5 speed. Either the coupe or sedan, though coupes seem a bit tougher to find in good shape.
The E30 was a lot lighter and more nimble than the later E36 3 series, hence more fun to drive, IMO. The key would be finding one that has not lived in the rust belt at any time as body cancer would be the one thing that will spoil an otherwise great car. Just about anything mechanical can be made right by the DIY'er.
--
-Fred W

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If you can work on and afford volvos you can do BMWs too. There's no general years to avoid - it all varies by model and engine type etc. I picked up a '96 740 for equivalent of $4000 but it needed a bit of tidying up.
If you look around you might find someone who's desperate to get rid of their money pit which could for you be a nice little runner.
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adder1969 wrote:

I'll "ditto" this. I've owned and worked on both. The Volvo is a real POS compared to a BMW as far as reliability and ease of working on. BMW doesn't have the self-destructing wiring harnesses all the 80's Volvos were plagued with. It doesn't use the BW auto-tranny.
I'd suggest looking for an early 90's 5 series. You should - with some diligence - be able to find an E34 M50 engine 5 series. If you're VERY lucky - one with the 5 speed manual transmission.
The niggles with this car are: water pump, likely to have been replaced by now, but I'd do it again just for peace of mind; check the rest of the cooling system over at the same time; door-check on the drivers door - there are kits sold to fix the weak metal; front-suspension - may need new bushings and a general freshening up. That's about it for the model. It is one of the best looking of the 5 series made, the M50 engine aside from the water pump is bulletproof and the car is comfortable, classy and a pleasure to drive.
I expect you could find a reasonable example for $4,000 or less. There was someone in this newsgroup who had one with a bad headgasket he was thinking of junking..
Great car - and a good intro to BMW ownership. Fred W likes (as you may notice) older BMWs - nothing at all wrong with that, but my experience is the newer ones are better built, more reliable overall and just better cars than the older ones... and I've owned all the ones Fred is recommending and much newer ones. Newer has been better - unlike many things.
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admin wrote:

Don't get me wrong. I like the newer cars too. But they are goinf to likely be more money and more headaches due to increased electronica.
The E34 M50 w/ a 5 speed is a particularly nice car. I'll take one black on black... ;-)
--
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I always thought the E34 looked a little, hmmm, overweight and I personally like the retro look of the earlier ones.
I like the early 90's cars in general as they have significant improvements in terms of creature comforts, FI, abs etc etc but it's not so complex that is breaks down all the time.
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About the Volvos, yes, I replaced a harness on one and not yet on the other. I never would have expected to hear that a BMW was EASIER to work on than a Volvo. I thought the Volvo would be the drop dead easiest thing to turn a wrench on. I know a 1980's Volvo 740 and 240 like the back of my hand. If a bimmer is easier, then I'm excited.
I'm skimming Craigslist.org, not to buy, just to educate myself. Is this an example of what you describe below?
http://dallas.craigslist.org/car/298688263.html
Thanks a bunch! Jamie

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They are quite similar. My Volvo experience is limited to my old 144S, but I find BMWs to be equally accessible, if not more so.

Actually, the one you linked is the '89-'95 E34, but the "-35i" part of the model name denotes the M30 3.5 liter engine. Although this *engine* is my favorite, my choice in cars is the previous 5 Series, the '82-'88 E28, with essentially the same M30. It is quite similar in appearance to the E30 3 Series, which has a lot to recommend it, especially if you want to modify it. The E28 doesn't have quite as many mods available (not that there's anything else you need), but it does have an active, enthusiastic (maybe 'rabid' is a better word), informed, and friendly community of supporters at www.MyE28.com where you'll find me among them. Most of the E28 fans have now abandoned the Roadfly forum (where the mere mention of 'MyE28' is censored in the same way as cursing). If you are at all interested in our reserved-looking 4-door beasts, it would be to your great benefit to come over and lurk the forum for a day or two.
I think the E28 is underrated in the market, being priced comparably with contemporary E30s that offer so much less for the money. Parts are generally plentiful and reasonably priced. The cars are relatively easy to work on (with your trusty Bentley E28 Bible at your side) and straightforward to understand. If you want the 'economy' model, the 528e actually has the 2.7 liter M20 engine and gearbox identical to that in the 325e. There are even a few rare 524td turbodiesels still around sharing all with other E28s except the engine. But for sheer power, the 533i/535i/535is is within a tick or two of the E30 M3 in acceleration and straightline speed and leaves all other stock E30s behind. If your budget runs into the low five digits, the E28 M5 is faster ...
By way of disparagement, let me say that the E34, while a fine car, has nowhere near the 'character' of the E30 or E28, and the same can be said of the E36 3 Series. The nastiest problem of the E36 that's been overlooked here is rear suspension crossmember mounts tearing out of the unibody when stressed by upgraded suspension pieces. Were I to choose a 3 Series to play with, it would undoubtedly be an E30. However, for about the same cost in nearly every way, I'd rather be ... an E28 Guy. -- C.R. Krieger (Been there; done that)
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So, Jamie, do you get the idea that people *love* their BMWs? CR loves his E28's, I like our E34 (and my E46), and you haven't yet been exposed to the *REAL*FANATICS*, otherwise known as the E30 M3 crowd!
FloydR
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Oh, I feel the love. Problem is my head's spinning on E28, E30, E36, R2D2 C3P0. About the M3s, my brother in law is a Java Programmer in Connecticut with an M3. The only New Year's I remember almost puking, not because of the booz. That car was a rocket on rails - hugging corners at 100mph while my face was glued to the window. It was AMAZING.
He said he'll sell it to me cheap, but his idea of "cheap" was probably my idea of the cost of a house.
So, I'll put the 7424 to work on the two Volvos I have and hopefully in a couple of months I'll be Sprechen Zie Bimmer.
;-)
Jamie
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I just saw that my favorite Volvo parts store (FCP Groton) has BMW listed on their site for parts. Man, if they are as good with BMW parts as Volvo - that is a big PLUS.
Thank you all for the warm welcome and much information. My wife even got excited about me switching the Volvos for a BMW. That's a plus too.
Jamie
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JamieB wrote:

I've bought a lot of BMW suspension parts from FCP Groton. Very easy to work with and inexpensive. They do not sell Lempforder (OEM, the best) but at least they do sell german parts (Hamburg-something, forget the actual brand) and not the asian ones you see else where.
--
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Knowing where to buy parts became 3/4s the battle for me and my Volvos. FCP is my #1, then there is IPDUSA and VLVworld.com
Once you join a group like this and people share where to buy parts, life becomes much more enjoyable. LOL Nick Bauer at FCP is really helpful. I am sure ya'll will help me find parts sources when the time comes and I hope to offer whatever I can in return.
jb
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wrote:

Recommend staying away from any BMW with the 3.0L V-8. Most were 530's I believe and circa mid 90's but not positive. 3.0L sixes are fine.

Bingo! 92 E34/M50 with 117,000 mi and those are *exactly* the things I've encountered. Not a problem car by any means and still has the original clutch. I did the water pump around 95K. The drivers door I had a body shop weld and interior support plate for the limiter, or whatever that thing is called. I was told last service to expect needing some front suspension bushing replacements on next service. I consider this sort of stuff maintenance and somewhat expected.
I'd appreciate it if you can point me to the door kits you refer to. Thanks.

Depressingly, Kelley Blue Book says private seller price for my car would be $4,945. I'd need twice that to even consider selling it.
A few site for you...
For a real live parts book http://www.realoem.com/bmw/select.do?vin=&kind=P&series 4&body=Lim&arch =0
Forum resource http://www.bimmer.info/forum/index.php
5 series Website great for info and repairs stuff http://www.bmwe34.net /
Nate
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