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Ed Higginbotham
Ed Higginbotham UberDork
6/12/18 2:48 p.m.

What's better than one broken BMW? Two broken BMWs!

This thread is meant to document the progress of my latest race car project to run at NASA events. The moving target referenced in the thread title is the class it will compete in. It could be a mighty fine GTS-1 car, and could also fit into PTE. However, NASA seems to be working on combining its PT and ST classes for the 2019 season. The classing structure isn't set in stone yet (at least from what I've seen) but it looks like a BMW 325i will be just about perfect for the ST6 class (if it is based on the rumored 16.5:1 power to weight ratio) and can be modified to be a contender in ST5. So there we are, one car and three possible classes in one sanctioning body. Let's get this party started!

Some background: So before I moved to Florida and started working at GRM, I used to race in the NASA Mid-Atlantic region. Usually Porsche 924/944s. Then my dad and I built a 1994 BMW 325is that we believed to be a ringer for the GTS-1 class. Unfortunately I moved to Florida before ever racing it and it sat under a tree in Maryland for a couple years before we got it down to Florida. I actually drove it down I-95 from NC to get my hands back on it.

Once I had it, I finished it enough to get a log book and run a couple races. But after a couple years living in Florida, seeing the car again made me realize how unacceptably rough and rusty it is.

It's certainly a low-buck build, but after the rust and other issues started to pile up, it became obvious that I needed a fresh start. 

About a month ago I found a clean-looking Hellrot 1995 325i sedan on Craigslist for cheap. I went and looked at it with the wife and it was amazingly clean underneath and under the hood. It had sat in a shop for 10 years, then the sellers bought it figuring it would start right up. They couldn't get it to run right in a week, gave up, and listed it for sale. I swooped in and picked it up for a cool $600 a couple weeks ago. 

Now to dive in, get it to run and start getting it ready to race.

Ed Higginbotham
Ed Higginbotham Associate Editor
6/12/18 3:05 p.m.

After getting the car home. I dove in trying to figure out why it wouldn't run. Armed with a multimeter and a Bentley manual I checked every sensor that might cause the problem. Everything I checked was well within spec.

On to fuel. Took the rear seat out to get to the fuel pump. Well I'll be darned. There's a brand new fuel pump in there. Looks like I'm on the right track. Next on the fuel list is a fuel filter. That's a normal replacement item anyway so I went to AutoZone and picked one up for $20. Switched it out and BAM! Fired right up. It's never that easy. I'm liking this car already.

I drove it around for a day and the more it drove, the worse it seemed to run. Bad gas maybe. E36s have a saddle-shaped fuel tank with a siphon tube between the two lobes to even the fuel level. My thought was that some of the 10-year-old gas was still in the lobe opposite the pump and as the car ran, the side with the pump was seeing an increasing mixture of bad gas.

So this weekend I disconnected the fuel line from the filter on the tank side and ran a hose from the fuel line to a fuel jug. Then I jumped the fuel pump relay and started emptying the tank. What came out was a disappointingly dark shade of brown and didn't smell like fuel at all. That's some really bad gas. Hooked it all back up afterwards and the car was running strong again.

I still need to siphon out the other side of the tank before running it for much longer. But I can't because the car is stuck double-locked... More on that next...

Ed Higginbotham
Ed Higginbotham Associate Editor
6/12/18 3:22 p.m.

So the car runs and drives. Awesome! 

Now it's about time to really get started tearing out the interior (which overall is in pretty good shape except the headliner). But wait... Oh no... The doors won't open... Why won't my doors open?

It seems that my body control module has gone bad while the car was locked (double-locked because BMW). A double-locked BMW means you can't unlock using anything but a key in the outside of the door. The lock/unlock tabs on the doors and window switches do nothing. I pulled the Body control module out, opened it up and didn't see anything obviously amiss so I slapped it back together and reinstalled it. Nothing. 

Oh and to make this even better, the lock cylinders in the trunk and passenger door are stuck/broken. So the only way into the car is the driver's door.

I really don't want to buy a new one just to ditch it in a couple months when the car won't need it anymore. So it looks like I'm going to have to try and pull the door trim off with the doors closed so I can get my hand inside the door and force it to unlock.

The faulty module:

Ed Higginbotham
Ed Higginbotham Associate Editor
6/12/18 3:35 p.m.

Oh and did I mention I'm doing most of the work in my apartment complex parking lot? My complex has a pretty strict rule about never working on a car on property. I try to do most of my work on the weekends when management isn't around but I still have a stack of warning letters. laugh yes

Also my 1-bedroom apartment den has become the "E36 parts staging area." God bless SWMBO.

spandak Reader
6/12/18 6:03 p.m.

I too have had to do some work on my E36 under the apartment managers nose. It’s exciting 

looks like a fun build! These are great cars. It’s probably worth swapping out that filter again after you finish cleaning out the tank 

B13Birk Reader
6/12/18 8:51 p.m.

This is going to be awesome! I'm excited to watch this build come to completion. In to follow along. 

Lof8 Dork
6/12/18 9:11 p.m.

I recently picked up an e36 project myself. I’m in to follow along!

i spy fresh subframe/bushings. What suspension are you going to run?

Ed Higginbotham
Ed Higginbotham Associate Editor
6/13/18 8:48 a.m.

In reply to spandak :

Good idea. I'll do that once I'm sure everything in the tank is clean. They are good cars. This is my fourth E36 and I currently own three.

In reply to B13Birk :

Thanks! Hope to provide even a little bit of entertainment.

In reply to Lof8 :


And you are correct. Fresh Condor Speed Shop bushings all the way around. I was going to convert to M3 suspension, but finding axles proved to be amazingly expensive, plus that would give me some unwanted performance points in NASA's PT/ST classing.

If you'd like some fresh M3 trailing arms, I pressed new wheel bearings into the set on my floor and put in Condor Speed Shop RTABs. Let me know if you're interested.

So the suspension will be 325i stuff with the following peices that are currently in my den and on the original car:

Adjustable Konis with Ground control coilover conversion. (Got them during their mail-in rebate sale. Thanks, Koni!)
Eibach springs. 600# front and 700# rear.
Ground Control camber plates.
Turner Motorsports adjustable sway bars front and rear.
Turner Motorsports race adjustable rear camber arms.

But before all that goes on I need to reinforce the body and suspension where they are known to fail. I have the full Turner Motorsports reinforcement kit and AKG trailing arm reinforcements to be welded in. More on that soon.

Lof8 Dork
6/13/18 8:51 a.m.

In reply to Ed Higginbotham :

I’m indeed interested in the m3 trailing arms. Let me know what you’re thinking on a price. 

Ed Higginbotham
Ed Higginbotham Associate Editor
6/13/18 2:05 p.m.

In reply to Lof8 :

You got 'em. SWMBO thanks you!

Ed Higginbotham
Ed Higginbotham Associate Editor
6/16/18 3:30 p.m.

A miracle happened today. 

Went out to the car this morning ready to try and rip the door trim off each door from the inside to unlock them. But I turned the key in the driver’s side door and they all unlocked!

so I went ahead and removed the ZKE module so the central locking can no longer work. I have to lock each door from the inside now, but I’ll never be locked out again!

so back to the fuel. I siphoned out the tank in the lobe opposite the fuel pump. 

Once all the stinky old fuel was out I decided to try and clean out the bottom of the tank while I was in there. It wasn’t good. 

Lots of rust was in there. Remember, this is a plastic tank. It seems to all have come from the fuel level sending unit on this side of the tank. That plastic piece is the foot of a rod that is supposed to seat the sending unit in its correct location. Only about half of that rod still exists. So I cleaned that side of the tank as well as I could. I think I’ll have to pump out the other side of the tank again since I’m sure some of this debris made it to the pump side. 

On the bright side this gives me the opportunity to go ahead and put a fuel pump on this side of the tank instead of a new sending unit. Many people who race E36 M3s do this to avoid fuel starvation under hard cornering on track. There’s been some debate on whether or not it’s needed for early or late cars (I forget which one), but I happen to have a spare fuel pump on my shelf along with some fuel line. So why not?

Ed Higginbotham
Ed Higginbotham Associate Editor
6/24/18 9:38 a.m.

Cleaned out the fuel tank... mostly. I scrubbed for hours but there’s still 10-year-old gas gunk at the bottom. I’ll probably have to pull the tank and deep clean or just swap tanks eventually. 

But I cleaned it as best as I could and put the pump and new sending unit back in. Ran fine on the way over to Tom’s garage.

Now we start the real fun stuff. Next on the to-do list is reinforcing the body and suspension where they occasionally fail/tear. I got a kit full of reinforcement plates from Turner Motorsports that includes reinforcements for the rear subframe mounts, rear sway bar mounts, front subframe and all four shock towers. I also picked up some rear trailing arm mount reinforcements from AKG Motorsport. 

I’m taking the car to Randy Forbes of Sports Car Plus next weekend to weld in the reinforcements. We could do it in our own shop, but Randy is a real expert when it comes to these reinforcements and should be able to provide some great info for me and all of you. He also makes his own reinforcement kits. Story coming soon!

In an effort to take up as little of Randy’s time as possible and keep costs down, we went ahead and removed the rear suspension, exhaust and interior this past Friday and dropped it on the trailer. 

Ready to go. Next stop: Randy’s shop. 

Lof8 Dork
6/24/18 10:47 a.m.

In reply to Ed Higginbotham :

Interesting. So is getting the car on to Randy’s lift just same order of operations in reverse?

Ed Higginbotham
Ed Higginbotham Associate Editor
6/24/18 11:05 a.m.

In reply to Lof8 :

Probably not. Tom has a luxuriously wide lift. I was amazed the trailer fit inside. 

We’ll probably have to walk the car down with the wench (pretend I typed "winch") and roll it in at Randy’s. 

And just so you know the plan is start Friday morning if you still want to meet up there. 

Lof8 Dork
6/24/18 3:39 p.m.

In reply to Ed Higginbotham :

I likely won’t be free until Friday evening or Saturday if either of those work. But I may be able to do Friday day if my work cooperates. 

Ed Higginbotham
Ed Higginbotham Associate Editor
6/24/18 5:12 p.m.

In reply to Lof8 :

No problem at all. I think I’ll be in the area for a couple days. 

Stealthtercel Dork
6/24/18 8:24 p.m.

"We’ll probably have to walk the car down with the wench and roll it in at Randy’s."

In for pix of wench.

Ed Higginbotham
Ed Higginbotham Associate Editor
6/25/18 8:40 a.m.

In reply to Stealthtercel :

Ha! I can blame autocorrect for that one, right?

Stealthtercel Dork
6/25/18 3:28 p.m.

Sure, you can do that, but you might want to have a word with Randy to make sure he'll back you up. :)

(Meanwhile... I know we live in a specialized community, but is "wench" really a more common word choice than "winch" in the rest of the world?)

Ed Higginbotham
Ed Higginbotham Associate Editor
7/5/18 9:32 a.m.

Alright time for an update. 

The car made it Randy's place and we welded all the reinforcements in. He's a great guy and does some truly excellent work. He usually applies undercoating to the bottom and makes everything look like it's fresh from the factory. But since this will be a track-only car I told him not to worry about it. Just lay down some primer and I'll hit it with some paint at home. 

All the pieces ready to get welded in.

Cleaning was the most time-consuming part. 

Then bolt the plates up and weld.

All done with some primer. and seam sealer.

Then the last parts that needed to be welded were the rear sway bar mounts on the rear subframe and the front subframe itself.

Back on the trailer and now I will never worry about these structural weaknesses again.

Ed Higginbotham
Ed Higginbotham Associate Editor
7/5/18 10:04 a.m.

Brought it home and pulled it back into Tom's shop to reinstall everything. 

Old vs. new rear subframes. The rear also gets Condor Speed Shop's UHMW bushings. I also have diff mount bushings, but those will go in the limited-slip diff that currently sits in the old race car.

I also added my Ground control adjustable spring perches, 700 pound springs and Koni shocks while the rear suspension was out.

Ready to go in.

But first, some paint for the reinforcements. 

And away we go. While the tank was out for all of this, I cleaned it out more with some diesel. Got a lot out so we'll see how that goes. it drove home fine.


Ed Higginbotham
Ed Higginbotham UberDork
8/9/18 10:41 a.m.

So some pretty big life changes happened to the Higginbothams over the past couple weeks. We moved from Florida to Maryland. My dad and little brother flew down to help drive the cars up. The old race car rode up on a trailer behind the Uhaul but this new project drove the whole way along with my Mercedes and our third E36. Kind of funny, it has those 700 pound springs in the rear but it’s still stock up front. It feels a lot like a pickup driving down the road.

Getting ready to leave. 

Getting on the road as seen from this thread’s project car. 

Made it to Maryland with zero issues. Kind of impressed. So is the dog.

And now I have an actual shop to keep the car in so it’s about time for some real progress. Getting the old race car ready to yank the engine and trans out.

Just have to wait for this car to get off the lift and then it’s E36 swap time. 

Lof8 Dork
8/9/18 5:21 p.m.

Are you staying with GRM?  Or an employer change too?

Ed Higginbotham
Ed Higginbotham UberDork
8/9/18 5:46 p.m.

Not a GRM staffer anymore but still a big fan. I’ll try to make it to some events and help out where I can if they ask. 

Turbine New Reader
8/9/18 7:10 p.m.

How were the Condor diff bushings on the street? I'm redoing the rear suspension in my e36 and cant decide between the Condors or AKG 95a poly. 

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