DFuzz
DFuzz New Reader
6/24/14 11:35 p.m.

I currently have a NA Miata that I use as my summer "toy" car and it has been a great vehicle. After years of owning Sunbeams and Fiats, having a car that is reliable, needs barely more than normal maintenance and is easy to work on, is a real treat. Of course, it is also a blast to drive. The only downside is only 2 seats. I have a wife & 2 young daughters, so the Miata is not always the most practical.

I am looking at replacing the Miata with a 1999 BMW 323i convertible. Low mileage car, auto, recent mechanical safety, top is in good condition and both motors were recently replaced. It is a nice car at a decent price and as with any BMW, it is a nice driving vehicle. I am concerned about buying a money pit though, especially when I think of how inexpensive owning my Miata has been. I've looked at the possibility of a Mustang from a similar vintage, which I know is a completely different beast altogether. I'd be lucky to put 3,000 miles on the car in a summer (summers are painfully short up in Canada), the rest of the time it would be tucked away in my garage.

What do folks here think?

SlickDizzy
SlickDizzy PowerDork
6/24/14 11:49 p.m.

The only thing to really worry about on BMWs is cooling system refresh every 100k (radiator/t-stat/water pump, easy and cheap job, not a big deal) and the "lifetime fill" auto transmissions...basically, plan on a fluid change IMMEDIATELY as factory recommendation is to "run it until it needs a new transmission." Not sure if the 323 has the ZF or GM transmission, but plan on some pricey fluid if it's a ZF.

glueguy
glueguy HalfDork
6/25/14 12:53 a.m.

young children will probably be ok, but with the front seats back if the driver has long legs, there is not a lot of room in the back. Plus the rear seat has a funny shape if there are car seats or boosters involved.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
6/25/14 7:58 a.m.

My parents had an E36 convertible. Yeah, that back seat is smaller than you might think. As the kids grow, will they still fit?

1988RedT2
1988RedT2 PowerDork
6/25/14 8:02 a.m.

Had an E36 vert briefly--a 328iC as I recall. Seemed a very nice car to live with. It had some issues when we first acquired it--O2 sensors, aux. air pump or some such, various automatic convertible top issues. None were terribly expensive, but I invested quite a bit of time getting the top perfect. Still a little disappointed that my wife didn't like the car even after I put so much blood, sweat and tears into it. She said it was too slow.

MadScientistMatt
MadScientistMatt UberDork
6/25/14 8:36 a.m.
DFuzz wrote: I am looking at replacing the Miata with a 1999 BMW 323i convertible. Low mileage car, auto, recent mechanical safety, top is in good condition and both motors were recently replaced. It is a nice car at a decent price and as with any BMW, it is a nice driving vehicle. I am concerned about buying a money pit though, especially when I think of how inexpensive owning my Miata has been.

My daily driver for the past five years has been a '97 328i convertible, and I've put over 100,000 miles in that timeframe. Parts are a bit more expensive than for a Honda or Ford, maybe around 25%-50% more, but not a budget breaker if you do your own work. 3000 miles a year isn't going to put it into money pit territory unless you get one that's in bad shape to begin with.

You didn't mention how tall you are, but if you're carrying teenagers or adults in the back seat, you won't be able to slide the front seat all the way back. The back seat isn't very big on these.

SlickDizzy mentioned the main things to look out for. I'd also add that the rubber suspension bushings might be an issue (of course, that applies for anything of that vintage), and for some reason, mine has gone through three rear wheel bearings. It also grenaded the radiator slightly behind schedule, at 160,000 miles.

I've looked at the possibility of a Mustang from a similar vintage, which I know is a completely different beast altogether.

Compared to other drop tops from that timeframe, they're surprisingly close. A Mustang GT will be a little bit faster and a little bit less refined, but both are pretty decent handlers and the interior size is about the same.

Also, the Mustang's top mechanism isn't nearly as complicated as the BMW's. There are times when I wish my BMW had a nice simple manual top.

Mr_Clutch42
Mr_Clutch42 HalfDork
6/25/14 9:14 a.m.

I have an E36 sedan and another thing that will eventually give you problems, depending on how long you keep it, are electrical problems. My car has highbeam issues, and if it's not a simple fuse, relay, or ground problem, it can be tough for us DIY'ers to find out where the problem is coming from, since electricity has to go in a loop. Driving it so low miles per year should also keep maintenance and repairs down.

I would only get an auto if I didn't like a 5-speed, but that's just me.

Mr_Clutch42
Mr_Clutch42 HalfDork
6/25/14 9:15 a.m.

In reply to 1988RedT2: You could have put a supercharger on it. That would have solved that problem real quick.

mad_machine
mad_machine MegaDork
6/25/14 9:18 a.m.
Mr_Clutch42 wrote: In reply to 1988RedT2: You could have put a supercharger on it. That would have solved that problem real quick.

easier than that.. 325 intake swap. the 328 has a long runner, narrow tube intake that makes for great torque, but no high end power. Swap over the intake from the 325 and you keep most of the torque, but with a simple reflash, boots the HP close to that of the US spec m3

spandak
spandak New Reader
6/25/14 12:04 p.m.

If youre going to be driving around your kids its worth finding one that has the role over protection. Its easy to find, there are two plastic covers behind the rear headrests. I have daily driven a 94 cabrio for the last 5 years and while the big stuff (engine, trans) is great, the little stuff falls apart. Wheel bearings, bushings, regulators, etc... If youre only putting 3k on it a year it probably wont be that bad but have everything looked over before buying it and be prepared to DIY (most projects are pretty easy. The car is logically put together.) Oh, and Pelican parts is your friend.

DFuzz
DFuzz New Reader
6/25/14 1:17 p.m.

My daughters are 12 & 9 and are not very big kids, so the backseat room shouldn't be too much of an issue. The furthest we would ever go in the car as an entire family is likely to the grandparents' which is about 50 miles away. The problem with the Miata is even running the kids around town to their activities is impractical since I can only take one kid at a time.

The BMW is originally a California car that was imported to Canada a few years ago when the CDN$ was really strong. One big advantage to the car is it has never been winter driven. To import it, it had to go through a federal inspection for emissions and then a comprehensive mechanical inspection in order for it to be registered for use. Mechanically then car is solid, but I am going to inquire whether the cooling system items have been addressed already.

I've looked at a couple Mustangs and a few of my friends have them. One of my friends calls them Lego cars because there are so many bolt-on mods for them and finding one that hasn't been modified is really tough. Finding one that hasn't been ridden hard and put away wet is also a challenge.

From reading the responses here, the BMW doesn't seen to me any more prone to issues than most other vehicles. I would like if the top was manual, but knowing the motors have been replaced recently helps. There is a really nice, low miles JDM E30 320i convertible in town, but from what I read, the 320i is really underpowered and to make it worse, it is an auto as well, but at least it has a manual top.

mad_machine
mad_machine MegaDork
6/25/14 6:48 p.m.

what Spandek says is very true. the e36 is very logically put together and seems almost designed to easy DIY

Mr_Clutch42
Mr_Clutch42 HalfDork
6/25/14 8:25 p.m.

In reply to DFuzz: I wouldn't always pass up a slightly modified Mustang unless the owner want a higher than KBB price because of them.

DFuzz
DFuzz New Reader
6/28/14 10:13 p.m.

I took the E36 convertible for a run today and didn't notice any glaring issues. As stated, the car is solid mechanically and the body is in better than average condition for its age. Most of its issues are cosmetic. The leather on the front seats and the centre armrest is cracked/worn, one of the bezels around a door speaker is broken and partially, the leather on the driver's door handle and the steering wheel is worn. Minor stuff but I am very particular about my vehicles, so I know it will nag at me unless I can fix it up.

Any thoughts on a E30 convertible as an alternative? I lived in Europe in the mid-90's and had a 318i convertible to drive. It was a great car, but that was a long time ago.

Mr_Clutch42
Mr_Clutch42 HalfDork
6/28/14 10:31 p.m.

Those may be more affordable to maintain because you won't have to worry about check engine lights and emissions equipment as much as an OBDII E36. Since you said you're picky about your vehicles, it may be even harder to find an E30 in really good condition compared to an E36. Just drive one to be sure you like it enough to buy it.

60mga
60mga New Reader
6/28/14 11:25 p.m.

I just recently tried an e30 cabrio as an alternative to my '91 miata and granted it was an automatic, but I found it extremely underwhelming. Not much more than a sedate cruiser and yes, finding a nice one up here on the west coast is hard. Lot's of high mileage worn out commuters. I ended up selling my 160k kms '91 white miata for a 100k kms BRG '91 miata

spandak
spandak New Reader
6/29/14 2:32 a.m.

The interior is considered one of the weakest parts of the E36. The center armrest is easy, there is a site (rallyroad I think) that has cheap replacements. The seats can be replaced with E46 seats for about $300. Steering wheels are plentiful on forums or ebay. Speaker trim? If youre that particular ebay is again your friend. Also, it seems that tan interiors fall apart faster than any other color. I swapped in black sport seats into my tan car when the old seats got too bad to look at. The black ones seem to be holding up far better. YMMV

Feedyurhed
Feedyurhed SuperDork
6/29/14 6:09 a.m.
60mga wrote: I just recently tried an e30 cabrio as an alternative to my '91 miata and granted it was an automatic, but I found it extremely underwhelming. Not much more than a sedate cruiser and yes, finding a nice one up here on the west coast is hard. Lot's of high mileage worn out commuters. I ended up selling my 160k kms '91 white miata for a 100k kms BRG '91 miata

I use to have one years ago with a manual and it too was extremely underwhelming. Not a sports car by any means. Not a bad car but if you are expecting a similar feel to a Miata you will be disappointed. It was lazy and slow..........a cruiser.

glueguy
glueguy HalfDork
6/29/14 6:53 a.m.
DFuzz wrote: Minor stuff but I am very particular about my vehicles, so I know it will nag at me unless I can fix it up.

In general in the GRM world, being really particular and having things perfect doesn't align well with cars that are twenty years old.

pushrod36
pushrod36 New Reader
6/29/14 7:05 a.m.

A co-worker just moved from a NB r-package miata to an E36 drop top. He's been thrilled. His primary usage is 200 miles one way to his cabin each weekend, and he has bad knees. The softer suspension and higher seat makes a lot of sense for him.

mr2peak
mr2peak HalfDork
6/29/14 2:58 p.m.
mad_machine wrote:
Mr_Clutch42 wrote: In reply to 1988RedT2: You could have put a supercharger on it. That would have solved that problem real quick.
easier than that.. 325 intake swap. the 328 has a long runner, narrow tube intake that makes for great torque, but no high end power. Swap over the intake from the 325 and you keep most of the torque, but with a simple reflash, boots the HP close to that of the US spec m3

Swap the intake manifold.

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