58 Days,11 Cars, 3 PPI’s 4 States and Canada: Search for the Project BMW e36 M3

When searching for the project car, it’s important to keep in mind the tradeoffs with a 25-year-old vehicle. Do I ship or drive the car from the seller to the builder? Do I repair rust or narrow my search geography to the Western US? How important is the interior? Do I repaint the entire car or do spot touch-ups? I make a subjective case for each candidate.

My ideal project car is a 1996 to 1999 OBD-2 (on-board diagnostics) car with heated Vader seats, a center armrest, and a 3-spoke steering wheel (1999 only). The exterior has a factory or dealer-installed wing with BMW Style 23 contour wheels. Ideal mileage is between 100k to 200k with a clean and rust-free body, no accidents, paint in fair shape, and a clean interior. I realize that’s high mileage, but I plan to replace the engine, transmission, and suspension . When I started the search, I had two color combinations in my mind, Dakar Yellow II with black interior or Estoril Blue with black interior. I set an initial budget of $17,000 dollars for the car.

  1. Chicago, IL: 1997 Estoril Blue with black interior. I reached out to the owner, and we started to discuss the car. It had a fairly clean body, but the interior was shot. The owner didn’t want to go through with a PPI for COVID reasons. I could tell he was a car guy, and he said he would let it go for $7500. I thought hard about it and concluded that my heart is set on a Dakar Yellow with Black Interior. I wished him well on the sale and moved on.
  1. Toronto, Canada: 1999 Dakar Yellow and black sport interior. The buyer was asking $12,000. The car had 170k miles but looked clean. It was an American car imported into Canada. I had the car PPIed, which didn’t last more than 20 minutes before the shop owner called to tell me this is not the car you want. He thought the car was mistreated and had been in an accident resulting in misaligned panels.This car looked great in the photos but thats why I get them inspected.
  1. Berkeley, CA: 1995 M3 Cosmos Black. 74k miles today with no sunroof (commonly called a “slicktop”) and had the M-Rain cloth Vader seats. It had a Dinan MAF, exhaust, and air intake, with Koni yellows and Dinan Blue springs. It was the first time I drove one in 20 years, and I truly enjoyed it. The clutch was easy, and the car is light, but the shifting between 2nd to 3rd was a long throw. The owner inherited it from his uncle, and he wants $20,000 to part with it. This car was too clean more of a collector car and it was over my budget.
  1. Philadelphia, PA: 1996 M3 Dakar Yellow with black interior. 123K miles on the chassis, some fading of the paint, and a rebuilt motor with 1,000 miles on it. It was little too rough and since I couldn’t see it , I decided to pass.
  1. Chicago, IL: 1999 Dakar Yellow with Black Vaders. The owner wants $18K for his car with 135K miles and says it’s rust-free. This was a well taken care of car and the owner was thinking about selling .Ultimately the owner did not want to sell .
  1. Danville, CA: 1996 Dakar Yellow. The owner, a BMW enthusiast and dealer, purchased this one, with 119k miles and another silver sedan. He is in the process of fixing the headliner and the rear wing. The CARFAX is clean with no accidents and was purchased in Texas, Colorado, and California. The interior is about a 7/10 the door cards were in good shape and the seats too. The body has all of the original Vin tags , no rust and at some point in time was resprayed. I had the car inspected and the body checked out along with key areas that had been reinforced like rear shock mounts and the RTABs.
  1. Martinez, CA: 1995 Dakar Yellow with black interior. The owner bought the car to use for drift racing. He thought the car was too nice to actually drift so decided to sell it. I FaceTimed him, and we did a walk around, and it gave me enough confidence to check it out in person. The car needs a lot of attention; the interior is almost a redo; the bushings and suspension will need to be redone—a new front bumper and a complete respray along with the removal of a Hamann spoiler or wing. The heated seat, sunroof, windows all worked. The instrument cluster LEDs were going out, and the HVAC blower needs to be replaced.He was asking $13,000 dollars . I had the car checked out even thought it had a clean Carfax at some point the hood, and both fenders were replaced along with some overspray. This was a decent candidate. I had the body inspected and it was in good shape no rust and straight. The interior was going to be a complete redo. The owner was negotiable on his price .

I have been hell on wheels to find a Dakar Yellow e36 M3. I probably should take more time, be a little more patient. I have narrowed it to two cars, the ’95 Martinez car and the ’96 Danville car. I had both inspected by the body shop. The challenge with a project car is you end up trading problems. The ’95 car has a clean body but needs a full respray of paint, moldings, window seals, etc., replaced and full interior restoration. It also has a 325 steering rack and some strange cracking on the rear tail. I would need to buy an OEM wing, and The car was in an accident not mentioned on the CARFAX. The trunk, driver side door, hood, and front fenders have been replaced with OEM parts but are missing the VIN tags. All of the suspension is old or replaced with cheap eBay/used parts.

And the winner is…

The Danville car was owned by someone who cared for it better. It has all the original wheels, trim. The interior is an 8 out of 10, and the body has some rust issues, rock chips, and needs to have a few areas fixed, but overall it’s a way better car. It’s never been in an accident and has all OEM VIN tags on the body parts. The wheels have curb rash, rust, and paint issues. The Vader seats are not heated. One of the door panels is starting to bubble. It has an aftermarket steering wheel and stereo. Also, the fog lamps are not wired up, and it’s missing the AC components. I didn’t do a good job of negotiating on the car. I paid $18,000 for it. It probably is a $15-16K car but It will work for my first restomod build. I’ll go over all the problems in a future post.

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