For a while, I’ve been looking for a car to replace my Ford Ranger. The Ranger isn’t a great daily driver and while it’s sort of entertaining on track, it’s more funny than fun. Car choice is a very personal decision, so here are my criteria for choosing a car.
- Rear wheel drive – I like both FWD and RWD but I already have a FWD (Yaris), so the next car has to be RWD.
- Hatchback – I love the practicality of hatchbacks, wagons, and pickups. However, I rarely need the extra size of a wagon or pickup, so I prefer hatchback.
- Sporty – Most cars can be driven in a spirited manner, so this is a pretty low bar. However, I’m not interested in SUVs or minivans.
- Manual – I enjoy the interaction with shifter and clutch.
- 4 seats – Every once in a while I need to take 3 or 4 people. 2 seat cars just aren’t that practical for daily drivers. While I have squeezed 3 into the Ranger, it’s uncomfortable for everyone.
- Hard top – I like convertibles, but not enough to have one as a daily driver.
- 2 doors – The difference between 2 and 4 doors is pretty negligible to me. I like the convenience of 4 doors, but I rarely take passengers. 2 doors means less window and door lock maintenance.
- <2800 lbs – This is sort of an arbitrary figure, but I don’t like spending money on consumables. Lighter cars use less tires, brakes, and fuel.
- Good gas mileage. My daily commute is so short that it hardly matters, but I’d like to get at least 30 mpg on the highway for longer trips.
- 4×100 – I have a lot of 4×100 wheels. Sadly, not many cars have this bolt pattern.
- CAN bus – I like all the sensors you get on modern cars. It’s free telemetry.
- Classic – I like classic cars more than modern ones. This is often at odds with CAN bus.
I have at various times considered a BRZ/FRS/86. I’ve driven them on the street and track, and they are really great cars. The rear seats are a complete joke though. But the real killer for me is that I don’t like the way they look. That doesn’t matter to me so much on track, but as a daily driver I don’t want something that screams boy racer. 350Z/370Z are even louder in this regard.
I really liked driving my old E30, and could easily imagine owning another one. Maybe a 325i or 318is rather than a 325e though. E30s are getting more expensive and some parts (transmissions) are getting hard to find. An E36 M3 would be awesome, but they are on the heavy and non-economical side. E46s have CAN bus and have some extra appeal because of that. Ultimately, I think I could be happy with most 3-series.
I’ve mostly written off convertibles, but what about a Z3 coupe? Shooting brakes definitely have some appeal as they have the storage of a hatchback just without the 4 seats. They have a habit of tearing out their differential mounts apparently. But anyway, a cool car that I would be happy owning.
I seriously considered a 190E. The 16 valve Cosworths are collectible, and too expensive, but the 2.6 sportline would be acceptable if it came with a manual transmission. Surely there must be a way to swap it, but it’s a somewhat rare car in the States and that makes repairs inconvenient. One doesn’t see many Mercedes at the track, and maybe there’s a reason for that. If I was getting a car that was auto-only, I might be better served by an IS300.
What did I buy?
So what car did I get? A 1995 BMW 318ti. You might find this odd, but it’s pretty close to my ideal car. I think most BMW enthusiasts don’t like them because they look weird and are under-powered. I actually like the way it looks and the power:weight ratio is better than any car I’ve previously owned (seriously). Purchase price was $1350 for a 225,000 mile car with perfect paint and nearly perfect interior. There was only 1 prior owner, and the car was garaged and regularly maintained. But there’s always a catch…
Despite the “dealer” telling me it passed smog, it had not been smogged in 2 years. It’s illegal to sell a non-smogged car in California, and if I sent the law after this guy, he could lose his dealer’s license. I still haven’t decided what to do about that. Right now I’m focused on how good the car is. All used cars have issues, and here’s the list for this car.
- Dead battery
- Idle jumps around when warmed up
- Hatch struts no longer hold up hatch
- ABS light on
- Driver seat is worn through on the side
- Windscreen was replaced recently, but the job was ugly
The major problem was the jumpy idle, because it’s not passing smog like that. So after replacing the battery, I took the car over to Evil Genius Racing (aka John Pagel’s house). He has an OBD1 reader with the plugs for all the different manufacturers (not standardized until 1996 in the US). He pulled the codes and it turned out the car had a faulty knock sensor and right front ABS sensor.
There are 2 knock sensors on the engine, pressed against the engine block, buried deep beneath the intake manifold. The 318ti has an unusual manifold. I mean really unusual. Engines tend to run in 2 modes, commuter and performance. There are a number of ways to solve this problem from hybrids to VTEC. One of the earlier methods was to have two different ways to let air into the engine. On our first racecar, an MR2, the 4AGE redtop had 8 intake runners in a system called T-VIS. At low RPMs, 4 were used, but at high RPM all 8 were open. On the M42B18 engine in the 318ti, there is DISA. These are two completely separate intakes with a butterfly valve switching between the two. Getting to the knock sensors meant disassembling both intakes, the fuel rail, ~9 sensors, and a bunch of other stuff.
I don’t know how useful it is to have 2 intakes, but it got me thinking that it would make for some great Lemons engineering. Two completely separate intakes with a manually operated valve to switch between them. Why? Well if I have to explain, you’re not the intended audience.
Since I’m interested in tracking the car from time to time, I want to make a few upgrades. This is what I’ve acquired so far.
- BMW Style 104 16×7 wheels
- Federal Evoluzion ST-1 225/50/16 tires
- StopTech 309 brake pads
In addition, I’m considering a performance chip. The specs I’ve seen show improvements of 11 hp and 15 ft-lbs. That’s enough to make a difference. While doing some research on 318ti tracking, I came across the BMW Compact Cup, a racing series in the UK for 1996+ 318ti. It’s a budget series with tight regulations and very minimal modifications (suspension, tires, ECU, safety). I watched a video and recorded the following qualifying times at Brands Hatch Indy. The cars change, but the distribution is the same as every other race. You know, 10% don’t belong in the race, 10% are in the battle, and 80% are just getting in an out of each others’ way. The 80% is something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently. Stay tuned for that.