“Runs like a champion,” said the Craigslist ad.
I had been looking for a second car for months. I was looking for a beater that I could drive for times when my 1998 BMW M3 would be down for maintenance and modification. I wanted something to soak up the 30 minutes of daily highway commuting. I wanted something cheap to run on the street and on the track. I wanted something fun to drive. I wanted something easy to wrench on.
I had been looking for a BMW E30 chassis 318iS for four months at the time. I was only able to find 1 in the entire US, and this one just so happened to be within a 3 hour drive. So I made the trip from Dallas down to Austin to check it out. Like a scene out of a organized crime movie, we met at night in a movie theatre parking lot. The owner was a Russian man with a shaved head and a stocky build. He spoke with a moderate Russian accent. “Runs like a champion” he said again in person, as if he was trying to reinforce the slogan from his Craigslist ad. There the car was in its faded red paint. There was a fender that was dented up, and the Carfax showed that the car had been in a fender bender about a decade ago.
I knew that if I wanted a BMW E30 chassis 318iS, there wouldn’t be another chance for a while. The car ran, which meant there couldn’t be anything too awfully wrong with it. The frame wasn’t bent, and as long as the chassis was fine, everything else could be easily replaceable. The fact that it was far from pristine was actually would clear my conscience from installing Craigslist parts and gutting the interior.
I drove off with the car and never looked back. I named her Maxine. She wasn’t without problems. The steering rack puked fluid all over the driveway in the first few days. The alternator went out a month later. The fuel pump finally gave up the ghost a few months after that. She had been neglected, but as I started replacing parts, she started to become healthier.
After she was running reliably, I started to modify Maxine with the goals of improved reliability, performance and fuel economy. I deleted the power steering, audio equipment, interior and HVAC. I installed some Craigslist shocks and springs. A racing seat went in. Beefier sway bars reduced body roll. Gauges were added. She is still a work in progress, and the plan is to get her running strong enough to take to the track. Some reliability upgrades, a roll cage and some harnesses, and she should be ready for the track. After I develop my performance driving skills to a certain level, my long term goal is to drop in a built version of the same 1.8L inline 4 engine and turbocharge it. I have always wanted to turbocharge a car, and Maxine should be a great candidate because of ample engine bay space.
Stay tuned as we step you through some of the maintenance and mods that we will perform on our way to making her track worthy. One day, we will have an article on her first track day to verify if she really runs like a champion.