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  • Starting my ownership search . . . have some questions

    I found a 1990 M3 local to me. It shows well, but has had a repaint sometime in its past (appears to have been done well). Interior has been redone and looks good as well. I was able to drive it and based on my drive have these observations.

    1) The engine pulls but literally sounds like a truck. Keep in mind my reference point is my 1994 NSX and while I realize there is a world a difference between an NSX and an M3 I expected the M3's engine to rev smoother and quicker to the redline. The car accelerated like it was pulling a trailer. I was really surprised it wasn't "zippy-er"

    2) The clutch release point was literally 1" off the floor. Really difficult to shift smoothly. Again my reference point is my NSX where the clutch release point is about half way up from the floor (which is normal BTW). Is there any adjustment in the M3 clutch that can extend the release point further off the floor?

    3) Brake engagement didn't occur until the pedal was halfway to the floor. I suspect the brakes need to be bled, or more serious, need an overhaul as I assume this is not normal operation. Can't really compare to my NSX as I have a Stoptech BBK on that.

    4) Car has a short shift kit (unknown, but I think it is UUC). Really stiff and needs what I consider to be a high amount of effort to change gears. Again point of reference being the NSX which has a very smooth gear change. The M3 has a very buzzy shifter which I understand is normal but fixable. Is the M3's shifter normally notchy and stiff, or is this a characteristic of the short shift kit?

    5) Going through the repair invoices I noticed one that indicated both front lower control arms had been replaced. I recall the service date was in the neighborhood of 7 to 8 years ago. Is it normal to replace the lower control arms on (what was then) a 10 year old car? Would this be an indication of suspension damage? Unfortunately the current owner is selling for a family member and doesn't recall the specifics of why they were replaced.

    I would appreciate hearing from you about these issues; whether they are normal to the M3 or early indications of future issues.

    I love this series (E30) and hope to be an owner soon. Any help, advice, suggestions, etc will be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Mark

  • #2
    Welcome. It is a bit tricky to answer your questions without feeling the sensations myself, but I'll give it a try.

    1. What do you mean when you say it sounds like a truck? Valvetrain noise, exhaust note, agricultural, etc.? It's a noisy motor, particularly on startup, with respect to valvetrain sounds. It is pretty gutless below 4k RPM, you can investigate an Evo (lightweight) flywheel to help it spin up. Throttle response is hindered by the MAF, which is why many swap to Alpha-N or similar. You could try comparing your test drive to YouTube videos of people doing acceleration pulls. Otherwise you'd have to try another car for comparison.

    2. I actually don't know the answer to this. There is an eccentric bolt on the clutch pedal where it connects to the master cylinder in the footwell that may offer small adjustment.

    3. I haven't driven my car in a while, can't comment at the moment.

    4. I think I could describe the Getrag as "notchy," stiff I think is an effect of the short-shift kit. The shift knob wags like a dog's tail in the midrange of RPMs.

    5. I don't think this is any cause for concern, control arms are a wear item for these cars. Also 7-8 years ago the car would be 20, not 10... seems reasonable unless the service also called out a bunch of other non-wear front suspension parts.

    Where are you located? Perhaps there is a local owner who can let you look at/drive their car, or go with you to check out this one.
    1988 Lachs
    1988 DS - sold
    Bay Area M3 FB group

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    • #3
      1. If the car sounded like a truck itís very possible that the exhaust manifold is missing some nuts where it bolts to the head ó very common problem and makes the car sounds a bit truck like as youíve described. My first m3 had 3 broken exhaust studs and it was a PITA to fix. In my 18 years of ownership it is now something I check regularly.

      2. Clutch slave may need to be bled or the incorrect slabs could be installed. Virtually all Bmw slaves bolt into the same space but have different rod lengths which can affect clutch performance and feel

      3. Again bleeding is possible, itís the same system as the clutch so if one has air itís possible they both do. Could also be a vacuum leak at the booster, bad master cylinder or a bevy or other things as in any 25yr old car contributing to poor brake performance. Brake parts are cheap and easy to go through.

      4. Short shifters are not JT because they alter the factory pivot point and change the leverage ratio for the driver. Redline MTL and a shirt component rebuild will make it as good as itíll get. A new shift knob helps too as many times the plastic tab holding it on the lever wears and contributes to shifter buzz

      overall it sounds like all the inputs are off and that really alters the cars driving experience. I recently drove a friends m3 and everything was off and it felt very strange. All fixable but when the inputs for a car (steering, shifting, brakes) are all messed up on their own it definitely is not the car it should be. Youíll need a local owner with experience to help you out there.

      Comment


      • #4
        Mark,

        1. As Pall and Dave answered, there are many reasons for your impressions, but benching marking a '94 NSX is an interesting starting point. You will need to keep in mind a couple of important things; the NSX has 2 more cylinders; thus greater torque. It is also a Honda (Acura). It will run smoother and quieter. As they both point out, the S14 is a noisy motor and could have some exhaust nuts missing. This is all hard to deduct from a keyboard. In a E30 M3, you don't feel the power of a S14 motor until you reach 3500-7000 RPM. If you didn't have that opportunity on twisty back road, the E30 M3 will not make an impression.

        2) The clutch release point will vary based on modifications. Each of my E30s is different even though they are stock. My Cabrio is very similar to what you describe with a low engagement point. The modified S14 with a light weight flywheel is probably the most normal of the group. But it does have a lot of chatter at idle.

        3) A BBK will change your perception of how good a brake system is. Dave has a valid point in that the brake system may need to be bleed out. Pads make a big difference on these cars too. When I ran a former track car, the pads made the car's brake system feel as if the engagement was earlier and better.

        4) Shifters will easily change the smoothness of the car. Currently running stock, UUC and Rogue systems in my cars. Short shifters are extremely short, but very notchy. There was a modified short shifter I ran years ago with a E36 shifter and a adaptor that made the car shifting Miata short. It was so notchy the throws were less than an inch in any direction. I changed it out very shortly after the install. Just not my style. The stock shifter is long and smooth. I have an E30 that is just a swapped Z3 shift lever and it's probably a good compromise. A bit shorter than stock, but not notchy.

        5) Replacing the lower control arms was considered standard maintenance for these cars. The steel LC arms were to be replaced more often than the aluminum ones. It should not be a point of concern. In fact, I would consider it good ownership.

        Best of luck in your search. I would love to hear about your impression of the NSX if you have the chance. They used to run ALOT of NSXs at the track with the E30 M3s when I lived in AZ back in the early 2000s and I always had a great impression about those cars.

        1989 E30 M3 Cabrio - Nogaro Sliver / Black - 1 of 786
        1990 E30 M3 - Sterling Silver / Black
        1991 E30 318is - Sterling / Black (Mtech II project)

        Comment


        • #5
          Originally posted by Konig View Post
          1. What do you mean when you say it sounds like a truck? Valvetrain noise, exhaust note, agricultural, etc.?
          Yes - Somewhat agricultural is a good description especially for a 4 cylinder engine. I guess my expectation was for a revy little beast similar to the VTEC four Honda put into the S2000. Maybe my expectations need to be reset. The engine didn't sound like it was going to thrash itself to an early death, but it did have more NVH than I was expecting.

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          • #6
            Thank you Konig, @LJames and 1990m3. I appreciate your insights and observations. I think the car just needs a bit of sorting out. Previous owner didn't drive it much (shame) and in one year only put 300 miles on it.

            Next step is to get it to the shop that looks after my NSX. They race and work on many E30, E36 and E46 cars so they should be in a better position to more accurately evaluate the car.

            Comment


            • #7
              Where are you located?

              Comment


              • #8
                All of your observations reflect a car that probably has not been driven much nor maintained highly in the past few years. In consideration of this, I would plan for:
                1. adjust valves, sync throttle bodies, basic tune up.
                2. replace master and slave cylinders for clutch. Also investigate clutch assy condition.
                3. bleed brakes, possibly rebuild calipers/mc.
                4. research shifter options to see what would suit your desires. The quicker the throw, the notchier the shift in general. But, refurbish of linkage and mechanism can go a long way to helping this.
                5. control arms ball joints are a little bit of a weak point on this car. But, nothing to concern yourself with too much, just have shop check them over.

                Sounds like an opportunity to buy for reasonable price, give it some love and you could have a nice car.
                Suggest a PPI may be in order to confirm no major suprises. Otherwise, once sorted I suspect the observations will change for the better once you get over 5k rpm
                Cheers,
                John
                88M3 henna


                73T100C
                97 540\6-Gone
                2008 MINI Clubman S

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by 1990m3 View Post
                  Where are you located?
                  Portland Oregon area.

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                  • #10
                    I'm not familiar with anyone in Portland but my recommendation would be to take this car for a PPI at a BMW specialist.

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