I‘ve spent a lot of time talking about other people’s cars, but even the mad scientist behind the articles has a story to share about his ride. I’ve owned this car 6 years and it’s gone through a series of changes. Here’s the story of the rolling experiment.
In 2010, I finished up my first year of college which went less than stellar in the GPA department. I needed to make some changes and decided to go to the local junior college. I also needed to get a car by the end of the summer to replace the e30 I had smacked into a guardrail a year earlier. To be fair I didn’t know if I wanted another BMW, namely because the idea of bolt on turbo parts with software seemed more alluring to a 19 year old version of myself. Despite priding myself on finding cars on Craigslist, my mother was the one who found the ad for the car I would ultimately buy. It was a single owner 1996 328is 5 speed. The car was completely stock and had been well maintained. At the time it had 168k on the clock, which was on the high side. The car was very clean, but I hadn’t warmed up to the idea of an e36 completely, namely because my prior e30 ownership had stated that newer cars were inferior. Ideally I had wanted an M3, but a check for $5250 bucks and the 328 was the new transport of Joseph D. Crosetti.
For a couple of years I merely drove the car to school and work. I was always a bit disappointed that the car wasn’t an M3, especially when one could have been purchased for marginally more. Slowly but surely I began tweaking the car with things such as a sportier suspension and a different set of wheels. Other than that, I just drove the car.
…and I pulled the trigger. The 328 was getting a motor swap.
In 2012, my friend Daniel had purchased an e30 convertible that was fairly done up. We decided to trade cars with each other. After three weeks, I realized the ragtop life wasn’t for me. A trip back to AAA to re-exchange pink slips and I was back in the 328. Later that year the car marched on into the 200k club because I was commuting to San Jose for school.
The following summer, I went to the Los Angeles area to visit family. While I was down there, I received a call from the infamous Willum stating how they were going to buy a ZF transmission for their 24v e30, and that they could get a package deal if they bought the s52 engine that was mated to the trans. I proceeded to call my dad and consult him whether he’d be ok with the ensuing parts palooza that was going to take over the garage. He said he was fine with it and I pulled the trigger. The 328 was getting a motor swap.
Once I finished my last final for the fall semester of 2013, I jetted on home to begin disassembly of the car. I had spent the months prior getting the motor prepped for install so I was in good shape to begin the transplant. It took about two whole weeks to get the car running again just before New Year’s Eve, but this was by far the best improvement I had made. Albeit only 50 horsepower more than stock, the s52 seemed like a rocket ship at the time compared to the stock 2.8 lump. I think the most fun was surprising the various e36 & e46 330 cars around town when the 328 would keep up on the onramps.
As college came to a close, I moved on to a full time job, which also meant full time income. This is where the 328 started looking the part. I swapped out the steering rack for an e46 ZHP unit, and then installed M3 style bumpers and trim on the car. I was also still piling on the miles and the car hit the 250k mark a year ago.
Most people have said I should have sold the car to get an M3 because of the minimal price difference. There have been times where I have agreed because I’m well past the point of return in terms of money, but there’s an intrinsic value associated with this car. A majority of it has to do with learning how maintain and modify cars beyond typical bolt on parts. Since this car didn’t start life as an M3, I’ve upped both my technical knowledge and mechanical skills. If I had bought the faster car instead, my guess is that I would have probably crashed it. That doesn’t mean that this hasn’t been a time consuming process or an easy one for that matter. It should also be noted that the car isn’t perfect either. There’s been plenty of instances where jobs have been “repeated” to fix the first attempt. It has acquired paint chips, rattles, and squeaks throughout this journey, but it demonstrates the human nature this car has developed because it’s flawed. I have genuinely grown to like this car more and more because of that.
The longer I have the car, the more I enjoy bringing it different places. Most of my driving has been around California, but it comes with a little pride to say that this car battled a snow storm in Tahoe on summer tires, that it was driven to the Monterey Historic Races with my dad, or that it’s also driven down into the LA River. It’s been there for many of the adventures.
There’s still plenty to do on the 328. Small changes are always being made in one form or another. Much like a group of friends, there’s always something new to talk about. The suspension needs an update, and the brakes could stand to be upgraded as well, but those items will be addressed in due time. For now I simply enjoy driving it as it marches on towards 300,000 on the chassis. As the 328 continues to change and grow into its own, so do I.
1996 BMW 328is SPECS
- s52 swap from 1999 e36 M3
- 3.23 LSD (This is Diff #3, after the previous 3.15 unit ruined itself from Redline Oil, Diff #1 was the stock open 2.93 unit)
- e60 545i shift lever
- Rebuilt Dr. Vanos Stage 1 Unit
- S54 Z3M Radiator
- Dinan Carbon Fiber Intake (nicknamed the “loud tube”)
- Dinan Gen 2 Muffler (quiet enough not to upset the neighbors)
- Koni Yellow Sport Shocks
- H&R Sport Springs
- Rogue Engineering Rear Shock Mounts
- UUC 27mm Front Sway Bar
- OEM X-Brace
- Racing Dynamics Front Strut Brace (Save the shock towers!)
- E46 330i ZHP Steering Rack (great feedback, bad turning radius)
- MZ4 Rear Trailing Arm Bushings with Limiter Shims
- AKG 95A Subframe Bushings
- Welded OEM Rear Subframe Reinforcement Plates
- Welded AKG Rear Trailing Arm Pocket Reinforcement Plates
- Welded Turner Motorsport Rear Sway Bar Reinforcements
- OEM Contour Wheels, 17×8.5 square setup, 245/40/17 Bridgestone Potenza RE760 Sport Tires
- M3 Front & Rear Bumpers
- M Side Mouldings
- ZHP shift knob (well worn!)
- Euro 3-Spoke Sport Steering Wheel
- Rebuilt Stock HK headunit (my friends laughed when the digital display went out after being ‘refurbished’)