Still Loving the E21

As the time worn cliché goes, “time flies when you’re having fun.”

Just over three years, this site began with a post titled, “Living With 101 Horsepower.” I had purchased an E21 about a year before that, and finally started to get around to driving it, and of course, working on it as well.

Now that I’ve had the black 83 320i for a while, a fair amount of work has been done. It’s been cleaned, and polished nearly to the best of my ability, I’ve had a full go around from the original 13” factory alloy wheels, to 14” E30 wheels, to a set of steelies (bad move) to a set of 15” Beyern E30 wheels, (not a bad choice) and all the way back to the factory alloys and a set of fresh tires that were meticulously balanced.

The factory comfort seats, which were fairly worn, have been swapped for a pair of love em’ or hate em’ red Corbeau seats, (Pam hates them) and a NOS single headlight Euro grille in place of the factory original four headlight grille. (Yes, the Euro indicators have also been installed…)

Thanks to Austin, all of the suspension bushings have been refreshed, along with engine and transmission mounts, a new clutch assembly installed, and the shifter has been refreshed while apart. After a four-wheel alignment, it’s a safe bet to say the E21 is riding about 500% better than it was when it came into my care. It’s much smoother and all of the front end wobbliness is gone. The car still feels slightly sluggish and labored with the accelerator pedal down, so a new set of fuel injectors may be in order, but it idles like a dream and drives smoothly, if not briskly.

All said and done, this car is still an absolute joy to drive. It’s quiet, and thanks to no power steering has an immediacy that is not as far away from that of a 2002 as you might think. Heretical, though this sounds to those firmly in the 2002 camp.

The E21 experience has been so much fun, we’ve added a second one, courtesy of the lady we bought the 2002/automatic from last year. A late night Facebook message popped up – “want the E21? We’re getting rid of it.” How could I refuse? This 81 320i is in beautiful cosmetic condition, and the price asked was more than fair, but there is one caveat….  It doesn’t run properly.

Though I’m full of confidence, the prior owner warned us that the car would die at stoplights, and it probably “wasn’t a good idea to try and drive it home.” Trying to be practical and “delegate things,” a transport company was hired, and the two week wait for the car began. The morning before it was to be transported from just outside Seattle to my house (about a 170 mi drive) the phone rings. “Yeah, we can’t pick this car up because it’s on an island.” Ugh. We go back and forth and realize this is going nowhere.

Quickly I call AAA to get a platinum (i.e. 200 dollar) membership to take care of towing said car, should Roy and I have a problem. But we’re both convinced that this will be no problem, so with an AmEx in my pocket and knowing I’m covered by AAA, we take a nice sunny drive to Seattle. Cue up ominous background music as we pass the U-Haul just outside of our destination, ponder picking up a trailer and happily motor on.

The drive is awesome, and the people handing the car off to us, equally wonderful – as we already have their 2002, it’s not a strange encounter, and we’re in a super nice neighborhood. What could go wrong?

Well….  The car fires right up and idles smooth. It sounds great. Driving away, it’s much smoother than my current E21. And it’s beautiful. This one will be a keeper no matter what – the body is straight, the center grille is great, and the dashboard is near perfect! Best of all, no rust anywhere. The car gods are indeed smiling.

Five miles later that smile is turned upside down, when heading up a big hill, the car just loses power and dies, with no chance of restarting. I can just hear Scooby Doo in my head going ,”ruh roh.” Fortunately, it’s a lovely day, and we’ve got AAA, right? Hahahahahah. A quick call to AAA reveals that the Premium, awesome-O membership really doesn’t start “right away,” but they will happily tow us home for $5/mile. From fucking Seattle.

That’s why it’s always a good idea to take a good buddy along with you when picking up unknown cars. Fortunately, Roy also has AAA, and we are styling. Only a two hour wait to get a tow truck. By the time our affable tow guy arrives, it’s burrito time. We send the car down the road and stop for lunch. Why would we not? Being that Roy has been such a good Smurf so far, I suggest he has an extra beer and I’ll drive home. About 20 minutes from our arrival at my place, the driver calls and says he’s placed the car in front of the house. The best part of all this? there’s an ABBA tape in the glove box!

Eventually, it gets pushed back into the garage, and tomorrow we find out if it’s going to be a major or minor endeavor to get it running again. Stay tuned, and respect your elders.