Car of the Month - June 2008

Cars of the Month

The Car of the Month for June belongs to:
Warner Hall

  • Model: E12 528i

  • Date: 1981

  • Exterior Color: Polaris Metallic

  • The Overview
    There do exist some Olde School aficinados of Euro Automobiles that are still new to the E12. Warner Hall is well versed in automotive history, has knowledge, experience and a desire for "That right car". As an engineer, the car must excel in quality, comfort and value - because Most Engineers are cheap. In his search of a daily driver with character, Warner discovered the E12 not only feels and drives well, it meets another demanding requirement.

    Warner Writes:

    I started looking for a "fun" driver in 2006 and was initially planning on buying a BMW 2002. After looking for months, I was unable to find anything but projects that cost $4,000 - $5,000. John Savage suggested that I consider either a 528i (e12) or a 535i (e28). I told him that I liked these cars but really wanted a 2002. About that time he got his current 528i and suggested we go for a spin. After riding and driving his car, I thought this might work out just fine, particularly since his car is very nice and was purchased for well within my budget.

    I started my search and soon discovered that it would be difficult finding anything close to John's car for similar money. I was encouraged when I noticed a what looked like a nice 528i parked on the street near my son's school.

    I turned around, parked as close as I could and took a look. It was silver with a blue interior...nice.

    But, it had an automatic...oh well. It looked like a fairly clean, original, blue plate car with a sunroof, power windows and air conditioning. I left my business card under the windshield wiper with my personal cell phone number and waited.

    A few days later I received a phone call from the owner. I made arrangements to see the car on February 5, 2007, Super Bowl Sunday. It turns out that the car had been purchased new in Northern California by the owner's parents. Cool, a two-owner car. The owner's daughter was driving it to school and fortunately was not as fond of it as I was (am!).

    The interior was original. The driver seat cushion had a tear near the seat back adjustment lever, a few splits in the pleats and the drivers door pad had a few cuts in the vinyl, probably from the cleats in the trunk.

    The dash was cracked, but only two were visible while sitting in the driver's seat. The LH marker/turn signal lens was broken. The foglights did not work. The switch detent was broken as was the LH foglight lens. The electric windows worked except for the front passenger window. I called John and he thought that it might be the switch and to swap front and back switches. This worked and was done with the daughter's permission and appreciation because she used that window more frequently than the rear. The sunroof worked, tipping up at the rear for ventilation and opening to let the beautiful California sunshine in...sweet.

    The carpets were dirty but had been protected by Lloyd floormats.

    The engine compartment was dirty, but original. The owner said that the air conditioning had not worked "for years". She also mentioned that she had trouble with the starter; occasionally the car would not start when the key was turned on.

    The car felt strong when I drove it, although I thought it needed front struts and rear shocks. I negotiated with the owner, but we were not able to work out a deal so I went home and planned on checking back later. I called back three months later but got no response. I kept checking the driveway and the car was still there. I was planning on calling again about three months later when I got a call from the owner. She asked if I was still interested in the buying the car. When I confirmed my interest, she asked if I was interested even though it had a broken fan and a bad water pump. I asked if the radiator had been damaged and she said that she did not know. I asked what she wanted for the car and she told me. I offered her less, pending an inspection of the car. I looked at the car the following morning and confirmed that the radiator was undamaged and made her another offer for the car. She wanted a little more but agreed to my price because she knew that I would take good care of the car as I promised. I paid her and drove the car home (2 miles) a couple of days later when she was available to sign the title.

    The first thing I did was to get a new water pump, fan, thermostat and gasket. The water pump leaked after it was replaced because the gasket wasn't sitting flat. After that, I had a driver that I got smogged and titled in my name. A little bit of driving confirmed the need for front struts and rear shocks that were purchased from John at Bavarian Autosport. This was a pleasant experience except for the $422 required to get a set of Bilstein HD's. That was more that I paid for the car! I guess it's OK, because I paid $400 for the car and at this point I was into the car about $1,100 total.

    The starter problem became more than an occasional nuisance, becoming nearly a daily occurrence. After removing the starter, I was puzzled when I inspected the drive gear and it looked fine. By removing the cover plate under the automatic transmission, I could inspect the flywheel (flexplate). By turning the engine over by hand, I could see two areas about 120 degrees apart where the teeth had been completely worn down. Great!!!

    I was going to get to pull the transmission and replace the flywheel. Danny, yet another BMW buddy of John's, parts out BMW's for a hobby and sells parts at reasonable prices. $40 later, I had a good used flywheel from a M30 engine, a dome light, a foglight and an air cleaner. For grins, I got labor estimates from a couple of BMW shops to replace the flywheel that were about $700. I was about to do the job myself until I got an estimate from Bruce Barthel at Barthel Motoren Werke in Chatsworth. This was another John Savage lead. Bruce estimated the labor at $450-500. The final bill was $548 and also included new flywheel bolts, and parts and labor to replace the rear main seal and the guibo. Excellent!

    The foglight switch would not click in the "ON" position. Bruce took the switch apart; reduced the number of spring coils by two or three and added the tab back to the spring and reassembled it in three to five minutes. He explained that reducing the number of coils effectively reduced the internal pressure on the switch, improving the feel and durability. Bruce did this at no charge. When I was getting intermittent use of the sunroof, Bruce diagnosed to a faulty relay that had a loose ground tab. He replaced it with a used part that he had, no charge. I am a happy BMW owner and a satisfied customer!

    During this time, I made another good contact. This time from the FirstFives Bulletin Board. "Pierre in Camarillo" was parting out an '81 528i and lived only 20 minutes away. He was (is) a really good source for parts at reasonable prices and diagnosed an electrical problem that I had. I couldn't get the lights to work correctly and Pierre traced it to a loose wire on the hazard switch. He has also been the source for marker/turn signal lens

    and some fasteners, fuses, connectors and switches. He also provided rear bumper shocks (with the bumper) because the left side of my rear bumper had compressed the shocks about 1 1/2 inches.

    I bought an oil filter, distributor cap, rotor, spark plugs and ignition wires from Bruce that I replaced myself and I had Bruce do a brake job and replace the rear differential mount because I was time constrained. He also adjusted the valves and setting the timing just because I wanted him to do it.

    I found out that although the tires had good tread wear, they were more than five years old and the tread was beginning to separate. So I replaced them with Pirelli P4 195/70R14. This significantly improved the ride.

    I had the air conditioning inspected and repaired by Frigiking in Simi Valley. They custom built a discharge hose using the original fittings and evacuated and recharged the unit with R12. I have had air conditioning for two weeks and it is wonderful.

    I have a car that I really enjoy driving daily and am still under my initial total cost goal of $4,000.

    Web Links:

    Barthel Motoren Werke

    Bavarian Autosport

    John Savage
    © 2008, ™