Manual conversion

The SMG had to go! I was prepared to throw some effort and resources at it but it seems likely the 4th gear issues mean a gearbox swap anyway and when I’ve connected the diagnostics to the car during the previous SMG failures it’s been unable to connect to the SMG module at all (it can connect to it normally).

I took the car over to Darcy on the Monday evening after work along with the gearbox and the box of bits. All was quiet until Tuesday afternoon when he popped up on Facebook Messenger and told me one of the front brake discs was cracked, “Like through the holes and out to the edge”. So, new discs required. Bit later same evening a message saying they couldn’t get the exhaust off as it was so rusty, it ended up in bits. An agricultural repair was agreed (his words not mine!). Also agreed best to replace the clutch while the gearbox is off but it then turned out it needed a new dual mass flywheel too. New clutch slave cylinder was also advised by Chris at CR M-Tech so that went on too.

The car was ready for me to collect on the Saturday so off I went to collect it. A quick test drive once she was home confirmed that she’s a very different car to drive. It all ended up a bit spendy but in fairness most of the additional items are consumables that are going to need replacing on any car at some stage, let alone a track car.

With the car sorted it was time to book another trackday …

Donington Trackdays

2016-07-29 10.27.25After a 4:45am start I pitched up at Donington just about in time to sign on, get the car off the trailer and attend the briefing. It was a fairly small bunch, not many more than 30 in the briefing and it seemed many were regulars. The briefing was thorough as usual but the sighting laps session wasn’t compulsory. Lots of the cars were clearly race cars and only 15 or so of us headed out for the sighting laps. David drove the session, it was the first time he’d been in the driving seat and a chance to both familiarise himself with the car and find his way round the Donington GP circuit.

We spent the morning taking it in turns driving sessions. It was open pit lane and as usual at Bookatrack events there was no queuing. Having driven Donington loads of times it was a matter of working out how the M3 handled round there and the short answer was pretty impressively. The left hander at Goddards onto the pit straight is horrible being more than 90° and way off camber and the car was understeering like billyo round there. Everywhere else it was fine and definitely feeling much more planted round Craner than my BDN ever did. It was still glitching shifting into 4th gear on a fairly regular basis so that was something I was going to need to sort out.

On a couple of occasions during the morning we got in the car and it threw an SMG fault and refused to play – unless the system is pressurised it won’t let you start the car and you can’t select gears. Each time it eventually sorted itself out without me ever really working out what was causing it.

David was leaving the car in full auto mode as he was finding it a bit daunting, all the other cars were very quick and driven by experienced drivers. He did OK though and gradually gained confidence and speed as the day went on. We got the usual novice errors sorted out – not using the whole track at the corners, turning in too early etc.

2016-07-29 11.42.43There was one red flag when a very quick race prepped Cayman driven by a disabled lady driver landed in the gravel at the Melbourne hairpin. I couldn’t really work out how it had managed to get so far in there really, if the driver lost it as she hit the brakes there was a lot of tarmac to slow the car down before reaching the gravel and if she lost it as she turned in then the speed should have been low enough not to get so far.

Sadly the day ended shortly after lunch. David was driving and the car simply got stuck in 6th gear with the SMG warning light on. He managed to limp the car back to the pit lane in 6th but as soon as he slowed down it stalled of course. It remained stuck in 6th and with no clutch pedal there was nothing we could do with the car. I tried plugging the laptop in but couldn’t establish a connection with the gearbox module. I tried disconnecting and reconnecting the battery which did the trick and allowed me to get it going again. Back in the paddock we had a chat and decided to call it a day, we did’t fancy going out there on track if there was a risk of it happening again.

The video camera hadn’t worked so no video. Overall although disappointed with the early end to proceedings I was very pleased with the car, it’s great fun to drive, pretty fast and the handling is progressive and confidence inspiring.

Nothing much got done to the car during the subsequent week, I was still waiting for an interface lead from the States so couldn’t access the full diagnostics. The following Thursday saw me back at Donington again, this time on the National circuit with Javelin. This was a cheaper trackday so was massively busier with I guess 60 or so cars. There were again quite a few race cars and quite a few M3s, some E36’s like mine and some E46’s. Chris was with me this time so he drove the sighting laps.

Again we drove alternate stints with the car mostly behaving itself although it’s quite off-putting when you’re never quite sure if you’ll get 4th gear or not! With the National circuit configuration Goddards is a right-left chicane without the off camber bit and was all the better for it! Again the car was brilliant fun to drive with pretty good turn in, a bit of understeer if really pushing it then you can get on the power and feel all 4 wheels sliding on the way out. I got more confident round Craner and was managing 95-100mph at the apex which I’m pretty sure is faster than I went in the BDN and I’m confident I can go quicker.

Chris’s driving came along as the day progressed and he really enjoyed himself so that’s another box the M3 ticks. He had a session in the wet which I think worried him a bit, he got the front end sliding on the way in to a couple of corners and got the back end to step out on the way out although it felt fine from the passenger seat with no dramas. The only near drama was when he was getting on the power around Coppice about to come onto the straight and hadn’t seen that there was a guy in a 3-wheeled Polaris Slingshot in the middle of the track recovering from a spin. He did spot him in time though and got round him fine.

Sadly the gremlins struck again in the afternoon. There had been a long break after a red flag, it seemed someone had dumped coolant causing someone else to spin exiting the Old Hairpin then decided to remove his radiator cap resulting in nasty burns to his hand and arm. So the paramedics were tied up for about 40 minutes sorting him out. Once they’d got the circuit going again we waited for the rush to clear and Chris was waiting at pit exit when the hydraulics failed again. We tried a few things to get it going again and failed but fortunately this time it was stuck in neutral so we pushed it back into the paddock and got it on the trailer and came home.

Here’s a vid of my solo session late morning, I was at the front of the queue after a red flag and never got caught, it was a bit like having the track to myself 🙂

So that’s that, the SMG has to go! I suspected it might come to that but was prepared to invest a bit of time and effort getting it to work properly. However the 4th gear problem may prove to be a synchro problem meaning a gearbox swap anyway and there seem to be too many things to go wrong with the hydraulics – new pumps are £2.5k, the pressure accumulator is £400 and there’s an ECU module that can also be a problem. Even if I got it sorted I doubt I’d ever completely trust it. Also even when working properly the SMG1 in the E36 is relatively primitive and a bit clunky, I suspect a good manual change will be faster.

I’d researched the manual conversion prior to buying the car – although the gearbox itself is identical the bellhousing is different with the manual having detents for the gear shift. I’ve sourced a manual gearbox conversion kit with the gearbox, shift lever, pedal box and clutch master cylinder etc. I’d love to do the swap myself but doing it on my own with the car on axle stands wouldn’t be much fun so it was time to phone a friend. Having collected the gearbox on Sunday from CR M-Tech in Shrewsbury the car will be on its way to Weston-super-mare on Monday. Ex-RGB and current Radical racer Darcy Smith runs his own somewhat successful garage business there and he’s doing the work, I’m sure I could get it done locally but I trust Darcy to do it right.

More prep

2016-07-23 12.40.30Work on the car continues. I had a small mail order shopping spree at Demon Tweeks – a pair of Sparco Evo II seats and a steering wheel. the driver’s seat took ages to fit as I wanted it on runners so it can be adjusted. Simple I thought, bolt the side mount brackets to the runners and Bob’s your uncle. Nope, fail! Because the side mount brackets end up well out of parallel due to the shape of the seat. After lots of fettling of the brackets I finally got there, then after a bit of trial and error I got the seat at the angle I wanted. I did plan to just bolt the passenger seat to the dural plate already in the car but the side bracket clashed with the mounting bolt for the dural plate so I ended up putting that on runners too.

I took the car to our local ATS for an aircon regas but when I went back to collect it they said they couldn’t do it as there was a leak somewhere. In fairness they didn’t charge me anything. I now need to decide if it’s worth pursuing, I think the answer at the moment is I’ve got other priorities! It was nice driving the car on the road again though!

2016-07-23 12.32.12I was keen to get rid of the very nasty looking steering wheel and the boss was also pretty horrid. So included in the Demon Tweeks order was an OMP steering wheel and a boss kit specific to the E36. To get the horn to work for the MOT I’d just connected the horn button terminals using a pair of wires making sure they were long enough to reach when wrapped round the column at full lock each way. The new boss has a slip ring on the back of it but of course I have nothing on the column to contact it so I made myself a terminal from a piece of thin brass sheet and made up a pair of wires to connect to this with an earth to the ignition switch block. This functions fine and the wheel certainly looks a lot better.

Further attempts to connect the laptop to the car systems to bleed the clutch and gearbox actuation and run the gearbox adaptation failed. There are 2 software packages, INPA and DIS. Using INPA I can connect to the car and read the gearbox adaptations, I can also run the hydraulic pump, but there are no routines in there to bleed anything or run the adaptations on an E36. DIS just doesn’t connect properly at all. So I’ve bitten the bullet and ordered an ADS interface from the US and a cheap old laptop from Ebay and with these I should be able to access everything.

I wanted to change the gearbox oil so thought I’d look up the spec of oil required. Although it’s the SMG box it’s actually identical to the manual box apart from a small difference on the bellhousing (the SMG has no detent for neutral). What I learned however was that BMW used different oil in different boxes and there’s a label on the gearbox which is either orange or yellow to indicate which. After getting the car on stands, removing the plastic guards underneath and crawling under there I discovered an orange label, so ATF it is – which seems strange in a manual box! The local motor factors only had cheapy/generic stuff in so I ordered some Castrol Dexron III stuff off Amazon, more expensive but it won’t be changed often.

After a bit of research I discovered that there are a couple of routes to a quicker steering rack. One involves a rack from a Z3 but then I found out the rack from an E46 is the same ratio as the Z3 but has a greater range and is generally cheaper, so although it has more turns lock to lock it’s just as quick. Need to get one with a purple tag though – what is it with BMW and colour coding stuff? I found one on Ebay for £70 so got that ordered. While I was at it I also ordered a machined billet alloy steering bush.

2016-07-24 16.13.40When I got the car the doors had had the main trim panels removed but they still had a thin foam type undertrim stuck on with the original mastic. These looked particularly horrid so I pulled them off and spent a while with a cloth and some petrol getting all the mastic off. I don’t really want to leave all the window motors and sharp edges on display so I did a bit of shopping round and found some reasonably priced GRP cards on Ebay and got those delivered. Here’s a pic of the inside of the passenger door without its card.

2016-07-24 16.13.51And here’s the driver’s door with card in situ. It doesn’t sit flat on the door as the actual door surface isn’t flat and the window motor protrudes but it keeps the sharp edges out of reach and looks much tidier than before.

Last job of the weekend was the gearbox oil. With the car up on axle stands I could crawl underneath and work out where the filler and drain plugs were on the gearbox. The drain plug is a doddle but the filler plug is tucked away behind the SMG hydraulic lines and awkward to get at. I’m also not really used to crawling about under a car on axle stands as the BDN has a flat floor and everything is done from above. The plug was also quite tight and removing it involved my 1/2″ drive ratchet handle, a long piece of wood and a lump hammer. I prevailed in the end 🙂 As expected a load of dark goo drained out. I then used a very handy Silverline 500ml oil suction gun that cost me the princely sum of £5.39 delivered from Amazon, a glorified 500ml syringe really with a nice PVC tube on the end. Made pretty short work of filling the gearbox with ATF without any spillage until of course it was full and overflowing. Then I had to work out how to get the under shields back on and get her back down onto her wheels again.

So, she’s ready for the next adventure which is a Bookatrack open pitlane trackday at Donington on Friday. David’s coming along for a drive this time and I can’t wait 🙂

BDN For Sale

2016-05-30 11.38.59

The much loved BDN is now up for sale. I decided some time ago that I wasn’t going to return to the RGB paddock and I’ve decided it’s a bit wasted as a trackday car.

To summarise:

  • BDN S3 built in 2011
  • 2009 Kawasaki ZX10R engine with AB billet sump
  • IVA in March 2012 so car is road registered on a 12 plate
  • Chassis has pullrod suspension so very easy ride height/corner weight adjustment
  • Quantum dampers
  • Willwood brakes with rear handbrake calipers and adjustable bias
  • Chain drive with Quaife QDF7 LSD
  • 13″ Team Dynamics ProRace 1.2 wheels
  • Schroth 6 point harness
  • Very light, needs 10kg lead + 6 litres fuel with me (85kg) to achieve RGB minimum weight of 560kg

Although the car has never come near winning anything in RGB that’s all my fault rather than the car’s! It’s light enough, slippery enough and handles well enough to compete in the hands of a better driver.

It needs some work doing to it, but not much, it could go out and race next week, it would just need the extinguisher updating. It ran faultlessly all day at a trackday at Pembrey in June. I modified the front and rear bodywork in the quest for a little less drag and a bit more downforce and I think I achieved that, the main benefit being a more stable rear end. The modifications to the bodywork were an ongoing project and would benefit from some tidying up. This could be a great entry level RGB Class R car, most of the others anywhere near this price bracket will be significantly heavier. It would also make a very fast trackday car, it’s always been about the quietest car in RGB as it was silenced to IVA levels (99dB @ 3/4rpm) and I’ve done a couple of trackdays at Donington where the noise police are at their most draconian without any issues. It’s a genuine 2 seater and comes with a passenger foam seat and 6 point harness.

The car isn’t MOT’d, I let it expire 3 years after it was first registered. To get an MOT it will need new headlight bulbs and the cat sticking back in the exhaust system as well as the original IVA map for the Power Commander.

I also have loads of spares including engine parts, new chain, spare wheels, starter motor, set of spare 15″ wheels/tyres etc.

Asking price is £12,500 ono with spares negotiable. Any questions please get in touch. The car’s entire history from its initial conception is documented here in this blog.


With the MOT out of the way and the car taxed I could take her out for a proper spin. After carefully checking the bonnet was latched I took her out on Monday afternoon. All was good and she’s good fun to drive, typical old school BMW with the bottom hinged throttle pedal with fairly long travel and a strong spring. Positivity required! I’d stuck the wheels with the brand new Rainsport3s on so they felt slightly squirmy throwing it round roundabouts but it certainly seems to handle well and is very pointy despite a fairly low ratio steering rack.

The seat is slightly offset being just to the right of the steering wheel and I suspect it might also be angled slightly too, which is a bit off-putting, especially coupled with the very low seating position. I suspect it’s something I’ll get used to but I may well see if I can sort it out.

One issue was that on a couple of occasions it fluffed the 3rd to 4th gearchange, clearly something to keep an eye on. The evening before the Pembrey trackday I hooked up the laptop with a view to bleeding the clutch and gearbox actuation system. Trouble is I couldn’t get the software to work, it has routines for the E46 but I couldn’t find anything in there for the E36. I need to run a different package (GT1) but that needs a VMWare virtual machine setting up on my laptop and I didn’t have time to get that set up.

I did manage to get the oil and filter changed and changed all the brake fluid and bled the brakes all round. The forecast for Pembrey was overcast but dry so I stuck the Federal dry tyres on. Sure enough it was raining on Friday morning with it seemingly set in for most of the day!

I decided to leave the dry tyres on for the sighting laps to see what it was like. There was no standing water and although we were going slowly I did manage to lean on the tyres a bit and they felt OK so I left them on for the first session. I had my friend Phil with me, he lives nearby and has spent his life rallying, mainly in his Mk2 Escort, so he rode shotgun. We came off the circuit hugely impressed with the car and the tyres. By now I was used to the offset steering wheel and the low rack etc. and was getting used to the feel of the car. The engine pulls like a train and sounds great, it’s got a bit of understeer turning in especially in the hairpins but otherwise was very neutral round the corners with very progressive slide and no stepping out at all except when I was deliberately provoking it exiting the hairpin. The brakes felt great, very powerful and progressive with no vibration or pulling to one side. The added bonus of course coming from the BDN was having a roof over my head, windscreen wipers, a heater to keep it demisted and even the rear window demister works.

As the day went by we got progressively quicker, the trackday was busier then last time although still only 25 cars. Once I got up to speed the only cars quicker were a Radical on full wets and a guy in another E36 M3 similarly stripped out and caged. He was clearly a good pedaller and spent the whole day on slicks and was sideways a lot of the time although he did get caught out on one occasion and found they didn’t work so well on the grass. He did actually contact the tyre wall but got away just with a cracked rear light cluster lens.

Phil had 3 sessions in the car, he initially struggled big time – he’s never driven a car without a clutch before, or with a sequential gearbox, or one with this much power. He’d also never driven on a circuit before. By the third session he got much better though with much better lines etc.

The 4th gear issue recurred so during the morning I got into the habit of shifting through it straight from 3rd to 5th as I approached Woodlands and leaving the car in 4th for Honda so only one shift up through 4th per lap. Interestingly it actually got better throughout the day and in the afternoon I was using 4th gear normally with only one missed shift all afternoon. I think the likely cause of this is either a broken detent spring (accessible without taking the gearbox off) or a seized actuation knuckle (which might explain why it got better). It seems unlikely that it’s to do with the very expensive SMG pump as it’s so specific to 4th gear and it also seems unlikely to be a worn/damaged synchro ring issue with it improving. I think it’s something that can wait till the winter although maybe running the software adaptation routine might sort it.

I went home a happy bunny. I really thought the car was a bit of a shed when I bought it and was deeply suspicious of it. I also really wasn’t sure what I’d make of it compared to the BDN as a driving experience. It does seem however that I’ve got a bit of a bargain and it was actually more fun than the BDN – in addition to the comfort aspects it seems a lot more forgiving to drive and it’s certainly fast enough.

Now I know it’s a keeper I have a new to do list. I’ll replace the rather horrid seat, also the steering wheel and boss. I also plan to sort out a quicker steering rack for it. And the bonnet needs some silver paint!

Here are a couple of laps from the end of the afternoon as the track was starting to dry out a bit:


Once the paint was dry on the cage I could bolt it back in and persuade the sleeves back into place with the lump hammer then give it all another coat of paint. Once that was dry I refitted all the bolts.

Meanwhile I’d taken the battery out and as usual the battery tray was pretty rusty so that got a wire brushing, a coat of phosphoric acid then some hammerite. A replacement Bosch battery from Eurocarparts was £37 and that went in, it’s smaller than a standard M3 battery but will be perfectly adequate for a car that won’t be sitting in traffic in a commute with lights, wipers and heating on. The old battery was secured with a luggage strap which did the job but didn’t look great so I fabricated a piece of aluminium plate to hold it in.

I refitted the brake light switch and checked all the lights were working, which they were and the on board computer was now not showing any faults. It was however telling me to set the date and time and the buttons for that didn’t seem to be working. There’s a mess of wires where the radio was and none of the climate control panel isn’t functioning either so I decided to get that off to have a look and presumably reconnect stuff up.

However once I got the panels off each unit has single block connectors with lots of little wires so all CAN bus controlled. I did discover that the reason I couldn’t set the date/time was because the little bulb that illuminates that bit of the LCD display was blown. I swapped it for one of the others and it was fine so I just need to get a new bulb. When I unplugged the connector to the climate control the heater fan started running, when it’s connected none of the buttons does anything and none of them illuminate so I think the control unit’s dead. Off to the Bay of E for a replacement …

The aftermarket steering wheel does have a horn button but it doesn’t do anything. So I unbolted it and found a pair of bare spade connectors behind it. I took the steering column trim panels apart and found 2 pairs of wires, one of which had to be for the horn, the other presumably for the airbag. A quick search for a wiring diagram told me the wires I wanted were Br and Br/Rt which I worked out were brown and brown/red (rot) and a bit of stripping and crimping later and I had a functioning horn.

I swapped the wheels over and found that the fronts had 3mm spacers but in addition to the spacers some washers to push the wheels out a bit further. The hubs have 5 bolts/studs but there were 3 washers on the right side and 2 on the left! The washers had indented the spacers so no way the wheels could have been running true! Not impressed.

I had a half day Thursday so booked the car in for an MOT at 3:30. I’d dropped the spare set of wheels off at the tyre place with the new Uniroyal Rainmasters on my way home then had my work cut out refitting the drivers footwell plate, seats and harnesses, as usual everything took longer than expected. A replacements aircon control panel had arrived from Ebay and this worked fine. I also had to find a suitable plank of wood to stick in the drive to raise the car enough to get over the gate stop. By now it was just gone 3:30. I set off on a test drive, stuck the SMG into sport mode and headed off up the road. The brakes were making a godawful racket as the car had been standing for so long but that soon improved and after a couple of miles of repeated braking all was well, I even managed to lock the rears with the handbrake at 30mph!

Then disaster struck. The bonnet flipped up and blew backwards breaking the windscreen as well as damaging the bonnet 🙁 I managed to get the bonnet back down and shut but the screen had a load of cracks across the lower third of it. I decided to carry on with the shakedown drive and went a couple of miles up the road before turning back and grabbing some fuel on the way home. The MOT station is only 100m or so from the house so I called in to apologise for being late and explained what had happened. The tester said there was no retest fee within 10 days so I thought I may as well carry on with it, at least then I’d know where I was and have a finite list of tihngs to sort out. So I left the car there while I went to pick up the spare set of wheels from Harris Brothers. They surprised me by charging me £13.50 for fitting and balancing 4 tyres!

I got back and walked round the the MOT garage to find out the news on the M3. The tester was still filling in the stuff on his computer then said it had failed on the windscreen, the wiper (which had been damaged by the bonnet flipping back) and the horn. Everything else was fine! So that made me feel a bit better, the screen’s a PITA especially as it was my own fault for not shutting the bonnet properly but it’s easily fixable and a known quantity. No idea why the horn had decided not to work as it was fine the evening before but that won’t take more than 10 minutes to sort. I’m just glad I hadn’t had time to fit the new wiper blades or they would have been mangled too!

I really didn’t want to claim for a new windscreen within hours of taking the insurance out and the MOT guy suggested one of the local car salvage places. I rang them Friday morning but they didn’t have an E36 coupe screen. I tried another who said he did and gave me the number of the guy who fits them. He said he’d need to check they had the right screen as the coupe’s different from the compact but in any case he reckoned a new screen is going to be about £145. It turned out the screen was no good so I ended up ordering a new screen but getting it sorted was a pain as I was away for the week on hols.

Despite being on hols Jen needed to come back for a meeting all day Thursday so I came back and managed to source a used bonnet. It’s got a dent in the middle where some one has closed it with something on top of the engine but it’s not too bad and the dent dropped the price for the bonnet plus hinges to £36. I managed to get the screen done on Saturday morning and was pleasantly surprised by the price – £85 + vat for the screen, £14 for a new trim strip from BMW and £40 for fitting. I had to trailer the car there so it actually took a chunk out of the day, but still, it was done.

Over the weekend I got the bonnet swapped over, would have been nice to paint it first but not really enough time as the Pembrey trackday is next Friday. 10 minutes saw the horn wiring redone then I popped the new spacers behind the front wheels. I’ve worked out it needs spacers because the camber has been increased quite a lot, meaning the top of the tyre rubs on the coilover spring. It seems this has been done by reversing the top mount plate rather than shims on the lower strut mounts.

Monday was a day off so I booked the car in again at the local MOT station. Didn’t take long this time, just checked the screen, wiper blades and the horn and I was good to go. Onto the DVLA website, sorted the direct debit details and she’s taxed and ready to play on the road legally 🙂

The work begins …

So, where to begin. I’ve decided the first tasks really are to sort out the roll cage and get the car in fully working order and to do that I need to be able to drive it. So I want to get it MOT’d. Here’s the list of items from the failure in August 2011:

Mileage 81756 miles
Refusal Notices

  1. Anti-lock braking system warning lamp indicates an abs fault (3.4.1c)
  2. Front registration plate missing (6.3.1a)
  3. Nearside stop lamp not working (1.2.1b)
  4. Offside stop lamp not working (1.2.1b)
  5. Nearside headlamp not working on dipped beam (1.7.5a)
  6. Offside headlamp not working on dipped beam (1.7.5a)
  7. Nearside headlamp not working on main beam (1.7.5a)
  8. Offside headlamp not working on main beam (1.7.5a)
  9. Nearside front direction indicators not working (1.4.a.2c)
  10. Nearside side repeater incorrect colour (1.4.a.2f)
  11. Nearside front power steering pipe(s) or hose(s) leaking from a joint (2.3.3b)
  12. Nearside front tyre has a cut in excess of the requirements deep enough to reach the ply or cords (4.1.d.1a)
  13. Nearside rear tyre tread depth below requirements of 1.6mm (4.1.e.1)
  14. Offside front front brake binding (3.7.b.1)
  15. Rear brake disc in such a condition that it is seriously weakened (3.5.1i)
  16. Offside rear brake disc in such a condition that it is seriously weakened (3.5.1i)
  17. Brakes imbalanced across an axle (3.7.b.5b)

Advisory Notices

  1. Parking brake: parking brake efficiency only just met. it would appear that the braking system requires adjustment or repair. (3.7.b.7)
  2. Front brake discs poor condition

2016-06-23 09.16.23I guess if I’d taken a car for an MOT and got that list back I’d be pretty disappointed in myself! Certainly all the lighting related issues are pretty minor schoolboy errors and apart from the power steering hose the rest are all brake system related. Obviously it was all fixed for the MOT pass in September 2011, the car clearly had new discs and pads all round and has done less than 2,000 miles since then so they’re all fine. The lights however aren’t, the brake lights don’t work nor does the reversing light. Initially it appeared to be mostly because the bulb holders have been taken out of the rear light units. Seems they’re £10-15 each so I decided it was easier to just buy a pair of used clusters off Ebay that included the holder. A bit of research told me that if the brake light switch fails it can leave the brake lights on all the time which seemed an obvious explanation for the removal. I stuck the replacement bulbs in and ordered a new switch, however having removed it and fiddled around with it the old one seemed to be working. Meanwhile leaving the lights on had flattened the battery. The battery must be quite old anyway and has been standing for the best part of 4 years so it would actually be a bit surprising if it wasn’t knackered!

2016-06-23 09.16.39Refitting the brake light switch led to some really bad language as it involves burrowing into the footwell to get both hands to it which is nigh on impossible with the roll cage in there. So next job was to get the roll cage and seats out. I initially planned to paint the roll cage but chatting with my brother Andy he suggested powder coating. A factory unit I drive past several times a week just over a mile from the house fairly recently put up a vinyl banner outside saying they did powder coating so I gave them a ring and spoke to a very helpful person who said it would be about £70 so I figured at that price it wasn’t worth me spending all the time and aggro it would take spraying it, plus it would be more durable.

I’ve decided I don’t mind doing a dry trackday on the tyres that are on the car, but didn’t fancy going out in the wet on 5 year old tyres so a bit of research came up with a recommendation for Uniroyal Rainmaster 3’s. A set of these were delivered from Camskill for £213 and my local tyre place will fit them for £10 a corner, they quoted £90 each for the tyres! I’ll leave the wheel refurb till the winter, it’s low on the list of priorities.

I want to replace all the fluids etc. in the car and got these along with oil and air filter from Opie Oils. It seems the ester based Fuchs 0w40 is what’s recommended so I got 10 litres of that along with a couple of litres of brake fluid and a couple of litres of the hydraulic fluid used for the SMG system.

I want to have access to the vehicle diagnostics for general information and resetting warning lights etc. and specifically need it to bleed the SMG fluid. £30 odd got me an OBD lead with adaptor (my car hasn’t got the now standard OBD connector) off Ebay that came with all the diagnostic software and the BMW TIS workshop manual.

Online insurance quotes ranged from £141.52 to £10,950 which suggested that some of the companies have either got something against me or something against M3s or both! It wasn’t easy to list the mods in the quote either so I ended up ringing Adrian Flux who quoted me £215 fully comp including a detailed list of the mods (cage, seats, harnesses etc.) so I’ll go with that.

2016-06-23 17.28.24So on my first day off I made a start. Seats out, harnesses out, also removed the chequer plate floor in the driver’s footwell then removed all the bolts holding the cage in. It’s in two main sections, front and rear joined with a sleeve each side above the door and the tube across the door on ech side has a sleeve front and back. I undid the bolts from the sleeves and found they were pretty tight, tight enough to pinch the tubes meaning I couldn’t shift the sleeves. I did shift them of course, using a drift with the lump hammer. And then set about getting the cage out of the car. After about an hour of trying all ways I realised it was impossible. Despite the fact that it’s bolted together it has to have been welded up in situ. To remove the rear stays I had to get the rear wheels off, while they were off I swapped the wheel bolts for studs to make it easier to get the wheels on and off. I also realised that the tyres were in slightly worse condition than I’d thought with not a lot of tread left and one of them has a cut across the full width of the tread.

2016-06-23 17.28.28So, on with plan B the next morning … do what I can to clean it up and paint it in the car. As you can see from the pics it’s a rather fetching orange colour, all very superficial but looks awful nevertheless. First stage was to get the rust off with some steel wool then it got a splash of phosphoric acid to neutralise the rust. This was on Andy’s advice, I thought it might be difficult to get this stuff but it’s actually very easy, you just go on Ebay and search for it, click the buy now button parting with £18.50 and it lands on your doorstep the next day!

2016-06-24 12.05.11Never used the stuff before but really impressed with it. Diluted it down a bit, brushed it on and left it to dry to find it left a sticky residue and looks like this pic.

2016-06-24 15.08.24This then washed off easily with a damp cloth taking the rust with it. In addition to chemically removing the rust it etches the metal so I ended up with a very clean looking roll cage as you can see in this pic. Quick clean up with some acetone and then out with the Hammerite. I did think about spraying it but decided it would make too much of a mess of the interior of the car and I really don’t want to go stripping it right back to a shell removing the dash and all the wiring loom etc.

2016-06-24 15.58.06By the end of the second day I’d given the whole cage a coat of paint and bolted it back in. It needs another coat but is already looking dramatically better.

The German

I’ve deliberated for a long time about getting another track car. The BDN is great in many ways, it’s very fast, relatively cheap to run and I love the bike engine and gearbox. But it does have some weaknesses, it’s open so not great on cold or wet days. It’s pretty tiny so not great for either taking passengers out or sitting in with someone else driving. It’s also pretty unforgiving being mid-engined, once it starts to go it’s difficult to catch and while I’m used to the car it makes it fairly intimidating for anyone else (like my sons, my brother or friends) to drive.

So I thought about buying another car purely for non-competitive fun. Everyone recommends a Lotus Elise/Exige as they’re light and handle really well, but I don’t fit in them being 6′ 5″ tall – I know, I’ve tried sitting in Dan’s Elise. I also thought about a Porsche Boxster or Cayman, the Cayman S I had a few years ago was a lovely car to drive, powerful, great engine noise and fabulous handling. But they’re relatively expensive both to buy and to run, consumables like brake pads and disks are expensive. Next on the list was a BMW M3, lots of them about, fairly fast, handle well and loads of aftermarket bits available and lots of knowledge out there about getting the best out of them. I ended up settling on an E36, preferably one of the later 3.2 litre Evo models – with 321bhp they’re fairly powerful and they’re lighter and a little less complex to work on than the later E46 which is only marginally more powerful.

After a few weeks trawling Autotrader, Pistonheads classifieds and EBay I found what was actually a fairly uninspiring car on Ebay. It was a 1998 M3 Evo that had already been prepped for track use with a cage, bucket seats, harnesses and coilovers and came with a set of spare wheels. The seller hadn’t exactly oversold it in his ad which had a few photos taken on a pretty dark wet day, the car looked fairly shabby with no obvious prep to sell it and the description was very minimal. I emailed the seller to check it was in running order and the SMG gearbox was working and got a pretty terse reply confirming that it was all working fine. With a few days to go it was on £3500 but the reserve wasn’t met. I did some online checking and found the last MOT had expired in September 2012, almost 4 years go and prior to passing the previous September it had failed in the August with a list of faults as long as your arm, including problems with most of the lights, brakes, tyres. After a bit of discussion with brother Andy I decided to give it a punt and as I was sitting in the airport lounge waiting to fly on hols to Menorca I bid £5k which made me the highest bidder and exceeded the reserve. It ended quite late at night so I checked the next morning to find I’d got it.

2016-06-18 14.29.44The car was in Manchester so I arranged to go up there with the trailer on the Saturday after flying back from Menorca. The seller was actually pretty personable and showed me round his garage which included the other item he was selling, a lovely looking Kawasaki H2 750 triple. The M3 was actually in much better condition than I’d expected, the paintwork’s all pretty good with a couple of small areas of blistering as indeed had most of the others I’d been looking at. It started fine and the engine sounded nice and quiet. The brake disks all looked fairly unused and had obviously been changed to get the MOT in 2011, it also had new EBC yellow pads all round. So I handed over my cash and stuck it on the trailer to bring it home.

Back on the drive at home David and Chris’s first impressions were that it was pretty chavtastic but they did concede that it’s not in bad nick for an 18 year old car and they clearly hadn’t appreciated the power output of the 3.2 straight six and liked the sound of it. Even Jen approved.

The seats are cheapies but they’ll do for now. The harnesses are very cheapies, unbranded 4 point Chinese ones so they won’t do and will be replaced before I venture out in the car. The wheels on the car have Federal 595 RS-R trackday tyres on, there’s plenty of tread left but of course they’re 5 years old. I may well leave them on for a dry trackday or two before replacing them. The spare wheels have 2 unused but 4 year old Federals on and 2 part worn Kumhos. So I think I’ll get some new tyres for the spare wheels to use as wets and at some point will get the wheels refurbed as they’re fairly tatty. The roll cage looks nicely made and the mount points it’s bolted to have been reinforced, the cage itself has never been painted though and is just bare steel with a very light sheen of rust but no actual pitting etc.

Overall I’m pleased with it, it fits the bill nicely. It’s also significantly lower mileage than all the other M3s I was looking at, most of the E36s were 110k to 150k miles but this one has done 83k and less than 2,000 miles since the last MOT 5 years ago.

Pembrey 3/6/2016

After a short but somewhat hectic working week after the Bank Holiday I had most of Thursday free to prep the car for Friday’s trackday. This one’s organised by WAM Trackdays who I assume are new to the scene and is good value at £160 for a day’s open pitlane action. Pembrey’s my local circuit, about 18 miles away and is actually a very nice circuit to drive although not without issues resulting in few of the trackday organisers coming down here. Best not elaborate further on here …

Anyway, apart from a general spanner check the car needed new brake and clutch fluid and the suspension needed setting up after the change to softer springs. The garage was still a bit of a tip but I’d spent a bit of time on Tuesday evening sorting out my tools and the usual boxes of fasteners and spares I used to take to race weekends and it was really nice to spend some time in the garage again. By early evening the car was ready to go with ride height set up on the new softer springs and corner weighted.

The weather on Thursday was fab, sunny and warm. Past experience told me it’s always cold at these old airfield tracks so I stuck my fleece in the car anyway and headed off for the huge 18 mile trek to Pembrey. It’s quite strange going to trackdays after being used to race weekend. On a race weekend you pitch up often on Thursday night for testing on the Friday and the paddock’s usually already rammed with space at a premium. Trackdays are somewhat different, especially this one with only about 15 cars on it I had my pick of mice level concrete areas to park up. Signing on was very friendly and the briefing was clear and professional but without the officiousness you often tend to get.

2016-06-03 10.09.12We went out for sighting laps at 9am and then it was open pitlane for the day. With such a low number of cars there was of course absolutely no queueing and in fact the cars on track were a bit sparse and in some sessions I didn’t even come across another car on track, a few more cars would have made it a bit more interesting. I soon found my way around and did tweak the dampers and ARB a bit but after a couple of adjustments the car felt nicely balanced and I decided to stop fiddling and just enjoy the day driving. I’d put new brake pads in all round and they bedded in nicely giving nicely progressive but very effective braking.

It was a really relaxed day all round, the other drivers were all friendly and all seemed to be pretty experienced track drivers. Mine was about the fastest car out there even with me driving it but I was never held up, they were all very aware. There was a fairly quick Caterham there and a couple of quick saloons, a V8 M3 and and Audi S4 with a cage and lots of upgrades. The BM and the Audi were a bit quicker in a straight line but no match for the BDN in the corners or braking zones.

The car behaved impeccably all day. Having brought my boxes of bits with me I realised I’d actually left my tool chest behind! It turned out to be a non issue, the only thing I had to do was replace a couple of bolts from the flange between manifold and exhaust centre section which I suspect I hadn’t tightened when I reassembled it and the friendly Caterham owner lent me a spanner. I drove well within my comfort zone all day, the aim was to refamiliarise myself with the car, troubleshoot any issues with her and see how she felt on the softer springs. Having taken my race overalls with me I never bothered sticking them on and drove in jeans and jumper all day although I was actually a bit warm, the expected cool breeze never materialised and it stayed warm and sunny all day. The car drew quite a bit of interest and lots of positive comments, of course no-one had ever heard of a BDN before! By the end of the afternoon I was absolutely knackered, my neck was like a piece of overcooked spaghetti and I was getting cramp in my hands but I kept going till just after 4pm by which time I’d done more sessions than I could count and from the fuel I used I’d estimate about 90 minutes or so on track all in short sessions. Here’s a short clip of one of the sessions, it looks and sounds pretty slow and in fact was about 3 seconds a lap slower than my previous fastest round there, but watch my head rattling about!

So, mission accomplished. I’d always planned to return to the track and the day certainly made me want to do more. Did it make me want to go racing again though? No, definitely not. While I missed all my RGB buddies and the race weekend fun and banter I certainly didn’t miss the queueing for scrutineering, the cost of testing plus the race entry fees, lost time in testing due to red flags and the hanging round in parc ferme that was becoming an increasing feature of RGB. Also the risks associated with being on track with a fairly large number of cars. RGB has become increasingly competitive and the speed differences have increased as people enter the formula who are there to win rather than to take part. This has a couple of effects, firstly it means lots of the older cars, like mine, will never be competitive. Secondly it means there are some very fast cars out there with fairly aggressive but less experienced drivers in them which increases the risk of contact. When you’ve got a team of helpers to fix your car for you and you don’t mind throwing money at it that’s fine but for me it’s not the ethos that drew me to RGB in the first place. It’s with some sadness that I read all the latest ructions about car eligibility and accusations of ‘bent’ engines – it all just confirms that I don’t want to go back.

So, trackdays it is then. But is the BDN the ideal trackday car? It’s fast and it’s relatively cheap to run – I used about 40 litres of fuel and the wear on tyres and brakes was minimal. However trackday fun isn’t necessarily about being the fastest out there and a mid-engined bike-engined car can be a little unforgiving. It also ain’t great fun in the wet for multiple reasons. And it ain’t great for either passengering or letting sons/brothers/mates drive it. So I’m on the lookout for another track car, something front engined and rear wheel drive, watch this space.

Just a quick plug also for WAM trackdays. They’re fairly new to the scene but well organised and Phil Wright who runs it was a nice guy, very personable and although I know it helps not having many cars out there he ran a relaxed but well controlled trackday and I look forward to joining them again.

The car sees daylight again

Yes, I’m still here. The last time I drove the car was at a Donington trackday with Al Boulton in October 2014, and the time before that was Silverstone in August 2014. A lot’s happened since then as my friends will know. I’d got my licence ready to race and had entered the RGB series last year but never got round to prepping the car as I found out in early April that I had a fairly major heart problem and had cardiac surgery in May. I made a pretty good recovery but needless to say racing went out of the window.

I had an aortic root replacement that required 8 hours in the operating theatre, 6 days in ITU and 10 weeks off work. It was obviously some time after that before I felt well enough to do anything terribly physical and I’m on warfarin which increases the risk of bleeding so I haven’t contemplated speaking to the MSA about getting a licence back. Or getting approval from Jen which may well prove more difficult! Anyway, I haven’t been just sitting on my backside, in recent months I’ve fitted a new kitchen myself, fitted the utility room, built new driveway gate pillars and installed new gates with nice electric automation and built a new greenhouse. The gardens’s also looking better than it ever did when I was racing!

Every time I went in the garage I’d feel bad though. As time went by the BDN just got covered in more junk and was completely neglected. At the Silverstone race meeting in August 2014 I’d modified the bodywork significantly and found that the cooling didn’t work well enough which led to a conrod exiting the block. That was the end of my season although I did do a trackday with some help form Al Boulton although that ended prematurely when one of the exhaust headers fell off. The conclusion had been that the suspension was too stiff, Al’s comment was that it felt like the car was trying to kill him 🙂 So last year’s early prep had seen new springs all round and a new TIG welder to play with so I could sort the exhaust. And there she’s sat ever since with the headers on but the rest of the exhaust in bits.

It’s now time to make a move. I still keep in touch with my old RGB buddies and took part in the Mallory Park Plop Enduro with Austen, Dan and my brother Andy last month. I don’t see me going back to RGB though. I think I was losing my mojo anyway, it had changed quite a bit back in 2014 and I was starting to lose interest back then. It’s continued to change since then with lap times ever falling, more car development especially in the aerodynamic department and more folks there supported by professional, or at least semi-professional, teams. It’s no longer the formula of the privateer who built his own car in his garage and preps and repairs it himself although of course there are a few of them left there. I’ve decided I’ll do some trackdays and see how it goes.

2016-05-30 09.28.48So yesterday I made a start on uncovering the car. As you can see from this pic this was a non-trivial matter! Within an hour though she was clear and I could push her out into the sunshine for the first time in over 18 months. She was of course filthy and needed a good wash, also a good vacuum as the mice have been in there so lots of mouse crap and peanut husks to get out of there!

One of the reasons I hadn’t finished the exhaust off was because it didn’t fit. I had a new manifold made in 2014 and it was never quite right, putting the system under quite a bit of strain when I tightened up the bolts holding the centre section in, which is probably why it fell apart at Donington. Basically the header is about 6mm too short, so I made a spacer out of some aluminium plate which improved the situation no end. With the exhaust back together it was time to see if she’d run. And she wouldn’t. The engine fired but wouldn’t run, dying as soon as I touched the throttle. Fuel was showing 5% so I whipped the plugs out and gave them a clean, checked the fuel pump relay and fuel pump wiring – all OK. Disconnected the fuel supply to the throttle bodies and found there was no fuel when the ECU tried to pressurise the system at initialisation. Then I remembered Donington a couple of years ago … and stuck some fuel in the tank which miraculously solved the problem. she fired straight away once reconnected up.

2016-05-30 11.38.59And here she is back together and looking clean again. I’ve taken the race numbers off as they may put some trackday organisers off, easy enough to argue that it’s a road car without them and with the number plate back on 🙂 She still needs some work – brake and clutch need fluid replacing, I need to set up the suspension ride height and corner weighting and the front light wiring needs fixing securely as the front wheels have caught it. There’s a trackday at Pemrey this Friday and with any luck I should make it there.