Guest contributor: Alexander Stewart on his 1977 BMW 320i
As a kid I always enjoyed cars— in particular older cars. One of my favorites growing up was the car I grew up riding around in, the car I learned to drive on, and most recently, the car that would later become my own. That car is a 1977 E21 BMW 320i.
I have a lot of great memories in this car. My father purchased the car in 1979 and drove it reguarly until 2004, by which point it was showing its age. It was time to decide what to do— drive it as is for the remainder of its days or restore it back to its former glory? We decided to go with the latter.
Our work was cut out for us— we immediately set out to address all of the car’s rust spots (found in the usual places for these cars: around the bottom of the doors and rockers, along the windshield and back window seals, and in the trunk area) and gave the body a respray in its original Arktisblau-metallic (adding in some pearl to give the paint more shine and depth). The seats were reupholstered; the carpet and headliner were replaced. It would be the start of (one hopes) a lifelong relationship.
Looking back on the restoration process, I never imagined it would take as long as it did. Three years later, the car was finally back on the road— but exhibiting the kind of symptoms one might expect from a car that’s been sitting for so long— leaking hoses, clogged filters, a lost starter one summer. After the body work was out of the way, it seemed like over time everything else would get replaced or rebuilt at some point or another.
The car has the original 2.0L M10 with approximately 215,000 miles and still runs strong. This past summer I installed a Stahl header and a 2.25″ Mandrel bend stainless exhaust. The suspension was replaced with Bilstein sports, H&R springs, and a rear swaybar. The 15×7 BBS RA wheels were found on another E21 in a local junkyard and promptly refinished with gunmetal centers. More recent acquisitions include an E21 sport steering wheel as well as E21 Recaros.
It’s funny how you don’t really know what will go wrong until you get the car out there and start driving the thing. That’s just part of driving a 34 year-old car: it’s always an adventure. It’s been my daily driver for four years now and has admittedly left me stranded a few times— a fuel pump relay here, a bad wheel bearing there. Needless to say, I have learned to keep a few spare parts and tools in the boot as a precautionary measure.
And yet, driving this car is always a rewarding experience. The car continues to bring a smile to my face every time I get behind the wheel. It feels connected to the road in a way I’ve not felt in other cars that I’ve driven. I am continually impressed at how well these cars can keep up with modern traffic— in fact, one of the best feelings is passing newer cars on the highway, to which I’m sure many owners of older cars can relate. It may not be the fastest car on the road, but it sure is fun to drive, especially in the corners.
So this is how my passion for working on these cars began. I have been doing the maintenance on my E21 for about four years now, with the help of a Haynes manual and the E21 forums. They are about as fun to work on as thay are to drive! There is always something to do to it, whether it’s needed or not.
I’m thankful to my father for getting me into these old Bimmers— without him, who knows what I would be driving today. My E21 has been a great car, taking me to many places and introducing me to a lot of my friends. It’s a car that will stay in the family forever.
Words: Alexander Stewart
Images: Diego Martinez-Conde
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~ by DL on November 24, 2011.
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