Hello, Oppositelock!


I recently moved from Chicago to Flint, Michigan, and have been car-less for a while. I never had room for a car back home. But now I do, and I'm in a car-rich area. And so, as you can probably imagine, it didn't take long for me to end up with a car. And boy, I ended up with more than a car. I ended up with an adventure.

The fine specimen you see above is my Oliver. Oliver is a 1987 BMW 535i. And like the majority of cars his age, he has some problems. He's also my only car, and my only means of transportation. My goal in writing this series is to chronicle living with an old (and as you'll see, rather ghetto) BMW, what breaks, what gets fixed (or doesn't), and what I learn along the way. I'm out to have an adventure, and I'd love you guys to be able to join me and help me along the way. It'll be fun, I promise!


But first, the story so far. I bought Oliver from a senior at my university. I'm the third student from this school to own him, and he has some history.

Oliver is the Detroit region SCCA rallycross champion (and yes, I still have the lights). He has somewhere over 300k miles on the clock, but it's hard to know since the odometer stopped shortly after 200k. A couple years back, the driveshaft broke. Since 5-series driveshafts are expensive, the precious owner bought a 3-series driveshaft, cut it and welded it to fit, and installed it in the car. He then promptly drove it most of the way across the country (and back) with no testing. He made it, and named the car Oliver after Richard Hammond's little car that could. He also made a set of titanium sway bar links. Because. And it is at this point that I enter the picture. I bought the car, and inherited all of it's quirks and problems.

First things first. It is a manual, as it should be. The shifter bearings are all kinds of worn, and there's just absurd amounts of play in the shifter even when it's in gear. Oh yeah. Guessing where the gears are is fun.

The car is also absurdly loud. It has the 3.4L straight six, but there was an exhaust leak. I think I have permanent hearing damage from driving it on the highway. I dismantled the center exhaust joint, sealed it, and called it good. The noise was still there, it just moved forward. So there's still a leak, but I'll get there later.

Speaking of the engine, here it is. I filled it up with fresh fluids, crammed in a battery, and it runs like a top! A bit dirty, sure, but a rock solid runner. The hood has one bad gas strut and one missing strut, so I prop it open with a piece of pipe. That's another thing to put on my list of replacement parts to procure.

Even after changing all the fluids, the check engine light was still on. That's where this guy comes in. This car is before the time of OBD-II, so this is a BMW-specific reset tool. I call it the STFU tool. Plug it in, hold down the button on the side, and when the light on the tool goes off, so does the check engine light. Magic! This exact one doesn't work, so I borrowed a friend's. In the future, I plan to tear it down, reverse engineer it, and rebuild it.



At this point, the car works. There's some things left to do still. I need to bleed the brakes. The front left control arm needs to be replaced. And so does the antenna. And the right rear window mechanism. And one of the tie rods. But the car works, and it drives. I drove it to Detroit and back (and almost went deaf in the process, because exhaust leaks), and I didn't die. In fact, I was comfortable the whole way there and back.

And that brings me to today. I'd had enough of the exhaust, so I put the car on a lift, started it up, and went leak hunting. And I saw this. What you're looking at is one of the two exhaust pipes, broken off where it should enter the exhaust manifold. That's a pretty gaping leak, and would certainly explain the noise. So what to do? I don't actually know how the pipe was supposed to attach. It's not welded to the flange, so it would make sense for the end of the pipe to be flared and clamped in place by the flange. But the car is German, so it's probably not that. I'm not even going to bother trying to weld the pipe back together, as it's pretty much hopeless for something with that much carbon in it. I think I'll either end up TIG brazing it back in place, or just making up a new section of pipe. Pipe is easy to find. What do you guys think?


In the mean time, I have a car, and a damn fine one at that. And that makes me happy. It's loud and it gets bad mileage, but I can't help but smile every time I drive it. And that's what matters to me.

A side note: from now on, I promise I'll try to use a real camera instead of my phone. Real documentation deserves real pictures. If you want to see anything, let me know. If I'm doing it wrong, let me know. And if you're interested in hearing more, let me know. I'm all too happy to share. I also realize that I am now a BMW driver. And that means I have a stereotype to break. I have to park nicely, and drive courteously. But I think I can manage that. And Flint/Detroit area oppos, if you see (or more likely hear) an incredibly loud BMW, now you know it's me. Sorry.

Also, this is my first time writing here. If I can do anything better, let me know and I'm all too happy to fix it. Thanks!