I’m CarAdvice’s senior editor, which means I have the privilege and honour of covering the industry for Australia’s best auto title.
As such, I’m never without a new car or three to evaluate. But as amazing as such a job is, I’ve always thought it important to have a palate cleanser.
Driving something older, with character, gives a great contrast. It’s a way of connecting the best of today with the best of yesterday. And frankly, I need a new car like I need a hole in the head.
My current little project on four wheels is a 1995 BMW 318i, cheekily de-badged. It follows in the wheel tracks of my former toy, a ’91 Volvo 240 (loved ironically) and sits alongside a seldom-ridden Honda motorbike in my garage.
I picked it up a year ago for $3500. It’s got a full service history and is about to hit 170,000km. It’s had a pretty easy life, as its pretty well-maintained deep red paint will attest. Though the Aussie sun has taken the lustre from the black plastic bumpers!
With a mighty 85kW 1.8-litre engine, the base Bimmer is no firebrand. It takes me about 13sec to get to triple figures. At which point I’m hovering near 2800rpm in fifth.
Yes, fifth. Mine’s a manual. I like to engage with cars and use my left foot, though in fairness the shifter is rubbery and vague and the clutch squeaks between sneaky WD40 top-ups. Tight-arse…
Mine’s on OEM suspension that I’ll never lower/dump, though I threw on some E90 wheels (running on 205/55 R16 rubber, not of the run-flat variety obviously). Coilovers? Not in this lifetime.
It’s particularly enjoyable driving the E36 because its hydraulic power steering gives you remarkable road feel, while the suspension balances comfort and body control better than many new cars. The E36/46 eras were BMW’s dynamic pomp.
About the only pain in the arse is the suspected busted clock spring giving a constant wheel squeak just off centre. Need to fix that.
Inside it’s pretty sparse, with an inherited Pioneer radio that I really oughta replace. The dials and orange cabin lights look like a new BMW’s, which makes me appreciate the company’s evolutionary approach all the more.
Some of the trims are getting a little frayed, though the overall quality of the materials, plus the build quality, is remarkably good. It has an ageless and creak-free quality. And the AC absolutely hammers.
At the end of the day, the E36 does precisely what I want: it breaks up my schedule by giving me time in something from yesteryear. You can engage with the Bimmer, and there’s no doubt its conservative execution has helped it age beautifully.
I’ll turn it over at some point and grab something else for a weekend toy. Maybe a VW Up! But for now I’m more than happy. Alborz can have his supercars.