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My Collection of Mostly Broken BMW's - '92 E34 525iT, '00 E39 M5, '76 2002

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  • My Collection of Mostly Broken BMW's - '92 E34 525iT, '00 E39 M5, '76 2002

    Since I've got a small collection of cars in various states of disrepair I thought it would be easier to consolidate all of the goings on in my garage with one big thread instead of trying to keep track of multiple different threads.

    I've already introduced the E34 525iT previously, but in keeping with the idea of the thread I'll present it here so everyone is on the same page.

    I had wanted something that would make for an excellent long road trip car and ideally something that would handle the occasional camping trip. Since I have a bit of an old german car problem, I naturally gravitated to the BMW wagons. I had been looking for a touring for something like six months, but found myself struggling to find one that wasn't clapped out or 1300 miles away in California. This is my 1992 BMW 525iT as I first saw it in the ad I found on Bimmerforums. It was located in Connecticut and was surprisingly clean for an East coast car.

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    1992 is the first year that we got the E34 touring in the good old US of A. All of the North American spec MY92 525iT's were equipped with the non-vanos M50 and an automatic transmission. This car was an early production car (Feb 1992), that came with relatively few options from the factory. The car presented well with black on black leather interior that was in surprisingly good shape for a car with over 181,000 miles. The seller had also upgraded upgraded to wood trim and the 13 button OBC. For the exterior the seller had converted the car to Euro trim, which removes the side reflectors on the front and rear bumpers,had the desirable 3 piece Style 5 (BBS RC090), and the OEM roof rack. Price seemed reasonable and so I reached out to the owner. Biggest challenge was that the car was still some 900 miles away from my home outside of Chicago. I explained the situation to the seller and he graciously promised to hold the car until I could come pick it up.

    I flew into JFK about a month later. First time I ever saw the car was when the seller picked me up from the airport in it. The trip to the seller house was largely uneventful. We had talked about the cars history for the start of the journey, but had quickly gone about discussing all other things car related for the remainder of the trip. I gave the car a quick once over at the sellers house, exchanged a cashiers check for keys and hit the road. Managed to make it to western Ohio by the end of the day and decided I'd get some rest and make the remaining three hundred odd miles home. The car ran flawlessly and as anticipated was an excellent long distance car.

    For a little while I just enjoyed the car. I did a few wagon things with it. Like carry my Birel M32 in the back.

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    And haul some pea gravel for some backyard projects.

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    That was it for the first few months of ownership. Car was working great as a daily, but I was starting to look more into projects that I could do to the car.
    1992 BMW 525iT • 1976 BMW 2002 • 2017 GTI SE

  • #2
    The car needed brakes, fluids, filters, and some rear strut mounts. But as anyone who knows this era of BMW will tell you, the transmission was a lurking question mark that needed to be addressed. I started planning a five speed swap well before the transmission started giving signs that it was ready for the scrap heap.

    In the meantime, one of the SLS shocks bit the dust, so I converted the rear over to Koni shocks and H&R sport springs. Pro-tip H&R has a specific part number for the E34 touring (PN#29889-1), but those are special order so sedan springs should work fine, right? About this time is when the transmission decided it had done enough, with roughly 189K miles I really couldn’t fault it.

    When it comes to doing a 5 speed swap for this generation of five series, there is a right and a wrong way to go about it. I chose the wrong way. The right way is to find all the swap components in a package deal, some guys on the forum do this, or get a donor car and piece it together yourself. I chose the bad, i.e. expensive, route of piecing everything together from different sources. My only defense was that this car was technically still my daily driver and I didn’t exactly have the luxury of waiting for the right donor or “swap kit” to show up. The swap itself is relatively straight forward. Drop the exhaust, pull the driveshaft, pull the transmission, remove the flywheel, install new flywheel/clutch/pressure plate, install 5 speed, swap in manual pedals, install a longer driveshaft, install exhaust, install manual relay, drive. I did do an additional step of replacing the open 4.10 differential with a 3.23 LSD from an M3.

    The much lighter and shorter ZF310Z.

    The swap instantly transformed the car into something that I never want to sell. The car is so much more engaging to drive and more responsive. Very easy to heel toe, light enough clutch that traffic isn’t a pain and I even saw an increase in MPG. This really started to wet my appetite for more mods. I quickly picked up a matching set of Koni Sports for the front of the car, and installed them with the H&R sports that had been sitting in my basement.

    Definitely made a huge difference to the look of the car.

    Before: Would you like a rid in my German tractor?

    After: Not settled here but MUCH better than before, and not too low.

    1992 BMW 525iT • 1976 BMW 2002 • 2017 GTI SE


    • #3
      And now time for a brief BMW interlude. About this time I found out that my daughter was on the way. The E34 was seeming like a less than ideal car for strapping a car seat into, sure it would work, but the safety concerns loomed over my head. I also ended up scoring a new job which meant trading in my train commute for a driving one. At 80 miles round trip I thought it best to look at something new.

      Ended up getting a 2017 VW GTI SE with a DSG, that kept my wife happy and the car was a great all rounder, barring the fact that the OEM Bridgestones are junk, imho. I put some serious miles on the car, roughly 25K in the first year, and that was with the car sitting at the dealer for 6 weeks.

      More on that later, but with the GTI filling in as the daily driver the E34 was freed up to be a bit more of a project. It should be said at this point that the goal of this car has always been to maintain its ability to cover long distances in comfort with just a little bit of handling prowess. I want this car to be able to go cross country at a moments notice, ride in comfort on the highway, and not make you wish you had brought something else when things get twisty.

      The Koni and H&R setup had certainly cut down on the roll and dive of the past, but what more could be done? The car had been clunking at the rear under load for some months now. Almost certainly the rear subframe bushings had seen the light and walked in. Now, I knew that I wanted to address the rear subframe bushings. That was a simple task and Powerflex offered a set for just over $100. But you’re going to be dropping the subframe in order to replace those bushings, so it only makes sense to replace the differential bushings too, right? And since you’re already have those bushings out you might as well do the RTAB’s as well, right? And since you’ve got the trailing arms out you might as well have camber and toe adjusters welded in, right? And since you’ve just had the subframe welded you had better get it powder coated, right? Right? The while your in there rabbit hole was deep and dark and jumped in feet first.

      Here is the crusty subframe fresh out of the car.

      Yup, these were past it. The center sleeve just fell out and is lying on the ground in the left of this photo.

      Easiest way to remove the old bushings.

      Here is the subframe after the Ireland Engineering camber and toe adjusters had been welded in and the subframe was power coated. So clean you could eat off of it!

      New E34 M5 spec rear wheel bearings. Not sure if they are higher quality bearings or not but they were pretty close in price, and I had already gone way overboard.

      Not only did I do all of the above, but I decided now was a good time for a fancy set of Racing Dynamics sway bars, and why not do a rear brake upgrade while we are at it?

      Old rear bar versus the new. 15mm up to 19mm. As close as you can get to the unobtainium 20mm Nurburgring bar from the E34 M5 tourings. Two position adjustment as well as adjustable end links. Replaced the 23mm bar with the 27mm bar from the Racing Dynamics set.

      Decided I totally needed to upgrade the rear brakes to the 540i spec. You need wider calipers to account for the 10mm wider ventilated discs.

      1992 BMW 525iT • 1976 BMW 2002 • 2017 GTI SE


      • #4
        To add a little more insanity to the project, I decided that I was going to take this car on a trip, and not just any trip. I decided that I would be taking this car to Radwood at Hooptiecon 2018. About 4200 miles round trip, and it was in a month. I had the subframe in the car, but I need to reinstall pretty much everything attached.

        Here's a decent shot that shows almost all the new stuff under the car. Those hard lines might need addressing in the future though...

        Car cleans up pretty goo considering we are over 200K miles and knocking on the door of 30 years old. My advice would be to avoid black cars at all costs. They are NEVER clean.

        To spare the suspense I was able to get the car together and cleaned up just in time to drive it for a week before the big event. Lots of hours spent in my mostly unheated garage, but it was worth it when I hit the road. Car was able to hit 450 miles per fill up and I tried my hardest not to stop between fill ups. Did I mention that I drove this distance on my own in two days? First, day was spent getting out of Illinois, storming through Iowa, slogging through Nebraska, and being dead tired by the time I hit Wyoming. Stopped somewhere near Rawlings, WY, just over 1000 miles from home. Woke up to snow after catching 6 hours of sleep. I was pretty desperate to get out of that weather, considering the E34 was wearing Pilot Super Sports. They did surprisingly well, but I was glad when the storm broke outside of Salt Lake City. Utah was uneventful, especially since Bonneville was flooded.

        Here is the car after a quick rest stop just over the Nevada border.

        Met up with one of the organizers of Radwood in Reno, and we convoyed over the Donner pass and all the way to Petaluma, CA for a dinner with some other folks we knew. The E34 and I had just done 2100 miles in something like 30 hours, with 6 of those hours being allotted to sleep.
        1992 BMW 525iT • 1976 BMW 2002 • 2017 GTI SE


        • #5
          In case you aren't aware Radwood is an 80-90's themed car show that takes some of the fun elements of the Goodwood Festival, like period dress and cool old cars, and applies that to cars you and I can still afford. This Radwood was held in tandem with a 24 Hours of LeMons race at Sonoma Raceway.

          The famous upside down F-body. Kinda wild to see in person.

          The E34 parked up with some really interesting and rare cars.

          Some Italian car.

          Also the engine of this strange Beetle.

          I wasn't jealous. Not at all.

          Even got to parade the E34 around the track. Slow but still fun!

          Overall, it was a great show. But my plans for the evening kinda fizzled out, so I decided to make the trip back. I needed to be home by Monday night, and I thought it would be nice to have the cushion to make stops a little more often. This turned out to be a bad idea. I left the show around 5:30 and hit the Donner pass just as it was getting dark. What I didn't know was that it had already been snowing on the pass for a couple of hours. Once I really start to get some altitude I hit a check point. Nothing without winter tires is allowed to pass without chains. Last I checked, Michelin Pilot Super Sports are not branded with the little snowflake, so it was either chains, wait it out or find another route. I decided to see what was behind Door #1 and bought some chains.

          In case any of you aren't aware, snow chains on a lowered car aren't what I would call the best of ideas. I was still steering with unchained fronts and the going was slow and noisy. It took a solid 2 hours to get over the pass. I was dead tired from white knuckling it over the pass, but I pressed on a little more and stopped near Carlin, NV.

          Here was the car the next morning. Absolutely caked in salt. I'd also managed to rub a good amount of paint of the inside of the fender lips and some of the springs thanks to the chains. Remember, snow chains an low cars don't mix. But they had helped me survive the Donner Pass so I was still thankful.

          The rest of the trip home was sort of uneventful. I was being chased by a snow storm for the rest of the day until I got most of the way out of Wyoming. Took it a little easier on Monday and was pretty tired of the whole driving thing by the time I made it home.
          1992 BMW 525iT • 1976 BMW 2002 • 2017 GTI SE


          • #6
            I really loved driving this wagon when you visited to help with mine. What a machine!

            Awesome thread so far! I'm exited to see you update it. I'm moving it to build threads - it'll have a better home there!
            Originally posted by Dan
            My name is Edward


            • #7
              Totally understand the move. Had started a build thread just for the E34, but decided that it would be easier to cover my entire garage in one place. I'll be adding the other cars shortly.
              1992 BMW 525iT • 1976 BMW 2002 • 2017 GTI SE


              • #8
                So now it’s time to take a little break from the E34. You see this isn’t just the E34 525iT build thread, it’s a deep dive into the depths of my insanity. Because one lovely, old, broken BMW was not enough, oh no. We have to go back, back to before the rear subframe project. Back to the closing months of 2017. I was casually browsing Craiglist, really not looking to buy anything, right? Well that may have been the case, if this car didn’t show up.

                A 1976 2002. Sort of unloved by some of the '02 guys. If you were really astute you caught the reflection of this car in the E34 earlier.

                Now remember I live in the land of salt and ice, I have never ever seen a BMW 2002 in the wild, let alone for sale on Craigslist, anywhere near where I live. I had to go see the car. In certain ways this car was rough.

                The interior was almost completely stripped.

                There is evidence of a very poor paint job underneath the vinyl wrap that currently protects the car. And there is some rust, of course there is rust, but it was very minimal and the car had some things going for it.

                Almost all of the engine accessories had been recently replaced. Hoses, distributor, coil, wires, radiator, alternator, it even has a Weber 32/38. The interior is sporting some E21 spec Recaro's and a little Sparco steering wheel.

                From the moment I saw the add I knew I wanted to make this a track car so I was willing to overlook the cosmetic issues. It also drove perfectly around the guys neighborhood. So I took a chance and bought the damn thing.

                1992 BMW 525iT • 1976 BMW 2002 • 2017 GTI SE


                • #9
                  So as I mentioned earlier, I had put a solid amount of miles on my MK7 GTI in the first year of ownership. It did all of the commuting things well, but there were cracks starting to form in the relationship between myself and the car. The first nail in the coffin for the GTI were the 6 weeks it was down for a relatively simple repair. Apparently, the supplier for the thermostat housing on the EA888 had some quality control issues, and a year into my ownership my car developed a leak. Not the worst thing in the world, it was covered under warranty, but this really started to make me doubt the car from a long term ownership perspective. Second nail was the size, it’s a modern car so it is a bit monstrous, but with rear facing car seats even 5’0” Mrs. twhittenhall was a little smooshed with the kid behind her. Third nail was that I just didn’t find the car all that fun. Maybe it's modern refinement. Maybe it's small turbo 4 cyclinders, maybe its electric power steering. I'm not really sure what it was, but I really didn't enjoy the car at sane public motorway speeds.

                  So I started looking for something bigger. Immediately, I looked at E39's, specifically 530/540i's with a manual transmission. But I thought, "Tony, you drive a good amount of miles. You probably want something newer and more reliable than an old BMW." Ha, I toyed with the idea of a 2014-2016 Lexus GS350, but I just couldn't get excited over those cars. I even thought about picking up and old LX470 to do off road things and maybe tow the 2002 once that project was really underway. But the fuel mileage didn't make much sense for my commute. Even the much loved V6 Accord just didn't fit the bill. So back to looking at E39's.

                  So, I ended up finding this car locally. Remember all the talk of reliability and fuel economy? Yeah, neither did I.

                  It's a 2000 M5. Titanium Silver, sport interior with extended leather with 127K miles. I've put about 1000 miles on it at this point and I can safely say this car seems the perfect blend of performance and luxury for me. I really wish it was warmer, so I would feel comfortable pushing the car even a little bit through some turns, but it delivers pretty much what I expected from one of my all time favorite BMW's

                  A good amount of maintenance had been done to the car over the last 10K miles, a clutch replacement, cam position sensors, thermostat and water pump, fuel pump, and front control arms. PPI came back with little to report; no codes, an incredibly small differential leak, and a similarly minor old leak.

                  The car was relatively unmodified as well, just a short shifter and a muffler delete. Sure it had the wrong shift knob, some cheesy eBay shifter and parking brake boots, and a slightly sloppy Euro light conversion, but those are rather minor in what seems to be a pretty solid car.

                  It's been brutally cold this winter, my garage is not heated, and the M5 is due for an oil change. I took it to an independent mechanic that I trust locally and they did my oil change and a pretty through inspection for a very reasonable price. Unfortunately, they confirmed what I had been concerned about since I took delivery of the car. I've had a whine coming from the car on partial throttle above 45MPH. I told them to check into the driveshaft and sure enough the universal joints are borked. Looks like the rear control arms could use a replacement and front struts are on their way out two. Not a huge deal, but the PPI certainly didn't give me the the chance to haggle over such things.

                  Anyways, I've got a driveshaft on order. I'll be waiting for some warmer weather to deal with the other issues since they aren't critical yet. The things we do for love, eh?
                  1992 BMW 525iT • 1976 BMW 2002 • 2017 GTI SE


                  • #10
                    So we are starting to catch up to the present day at this point. The M5 was soldiering on through the polar vortex without really missing a beat.

                    In the interim, I did receive the driveshaft for the M5 after having to cancel a placed order when they revealed they didn't actually have any idea when they would be getting the part in stock. Decided to go with Turner Motorsport, since they provide a fully rebuild DS, with a new rear CV, CSB, universal joints (serviceable), and a centering bearing. It does come at a cost though.

                    Here's what a $1000 DS looks like...

                    I'll be waiting for a Friday that I'm off of work to tackle this job, but it should be coming in a future update.

                    So on to the other project. The last few times I've driven the E34 I've noticed a bit of crashing over some of the harsher bumps. At first I thought it was just getting reacquainted with the stiffness of the poly subframe, Koni Sport, and H&R Sport combination. Or maybe that the roads have just gotten even more berkeleyed up over this brutal winter. But the last time I was driving it, about a mile from home, I hit a bump and knew something wasn't right. Sound was immediately louder and much more jarring. Got the car into the garage today, disassembled almost the entirety of the rear interior, and quickly discovered the issue.

                    Kind of a lot of work just to get access to the strut mounts on this car. You could get away with removing less, but I try not to lay on or accidently smear grease on my MINT interior. Pay no attention to the loose door card or dangling window switch in the picture.

                    Here's the drivers side rear strut mount. Looks to be in good shape. I did replace these no more than 20K miles ago...

                    And that would be a big fat failure from the passenger side rear mount. Worryingly, the strut has come undone from the mount. I'll be sure to Loctite these down this go around.

                    Uh yeah, that definitely should not be there.

                    You can also see that strut is completely disconnected from the bushing here. No bueno. Hoping the threads didn't get damaged on the strut.

                    Good news is that the PO actually gave me a spare set of these, which I forgot about the first time around.

                    They appear to be Boge, a good quality part and OEM supplier.

                    The other thing I need to look at is the emergency brake. Since the polar vortex the hand brake forces itself up one click and causes a "Parking Brake On" warning light to come on and a chime every time you take off from a stop. Clever girl, but annoying, so I've got to check both ends of the system. I know the cables are already pretty stretched, so I might just bite the bullet and replace those at this point. That's it for now.
                    1992 BMW 525iT • 1976 BMW 2002 • 2017 GTI SE


                    • #11
                      At this point it was a little slow going for me in the garage. I don't have any air tools, and even if I did I wouldn't use them with my daughter sleeping, but the bigger issue was finding time or motivation to get out to the cars.

                      This was the "good" drivers side rear mount. Remember how I said these cars are hard on their rear strut mounts? I need to go back and check my records since it's clear that these parts weren't exactly up to the task. Maximum these have is 30,000 miles on them. Unacceptable wear for something like this, imho.

                      This makes me seriously consider shelling out the $125 for Moosehead Engineering mounts that are essentially indestructible.

                      Out came the passenger side strut. Looks like I got away with it...barely. A clean up with the wire brush later I was able to get the nuts started with a little difficulty.

                      Springs on both sides got bogered up when I had the chains on to get over the pass. Nothing major but I had some grey engine enamel laying around so I cleaned them up.

                      At this point I've got both strut assemblies back in the car and I'm piecing together the interior. I was also trying to decide if I want to dig into the emergency brake or order up a new header. I had a pretty serious exhaust leak at the collector side of the headers, after a couple botched repairs. In the process of removing the exhaust for the transmission swap I snapped off a stud on the manifold side and then I did it again when doing the subframe rebuild. I took it to a local exhaust shop but it seems like their repair just not sealing well. I decided to pick up some Ebay headers to start fresh.
                      1992 BMW 525iT • 1976 BMW 2002 • 2017 GTI SE


                      • #12
                        Driving into work the other day, I suddenly lost speedo, odo, ABS, and DSC. Didn't throw a scanner at it since it was almost certainly a wheel speed sensor.

                        Ordered them up. Went with VDO at a lovely $79.95 a piece. They showed up today and I figured I could tackle it in a little over an hour. Passenger side went as expected. Jack the car up, remove wheel, partially remove fender liner, disconnect sensor, remove sensor, work backwards.

                        Drivers side was a different story. I could not get the sensor to budge and the exposed plastic was pretty brittle. Hit it with penetrating fluid, nothing.

                        Then this happened. Fuck.

                        Ended up having to drill out most of the old sensor and chisel out the remaining bits. Took much longer than I had anticipated, but it's reassuring that this was very likely the faulty sensor.
                        1992 BMW 525iT • 1976 BMW 2002 • 2017 GTI SE


                        • #13
                          Still slow going at this point of the year. Other obligations and responsibilities where getting in the way of the projects. Ultimately, it's still on me to get out into the garage and make progress on the E34. Until the exhaust is buttoned up, I won't start any other major projects on the other cars. I wasn't being completely idle, started breaking down and cleaning up the BBS RC090 (Style 5's), but it's a slow process.

                          Here's one "complete" wheel done. I know I could probably get a better result with more time, but I would like to have these ready for when the weather finally decides to cooperate.

                          The real hassle is cleaning all the wheel bolts. They were absolutely trashed. I ended up wire brushing the threaded ends, wrapping the threads in tape, then putting them in my drill, hitting them with wet 400 sandpaper, then a dab of Mag polish pressed into 0000 steel wool. I think they came out pretty nicely but it takes forever to do one wheel.

                          Wheel speed sensors did the trick on the M5, but there's a lot more work to be done on that car in the near future.
                          1992 BMW 525iT • 1976 BMW 2002 • 2017 GTI SE


                          • #14
                            Finally had another day off where I was actually able to get out to the garage.

                            Started off by jacking up the rear of the car and removing the rest of the exhaust. Decided to make sure that these headers actually clear everything, since they are technically advertised for the M50 equipped E36's and not the E34.

                            Luckily, my fear over potential clearance issues was unfounded. Plenty of room in there and the header nuts weren't as big of a hassle as I expected.

                            Then I broke out my new sawzall and got to cutting.

                            No going back at this point. Got the exhaust back together and while I am pleased with the header itself, the connection between the cats and the headers leaves something to be desired. Car still sounds like it has a major exhaust leak. Might need to have an exhaust shop weld some flanges on both ends to get a nice solid seal.
                            1992 BMW 525iT • 1976 BMW 2002 • 2017 GTI SE


                            • #15
                              While the E34 isn't completely sorted, I made the brilliant decision to give myself more future work and ordered up a big steaming pile of parts.

                              A pretty sizable order even for me. Going with the Costco mindset and buying parts in bulk with this order. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to save anything at checkout.

                              Here is the pile o' parts out of the big boxes to show how they come in slightly smaller boxes...

                              As you can see there is a theme with these parts, suspension. When I bought the M5, I had a PPI done by a dealer local to the seller. It came back with some minor issues, but nothing that seemed like too big of a deal at the time. I had driven the car previously, but it had been cold and rainy, so I didn't exactly push the car during that drive. The car felt good at the time, but it turns out I should have been a little more diligent in my inspection process. It's clear after living with the car for awhile that the suspension is pretty well worn out. Worn enough that any mechanic with eyesight greater than a naked mole rat would have spotted. I've learned a somewhat valuable if not expensive lesson. Don't trust a mechanic that you don't know or hasn't been recommended by someone who's opinion you value. Once I had the car at the independent BMW mechanic that I trust, they confirmed that some obvious things were missed in the inspection, like the driveshaft and usual wear items for the rear suspension. I'd hazard a guess that the struts are original to the car too.

                              Since I have been a long sufferer of While You're in There Syndrome, I decided not to take chances and cover all the usual bases for these cars. Essentially, I'll be replacing all of the wear items in the rear of the car: swaybar end links, integral links, ball joints, control arms, and struts. And I'll be replacing the struts, strut mounts, sway bar end links, and thrust arm bushings for the front. Just a little work on the daily driver.
                              1992 BMW 525iT • 1976 BMW 2002 • 2017 GTI SE