By Roel Endert

It’s unusual to start with the quintessence of a story. But in this case I do, so I can put in perspective all the adventures I went through with my BMW 3.0 Si. The quintessence of this story is: Be sure of what you are going to do, because building up a car from the bottom is a very expensive business!

What happened? I lost my heart to a car, the E3. I had a very clear idea about how the car should look, but a less clear idea about how much money I finally wanted to spend. Not too much, in any case.

I gave Henk Speek a searching order: I wanted a BMW 3.0 Si (the fastest one), I wanted one from before 1974, the one with the old chromework, the old mirrors, the old steeringwheel and the old alloy wheels. I wanted a leather interior, a sunroof, tinted glass and I preferred a silver metallic one. Looking back it is a miracle that Henk found a car that complied with my requests at all. But still he did. The BMW he found dated from the right year of construction (1973), had the right colour (silver) and was of the right model (Si). It had a sunroof too, but that was fixed (welded) because of leak. And because of that there were wet spots on the inside of the roof so they decided to paint it black. The bootlid had such a strong spring, that opening it allmost made you loose your teeth. Apart from that the car looked rather good.

Henk did a suggestion: the whole roof would be taken off and another one fixed on. He had a set of beige leather and a set of tinted glass. He would give me overhauled alloy wheels and it would get the steering wheel from our old 3.0 S. The body would be welded and sprayed, and technically the car would be made in a good condition. For example: the bootlid would be supplied with an original locking system. We presumed that the engine was still in a good condition. All this work would be done at a reasonable price and I was allowed to spread the payments. You can imagine that I jumped at the offer and bought the car.

During the first stage of restauration I made some improvements. I built in an automatic fan, a radio-cassette deck (a Bavaria from about 1973), four new speakers, an amplifier under the backseats, an electric antenna and, last but not least, headlightwipers. All this made the car very complete, but also raised the investment considerably. How much I paid for the headlightwipers will stay a secret between Henk Speek and me. I still don’t dare to tell anybody (but they’re worth every cent, because by my account (…) a real BMW has to have headlightwipers!).

After about eight months I could pick up the car at Henk’s. I took a week off to clean and grease the leather interior, so the car was splendid. Henk gave me a tin of five litres of oil and that turned to be no superfluous luxury. The idea was to drive the car to the south of France with a couple of friends, to give the car its maiden trip.

The evening before the departure my confidence in the car took a little beating: I firmly stapped on the gas, when at 140 km/h (85 mph) the hood opened! Fortunately it opens from the frontscreen side, as you know, but it scares you anyway. On the other hand I immediately saw that the enginebay lights did work, so that was a relief.

When I filled up the tank that evening some people warned me that there was petrol leaking out of my car. The panic phonecall to Henk eased my mind: there was no overflow tank in the car (yet) (which, if necessary, collects the excess of petrol), but if I didn’t fill up the tank completely, everything would be allright.

Nevertheless we departed. That first day of our journey I learned a lot about the car. I’ll sum up some highlights: the heater didn’t work (and we departed very early in the morning so it was stone-cold), again the hood jumped open (in the end I relocated the lock a little, which taught me never to leave without tools), full loaded the car had a road-holding like an old sailing-boat without a rudder, at a long highwayride the steering wheel almost shook out of my hands and in one day we used up five litres (!) of oil (the right taillight was black). Sometimes the sunroof opened spontaneously (it really scares the hell out of you, I assure you) and the classic radio-cassette deck spit out the tapes continuously. The latter two happened so often that the co-driver was even busier than the driver. By the way it created a bond between us and kept everybody sharp.

Finally we found something against the opening sunroof: when you crammed a package of pocket-handkerchiefs into the handle the roof didn’t open again. I found that it looked very ugly but my fellow-passengers did not sympathize with me. So we drove around three weeks like that. And once again I filled up too much: at noon, in the south of France, at 40 °C (104 °F) in the shadow, petrol was streaming over the red-hot exhaust pipe. We took the passports and the insurance papers out of the car and in safe distance we waited for the car to explode. It didn’t.

During our journey some other complaints came up: the car leaked almost all fluids. In addition to the petrol: cooling fluid, oil and screen washerfluid. I did not dare to drive faster than 140 km/h (85 mph), afraid of dancing the car off the road. At firm braking the car violently pulled to the right and after the engine had been started it runned at five cylinders for a while.

At the opening of the hood for the umpteenth time its handle broke off. As I was lying on my knees in the car to repare the handle provisionally I felt seriously sad; I could have crashed the car into the first available guard-rail.

When we came home from our journey (and looking back I sometimes wonder how we came home safe) I immediately drove the car to Henk. I had a very long list of complaints. Technically the car had to be rebuild completely. This means for example: a brand new engine (fresh out of the crate!), new springs, shocks and tyres, a rear torque stabilizer, renewing all suspension rubbers, a new radiator, starter engine, fuel pump, tank, clutch plate, wheel bearings, braking lines and so on, and so on. I also fitted a modern radio. All this lead to a bill that was bigger than the purchase of the whole car.

But, and now I refer to my remark at the beginning of this story, this all should have been done immediately after I bought the car. I have learned that the technical part of a car is much more important than all the frontlightwipers and other mess you fit on. I also learned that it takes a lot of money to get a car in good condition. If you buy a classic car with an unknown history and it doesn’t cost too much, you have to take into account that you’ll have to invest several thousands of guilders. If you don’t want that don’t go in for it anyway.

I don’t want to end this story in a negative way. After all improvements the car runs like a wild animal. Since that first journey I have been on a holiday with it for several times, and it was almost perfect. There was that time when at 190 km/h (120 mph) the roundel went off….but that’s another story.

From: CS-Info 1/1999, club magazine of the BMW Coupé Club Nederland.
Attempt of translation: Bram Visser.