I’ve been a car guy for as long as I can remember; my grandpa’s a mechanic and my dad races vintage cars in SCCA. The day I turned fifteen and got my learner’s license, I was already looking into what my first car could possibly be. At first, I was looking into Subaru Legacy Outback wagons. Why? Well, I thought I would need the cargo room as I fly large remote-controlled airplanes. I figured I would lower one on coilovers, put some nice wheels on it, and in future years do a WRX power train swap. However, I grew tired of the look of it and figured a power train swap would be too much. I then came across the E39 wagon. I liked the BMW wagon a lot more than the Subaru because, in my opinion, it looks much classier and much more modern. I figured that I could make it sportier by adding nice wheels and lowering it a little bit, just like the Subaru. As a few months passed, I learned that I wouldn’t need the cargo room of a wagon – that my stuff would be able to squeeze into a sedan or coupe with the front passenger seat reclined flat. That was good news for me, because it allowed me to broaden my vehicle search to include coupes and sedans.
The first things I looked at were E46 coupes, the 330CI in particular. I scoured craigslist and found lots of cars, ranging from $3,500 to $7,000, $5,000 being my budget. My dad, who was helping me search, found a 325CI at a local dealer. We figured I could look at the car just to get a feel for the body style and interior feel, since I wasn’t really interested in a 325. We drove it, and it had a nice ride, it was just down on power; it felt sluggish when I put my foot down. The car also needed paint work, the headliner was sagging, and it needed brakes. The dealer wanted $6,500, from what I remember. The car was worth $4,000. I wasn’t interested.
Later that day, my dad found a 540i/6 on Autotrader. The price posted was $4,200. It needed paint work and there were no interior pictures, but it was close by and we figured we could go check it out. We called the owner, and he wasn’t in town. However, he said we could co by his house and look at his car. The paint was in poor condition, the rear tires was heavily worn, it needed rear pads and rotors, but the interior looked decent. We figured that if we could get it for closer to $3,000 we could fix it up and come in at $5,000. Throughout the week, we looked for other 540s, but I never found one that I liked.
The following weekend, when the owner was back, we went to his house and my dad drove the car. He put his foot down, and with three people in the car, it was still quicker than the 325; thumbs up in the power department. The owner explained to us that he was the second owner of the car, and he owned it from 120,000 miles (the car had 177,400 when we drove it), and he had been maintaining it since around 60,000 miles (he was a mechanic). He said that all the timing chain work, valve cover work, cooling system, and suspension work had been done. My dad then proceeded to make him an offer. He asked if he could get any closer to $3,000. The owner went inside, came back, and said he could do $3,500, and throw in a set of facelift headlights from an M5. My dad agreed. We arranged to pick up the car the following Monday.
Apparently on Monday morning as the previous owner was driving it to his shop where it would be picked up, he started to lose the brakes; the front brake lines were dried out and cracked. He brought it back to his house, and me, my dad, and my mom all went to pick it up. I drove it home (the first time I drove it), and it drove great. My first impression was that it felt very planted and solid on the road. That was that – we had my first car and I was in disbelief. Now, I’ll explain everything I’ve done to it in the past six weeks of ownership.
That night, we ordered new rear tires (Sumitmomo HTR ZIII’s). One of the low beam lights was out, so we took it to a local shop to have it fixed. One of the rear vapor barriers on the doors was bad, so we had it resealed as well. Later that week, we drove the car f orty minutes to my grandpa’s shop to have him go over it and address any mechanical problems it had; the bodywork would come alter. He did the rear brakes and a couple other assorted things, as I would drive it the following weekend to a car handling/defensive driving school three hours away.
On the thursday before the school, as I was driving the car, I started to hear a whining sound. It sounded like the power steering pump. I figured I’d check the fluid level when I arrived at my nearby destination. A mile later, the car started to shudder, and then it went away. My dad, who was in the passenger seat, said that there was no reason the car couldn’t keep running if the power steering pump was starting to go. A couple miles later, the shuddering suddenly came back and shut the car off. I coasted and pulled into a parking lot. The car would crank, fire, and stop. The smell a burnt serpentine belt was very strong. We had the car towed to my grandpa’s shop. He took it apart, and found that the alternator had seized. He replaced it along with some of the pulleys. The next day, I picked it up, and the following morning, drove it a couple hundred miles without a hiccup.
From then on, the car hasn’t given me much mechanical trouble, so it was on to the body work. The front bumper was mangled from before we bought it, so my dad ordered an ebay m5 bumper. Of course, it didn’t fit perfect, but after some modification, it fit well. It took some modification to wire in the foglights, but it wasn’t a huge amount of trouble. A couple weeks later, we took it to paint, and had it repainted the same color, and installed the facelift headlights (wired into the parking lights). I also plastidipped the wheels and kidney grilles anthracite grey.
That’s all I’ve done so far. For the future, I’d like to do a rear muffler delete and replace the bushing in the shifter to tighten up the play in neutral. I’m not too interested in a short throw shifter. In a month or so, when the paint has had time to cure, I want to buff it, clay it, and wax it. Some facelift tail lights would be a nice addition too, but I wouldn’t consider them a priority right now.
Thanks for reading the introduction of my 2000 540i/6, and I’ll continue to post updates as things happen with the car. I’ll also take a walk around video and post it to youtube.