Our Cars: Andrew collects his eBay special BMW

bmw5A 13-minute train journey has never taken so long. That’s what was separating me from my £595 BMW eBay purchase and, after a week of waiting, it seemed to be taking forever.

Eventually, after what felt like an age of stopping at every train station in Hertfordshire, I began the sprint to my final destination: the seller’s house.

And there it was. Not exactly gleaming – a little bit mucky, in fact. My 1996 BMW E34 520i. Readies were handed over and the seller took my photograph in the driver’s seat, to prove that someone had actually been daft enough to buy this old shed.

And then I wafted home, listening out for any peculiar noises and watching the needles like a hawk. I was a little nervous as my AA cover wouldn’t kick in for another four hours.

But there was no need. This thing is lovely.

£595 BMW: not plain sailing

No, it’s not without fault. But then, it’s a big, old BMW for less than £600; the fact that it is yet to leave me stranded on the side of the road is a bit of a miracle.

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For a start, the temperature seems to fluctuate between a quarter and halfway. Typical signs of a thermostat stuck open, I hope, and not suggesting bigger issues with the temperamental cooling system. Better this than it overheating, I suppose.

One common problem I’d read about on forums before picking it up was the E34 wheel shimmy. It’s so common that I was expecting it and sure enough, at speeds of 65 – 70mph, the steering shakes a bit. It’s not too bad though, and there’s an easy enough solution under my right foot.

It can be caused by a multitude of things, I believe, but as the steering in general does seem a little vague and about as tight as you’d expect for a barge with 175k under its belt, I’m tempted to book it into a specialist for a bit of a refresh.

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The other thing I’d like seeing to is the bodywork. It’s generally in very good condition, but there are a few minor scratches and stone chips here and there. The biggest issue is the surface rust on both front wings – it doesn’t appear to be structural, so hopefully it won’t be too difficult to fix. Matching the paint might be a bit tricky though. I’m also concerned about the sills. The skirts tend to attract grime and damp, causing the sills to rust. And there’s definitely signs of rust coming up from that area, so I’m keep to take the skirts off as soon as possible to assess the damage.

New tyres? Good luck

And then there are the tyres. Remember when a few manufacturers, including BMW, experimented with metric tyres? Well, you guessed it, mine has some. And they could do with replacing sooner rather than later, and no one makes them any more. Damn.

There is someone selling some on eBay, at just under £100 a corner. But they’ve been sat in a warehouse for a few years, and they’re very definitely without any form of warranty. Otherwise, there are a few places advertising them at £125 a tyre. The solution? Well, there are plenty of used replacement imperial wheels available on forums and internet auction sites – usually coming in at £150 – £200 with some form of tyres.

It’d be a shame to lose the original wheels for novelty factor alone, but stumping out over £500 on tyres seems a bit silly when I paid just a tad over that for the car. In fact, there’s someone in Inverness selling the ideal wheels and tyres for just £100. At 527 miles each way, that’d be a mighty road trip…

All this makes me sound like I’m not happy with my purchase. I am. It’s brilliant. I feel like the lord of the manor cruising around in it and, after a quick wash and hoover, it’s looking like it’s worth a lot more than I paid for it.

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Going by the old MOTs, it’s only covered 2,000 miles a year for the last three years. So, it’s going to be a bit of a shock to the system to be expected to do that kind of mileage every couple of months.

Maybe, once my wallet’s recovered from purchasing the damn thing and filling the enormous 80-litre fuel tank, I’ll be back with more updates.

Costs so far

Purchase price: £595

Costs since last update: £6.99 (hand car wash and black trim restorer)

Total costs so far: £601.99

Web editor at MotoringResearch.com. Drives a 1983 Austin Metro. Tweet me @MR_AndrewBrady.

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  • James Butler

    I bought a 525i for 375 quid. Best car I have ever had. Took it to Germany and Belgium and it means missed a beat. The rust became too much and I had to scrap it after 3 years but it was a fantastic tool. I would love another but I have an E class now and even though the build quality is poor and the rot is creeping up in like the old panzer tank feel of it. I do have an E30 which I love aswell but its only a 2.0 and it feels slow but I think it’s one of the best cars BMW ever made

  • Hi James, thanks for the comment!

    Rust does worry me but at the moment it seems to be cosmetic, so hopefully it’ll stay that way with a bit of attention. Funnily enough, I actually avoided E30s just because of the rust issues – there aren’t many about and those for <£1,000 must be rust buckets, surely?

    Keep an eye on the site as I'll continue with the updates – I've already found a temporary solution to the tyre situation…

    Andrew

  • My ’98 E36 325i SE Touring cost me £1450. It hasn’t missed a beat either. Engine is strong, brakes are good, tyres were new (and I was even given 2 brand new spares). It’s in amazing condition for the year. Got a touch of the judder too. Old BMWs rule!

  • Totally agree about old BMs, Matt – and E36 Tourings look the business!

  • Much as I adore E30s, I reckon your E34 is just the thing for wafting into work, Andrew. A proud addition to the MR car park!