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Thread: 1981 BMW E21 320i in Alpinweiss, my plans to go from rough to tough

  1. #1

    1981 BMW E21 320i in Alpinweiss, my plans to go from rough to tough





    Today was a day to knock out a few firsts. I purchased my first BMW, my first coupe and my first ever rear-wheel drive car. This also is the oldest car that I've owned. It's a 1981 (as you probably read in the title) with 129k on the still functioning odometer. If you do the math, that's around 4230 miles per year, which is remarkably modest.

    Although the car was a one family-owned car and very well maintained, it shows it's age. The paint is oxidized and makes the car appear as if it was made of chalk and there are small spots of rust peeking out of the nooks and crannies. The interior is void of any soiled cloth or that car gunky funk that seems to be found in any car of this age. It's very, very clean, but you'd never confuse it for being new. There's only one rip in the driver's seat and the passenger seat looks like it was never used. The rear seats are rough. They aren't damaged at all, but have seen more sun than Donatella Versace. The wheels are the unremarkable stock 13" turbines with approximately 10 or more years of brake dust making them look powdercoated flat black.

    And it's exactly what I wanted, something loved and in need of a rebirth. Most people wouldn't look twice at an E21, but I've always liked the uncommon. Maybe it's because I'm left-handed, maybe it's that hit to the head I took the first time I tried to do a tabletop on my pink Haro. Either way, it's why I opted away from the more obvious choices of the E30 or 2002. It's just too easy to take those cars follow the cookie cutter mod list and turn the heads of a euro motorhead, it's like playing the Beastie Boys around white males. So the E21 it is.

    The E21 is a driver's car. It features the first dash and center console directed toward the driver, vs the tradition rear-facing center console of the bavarian cars that preceded it. There's nothing fancy about the car, no bells and whistles as selling points, just a car built to be driven spiritedly and comfortably.

    Now my plans for the car will at no time feature wheels that barely fit or suspension that goes up and down at the push of a button. That's not what the spirit that the E21 was built in. It was always meant to be a function-first automobile and I intend to honor that spirit and use this thread to document the process. I'm not a wealthy man, so it wont happen overnight and I will do most of the work myself. My goal for this project is to have the car finished in 365 days while using it as a daily driver.

    Car goal list:
    • Upgraded seats in a matching fabric.
    • Engine swap (M20B23, M20B27 or M42B18)
    • 5 speed swap, maybe a 4 speed.
    • Bilstein Sport adjustable shocks.
    • Replace all body seals.
    • 15" BBS RS's with polished lips and John Deere Yellow centers
    • Tires
    • Full Respray
    • Window Chrome Trim

    Completed Items:
    • Euro Bumpers
    • Replace Stereo
    • Replaced front and rear Roundels
    • Cut and buff existing paint
    • Clean engine bay
    • New 02 sensor
    • New spark plugs
    • New distributor cap and rotor
    • Upgraded Bosch Red ignition coil
    • Replaced brittle PCV hose
    • Replaced fuel pressure switch
    • K&N drop in filter
    • Replaced kidney grill
    • Repainted front grill
    • Replaced taillight housings and lenses
    • Clear Alpina-style turn signal housings and lenses
    • Replaced door handles.
    • Adjusted valves to .8mm (valves were at .0mm!)
    • Replaced rear subframe with cleaned up repainted one
    • 323i rear end w/ disc brake conversion
    • E30 brake caliper upgrade
    • -2" height (cut springs)
    • 3,91 open Rear Diff
    • Replaced sidemarkers
    • Added missing fan shroud
    • Replaced passenger side front brake caliper
    • "Stanced" roof rack
    • Replaced and painted both mirrors
    • Replaced windshield lockstrip
    • 316 Grill w/ VW FK 7" Crosshairs

    So here we go.....

    ....and example of direction I'll be going:
    Last edited by Twelvizm; 2012.01.25 at 22:58 PM. Reason: Progress Updated
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  2. #2
    wow.. some big goals there. I look forward to seeing it happen.

    how is the body?
    tell all of your local car enthusiast friends where the best place is to meet other local enthusiasts!
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  3. #3
    It's pretty straight. But there is a very light crease on the passenger quarter panel and the front passenger fender has a dent. It looks like parking lot damage.

    There are some big goals. I hope to do some work trading with a body shop client of mine. That knocks out the largest, most expensive part of the build.
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  4. #4
    Here's the damage:
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  5. #5
    Here's the starting photos:































    Last edited by Twelvizm; 2011.02.10 at 04:03 AM. Reason: Updated with my own photos
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  6. #6
    Normal Member Kaie is on a distinguished road Kaie's Avatar
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    I like it.

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  7. #7
    Normal Member en318ispdx is on a distinguished road en318ispdx's Avatar
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    Clean interior! All the E21's I looked at had interiors that looked like a rat had been living in there for decades! Can't wait to see more! What is your plan for the engine/trans combo?

  8. #8
    I'm not quit sure yet. I'm still getting a feel for the car's personality. I could easily just say that I'm going to put in a M50B25, turbo'ed but I don't want the a huge hp lead block in the front of the car. It would make it crazy nose heavy. In my quickly formed opinion, the M20B25 should be a nice step up in power without getting too nose-heavy. This will be the best performing option.

    My other train of thought is to keep the M10B18, tune it as much as possible and just replace the auto with a stick. And this option will be best if my hunch is correct. I believe that once there is another 3-series released, the E21 will start to appreciate as they become harder to find and people will re-discover the pleasure of driving such a driver-oriented car that is easy to work on and feels more...analog.

    As for transmissions, I still have homework to do before I know that answer.
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  9. #9
    Normal Member en318ispdx is on a distinguished road en318ispdx's Avatar
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    I know some 2002 and E21 guys swap in the M42 in order to keep the nimbleness but get a more modern motor to work with, self adjusting valves (16v) coil packs instead of distributors. Just a thought

  10. #10
    That's one thing I like about the E21, the older tech. Less complicated systems.
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  11. #11
    Normal Member en318ispdx is on a distinguished road en318ispdx's Avatar
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    Quote: Originally Posted by Twelvizm View Post
    That's one thing I like about the E21, the older tech. Less complicated systems.
    I hear that! I was so glad when i finally removed my airbag! Now I gotta remove the computer and sensors

  12. #12
    It's funny in the tuning world. People with new cars take off the modern systems and the people with old ones put more modern systems on.
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  13. #13
    Quote: Originally Posted by Twelvizm View Post
    It's funny in the tuning world. People with new cars take off the modern systems and the people with old ones put more modern systems on.
    there's a bit of a happy medium somewhere out there
    tell all of your local car enthusiast friends where the best place is to meet other local enthusiasts!
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  14. #14
    been around the block a few times EK20 is a jewel in the rough EK20 is a jewel in the rough EK20's Avatar
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    I'm a lefty as well. Maybe I should pick up an E21 too?

    What about throwing a worked S14 in? Give it a little bit more under the hood without making it a nose-heavy pig.
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    Normal Member curtnutss is on a distinguished road
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    Turbo the m10 !
    Get a diff out of the 'IS' LSD!
    4pot volvo calipers bolt right up !!!

    And a little history ... http://racer-m.blogspot.com/2009/10/...e21-turbo.html
    This might help ... http://forums.bimmerforums.com/forum/ ... I had a built 82 E21, Loved that car.

  16. #16
    been around the block a few times unimogken has a spectacular aura about unimogken has a spectacular aura about unimogken's Avatar
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    I have always had a soft spot for Volvo's and BMW's from the 80's!
    Probably because i'm old?

  17. #17
    Normal Member en318ispdx is on a distinguished road en318ispdx's Avatar
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    Quote: Originally Posted by unimogken View Post
    I have always had a soft spot for Volvo's and BMW's from the 80's!
    Probably because i'm old?
    I'm only 24 and I love 80's boxes! I think its the fact that they don't build them like they use to. (IE China now owns Volvo... so much for them being safe/reliable)

  18. #18
    Quote: Originally Posted by EK20 View Post
    I'm a lefty as well. Maybe I should pick up an E21 too?

    What about throwing a worked S14 in? Give it a little bit more under the hood without making it a nose-heavy pig.
    That was actually my first thought. But, I'm pretty sure the price and availability of a S14 puts that idea toward the wish list vs the to do list.

    Quote: Originally Posted by curtnutss View Post
    Turbo the m10 !
    Get a diff out of the 'IS' LSD!
    4pot volvo calipers bolt right up !!!

    And a little history ... http://racer-m.blogspot.com/2009/10/...e21-turbo.html
    This might help ... http://forums.bimmerforums.com/forum/ ... I had a built 82 E21, Loved that car.
    That is solidly on the list. I love the idea of number matching car and intact.

    Quote: Originally Posted by unimogken View Post
    I have always had a soft spot for Volvo's and BMW's from the 80's!
    Probably because i'm old?
    I'm right with you, I'm 34 (I was 5 when this car was made). One of the bets things that came out of 80's were the european compact cars.
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  19. #19
    put an M42 and a 5-speed in it. don't upset the balance.

  20. #20
    you need to bring that thing over and we can pressure wash it

  21. #21
    Normal Member en318ispdx is on a distinguished road en318ispdx's Avatar
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    Quote: Originally Posted by ducatipaso View Post
    you need to bring that thing over and we can pressure wash it
    Don't forget to invite me!

    Oh and maybe around this summer i may have an extra M42 and transmission combo if my plan for engine swap goes as planned
    Last edited by en318ispdx; 2011.01.11 at 12:32 PM.

  22. #22
    If that happens then I might have to get a piece of the action. Is it the early or late M42?
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  23. #23
    Quote: Originally Posted by ducatipaso View Post
    you need to bring that thing over and we can pressure wash it
    Let me know when you have the time and I'll swing my crippled ass over.
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  24. #24
    Normal Member en318ispdx is on a distinguished road en318ispdx's Avatar
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    Quote: Originally Posted by Twelvizm View Post
    If that happens then I might have to get a piece of the action. Is it the early or late M42?
    Its a 1991, so its from an e30 and its not the M44 from E36, Production date is 9/90

  25. #25
    running a pressure washer in these temps would be more like running a snow making machine.

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