Junkyard Find: 1996 BMW 328i Convertible

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1996 bmw 328i convertible
Internet Car Experts have spent the last decade explaining to the rest of us how every example of the BMW E30 3 Series, no matter how decrepit, is worth at least a couple of grand. This claim is even more ridiculous than most of the bad information with which ICEs clog comments sections and forum threads, and I still see plenty of solid-looking E30s at U-Wrench-It-type wrecking yards.However, the quantity of discarded E30s has declined a bit in the last few years (from a half-dozen per big California yard to two or three), and the E36 has become the reigning King of the Junkyard 3 Series.Here’s one of six E36s that I spotted at a San Francisco Bay Area self-serve yard a few weeks ago.
This one has a 190-horse straight-six engine, five-speed manual transmission, Arktissilber Metallic paint, and Leder Softhellgrau upholstery.
It has suffered from a few dents and scrapes, which may have occurred after it entered the scrap-cars ecosystem, and the convertible top is in rough shape. The odometer is digital and can’t be read without powering up the car, so this could be a hard-life 75,000-mile car or a lovingly cared-for 300,000-mile car. Either way, the E36 junkyard message is clear: if you want one of these cars, runners with manual transmissions are cheap.
One of my California friends had a daily driver ’95 325iS, a semi-reliable driver with a five-speed, lots of dents, and an icky interior. When he upgraded to a nicer E46, he spent six months trying to sell it for $750, then $500, then $350 … and found no takers. The car ended up getting donated to charity as a tax write-off, at which point its chances of avoiding a fate like today’s Junkyard Find dropped to about 20 percent.
The E36 has become a very popular car choice for 24 Hours of LeMons racers, because it’s the cheapest rear-wheel-drive vehicle you can find with a manual transmission (excluding small pickups, of course). Even biohazardous four-cylinder Fox Fords sell for more than a hooptie E36 these days. It’s worth noting that, after 166 LeMons races, only one of the hundreds of E36 entries ever has taken an overall win. Here we see that car, the Wisconsin Crap Racing 1995 325i. For reasons nobody can explain to my satisfaction, the E36 has proven much less reliable in low-buck endurance racing than its E30 predecessor, though it gets around a road course well enough.
I’m increasingly tempted to buy a runner E36 as a don’t-depend-on-it-every-day extra car, in part due to the excellent availability of cheap junkyard parts. Thing is, the E46 is just starting to become easy (enough) to find in the same yards, though manual-transmission examples are much rarer.
In South Korea, BMW pitched the E36 as a macho machine (as are all cars in South Korea).
In Britain, BMW marketed the E36 Cabrio as a safe car.
Maneuverability. In compact form.
Better traction control than a penguin’s feet.
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5 of 34 comments
  • Tjh8402 Tjh8402 on Dec 20, 2016

    I have to imagine that was the fate of my parents's E36 328i convertible. They traded it in after the power top mechanism failed and it was going to be astronomically expensive fix. The car was beyond brilliant to drive for most of the time we had it although they let it languish for a bit towards the end. It only had 140k miles on it. Sad end for what was a good, albeit flawed, car.

  • Whitworth Whitworth on Dec 20, 2016

    These were such over rated vehicles. I just never really understood all the love they got. The M3 in this generation were nice, but these cars did not hold up well. Especially the interior.

    • See 2 previous
    • Gayneu Gayneu on Mar 03, 2017

      @Pete Kohalmi I agree with Pete Kohalmi. I had a 2004 325i (E46) with 5-speed manual and Sport package (bought used). That BMW straight-six is a rare jewel in a world of V6s with counter-balance shafts. Beautiful power and loved to rev. I too miss it so. You just have to make peace that these are not Hondas nor Fords - they require more expense to keep up but are worth it (to certain gear-heads). Unfortunately, the E46 suffered from the rear subframe issue mentioned earlier and rust. Mine starting rusting behind the rear wheels - a common ailment here in the Midwest. I traded it in 2011 with only 85K while it still had some value. If I found one from a salt-free area, I would buy another.

  • Lou_BC "Owners of affected Wrangles" Does a missing "r" cancel an extra stud?
  • Slavuta One can put a secret breaker that will disable the starter or spark plug supply. Even disabling headlights or all lights will bring more trouble to thieves than they wish for. With no brake lights, someone will hit from behind, they will leave fingerprints inside. Or if they steal at night, they will have to drive with no lights. Any of these things definitely will bring attention.I remember people removing rotor from under distributor cup.
  • Slavuta Government Motors + Government big tech + government + Federal police = fascist surveillance state. USSR surveillance pales...
  • Johnster Another quibble, this time about the contextualization of the Thunderbird and Cougar, and their relationship to the prestigious Continental Mark. (I know. It's confusing.) The Thunderbird/Mark IV platform introduced for the 1971 model year was apparently derived from the mid-sized Torino/Montego platform (also introduced for the 1971 model year), but should probably be considered different from it.As we all know, the Cougar shared its platform with the Ford Mustang up through the 1973 model year, moving to the mid-sized Torino/Montego platform for the 1974 model year. This platform was also shared with the failed Ford Gran Torino Elite, (introduced in February of 1974, the "Gran Torino" part of the name was dropped for the 1975 and 1976 model years).The Thunderbird/Mark series duo's separation occurred with the 1977 model year when the Thunderbird was downsized to share a platform with the LTD II/Cougar. The 1977 model year saw Mercury drop the "Montego" name and adopt the "Cougar" name for all of their mid-sized cars, including plain 2-doors, 4-doors and and 4-door station wagons. Meanwhile, the Cougar PLC was sold as the "Cougar XR-7." The Cougar wagon was dropped for the 1978 model year (arguably replaced by the new Zephyr wagon) while the (plain) 2-door and 4-door models remained in production for the 1978 and 1979 model years. It was a major prestige blow for the Thunderbird. Underneath, the Thunderbird and Cougar XR-7 for 1977 were warmed-over versions of the failed Ford Elite (1974-1976), while the Mark V was a warmed-over version of the previous Mark IV.
  • Stuart de Baker This is depressing, and I don't own one of these.