Junkyard Find: 1996 BMW 318ti California Edition

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
The most affordable BMW in the United States, during the middle years of the E36 platform, was the 318ti. A four-cylinder hatchback, it sold for about two-thirds the price of a six-cylinder 328 sedan or coupe.In 1996, buyers could get a version with a huge canvas-covered sunroof, known as the California Edition, and that’s what I have found in a Denver-area self-service wrecking yard.
The California roof was similar to the big “ragtop” sunroofs on 1950s Volkswagen Beetles — sort of halfway between a regular sunroof and a full convertible. My excruciatingly hooptie 1958 Beetle had a roof like this, and it was handy for teenage passengers who wanted to stand up on the freeway and yell at occupants of other cars.
Later on, the California roof became an option on all 318tis. The mechanism appears to be in good shape, but no junkyard shoppers bought it during the several weeks it had been in the yard prior to these photographs.
The 318ti never achieved serious sales success in North America, though plenty of fully depreciated examples have ended up as nimble 24 Hours of Lemons race cars.
The base price on the 318ti was $20,560, or about $33,500 in 2018 dollars. That looked pretty cheap next to the $32,990 328is, but the 138-horsepower 318ti looked like less of a steal next to the $21,000 Acura Integra GS-R and its wild 170-horse engine (which, granted, drove the front wheels).
This one, like most BMWs sold in the United States after the middle 1980s, has an automatic transmission. Even with the big sunroof, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as fun to drive as the Integra GS-R or, for that matter, the $14,200 Chevrolet Cavalier Z24 with manual transmission.
The compact E36s sold much better in Europe, where six-cylinder and diesel engines were available.
Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin

Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a writer who has lived in Minnesota, California, Georgia and (now) Colorado. He has toiled at copywriting, technical writing, junkmail writing, fiction writing and now automotive writing. He has owned many terrible vehicles and some good ones. He spends a great deal of time in self-service junkyards. These days, he writes for publications including Autoweek, Autoblog, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars and Capital One.

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  • Friendlyjoe Friendlyjoe on Jun 19, 2018

    My '98 was a pleasure to operate until A) the plastic cooling system components failed by snapping off flush with the engine block (I think this was a feature, as my in-law's two 740is did the same thing), and more interestingly, B) the fairly well-documented self-immolation of the entire engine bay wire harness due to an unfused short somewhere in the bundle of ridiculously under-gauged wires, prompting me to throw in the proverbial towel. I mean, some of the wires were so thin that you could have flossed your orthodontically-correct teeth with them. Lame.

  • Bufguy Bufguy on Jun 21, 2018

    My first BMW....a 1997 Boston green with the "active" package. I had the 5 speed. It replaced my 94 Acura Integra LX. Power between the two was almost identical, but I liked the BMW so much more. Better handling, tauter and more attractive INMHO. The Acura was the most reliable car I ever owned but truly boring. I replaced my ti with a 2001 325ci with sport package and 5 speed....The BMW 6 cylinder was a revelation...silky smooth and deceptively powerful.

  • Mia Hey there!I recently stumbled upon the Crack Eraser DIY Windshield Repair Kit (check it out here: https://crackeraser.com/collections/diy-windshield-repair-kits) and decided to give it a shot on a small chip in my windshield. I have to say, it worked like a charm! Super easy to use, and it saved me a trip to the professionals. If you're dealing with a similar issue, this kit is definitely worth considering. 😊
  • Rust-MyEnemy Whoa, what the hell is wrong with Jalop1991 and his condescension? It's as if he's employed by Big Plug-In or something."I've seen plenty of your types on the forums....."Dunno what that means, but I'm not dead keen on being regarded as "A type" by a complete stranger"" I'm guessing you've never actually calculated by hand the miles you've driven against the quantity of gas used--which is your actual miles per gallon."Guess again. Why the hell would you even say that? Yes, I worked it out. Fill-to-fill, based on gas station receipts. And it showed me that a Vauxhall Astra PHEV, starting out with a fully charged PHEV battery, in Hybrid mode, on my long (234-mile) daily motorway daily commute, never, over several months, ever matched or beat the economy of the regular hybrid Honda Civic that I ran for a similar amount of time (circa 5000 miles)."You don't use gasoline at all for 30-40 miles as you use exclusively battery power, then your vehicle is a pure hybrid. Over 234 miles, you will have used whatever gas the engine used for 200 of those miles."At least you're right on that. In hybrid mode, though, the Astra was using battery power when it wasn't at all appropriate. The petrol engine very rarely chimed in when battery power was on tap, and as a result, the EV-mode range quickly disappeared. The regular hybrid Civic, though, deployed its very small electric reserves (which are used up quickly but restore themselves promptly), much more wisely. Such as when on a trailing throttle or on a downward grade, or when in stop-start traffic. As a result, at the end of my 234 miles, the Civic had used less gas than the Astra. Moreover, I hadn't had to pay for the electricity in its battery.I look forward to you arguing that what actually happened isn't what actually happened, but I was there and you were not."Regardless, that you don't understand it appears not to have stopped you from pontificating on it. Please, do us all a favor--don't vote."You really are quite unpleasant, aren't you. But thanks for the advice.
  • Tassos Jong-iL Electric vehicles are mandated by 2020 in One Korea. We are ahead of the time.
  • 1995_SC Can you still get some of the tax credits under the new program?
  • Analoggrotto HyundaiGenesisKia saw this coming a long time ago and are poised for hybrid and plug-in hybrid segment leadership:[list=1][*] The most extensive range of hybrids[/*][*]Highest hybrid sales proportion over any other model [/*][*]Best YouTube reviews [/*][*]Highest number of consumer reports best picks [/*][*]Class leading ATPs among all hybrid vehicles and PHEVs enjoy segment bearing eATPs[/*][/list=1]While some brands like Toyota have invested and wasted untold fortunes into full range electric lineups HyundaiKiaGenesis has taken the right approach here.