Junkyard Find: 1996 BMW 318ti California Edition

Murilee Martin
by Murilee Martin
junkyard find 1996 bmw 318ti california edition
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.
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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.

  • Analoggrotto The real question, how many years or months after the end of production will this vehicle be completely eliminated from the street? Neon lights, yellow spoiler covers, idiotic stripes, brazzers license plate frames, obnoxious exhausts and all.
  • Mike1041 Why buy a German car in the first place? You will get to know the service manager real well and you will be denied claims because “we make no mistakes in the Fatherland”.
  • Art Vandelay This thing has had a longer send off than The Rolling Stones
  • Kwik_Shift I wonder how friendly it would be as a daily driver in commuter traffic. At least Cadillac CT5-V Blackwing is more docile and even comes in manual.
  • Carsofchaos I like it. But then again, I think the Aztek and Vehicross are cool, too.