Paul Bracq Trio

I just realized that the 323 is my third car designed by Paul Bracq:

1969 Mercedes 280SL (my Grandfather’s):


1972 Mercedes 280SE 4.5:


And the E21:


Bracq is a French industrial designer and has been called the “father of BMW’s modern design.” In addition to the E21, Mercedes W108, and Pagoda above Bracq was the head of BMW design in the 1970s, penned the BMW Turbo concept car (which gave genesis to the M1), Mercedes 600 Grosser, as well as giving input to the legendary 300SL Gullwing earlier in his career.

The E21 was going to be a pivotal car for BMW. As the follow-up to the iconic 2002 the stakes were high. Like a breakout band’s second album. Bracq gave us BMW design cues that carried over for almost 30 years: quad headlights, smaller and enclosed kidney grilles, interior center console oriented to the driver, and others. With the E21 he gave us the small sports-luxury sedan and brought the small BMW away from the 1602’s economy car roots. Even though the E21 is not universally praised, even among BMW-philes, it’s not the styling that people complain about. The E21 shape has always been one of my favorites. When I was buying my first car(s) in the late 1990’s, a 320i was the first car I drove (it blew hazy blue smoke).

E30 M20 C191 Plug Replacement

The C191 plug connects the fuel injector harness to the rest of the electrical system. A bad C191 plug can lead to all sorts of problems –

  • hard starting
  • rough idle
  • lack of power
  • fault codes for fuel injectors or temp sensor

The location of the C191 plug makes it susceptible to water. Check out the corrosion on my plugs:

The connectors are not available separately from BMW. You have to buy a new fuel injector harness or engine harness. But why replace one defect with another? So that’s why a lot of E30 fixers have went aftermarket. I chose a motorsport/military spec Deutsch DT connector. I really should have read up on this during my engine build and it would have saved a lot of headache later on.

Do not hardwire the harnesses together. Although it may be tempting as an easy fix, there are major drawbacks to it. They should be separated so the harness can be removed during manifold or cylinder head service.

Replacing the connectors means cutting them off, exposing the wires, crimping pins to the ends, and inserting them into the Deutsch connector. There’s no easy way to do this with the harness on the car but removing it is very difficult too (and is only half of the harness).

The Deutsch connector is not for the weak. First, the connector set that I ordered from Amazon came with no instructions or diagram (no surprise). Videos and online descriptions were no help. The pins crimp differently than the usual crimp connectors. My multipurpose crimp tool did not work well and I settled for ordinary needle-nose pliers. Access and room to work is terrible. Once the wires are crimped they have to be pushed through the rubber seal and then locked down in the connector.

Here’s where a diagram would have come in handy: I didn’t know which pin went where. I wrongly assumed the male pins went in the male connector. After getting all 12 pins in place I realized it was the other way around and the pins weren’t making contact inside. Doh! Live and learn.

The male pins fit in the larger female housing and get locked in with the green wedgelock. The female receptacles fit in the male connector and should be flush with the housing (or just below the surface of the orange wedgelock once installed). I had to carefully pull them all out and run them through the opposite connector. Once that was done, probing with my volt meter confirmed the injector power line had 12.5v with the key on. I also probed the pin on the DME connector and the coolant temp sensor and both had the same resistance. So my little wiring project should be a success!

So why are the injectors not spraying and the engine still not starting?

To read more on this situation, see my M20 starter post by clicking here.

Click here for my C191 connector photos.

E30 M20 Starter Problems

My 323 did not start a month or so ago. I turned the key but there was no response from the starter. I had strong lights on the dash and 12v on my battery gauge so I didn’t suspect a weak battery. I was able to roll and bump start the engine.

After that there were no issues for a few weeks until it happened again. Because it was intermittent, and I have other key issues, I first suspected that the ignition switch was failing. The switch is no longer available from BMW. And I think the current ignition switch is from an E30, which is NLA too. I looked into a keyless push-button start system but did not commit to buying one. Then the car acted normally for another few weeks.

In the meantime I did a lot of research. One possibility was the engine electrical grounds. I re-used all of the E21 grounds so I’m not missing any. It’s possible it could use more but given the intermittent behavior I mostly ruled this out. That left the starter and starter solenoid itself.

One helpful feature in older BMWs is the ability to bypass the key and activate the starter from the diagnostic port. By jumping pins 11 and 14 you give power to the starter solenoid. If the key is off the engine spins without starting (such as when adjusting valve clearance). But with the key on, giving power to the fuel pump, cranking the engine can make it start and run.

If the engine doesn’t crank with the key:
Key on / pins 11-14 wired = if the engine cranks, the key is the problem.
Key on / pins 11-14 wired = if the engine doesn’t crank, the key is not the problem.
Follow up these tests with more cranking on the key to confirm.

As useful as that test is, my problem turned out to be the starter. I had no cranking on the key so I jumped the pins and… no cranking. To be honest, most Internet diagnosis pointed to the starter anyway. But I was hoping for an easier fix since changing a BMW starter can be a big pain. I smacked the starter body with a long extension and a rubber mallet (using care not to touch the terminals). Follow a couple of whacks with a turn of the key. After the 9th or 10th whack the engine fired up.

After all that guess I need a starter. And maybe some better grounds just for good measure.

Update 1: a new Bosch starter did not resolve the no crank issue.

The starter swap went smoothly and took just under an hour. But when I turned the key there was just silence, like before. I jumped pins 11 and 14 again and it cranked. Interesting. I let it crank but it didn’t actually run. After checking connections for ten minutes I was able to get it to run but it was very very rough. I plugged in a Peake scan tool and there were tons of codes – coolant temp sensor, fuel injector #3, air flow meter, etc. I cleared them instead of recording more. When I checked again there was only the coolant temp sensor fault. I checked spark plug wires and the idle control valve and some other connections and started it again. This time it ran smoother but idled low. I know I have idle and throttle position sensor issues. The TPS is not perfectly set and I have tinkered with the idle control screw on the throttle body. Perhaps in my reassembly after the starter swap I knocked something loose? I raised the idle via the screw and that helped. After the engine warmed up a bit the misfire, or whatever it was, cleared up and it sounded as good as before. But the no crank issue continues to be an intermittent and annoying problem.

I’m going to go through the grounds next. It sounds like a good idea even if it doesn’t fully fix my issue.

I will also pull the steering column covers off and inspect the ignition wiring.

Update 2: don’t use FedEx Smart Post for shipping – it takes forever. Even though I’m not in a hurry it’s just annoying knowing I could have had the order in half the time. 

Update 3: the starting problem is getting worse. I have plenty of cranking power but it does not want to catch for the first 30 or so cranks. Then when it does it runs really rough.

The fault code for the coolant temp sensor persists. After reading on the excellent site, the blue coolant temp sensor on the thermostat housing tells the ECU to richen the fuel mixture until the O2 sensor is warm enough to control fuel mapping. It’s a replacement for the cold start fuel injector (the “7th injector”) used on earlier systems. Why am I getting the code?

E30zone recommends a procedure for testing the wiring and sensor using a multimeter. I started with the sensor and it tested fine! That could really only mean one thing: wiring. Ugh. 

Update 4: the C191 connector for the fuel injection harness was full of corrosion. The pins were that special shade of blue that promises to shelve any plans of conducting electricity through them. I replaced the C191 connector with a Deutsch connector. And still the engine cranked but did not start.

Update 5: after confirming the Deutsch connector is passing current I pulled the ECU and checked for corrosion and found none. I then checked the file loaded on the Ostrich chip emulator in case it was corrupt or missing (it passed). So the ECU is probably functioning normally. 

On to fuses and relays. On my Euro 1980 323i there doesn’t appear to be a fuel pump relay. And my relays are arrayed differently than the images for a US 320i online. There is a fuse though so I pulled it out, inspected it, rubbed a little Scotch-Brite on the contacts, and reinstalled it.

There is a series of relays for the E30 M20 – DME, O2 heater, and fuel vapor purge valve. From the notes on the M20 swap wiring I found that the green/violet wire on one of the relays mates to the fuel pump power in the E21 harness. So I jumpered pins 30 and 87 and it fired right up!!! Bad relay? I plugged the relay back in and it still started. Maybe loose or faulty relay operation? It was a new relay when I installed the engine but I will carry a spare anyway.

I let the car warm up and had a functioning temp gauge and the engine revved and sounded fantastic so my C191 fix was a succces. Maybe I’ll get a few more driving days in before winter storage. 

E30 Recaro Seats in E21

“We’re going to do what they say can’t be done.” – Jerry Reed, Smokey & The Bandit.

I’m determined to replace my E21 Recaro seats with the Recaro sport seats out of an E30. There’s nothing wrong with my E21 Recaros; they work perfectly fine and are comfortable. But the E30 Recaros are more supportive and comfortable and I’m a little nervous something will happen to the E21 seats (they’re quite valuable).

Lucky for me my car came with a set of original seats with sliders. And I have a set of beat up E30 Recaros to take apart.

From my basic Internet research there is at least one major hurdle to overcome – the E21 floor is uneven thanks to a raised section of raised sheetmetal on the outboard side. There is also an inboard raised section but it’s lower than the outside.

There is a 2″ difference in height between the factory seat rails to level the seat base. The people who have installed E30 seats have cut this sheetmetal section out, then bolted the E30 seat rails to the floor. But I’m not OK with that kind of semi-permanent modification.

Here are the methods I have come up with –

Plan A: install a matching raised section on the inboard side and bolt the E30 seat sliders to each section.

Result: this would make the E30 seat too high. The E30 seat will always sit higher than the E21 because there is a 1.5″ gap between the seat base and the seat rail (the E21 has no gap). I have to keep that in mind with any work I do.

Plan B: bolt the E21 sliders to the E30 seat base.

The E21 slider rails are simply bolted to the metal seat base with small machine screws.

The E30 rails use a combination of large bolts and sheetmetal pins to secure the base to the sliders. The backrest and seat rake adjustments are part of the attachment to the sliders.

Result: the E21 sliders interfere with either the rail for the backrest or the lever for the rake adjustment.

I could install the E21 sliders if I disable one or both seat adjustments. But it will be awkward without them. The goal should be a full install without losing any function.

Also – the width between the E21 seat sliders is 42.5cm (16.75″) and the E30 is 41.7cm (16.4″). So even if the sliders did bolt to the E30 base, they would be too narrow to then fit to the floor.

I really like the idea of using the E21 sliders because they are a direct fit to the floor, solving the biggest problem. So I need to find a way of attaching the E30 seat to the E21 sliders

Plan C: bolt the E21 sliders to the floor as factory, then use a thick steel adapter between the sliders and the E30 seat. If I design the steel plate correctly it will clear the adjusters for the backrest and rake.

Result: TBD

Plan D: use a floor mount (Wedge Engineering or Planted) for a racing seat with the E21 sliders or a set of racing seat sliders. Recaro racing sliders are 16″ wide.

Result: TBD

There’s no deadline for this to work. But I’m determined so check back again for updates.

2016 BMW CCA Concours

Some photos from this year’s Boston Chaptet Concours. My 323 was part of the Display class. Although if I had entered the Super Clean class I would have won third place (there were only two cars entered).

It was a good turnout despite the heat. I had my kids with me so I didn’t spend a lot of time taking photos.

Driving into Boston with the 323 is a lot of fun. The bridges, tunnels, and Storrow Drive are a blast. So is accelerating away from unsuspecting Porsche drivers. But with manual steering and no A/C you have to be in the right mood. And you have to plan ahead – leave before 50,000 fans arrive for a Red Sox home game. 

My car ran great until it was time to leave. Turn the key and a single click. Volt gauge reads 11 and all lights are bright. Hmmm. Why is the key so loose? It seems as though I have worn out the ignition switch. This is my worst fear with going to a car show with my kids. I tried a few more times then waited 10 minutes (not easy with 98* temps and two kids) and tried again. It fired right up and didn’t skip a beat. Chalk it up to #oldcarproblems. I’ll have to source a new switch and rebuild it.

Pictures here if the above slideshow doesn’t work for you:

Master Cylinder Replacement

I noticed recently that the brake pedal would get soft and sink towards the floor at extended stop lights. That’s usually a sign of a bad master cylinder. I had the shop look for other signs of a leak: rusted brake line, leaking caliper. But there were no other visible issues so a new master cylinder went to the top of the shopping list.

The OE BMW part is over $170 and there’s a rebuild kit for $100. I’ve never tried to rebuild one but it might be the best option. Rock Auto had a big selection of aftermarket replacements and I chose the Centric brand because I’ve had good luck with their caliper rebuild kits.

Rock Auto has fast processing and shipping. Also from previous experience I knew that these aftermarket brands come with a weak anti-rust coating. The last thing I want on my car is cheap looking, rusty junk visible to everyone. I gave it a good scrub with KBS Klean and RustBlast and then primed and painted with ordinary Rustoleum. It came out great!

Removal was easy but messy. Even with emptying the reservoir with a turkey baster and draining it through the bottom drain screw there was still a big mess.

The hard lines came off easily with a 11mm box wrench. It helps to remove things in the vicinity like the intake boot and disconnect the battery (I’ll tell you why later). The reservoir popped off with some prying with a screwdriver. But be careful there because it’s probably old brittle plastic. Removing the master from the booster is just two 13mm nuts. But I had to use a combination of wrenches and sockets to get them off. Then it just slides off the shaft in the booster. There’s a nifty reinforcement bracket on the front of the master cylinder that keeps it from thrusting forward and that popped off rather suddenly. A sign of trouble to come.

With the booster exposed I took the time to clean the face with a wet Scotch-Brite pad. Then I covered everything around it and hit the booster with some black Rustoleum. I also treated and painted the support bracket. It’s not a proper restoration but I wasn’t about to remove the booster right now. The fluid reservoir also got a good cleaning inside and out. There’s a good lesson in this: do your research and prepare to remove related parts to give them a proper cleaning and/or reconditioning. It’s worth it in the long run.

With everything looking clean and original I started the reassembly. The master sits on the studs. Then the reinforcement fits over the studs and goes down to the bracket on the fender. Here is where I lost a lot of time. The reinforcement holes are not drilled quite the same as the holes where it mounts to the body. They’re too close together so after 30 minutes of struggling I pried down with a screwdriver and got the lower bolt started, then did the upper bolt. This looks like an aftermarket piece and the fitment is very un-BMW like. By the way, I scratched up my freshly painted bracket (grrrr).

beautiful finish before it got ruined

With the master cylinder solidly mounted I attached the hard lines and pressed the reservoir on. Watch out for the plastic line running to the clutch master cylinder – if it pops free it’s a real bitch to get back in.
Here’s why the battery should be disconnected: while tightening the mounting nuts I dropped the wrench, which then fell on the starter with all 14v humming through it. The steel wrench met the steel master cylinder with a shower of sparks for a second until it fell to the ground.

Anyway, with everything reassembled and the reservoir topped off with fluid, I tried the brake pedal. It went straight to the floor. The clutch felt ok though. I’m not naive – I knew I would have to bleed the brakes afterward. Except I had read online that someone did it without bleeding. I’m calling BS on that one…

Hazard Switch Blues

The weakest link in the E21 failed on me tonight. A lot of electrical components run through the hazard switch (it has 15 connections on the back). When the switch fails, it’s a brownout for your E21. Luckily I was carrying a spare.

I also have a short somewhere that pops fuse 17 and I don’t know if the failed hazard switch is related to it.

I went to dinner tonight and left the car in reverse when I parked. When I started the car it cranked longer and when it finally started the hazard lights were flashing. My voltage gauge was flickering between 10-14. Now that I think about it, the door buzzer did was not working when I opened the door (run through fuse 17).

With the hazard switch malfunctioning, and fuse 17 blown, I lost the front parking lights, turn signals, instrument cluster lights, digital clock, door buzzer, and interior lights. The headlights and taillights still worked though so I was able to make it home at dusk.

Luckily after reading the frustrations of other E21 owners I bought a cheap replacement switch to carry as a spare. I popped the new switch in and replaced the fuse and all was good. It’s easy to replace the switch from the top. I put the original switch in as a test and the fuse blew again. Problem solved? Was the switch the source of my fuse 17 issue all along?

German Car Day 2016

Great day at Larz Anderson Park in Brookline for the German-themed lawn event! It had to have been the most attended German Car Day ever. Sadly, there were only two E21s in attendance (both 323s) and it didn’t seem like we got much attention. There were fewer E30s and E36s too than I expected. Porsche and BMW were the most represented and I was disappointed with the lack of Mercedes. There were too many people to bother trying to take quality pictures.

323i brothers


end of the day


An M6 for the Night

I needed to arrive in style for the opening of the Porsche-BMW exhibit at the Larz Anderson Auto Museum. Luckily, we just got this new BMW F13 M6 as a demo car so I borrowed it for the night.

It’s a 2016 in Sakhir Orange with matching extended Sakhir leather. It also has the carbon brakes option. Our race team campaigns two M6 GT3 cars in the IMSA GTD class. There is a lot of similarities between the race and production car, especially in the engines.

I’ve driven a few of these cars before but they’re almost always modified. This was my first extended drive in a stock car. Every time, I am overwhelmed by the gadgetry inside. This was a rainy evening so I needed to find a wiper setting, turn on the front and rear defrosters, plug my phone in, adjust the mirrors, find a good seating position, and set a decent radio station. I was under way in less than four minutes.

The seating position puts you very low, which is exaggerated by the high belt line. I could only guess at the approximate location of the corners. The overhangs are generous but most of the weight is within the wheelbase. Check out the front seat location in the photo above. Somehow, the M6 manages to feel almost nimble. Our race drivers say the same thing – great balance and the car is very easy to drive. This was a blessing and a curse as I wound my way down Route 1, Storrow Drive, and the Jamaicaway before arriving at Larz Anderson. Boylston Street was especially nerve wracking with that giant beak leading the way. I once drove a McLaren F1 down the same route and this was worse. The 6 series can’t really be any smaller though, or it would be a 4 series.

Power was as expected from an M-tuned 4.4L twin turbo V8, once you got past the lag in the first quarter-inch of pedal travel. I never went full throttle because of all of the thrust available. I’ll be driving an M5 soon with proper ECU tuning and it will be interesting to see how much better the throttle mapping is.

Another complaint is the sound, or lack thereof. Twin turbo cars are not known for volume anyway. But even with the engine sounds funneled through the stereo speakers it’s still inadequate. If I owned this car I would have to install the Turner muffler delete pipes, or something similar.

This car is just too much – bodywork, gadgets, power, luxury. It would make a great cruise missile with first class accommodations. Or if there were autonomous features that took all the stress away from the parking and close quarters maneuvering. Then I could devote all of my attention to learning the dash.

I feel as though this is the zenith of BMW performance, technology, and driving dynamics. I can’t imagine needing anything more than what this car provides, except all of this in a smaller and lighter package (like what you get in a 435i M Sport). Maybe I just appreciate what I have and don’t need additional complications – this is an E21 blog, after all – but I think BMWs stopped being the Ultimate Driving Machine after the E46 M3, with a few low volume exceptions.