Prep for Vintage at Saratoga

I have registered for the 2019 Vintage car show at the Saratoga Auto Museum in Saratoga, NY. From my home near Boston this will be the longest road trip I have made with the 323i. But these kinds of road trips and shows is why I bought the car. It’s a shame if the car sits in the garage and doesn’t accumulate mileage. And with the “death rattle” engine noise resolved I feel much more confident in taking the car on an extended trip.

But the car needs a lot of prep for a 400 mile round trip. It runs fine but there are things that should be done and upgrades I want to make. I planned ahead and mostly had fun prepping the car for its first epic drive. My Vintage prep list:

The brake pedal is a little soft. Upon inspection I see one of the caliper dust boots is ripped badly. The calipers also look ratty and could use a thorough cleaning. They look awful with the backdrop of a super clean and painted wheel well.

My original plan was to buy another set of 323i calipers to rebuild myself. I found a pair on eBay and bought OEM seals and boots. But I couldn’t get the pistons to move at all. Not after soaking in PB Blaster for a week and with compressed air. So I sent them to Centric Parts (the parent company of StopTech) for a rebuild. They do a very thorough job with all new seals, boots, pistons, and hardware. I also shorted the pad wear sensor together so there’s no dash light without a sensor.

Wheels & Tires
I have three sets of wheels for this car: 13″ Alpina-replicas with big balloon tires, 13″ 320iS with worn Yokohamas, and 13″ VIAL basketweave. I like the VIALs the most – they are a basketweave design similar to the iS wheels but are wider with a lower offset and larger outer lip. They need a full restoration but I’ll settle for a cosmetic resto of the face for now.

I really like the color of the Nogaro Silver wheels used on E30s. But then decided the Polaris and Nogaro silvers would contrast too much. So I went with a lighter and more metallic silver off-the-shelf from Lowes for the center with a OEM Wurth silver on the lip.

13″ tires are hard to come by but I landed on a set of Federal SS595 185/60R-13 on eBay. They look sporty with a water-friendly tread pattern. It has a wear rating of 460 so these won’t be super sticky but that might be a good thing.

iS Front Spoiler
I actually like the stock front valence and small lip. But the lip has had some unfortunate impacts in the past and is no longer show ready. I always really liked the front spoiler from the 320iS model. It fits in with my 323iS/CSL/Outlaw build theme. I was able to pick one up on eBay. It needs some work which will be a good learning experience and I can get it on before Saratoga.
Link to install: 320iS Front Spoiler Install

Hella Big & Small Headlights
My car has sealed beams from when it was converted from Euro to US spec. They are not great. When I first saw photos of the Hella Big & Small headlights I knew I had to have them on my car. And they are Hella H4 which were great on one of my old E30s.

The Big/Small lights were originally for 316/318 models that did not have high beams. These base models only had large 7″ low beam lights (like a 2002). This was a conversion that kept the 7″ lows and added 4.5″ high beams with the appropriate grilles.

The US conversion headlight wiring is a DISASTER but both headlights, parking signals, and turn signals work so I’m just going to install the Hellas and move on.

Oil Leak
I have had a nagging oil leak since my engine build. It hasn’t been obvious where it’s coming from. There is gritty oil above the exhaust manifolds, all along the passenger side of the block and frame rails, and all over the front of the engine. My best guess is from the front camshaft seal. This is the only seal not replaced in my engine build. I didn’t realize how easy it was to change at the time. Now, replacing it is basically like changing the timing belt. So much has to come off to get access. Easy to do once you’re in there.

Oil Pan Ding & Oil Change
I thought my oil leak was from a small ding under the drain bolt and oil was coming out under pressure. But since there is evidence of oil so far up on the engine this is unlikely. But I have a few drips over time and this small chunk should be addressed.

Upon closer inspection the ding is within the drain plug seal. I don’t think any oil is leaking from it. During the oil change I added a tiny dab of RTV silicone gasket to the seal. I did this on last oil change and it seemed to work.

I noticed the oil temperature sending unit was sticking out of its adapter block. I put a wrench on it and sure enough it was too loose. Oil may have been spewing from here. Quick spins of the wrench and maybe it’s fixed.

I also changed the rear diff oil with Red Line 75W90.

Goes without saying after my front suspension overhaul and new tires. Feels fantastic when it’s tracking straight. The Powerflex bushings are not harsh at all. I think the H&R sport springs might be too stiff (and low) though.

Nut & Bolt
I’ve got a few hundred miles on the new front suspension so it’s time to go over every component and make sure nothing has loosened.

When I removed my non-functional fog lights my right side horn stopped working. I pulled it off and applied 12 volts and it worked. So I think I might have snipped a ground wire or something. A fully functional horn might come in handy.

Wiring / No Start Situation
I have had a no-start situation when the car is hot since taking ownership. I have detailed my work here: E30 M20 No Start Troubleshooting. But it still has me stumped. My next move is to pull apart the steering column and check the wiring behind the ignition switch, as in this post here: At least I have a workaround so this doesn’t concern me too much unless I suspect the chance of a fire. Update: column wiring looks great so this remains a mystery.

Header Paint

When I installed this engine I painted the stock exhaust manifolds white. It was an experiment that didn’t go too well when the manifolds rusted right away. I have some extra time so I’m going to put a few coats of grey manifold paint to cover the white and rust. The white headers will have to wait for my Supersprint install.

Front License Plate Bracket

The Euro bumpers have a weird pair of brackets that don’t line up with anything. I have a Euro license plate frame but even that doesn’t line up. So I made a bracket from flat stock that I can bolt to the Euro bumper and then screw on my US plate. Looks great!

Backup Keys

My car came with one ignition key and one valet key. The previous owner said the ignition is from an E30 and won’t work in the doors. The valet key is for the locks but only works from the trunk. Whew! I never keep anything valuable in the car so it doesn’t get locked.

Having backup keys will be a relief. But Home Depot couldn’t do it (getting tired of HD anyway). Some Facebook research suggests a real locksmith is needed for vintage BMW keys. Something about them being stainless steel. I contacted three locksmiths but only one replied and said, “Come right down!” In less than 10 minutes and $15 lighter I had three new keys. Thank God for craftsmen.

Valve Adjustment

I didn’t really think it needed one. And a tech at Turner Motorsports did it less than 1000 miles ago. But it clangs and clatters. Plus I wanted to check on the oil drip tube.

It took two hours and 4 of 6 cylinders needed some adjustment. I was blown away at the difference! It’s quieter, smoother, and more responsive. Maybe even faster. I was not prepared for the difference it would make. Holy M20 joy! The oil tube was fine too.

Tool Kit

My car has the expanded tool kit from a E24 6-series. I think this was an option as it appears along with the smaller one in the parts diagrams. I went through the kit, removed the extras, cleaned them, and added new fuses and a new foam backing pad. I’m missing a few tools but will work that out later.

Clean & Detail

Goes without saying.

I’m really excited for this trip. It’s a good test of the car’s condition and capabilities. And I have heard really great things about the Saratoga Auto Museum. In addition to some fine German cars the Museum’s current exhibition is Cars of the Sixties. It’s also located next to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center where the Dave Matthews Band is playing the day of the car show, which is a sweet bonus. It will be an interesting drive along back roads and state highways – without an overdrive 5th gear I’ll be off the Interstates. And that sounds like what the car will like best.


2 thoughts on “Prep for Vintage at Saratoga

Add yours

  1. Hello my name is Phil I am building a e21 also I’m very interested in the Big and small headlight conversion I was wondering if you can help me out where I can locate a set and also have a few questions I believe it says you’re from the Boston area I would love to hear from you thanks


    1. I bought mine on eBay. I haven’t looked lately but that’s probably the most consistent source. I’ve also seen them on FB groups and the Bimmerforums E21 forums.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Website Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: