Why did we pick an out-of-warranty BMW as our next project car?

Update by J.G. Pasterjak to the BMW 435i project car
Jan 30, 2024 | BMW, 435i

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Ancient mariners tell tales of mythical creatures with heavenly voices whose songs echo across the waves. These sirens sing of welcome, beckoning tired, lonely sailors to join them in safe harbors where the hearths are as warm as the companionship that these lovely creatures will surely provide.

Then it turns out there’s a bunch of rocks, the boat explodes, the sailors die, and the sirens have a good laugh and start all over again.

It’s kind of the same thing with an off-warranty BMW.

The allure is clear. You only need to spend a few minutes behind the wheel of a late-model BMW to “get it.” These cars are driver-focused, responsive, great for road or track, feature-rich and exceptionally satisfying to drive–when they’re working. And, to be fair, they’re pretty reliable cars overall.

But all those features and sophistication come with complexity, and when something does break, fixing it can be an investment of time and money that scares lots of folks away from the rocky shoreline. But the flip side of that is the moment the warranty expires, many late-model BMWs take a pretty serious depreciation hit that’s almost loud enough to drown out the voice saying, “No, dummy, those are sirens. No actual hot girls want to meet and hang out with you, you scurvy-ridden seafarer.”

We, of course, think we can reason with the sirens and come to an equitable arrangement.


What’d We Buy Now?

We bought a 2015 BMW 435i with the M Sport package and the optional M brake package. It’s got 71,000 miles (or, it did when we picked it up), and according to Carfax it spent most of its time with its single owner just a couple hours away from us in South Florida. Then it moved to Chicago for a year, got traded at a BMW dealership, and was sold at auction to the used car dealer we bought it from.

[Live Thread: We’re picking up our new 2015 BMW 435i project car]

Our decision process on this particular car came after researching option packages and talking to our friends at BimmerWorld, which we’ll be in touch with a lot during this project as it’s our main partner here. If you’re going to own a used BMW, you need certain contacts, and we like the fact that BimmerWorld has the knowledge of both the performance end and the OEM parts end on these cars.

Our 435i is part of the F30-chassis lineup, which includes the F30 four-door 3 Series, the F31 four-door wagon, the F32 two-door 4 Series, and the F36 4 Series Gran Coupe with four doors. Europe also got an F34 3 Series hatchback.

The “35” part of the model designation denotes the powerplant, in this case the turbocharged 3.0-liter N55 inline-six. The 3 and 4 Series with the “40” designation, such as the 340i and 440i, are also powered by turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-sixes, but those are the more powerful B58 engines shared with the Toyota Supra. Well, kind of shared. There are actually multiple variations of all the 3.0-liter sixes, both N and B series, and power outputs vary from use to use.

On the N55 side, the particular variant used in the 435i is the N55B30M0, which produces 302 horsepower at 5700 rpm and 295 lb.-ft. of torque from as low as 1200 rpm up to 5000 rpm.

As you can see from those numbers, it’s not a monster, but it’s torquey and responsive, making thrust all through the rev range. Usually this means a small, easy-to-spool turbo is being employed, and that’s definitely the case with the N55. This tiny snail limits the power ceiling, as it just can’t flow the kind of air volume needed for gaudy numbers. The upside is the aforementioned response–there’s less than zero turbo lag–and a generally understressed engine, even with elevated-from-stock boost levels.

So why didn’t we just opt for the big motor? Or, you know, the same-size motor with the higher power ceiling?

Well, a few reasons. The first came after a chat with BimmerWorld before we even started shopping: The folks there reported that one of their fastest-growing customer segments was N55-power F3X cars.

More and more of their customers were hearing the siren song, or deciding it was finally time to take their now out-of-warranty-and-paid-for BMW out to the track for some fun. When we started hunting for one, we realized two more factors: price and availability. The “-35” cars come in $4000 to $6000 cheaper than comparable “-40” cars and, having been sold in higher numbers, are much easier to find.

Finally, we looked at a few classing options and found that the “-35” cars were classed a little more favorably for venues like SCCA Time Trials, where they compete against other moderately powered sedans and coupes. The “-40” cars, with their much higher power potential, have to fend off C5 Z06s.

So we knew we wanted a “-35” car. Now it was time to narrow down option packages and 3 Series versus 4 Series.

BMW loves to make things complicated, but we finally narrowed our choice to a 4 Series with the optional M brakes and a ZF 8HP eight-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel paddles. If we could find that car with the M Sport package, that would be a nice bonus.

Whether a 3 or 4 Series car, the M Sport package includes a front bumper with more open area for cooling and intercooler airflow, doorsill plates, sportier seats and some M badging on the steering wheel.

It also includes four-piston Brembo front calipers wrapped around 340mm discs. The optional M brake package–which was available separately from the M Sport package, so theoretically it could be ordered on a base model, although we’ve never actually seen one–includes the same four-piston front Brembos, but now wrapped around two-piece 370mm discs, plus an upgrade to two-piston rear Brembo calipers from the single-piston base calipers.

It’s a notable brake upgrade, and your local BMW parts counter will gladly sell you all the parts necessary to complete it, but they aren’t cheap. Plan on spending a couple grand to upgrade your M Sport brakes to M brake package brakes–and more than that to upgrade from base brakes. Used cars equipped with the M brakes seem to command much less of a premium than their non-M counterparts and the cost of the retrofit, so we narrowed our search to include the good brakes in our purchase.

Spotting those brakes is pretty simple: M Brembos are blue, while the regular brakes are silver or gray. If someone has gone the parts counter upgrade route, those retrofitted Brembos will be red, yellow or orange. The two-piece rotors are also a good giveaway.

The other tricky option is the paddle shifters for the 8HP transmission. First, don’t judge us for not opting for a six-speed manual. They’re ultra-rare, and the 8HP is a really, really good transmission.

[Why are we considering an automatic for our ASA stock car?]

We first took notice of it in the A91 Supra: It’s an automatic that felt way more like a dual-clutch, holding gears well on track and allowing for plenty of chassis-balancing throttle with no converter lag. We still love it, and we’re excited to live with one in a dual-duty car.

Anyway, those paddles. They were a standalone option, but from our searching, they appeared to be far more prevalent in 4 Series than in 3 Series. Your mileage may vary if you’re shopping, but that’s what we saw in the marketplace east of the Mississippi.

The final factor that pushed us over the edge into removing the 3 Series from our shopping list was safety. This is going to be a car that spends time on track, so we wanted the option to turn the safety up a few clicks. For track use, that means a roll bar.

In most cases, this would mean a bolt-in roll bar, but that typically requires drilling and possibly cutting into your new used car, which is kind of a one-way modification.

As we’ve found, once you drill those holes or cut that trim, it’s a slippery slope to Sawzalling the fenders to fit 315s. That’s a perfectly admirable direction, but having the option to return things to 100% stock is also nice.

So when we found out that BimmerWorld has a completely bolt-in roll bar for the F32 4 Series that uses factory hardpoints and requires no permanent modifications, we were intrigued about a way to keep the Sawzall at bay just a little longer.

We found our car at a used car lot in Cincinnati listed for $19,950. After having a local friend take an up-close look, they reported the overall condition to be excellent, a small dent above the right-rear taillight being the primary complaint.

We leveraged that ding for a $500 discount and made the deal. The $19,500 we paid for our example seems to be high book, slightly above what outlets like KBB say it’s worth, but is definitely on the low end of what folks are actually listing and buying these cars for.

The fact that it made the 900-mile drive home from Cincy with just fuel seems to be a good sign we got a decent deal. Apparently the car has just had the valve cover gasket replaced by the dealer as well–a known trouble spot on the N55–so that preemptively checked a box on our maintenance schedule.


Now What Are We Going to Do With It?

Well, it’s nice. Too nice to cut up for a race car just yet.

And here’s the allure of these late-model BMWs: For less than $20,000, we got a car that has a comfortable, modern interior, power everything, modern climate control, modern driver assistances, and is a thoroughly modern automobile that made a 900-mile drive with ease and comfort.

Maybe the sirens have a point?

It’s also a great platform that’s fun to drive on track and actually seems like it wouldn’t be punishing to drive to the track. Yeah, we say that a lot, but we may finally have the platform to make that dream come true here.

For a road map, we’ll start out with the SCCA’s Time Trial Sport category prep guidelines. The Sport category is heavily based around the idea of the dual-use car–something you can track safely, enjoyably and competitively without turning it into a dedicated competition vehicle.

As such, allowances are mostly common bolt-ons like single-adjustable shocks, stock-diameter springs with fixed perches, anti-roll bars, wheels, 200tw tires, brake pads and safety gear allowances.

And that sounds like a great recipe, at least for the first course. It’s a car that should be competitive for a trophy here or there but can also take a friend to dinner after the checker without them cutting themselves on a sharp piece of metal.


What’s Going to Break First?

Yeah, that’s the question, right? What traps have we set for ourselves with this out-of-warranty premium German automobile that we’ll blame you for not warning us about when we inevitably fall into them?

We had a long chat with Phil Wurz, BimmerWorld’s operations manager, about what to expect when we’re expecting our BMW to betray us.

The N55 is an upgrade from the N54 reliability-wise,” he reports. “This was basically the motor used in the M235i Racing, and they were pretty bulletproof and durable.”

Like many BMW big-sixes, rod bearings are the most high-profile point of worry. Wurz puts it this way: “The life of the rod bearings really reflects how much care the car got from the former owners. Cars with a more regular fluid change schedule are going to be better than ones with less rigorous maintenance.”

Wurz recommends changing all the fluids to Red Line synthetics and sending oil samples to a lab at every change. “One oil test is not going to show you if your rod bearings are bad–unless they’re really bad, which they probably aren’t–but comparing a couple samples over time can show you trends,” Wurz says.

And when it’s time to crack off the pan and inspect, you may as well service them at that point anyway. All of the rod bearings can be changed with the engine in the car, and the replacement bearings are a definite upgrade from stock.

Aside from that, issues lie on the typical BMW spectrum. The electric water pumps can be sketchy, numerous gaskets can leak oil with age and lack of care, plastic intake tubes can crack after years of containing boost, VANOS variable valve timing solenoids can stick, and the intake manifolds can get gunked up on these direct-injection engines.

As with all BMWs, the key to reliability is to fix stuff before it breaks. Spend a little now to save a lot later.


Let’s Dig In

Our first order of business will be a quick baseline at our test track before we start yanking stuff apart. From there, we’ll likely start with reliability and suspension mods to make our track days worry-free before we worry about going too much faster.

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David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
1/30/24 12:06 p.m.

Until we started to consider one for the fleet, I didn’t realize that they had depreciated that much. 

Ranger50 MegaDork
1/30/24 2:40 p.m.

Because there is nothing as masochist as new but old German machinery? I'll leave the Italians out of this for the  moment....

Tom1200 PowerDork
1/30/24 3:49 p.m.
Ranger50 said:

Because there is nothing as masochist as new but old German machinery? I'll leave the Italians out of this for the  moment....

Beat me to it.

My reply was going to be "because we like pain"

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
1/30/24 6:31 p.m.

The BMW does drive very nicely, though. :)

JG Pasterjak
JG Pasterjak Production/Art Director
1/30/24 6:57 p.m.
David S. Wallens said:

The BMW does drive very nicely, though. :)


I COMPLETELY get the appeal after spending  alittle time with this one. They're just so satisfying from behind the wheel, whether it's on the road or on track. Super easy to drive and great feedback and feel. Then something breaks and you wonder if it's all worth it. 

But I guess that's part of the narrative of this project. Is the juice worth the squeeze? And how much squeeze is there in these super-late-model years that are still new enough to be low mileage but old enough to be out of warranty.

albino09 New Reader
1/30/24 8:48 p.m.

As an E46 owner I'm extra curious if the performance even at baseline compares to the M3 currently in the stable. I love my car as a collectible but its primary use is for Autocross and TT, and the price of this 4 is well below M3 values these days...

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
1/30/24 8:53 p.m.

In reply to albino09 :

Is our 435i faster than our E46-chassis M3? I hear we might know something soon. 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
1/30/24 8:56 p.m.

In reply to JG Pasterjak :

Plus it really does look good–love the silhouette. Should look really good once lowered and fitted with new wheels. 

CyberEric SuperDork
1/30/24 11:28 p.m.

Is the juice worth the squeeze.... I can't think of a better question to ask regarding BMWs. 

I was a huge fan of them, mainly because of the driving dynamics/experience, for so any years. But I got tired of squeezing the juice.

I hope this experiment proves me wrong, and I can love them again! laugh

This 435i has an open diff, correct? I wish BMW would offer them with an LSD like they did back in the day, now it's only the M cars. 

Tom1200 PowerDork
1/30/24 11:54 p.m.

In reply to JG Pasterjak :

I've been a Japanese car guy to switch; I love the way German cars drive but I know the ownership experience would sour for me very quickly.

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