Tackling a RUSTY E30 – What did I do?!


When I found my 1991 BMW 318is on one of the BMW forums, for sale almost 1,000 miles away, I jumped on it quicker than Ken Block smoking a new set of tires. Slicktop (no sunroof), manual transmission, unmolested, a great price, and it’s dark grey (I have a penchant for black cars). A quick VIN search also showed that the car had a factory limited slip differential. So I committed, sight unseen.

Black Flagged Rusty E30 Garage

I probably should have asked more questions. 

Turns out that even though I was buying the car in West Virginia, it had spent the previous 27.5 years in Ohio. Snowy, salty Ohio. As I was loading the car onto the trailer, crawling underneath to hook up the tow straps, I got my first glimpse of what I was in for: 27.5 years of rust. My heart sunk. I knew right then that my budget for the build—and the timeline—had just increased, and rather substantially. But I had a 1,000 mile drive home to think about it.

Rusty E30 Axles

Black Flagged Rusty E30 BMW SuspensionUpon getting the car home I put it up on jack stands. I don’t have the luxury of a lift, so I’d be spending a lot of time on my knees and my back. The first time sliding under that car I just had to lay there and let it all sink in. Boys don’t cry, right? A rusty differential, rust on the ends of the axles, rusty sway bars, end links, springs, exhaust shields, brake lines, etc.

A little bit of rust showing up on the edges of the rear trailing arms and subframe. A tiny bit of rust on the seams of the rocker panels and underside of the driver’s side door. But the engine sings. A solid transmission. A straight body, not counting a horrible respray with so many runs in the clear coat that it had to be on purpose.

Blackflagged BMW Rusty E30 Brake Lines

An art project perhaps?

BMW Rusty E30 Control Arms

Black Flagged Rusty E30 BMW Brake PartsLong story short, this car has rust and that rust will create a lot of work. On the bright side, the running gear of this car will get a complete overhaul: reinforced and powdercoated subframes and rear trailing arms; new control arms, sway bars, end links, heat shields, motor mounts, and transmission mounts; upgraded suspension, race bushings, and new bearings. The underside of this e30 will be built better than it ever would have been had I purchased a Florida car. Had I bought a car from a rust-free state I would have just left it alone until something was needed.

Lesson learned. Do a little more homework. Ask questions. However, I suppose all this rust and this runny paint makes it easier to build the car I want instead of being scared to ruin a perfect e30.

Let the games begin.


Black Flagged was born from a desire to just get out there and do it: racing, drifting, building race cars—it was an idea to do something rather than sitting around and talking about it. All that coupled with a little goal of becoming ‘the best driver I know’. I’m documenting the whole thing on YouTube, starting with the purchase of the E46 M3, those aforementioned track days and autocrosses, and now the purchase and build of the e30. Subscribe to the YouTube channel to see how the build progresses! 

Check it out ->>> https://YouTube.com/BlackFlagged

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10 thoughts on “Tackling a RUSTY E30 – What did I do?!
  1. Steve Littlefield

    Best wishes to you on your project!! I have also made this mistake. I purchased my ’87 325is on eBay from Florida. When it arrived, it was a straight, low mileage, southern car. But it was in far worse condition than advertised. I spent a summer rebuilding, rather than driving it. By the time it was ready for the road, I had over 100 hours in it and over $20K invested in parts. That’s easy to do with an old BMW.

    The next Spring, it got hit by an out of control dump truck while on my BMW’s maiden drive. The truck blew it’s front left tire and came into my lane at high speed. I avoided a head on, but the right quarter panel and trailing are were wiped out. Because I had collector car insurance with a $21K agreed value, I was able to have the car rebuilt.

    But now I have a $40K E30 with an ugly car fax. No regrets. It’s a blast to drive and I don’t plan to sell it anyway.

    • Hey Steve. Wow what a story. You make a good point though – It’s all about our plans for the car. Like you said, you don’t plan to sell it. I don’t plan to sell this one either. The goal wasn’t to flip a car and make money. The goal is to build a quick little BMW to have loads of fun with and to learn how to build the car I want in the process. Thanks for the comment!

  2. Steve Littlefield

    Oops! Note of clarification……The $20K invested in my E30 included parts and $12K purchase price. Yes, I know that I paid too much for the car.

  3. Xenophon A. Beake

    Seriously ??? I own a mint condition 1997 Mercedes Benz S420 with 79k miles. The only rust is if I should have run it over in the road. But I must confess as the third owner I NEVER drove it in the snow months of Western MA. Seriously how could an owner of a BMW let their ride to get in such a condition? I drove American cars since 1952 and never let any get rusty and I drove them in all kinds of weather. I am a real gearhead and do take care of the wheels that transport my seating capacity around regardless where I went.

    • I hear you. So frustrating that someone would let their car get in this shape. And as frustrating as it’s been pulling it apart and trying to free stuck bolts here and there, I’m having a blast rebuilding this thing. I’ll be posting photos and videos soon, but it’s looking amazing. Underneath the car where nobody will see it of course, but I know it’s beautiful

  4. Project D

    I debated getting an e30 but that race class fell apart in my region before I had the chance. Maybe you should just flip the 318 as a driver and find a 325i with less rust that has cosmetic issues for a race build so you can keep it stockish until you’ve raced for a while, then start modding heavily. You’re not into this build that deep yet.

    I don’t know if you’ve really thought out a plan to go racing… have you pursued getting a license? Not trying to be a buzz kill, but I’ve struggled to go road racing for a few years even with some eEuroparts help. I can see the signs when someone doesn’t know quite what they’re getting into. For example I have my license and have won races, but haven’t yet committed the money for a first season (8 events = thousands of $). Have you raced in a race suit yet? What about on a 30+ deg. day? (it’s really hot, 140+f). Tons to think about and most of the things I’d focus on first have nothing to do with engine swaps or a dtm widebody. You can go crazy building in season 2 or 3 of racing, but if you do so in your first season you will fail miserably and stress out the entire time. Trust me.

    First things first, don’t build ANYTHING until you know it’ll fit into the rules of all the series you plan to race in. This will cost you BIG TIME if you have to change things after you think you’re finished with the build. This happens all the time, people bring some all out race car they built or bought only to learn it doesn’t fit in any class or needs changes to be allowed in only the highest class (and can only race against legit race cars like Porsche’s and tube frame chassis’).

    My advice is to find some buddies or a shop to hang around that already know a lot about racing, otherwise you might have a very steep learning curve ahead of you. The wife is a keeper if she’ll go on a 1k mile trip for an e30.

    • Thanks for the info and the perspective! This is something I’ve thought long and hard about, and there’s no easy answer. At this point I’m not really going for class racing, more of something I can have loads of fun in at track days, drift events, etc. Maybe even a car show or two if I can get it looking good enough. That said, I’m still trying to stick to most rules so I can take it to an event, even with some slight modifications. And I do have a friend that races spec e30 seriously, and he’s been a huge help. Thanks again!

  5. I live in NE PA, where they have been using liquid de-icing compound for the past decade or so. It literally dissolves unpainted/uncoated metal. Everywhere there is a crack in the paint or undercoater, it gets in, it wicks and spreads and it doesn’t wash out, unless you vigorously attack it at wash time. Then treat it and cover it with paint . The stuff is pernicious. There used to be an autobody rust prevention company who’s motto was “Rust never sleeps”. E30s are famous for rusted rear shock/strut towers and rockers around here and many go to the scrap heap for that reason. So, compared to that, this car isn’t all that bad. Truth be told, any car from that era that has lived any significant time North of the Mason-Dixon line should be physically inspected, up on jack stands or a lift, prior to purchase. Take a ice-pick or large mechanic’s pick and probe suspect areas. If it goes through, the rust is worse than it looks. There are auto inspection companies that will perform the service for a reasonable fee. That being said, looks like a solid car that’s a good start for a racer. Good luck.

    • Thanks Kevin. It’s definitely got the bones to be brought back to life and I do think it will make a solid little race car. I’ve been slow and methodical about taking care of everything underneath, it’s just taking me way longer than expected. But I know it’s going to be worth it!

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