Readers who have followed along will know I have a somewhat abusive relationship with my E30. Maybe I’m a masochist, maybe I’m just too stubborn to give up on something I so clearly love. Regardless, I have found myself in the middle of what has become a much bigger project than I intended upon tackling at this time. What has made it such an extensive DIY may be slowing down my progress, but it is definitely something I wanted to share with readers who have old cars. By taking care of all the difficult service now, with lots of things out of the car, I will be able to leave the drivetrain alone for a long time to come, effectively ensuring more years of enjoyment with a perfect driving BMW E30. The project, however, has turned into a much more exhaustive one than I had first hoped…
If you read about my recent road trip down to Chattanooga for Riverside, you got the full version of what is going on with my E30. A stuck rear brake caliper, some driveline vibration, a very leaky convertible top, and the need for an LSD rear end all prompted this massive overhaul. Originally, I had set out to just do the LSD swap, replace my brake parts, do the Giubo, and slap it all back together. The top I will handle sometime this summer when it is warm enough outside to stretch the top over my frame. Of course, as the project began, it quickly ran away from me just like my last girlfriend.
Upon knocking out the full brake service with new rotors, calipers, pads, stainless steel lines, and fluid, I found that my driver’s side CV shaft was void of its boots. The passenger’s side looked ready to fall apart. Not good. I wasn’t about to install the new 3.73 LSD up there to skid around if my axles could blow out at any time. Add those to the list. With the extra downtime, I also decided a full differential service for my junkyard special LSD would be a good idea. Added to the list. Might as well do the rear trailing arm bushings, diff mount, and subframe mounts, too, since all that is coming out of the car. More parts ordered.
Boxes upon boxes went home with me from ECS last week, where I promptly began pulling my rear end from the E30 in my barely passable ‘garage.’ It was at this point that I both became stuck and hopelessly committed to buying even more parts. The new plan prior to actually pulling the rear end was to completely service the rear end with new everything, even paint. Now, with the driveshaft out, I have no excuse not to do my rear main seal, crank seal, transmission output shaft seal, and transmission fluid service. More parts ordered. But about that roadblock in my progress…
Full disclosure, I have worked on dozens of these cars and owned several that I built/maintained myself. Part of why I love the E30 is its simplicity. Often, I compare them to adult Legos. Really, anyone with the right tools and time on their hands can effectively rebuild an entire car for relatively little money and with basic knowledge. One of the tougher jobs is replacing CV axles, but I know all the tricks and have never had a problem before. No biggie, right? Wrong. Very wrong.
Sometimes, CV axles have a tendency to rust seize in the hub, which makes them almost impossible to knock out. In my case, what appear to be the original axles to the car are absolutely married to the hubs. I have replaced damn near everything in this car over the last couple years, barring the gas tank, diff, axles, subframe bushings, dash, and brake cables. That’s it. Which, when I began trying to separate the axles, made me realize how dumb I have been driving around with a built, swapped, and dumped E30 on axles older than me just waiting to blow apart. Those fun one-wheel-peels I have done suddenly made me feel a twinge of regret, as my axles have continued to fight persistently for their right to live in the hubs.
Currently, everything from the transmission and back is on the floor of my garage. Driveshaft, rear subframe, rear trailing arm assemblies, hubs, axles, differential, and all the rear brake lines/parts litter my shop. After two different axle presses, a full-sized sledgehammer, two different air hammers, and even an acetylene torch have failed to separate my axles from the hub, my progress is halted, but it serves as a staunch reminder as to why these often less-than-convenient services are so important as the car ages. Taking care of them on time prevents you from having to spend more time and money doing it later, as I am now having to accept. With my extraction methods only successful at ruining the races in my perfectly good wheel bearings, I have added even more parts to my list.
Sadly, the axles have still yet to come out. I have a solid plan of attack now, though, and was fortunate enough to meet someone as determined as I am who has equipment that might be better suited to evicting the stubborn half shafts. This week I will not be stopped. No amount of rust and age will prevent me from expelling those axles. Once out, I will be able to install my new bearings, new half shafts, new RTA bushings, new subframe mounts, throw in the freshly serviced LSD, paint everything, and throw it all back up in the car.
For the first time since I have owned the car, nearly everything will be brand new. I can’t begin to say how excited I am to drive what could be called a better-than-original new E30. With all that complete, I will never have to worry about most of it for the life of the car again. Finally, I will be able to drop the transmission and start on what will hopefully be a smooth job, but first, those damned CVs need to give up already and accept that my E30 is breaking up with them. They just need to let go and move on already.
Fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. More than just the thought of finishing the project has kept me going. Learning to work without the convenience of a full-service shop has taught me exactly what it really takes to keep these cars going on your own. It has also taken away all my fears of doing bigger jobs now that I live here in Ohio and don’t own a service shop anymore. With every massive project I tackle, I gain more confidence in working with limited resources and find new ways to complete each task. I also feel a greater connection to my car. If you are dreading a service like your transmission fluid, diff fluid, or driveline bits, don’t fret. There are people who will help you with advice, tools, and even time, and no project is really too big if you have the right attitude and dedication to complete it. So stop making excuses and get out in the garage to make your car the perfect version of itself you’ve always wanted. Meanwhile, you’ll find me under my E30 doing the same.