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E21 Project

14559 Views 179 Replies 9 Participants Last post by  dukedkt442
Hello. New to the E21 but not BMWs or vehicles/machines. I've restored a few vehicles and tractors, so wanted something that'll take me a few years to start with my boy when he turns 3.

Today I dragged home an '81 E21 from down the street. The price was right: free. The owner bought it new, and it ran when parked.... in 2003. He's a really nice guy and let me have it on the condition that I get it going, and I aim to live up to it. I've always wanted a shark nose, and the time was right; it was either the scrap yard or my yard.

The good:

-no interior water leaks
-oil on the dipstick commensurate with the 1800 miles since last oil change.
-AC
-shifter freely moves
-sunroof
-doors, trunk, hood open freely and shut solidly
-original owner car with complete records
-solid floors
-solid trunk pan
-solid strut towers
-it was driven to its current resting place
-238k miles

The bad (that I know of):
-it was driven to its current resting place...in 2003.
-238k miles
-dry radiator
-seized engine (probably rust in cylinders)
-no pressure in clutch pedal
-parked with parking brake set
-sunk into the ground, so I couldn***8217;t do a full examination
-rotted rockers, rear quarters
-springs sticking out of the seat cushions
-cracked windshield

My plan:

I***8217;ve wanted a shark nose car for a while, particularly a 6 series, but I***8217;m also notoriously cheap. Additionally, I***8217;ve wanted a project to do with my kid, who is 1. By 3, he***8217;ll be helping.

Phase 1 would be to get the car road worthy. Unseize the engine, get the clutch working, free the brakes and install tires. Drive it for a couple years before phase 2.

Phase two will see the engine and transmission pulled, body rot cut out and new panels installed. Bigger brakes, lowered and upgraded suspension. The diving board 5 mph bumpers would be pushed back into the body, for a more streamlined look.

Drivetrain: I***8217;ve been mulling over some ideas, probably more to come. My first thoughts:

-M52/54 N52k swap
-N20 swap (but probably not I hate those engines)
-LS swap

But I really enjoy actual hot rodding an old engine on a full tear down, so I***8217;m beginning to lean towards building the M10 for some power. I***8217;ll have to research, but I***8217;d like to use N20 rotating assembly and cylinder head/valvetrain components. I***8217;d have to verify water jacket, head bolt and bore spacing of course, but modern pistons rods and crank would make the old engine sing, especially if I plumbed a turbo. Offset grind on the crank with different rods to add more stroke. Definitely an exhaust header. Upgraded fuel injection system. Basically, building an analog N20 without all the electronic garbage. The car weighs like 2300 lbs, so even 200 hp would give it a comparable power to weight ratio as a 335i. 200 naturally aspirated horsepower from an M10 would be respectable, but more is always better.

The basic premise is to build the E21 M3 that never existed.

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Filled the tires, yanked it out of the hole with my tractor and dragged t home. Tomorrow I'm going to clean off the plant debris and power wash it. If I have time, I'll get it up on the lift in my shop and really see what I'm working with. None of the issues I can see so far scare me at all.

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Nice find! It's been 20 years since I've owned my E21. You may have an '82 or '83 - I believe the dual side mirrors were not included in 81. Also there appears to be something non-stock mounted under the glove box. Looks like a good long term project for you and your son.
Thanks!

The vehicle is indeed a 1981, as per the title.

The thing you noted in the passenger footwell is an ancient alarm system, which will be removed.

A neighbor noticed it, and immediately came over to walk down memory lane (he was a BMW tech in the 70s and 80s) and will be an asset rebuilding the FI system, if I go that route. Any and all options are open for the drivetrain and I've got my fair share of engine data to look over (such as possibility of using modern components in the old block). Intense machine work to make it happen isn't a problem.

My Olds was in the same state, if not worse (its engine had a spun bearing) when I dragged it back home in 2013, and 5 weeks later, it had a new engine, floorpan, carpet, brakes, and I was able to fire up and drive across NY state; by now, all it needs is a paint job, with the entire suspension being either aftermarket or from other GMs, along with front brake upgrades from a 2002 Chevy, and I replaced 5 body panels, so I'm no stranger to frankencarring.

Of course, all my excitement could quickly fizzle out when I get it up in the air; time will tell. I'll know more about it once I get it cleaned up, hopefully today.
That back panel is pretty bad... I wonder if they make those panels new? That would simplify a repair when the time comes.
Just the back panel? [emoji38]

The weight loss just makes it quicker.

I've got years to find or make a new panel, but a reproduction or parts car part would certainly simplify. In the mean time it may just remove itself! [emoji38]

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That back panel is pretty bad... I wonder if they make those panels new? That would simplify a repair when the time comes.
That's just the first thing that jumps out.

On second thought, weight reduction, yo!

Why is it that kind of car in that condition gets me SO much more excited than my neighbor's buddy driving down the street in his new GT3? Just so much more character.
Just the back panel? [emoji38]

The weight loss just makes it quicker.

I've got years to find or make a new panel, but a reproduction or parts car part would certainly simplify. In the mean time it may just remove itself! [emoji38]

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Thanks man. I dug out the owners manual and I can't describe how shocked I was at its condition; the manuals look feel and smell brand new, despite being stuck in plastic inside the car all this time. I figured the humidity would have curled or yellowed the pegs but nope! And loosely glanced over the extensive maintenance log going back to new. Those manuals are probably worth more than this wreck! Lol

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Now that it's out of the hole, I could see a 12x6 pice of floor that needs patching. Passenger side much better. Fuel lines in the way, but those will be replaced anyway. Not that whatever in them is flammable by now anyway lol.

The passenger door is stuck shut, so I do need to address that too. Among literally everything.

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Being a big fan of both the E24 and E30 (check my signature) I have wanted an E21 for some time to "fill the gap" between the sharks and the E30s. The only one I've found even remotely nearby (100+ miles away) turned out to be much worse than the example you were given, and it had a sour M10 to boot. Badly worn cam and a leaky head gasket. The guy "only" wanted $4600 for it. :rofl: :rolleyes: At least I got a great deal on 5 Alpina-style wheels from him. :thumbup:
Now that floor is pretty bad. But at least you'll be able to read the owner's manuals!
Lol. The floor is bad but no worse than my Olds was... I'll have to send you pics.. the one section was gone and it had rotted away from the trunk pan. That will be an easy patch. [emoji6]

And thanks Horn, only helps justify the selling price! [emoji106]

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Other than the seats (which disintegrated as I vacuumed, especially the rear one), the interior cleaned up fairly well. As did the trunk. I did find where all the insulation went: the glove box, which is also where mice go to die and ants go to feast on the corpses. Also appears the windshield leaks a little, either that or it was liquified rodent. In the trunk while vacuuming the spare tire well, the largest spider I've ever seen jumped out from the well carrying eggs; I screamed like a small child, jumped backwards farther than I thought I could, and had no choice but to set the car on fire. Well not quite, but I did empty near an entire bottle of brakleen in the trunk. I really need to figure out how to get the passenger door open, I've always felt like something was going to reach up out of the front seat to get me and after the spiders/ants/wasps, that isn't going to change.

I also discovered what looks like an intact tool kit in the trunk! But the lower window ledge is shot where the trunk gasket sits and will need to be made. And then discovered there's an engine under all the debris!

Already found two items that have me making questions (seen in the last pics):

1) what looks like a keyed solenoid inside the fuel fill door, with what looks like speaker wire running back to the RR taillight. The LR taillight has similar speaker looking wire winning up under the parcel shelf. Stock/non-stock and purpose?

2) above #2 intake runner, a plug dangling and whose mate I couldn't find. Supposed to be unplugged?

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I love the subtitle to this thread. All of us that take on restorations of old cars may need to have our heads examined, but I believe the examination would reveal we are in better mental health than many people, because we have a plan and vision for the future. We are focused on achieving a goal that is worthwhile and honorable.

Carry on, sir!

And as to rodent infestations, the attached pictures
are what I found after taking my M3 out of storage. The engine compartment filled with rodent droppings, nest material, and the remains of the engine wiring harness. Since this was/is a historically significant car (see "BMW Tattoos" in the E36 forum) I am completely restoring the engine compartment, one wire at a time. And I have a seething hatred of rats and mice. Until I opened the hood I thought the car was protected in the barn. :(

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Goo that's the worst I've seen from a single season! Yes, I too loathe the wretched vermin. When I knocked around the driver's knee panel, consideral debris and droppings fell out, and that's where the gauges are, so that is going to be anything but fun. Many animals refuse to sh1t where they sleep, which only goes to prove how horrible the rodents are.

Godspeed in your endeavor! Being an M3, I'd have to do the same as well! Electronics are my least favorite of all the fields, I'd rather replace rotted panels.... hey I'll get my wish with this one!

Glad you enjoyed the humor in the hyperlink; it wasn't so much directed to the condition of the car, as much as I've now got 6 cars, and as may tractors, to keep track of. But, the end goal is to work on this with the boy and kick it to him, so I just have to play the waiting game. ;)

FYI not sure if anyone noticed, but there is a BMW CCA sticker in the back window from who knows when.
I noticed that BMW CCA, pretty cool!

Wow, the car cleaned up pretty well! That connector may just be for an option that car didn't have. My 940 is like that, it has a connector under the intake manifold for EGR, which mine doesn't have. BMW probably did the same thing, made it one harness and just left stuff unplugged that the car didn't have.
Thanks! I was thinking that too; my olds has a similar connector near the carb left open, and its where one would conduct rudimentary electronic diagnostics, so I was thinking that as well. I'm just not familiar at all with this chassis, so it's gonna be a learning curve!
I noticed that BMW CCA, pretty cool!

Wow, the car cleaned up pretty well! That connector may just be for an option that car didn't have. My 940 is like that, it has a connector under the intake manifold for EGR, which mine doesn't have. BMW probably did the same thing, made it one harness and just left stuff unplugged that the car didn't have.
Ah yeah, that's possible too. My 940 also has a couple of those test connectors.
Thanks! I was thinking that too; my olds has a similar connector near the carb left open, and its where one would conduct rudimentary electronic diagnostics, so I was thinking that as well. I'm just not familiar at all with this chassis, so it's gonna be a learning curve!
You are one BMW behind me, but 4 tractors up :thumbup:. I've got a low serial number first year (1961) John Deere 2010, an a 1975 2030.

That plug is most likely an extra "used with xxxx option", as has been speculated. And your thread has reinspired me to continue the search for an E21 (like I didn't already have more projects than I can finish in my lifetime)
Isn't that what keeps us busy? I have the same problem with Volvos :rofl:.
You are one BMW behind me, but 4 tractors up :thumbup:. I've got a low serial number first year (1961) John Deere 2010, an a 1975 2030.

That plug is most likely an extra "used with xxxx option", as has been speculated. And your thread has reinspired me to continue the search for an E21 (like I didn't already have more projects than I can finish in my lifetime)
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