It’s my pleasure to introduce the third M Coupe Buyer’s Guide Project Coupe!
Our interest was drawn to this 1999 Arctic Silver over Dark Gray coupe for sale in Fullerton, CA not long after our last project coupe was sold. There weren’t many pictures in the craigslist ad (7), but from what we could tell it was in good condition. We ran a Carfax on the coupe, showing it started it’s life in Pennsylvania and was sold in 2010 to it’s 2nd owner in SoCal and quickly made it over to it’s 3rd owner in 2012 (the seller). It also only had 53k miles.
The potential exposure to harsh northeastern winters (salted roads and snow) was a bit of a concern, but we were encouraged by the previous owners’ descriptions of being housed in a heated garage and meticulously maintained. With such low mileage, it was worth taking a closer look.
Aside from the good condition and low mileage, the most exciting parts about the car were the high end modifications. This car was upgraded in 2005 with an Active Autowerke Stage 2 Supercharger Kit with Rotrex blower and intercooler, an Eisenmann Race Exhaust with 83mm tips, a Dinan Heavy Duty clutch and lightweight flywheel, stainless steel brake lines with brass bushings and high performance brake rotors and pads. This is an extensive (and expensive) list of desirable modifications for making the most of of this car’s S52 engine, so I was excited to speak with the seller, send him a deposit, and schedule a test drive in sunny Southern California!
I arrived in Fullerton after a quick flight from Oakland on a Saturday morning and was picked up by the seller in the coupe. The sale listing didn’t have any side photos of the coupe, so this was my first view of the previously chromed roadstars.
It wasn’t very pretty.
I couldn’t tell if it was brake dust or oxidation, but the color was closer to gun metal gray than chrome. I waved him down, popped the hatch to put my bag in the back, and was greeted by a fully gutted rear hatch compartment. It was bare metal, exposed insulation, wires, subwoofer and a 6-disc CD changer. I hadn’t seen a coupe’s rear hatch like this before, so it was a bit of a surprise. The seller had mentioned that he had removed some panels in the back, but I thought he meant he had taken out the floor panel or the tool kit or something. Project indeed!
My concern about the wheels and rear hatch soon vanished once I got into the passenger seat. The interior was as advertised; extremely clean and in very nice condition. The glovebox wasn’t sagging, the dash trim was flawless and the leather was in great shape. I felt bad because I couldn’t focus on carrying on a conversation with the seller as I looked around the cabin inspecting every nook and cranny. The only oddities that I noticed were a GoPro mount on the interior sunroof glass and that the shift knob leather was a bit worn. No big deal.
Then he hit the gas!
Wow this thing was powerful. And loud. I didn’t hear the Eisenmann exhaust when he pulled up to pick me up since he was going so slow, but once we got on the highway it sounded incredible. Going under bridges or driving next to buildings, I could really hear it reverberate off of everything. The seller didn’t drive very aggressively, but I could tell this coupe had the power to rival a S54 coupe. And that beautiful *whoosh* of the supercharger was impossible to ignore. :)
Once we arrived at his house I finally had a chance to get a good look at the whole outside of the car. Looking closer at the wheels, I thought maybe it was only brake dust and could be polished out, but given how few coupe owners like chrome wheels we’d probably want to refinish the wheels back to OEM hyper silver anyway, so it didn’t matter that much. The wheels didn’t have any rash and the tires were new, which was nice. Looking through the the wheels to the advertised ‘high performance rotors’ I noticed the drilled holes in the front rotors were all cracking. I hadn’t seen this in person before, but after a quick search on my phone, I learned that was usually caused by continued high speed braking, most likely from spending time on the track. I now figured we’d need to replace all four rotors. The pads were toast as well, as noted by the illuminated brake service light on the dash. I was starting to wonder what else would need repair or replace…
Aside from the wheels and rotors, the exterior was in good shape. No serious scratches or major dings on the doors. Glass was all original and in good shape. I checked all the VIN tags on the hood, doors, rear hatch and front quarter panels. Everything matched! I tested out the headlights, turn signals, brake and reverse lights. All worked properly. I inspected the additional modifications as I walked around the car. Sonar projector headlights up front along with smoked corner and side markers. The stock kidney grills had been replaced with black ones, which is when I noticed the small dent between the grills. The original grills probably didn’t survive the impact, which is probably why they were replaced. It wasn’t serious, something a PDR guy could remedy, and the hood latched just fine without any body panel gaps on either side.
I opened the hatch to inspect the bare bones of the car that were exposed. The nice part about having all the panels removed was that I could inspect the subframe spot welds very easily. Luckily none of them were sunken or cracked. I got under the car to take a closer look at the differential mount and subframe from beneath. Using my iPhone flash as a flashlight, everything looked nice and clean without any tears or cracks. I also took a closer look at the massive Eisenmann mufflers. ‘Z3 M’ and ‘Made in Germany’ embossed on each can. The tips were pretty dirty, so they would need a solid polishing, but everything looked good.
The seller showed me all the rear hatch panels that he had recently removed, and I made sure everything was accounted for. Along with the panels, he also had the original headlights, orange corner lights and clear side markers. I figured I’d use the amount of work required to re-install the hatch panels as a negotiating point, but it was nice that the the stock parts were being included in case we wanted to give the coupe a more original exterior appearance.
I finally took a look at the engine compartment and was greeted by a massive series of metal pipes, intercoolers and a Rotrex blower. Aside from that major addition, which I admittedly didn’t know all that much about, the engine sounded and looked good. The oil and brake fluid were low, which we would change out ASAP, and the compartment was a bit dirty, but nothing out of the ordinary. I couldn’t tell from my research whether this was a C/30 or C/38 blower, but I figured PTech would be able to let me know with an inspection.
It was time for a test drive.
I figured since we didn’t have much time until my bank closed, being Saturday and all, I’d drive from his house over to the bank and if everything felt good I’d make him a cash offer on the spot. It was mostly neighborhood/city driving, but I got enough acceleration, braking and speedy turns along the way to know that this coupe was coming home with me. The S52 had it’s notorious low end torque, but felt much more responsive with the heavy duty clutch, light flywheel and added power from the supercharger. It was a different type of power than a S54. While the S54 has unquenchable power at all rev bands, the supercharged S52 feels like a normal S52 until a certain level of acceleration, then it’s like an exponential curve of power until you feel like letting off. So I guess I’d call the S54 more straight line (x=y ) while the S52 takes some time to warm up, but it heats up quickly.
The suspension felt tight for a stock set up. This coupe felt poised on the road and handled bumpy city streets well without any clunks or squeaks. We pulled into the bank and sat parked for a while to discuss numbers. I explained that this coupe had a lot of money invested in it with performance in mind, but there were some expensive maintenance items that had been neglected and would require some investment on my part. On top of that, I was taking a bit of a risk buying my first supercharged coupe without my shop taking a look at it first. I made my case with the seller, finishing with the fact that I’d need to spend a bunch of time putting the rear hatch back together. I even got my shop on the phone to explain how much it would be to have the brakes done, and at that point the seller accepted my offer.
With the clear title in hand, we had our next project coupe! We headed back to his house, loaded the rear hatch with the headlights and interior panels. He handed over a large folder of maintenance history from the life of the car, and I hit the road for a 6 hour trek to the Bay Area.
Stay tuned for our next article covering the mechanical decisions we made with the car and some before & after photos.