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LK61067 - Part 2: Devil's in the Details

2002 Titanium Silver over Imola Red

There was a time earlier this past spring when my garage was teeming with clownshoes. My 2001 Laguna Seca Blue M Coupe owned the longest tenure in my garage, dating back to June 2015. Then there was the 2000 Alpine White over Imola M Coupe I had recently picked up in January. And the trifecta was complete when I added a 1999 Black over Walnut Z3 Coupe to my stable in March. A S54, S52 and M52 all under one roof…what a dream.

How on earth was I going to fit a fourth coupe into my 3-car garage when Jon arrived with our very first S54 project coupe!? My original plan was to have my Alpine White coupe sold and shipped out by the end of April, leaving very little overlap. That would free up a garage space and we’d be all set. Little did I know, I would actually have all three garage spaces open in a matter of a couple weeks.

Mark's Garage

I found a buyer for the Alpine White coupe in Pennsylvania, with an auto transport company set to pick it up a few days before Jon’s arrival with the new project. Everything was going according to plan! Rick was in town with his girlfriend, so when I got the call from the auto transport driver that he was waiting for us in a nearby Walmart parking lot, we thought it would be cool to show up in two coupes. I drove the Alpine, and I suggested Rick take my LSB. I’d recently installed a new Mason clutch pedal and wanted his opinion. During the 10 minute drive over, I realized I’d lost Rick…which is surprising since we were going 50mph on the feeder road without any traffic around. I proceeded to pull into the Walmart parking lot and begin the inspection process with the truck driver. About 15 minutes later, Rick briskly comes walking up to me and says “I heard a pop and just lost power!” Uh oh. I completed by business with the truck driver, sent the Alpine coupe on its way to the northeast, and turned my attention to my newly incapacitated smurf hearse.

Long story short, if you hear any sort of odd noises coming from the VANOS/timing chain area of your S54 engine…don’t drive it. Earlier in the day I had heard a light ticking coming from the engine compartment, and an odd gurgling noise that persisted for about 15-30 seconds after shutting off the engine. It stumped me and the knowledgeable guys at Clownshoe Motorsports, so I didn’t think it was an issue that required immediate attention. FALSE! Turns out the plastic timing chain tensioner had failed, causing multiple shards of plastic to become lodged between the rotating timing chain and the valve cover. More and more pressure built up and BOOM, the valve cover bursts and the car loses power. Sad trombone noise.

Now the LSB coupe has been shipped off the Randy Forbes for a new (to me) 60k S54 engine and E46 6-speed transmission. This being an expensive ordeal, I was forced to sell the Z3 Coupe to a local enthusiast in Dallas to help fund the purchase of the engine, transmission and all of Randy’s hard work. And that’s how you go from anticipating having 4 coupes in your garage to only having 1 in a matter of weeks. Such is life, I suppose.


2002 Titanium Silver over Imola Red

Shifting focus to the new M Coupe Buyers Guide Project Coupe, what is there to say about this 2002 Titanium Silver over Imola Red example? Well, first of all it’s flat out gorgeous. Titanium Silver has a wonderful way of highlighting the car’s body lines and curves. There’s a reason it was the most commonly selected exterior color during production. When Jon pulled up into my driveway (after driving over 1,000 miles) I was struck by how absolutely clean it was. Granted there were bugs on the bumper and windshield, but oh my goodness was this a clean example of a stock S54 M Coupe. The odometer reads slightly over 103k, but I would have guessed 50-60k upon first glance. The paint has an incredible shine, the body panels were straight without a hint of repeated door dings or rock chips. The Chrome Shadow wheels are deep and dark, and the interior was straight out of a BMW marketing catalog photo. Jon had already replaced the aftermarket metal mirror with an OEM chrome ringed auto dimming mirror. It had also had an aftermarket aluminum shift knob, but has since been replaced with the OEM illuminated knob. How the heck was this a project!?

It was obvious the previous owners had taken special care of this vehicle. Aside from the fantastic condition and thorough service records, there were a couple special finds with this coupe that are often missing from most on the market. The first thing I noticed was the body panel spacer still present on the passenger side between the rear bumper and rear quarter panel. I think I’ve only seen one other coupe with them still present, and it was much, much lower mileage. Have you ever wondered what the other circle is for in the tool kit in the hatch? We found the lug bolt security nut. Not sure if that’s actually what it’s called…but the space it occupies is nearly 100% vacant in every coupe I’ve seen. Anyone else have one of these? Any particular reason they’re lost so easily?

The S54 M Coupe market is going through a crazy phase right now, and discerning buyers will be looking at this coupe with increased scrutiny. A market that has a dozen examples for sale at the time of this writing, with an average asking price of $57,069, is not one to be entered without proper preparation. The buyers interested in S54 M Coupes would be comparing ours to the finest examples from Enthusiast Auto, Avazi Auto Group, Mr Z3 and other private sellers around the country. And fine examples they are. So it’s time to get detail oriented and make this coupe absolutely perfect for the next owner. Here we go.

A thorough inspection of the car’s maintenance history was our top priority before finalizing the purchase. We knew there were 3 previous owners. The first and second owners were both in California, while the gentleman we purchased from was in North Carolina. Most recently, in September of 2015 the clutch had been replaced by BMW of Asheville. This was evident in the driving experience, very good engagement without any slipping whatsoever. At the same time, there was also a new valve cover gasket and power steering pressure line installed to repair some leaks. A new giubo had been installed in September 2014, and a myriad of oil changes and other regular maintenance predated that. All good things.

Since it's a higher mileage S54, the most common concern is the infamous rod bearings. Knowing that we sent off a sample of oil to Blackstone for analysis. It's obvious the engine was as well cared for as the rest of the car. From the report:

This BMW engine looks healthy in our tests. There's nothing here to cause concern. In particular, lead is very low, implying little bearing wear. The oil was in fine condition, as well, with no measurable contamination from fuel or coolant, and the low insolubles and silicon show good oil and air filtration, respectively. Great engine!

2002 Titanium Silver over Imola Red

Looking at the car's current condition when we received it, there were only two noticeable aesthetic items that would need to be addressed. First, a common wear point on damn near every coupe over 50k miles is the driver’s seat bolster. Like I said earlier, the interior of this car was in fantastic condition. But the light scuffing wasn’t going to cut it for us, so I researched local upholstery shops to get some bids on bolster repair. I’d recently had my LSB’s driver seat fully reupholstered and dyed…but that company was more a specialist in full upholstery jobs, not small exterior repairs like this one. Another company I came across in my research was Creative Colors International. They have mobile vans that come to your location and they specialize in the exact type of repair this seat bolster needed. Light cosmetic exterior color fixing, without any physical damage. The gentleman arrived in the afternoon, assessed the bolster and quickly got to work. I stayed out with him to watch how he went about his business, always curious what I might be able to do myself in the future. He used a heat gun (maybe a hair dryer) to soften up the leather. He then brushed it clean and used a color matched spray to eliminate the slight color imperfections and light scratches on the bolster. The end result was a wonderful transformation and a like-new appearance. Only 20-25 minutes of time and less than $200 for the work. Not bad.

With the interior now 100% perfect, the exterior had a common blemish to take care of as well. One of the common flaws we’ve corrected on nearly every project coupe has been rock chips and scrapes on the front bumper. So much so that I now regularly back into all parking spaces in my coupe to eliminate the possibility of scraping the front splitters on any nefariously high curbs. I encourage you all to do so as well. :) The North Texas area had recently been pelted with hail storms, so when I called around all of the paint shops were booked out 1-2 months. These were the popular, often less expensive paint shops that many would choose for insurance claims. So I had to narrow my search to smaller specialty shops. I came across a highly rated place in Rowlett, TX with a familiar name: Mark’s Paint & Body. After speaking with the owner, he was obviously familiar with Z3 M’s and the particulars of our bumper covers. His quoted price was a little high for my liking, but the fact that he could take the car the next day and was an enthusiast like myself made me all the more comfortable. The coupe was ready a week later and the paint was a perfect match. Very impressive work making the exterior that much cleaner. There are a few small pea-sized abrasions on the hood that I asked Mark about, and they couldn’t be fixed individually. Only way would be to fully respray the hood, which is utterly unnecessary, so those will be the only noticeable exterior flaws remaining (for good reason).

2002 Titanium Silver over Imola Red

Now that these small items were taken care of, the coupe needed a good wash, clay bar and wax session. The paint did have some roughness to it on some of the more horizontal surfaces, so I hit it with a full bar of clay and some Meguir’s Quik Detailer. Paint is now smooooooth to the touch, and the fresh wax should keep it that way for some time. I also soaked the black plastic exterior trim pieces (door handles, rear spoiler, roof rails) with some Mother’s Back to Black. Another highly recommended addition to your car cleaning supplies. As you’ll see, she turned out quite nicely.

Many of you who have followed our previous Project Coupes may have noticed that they often sell prior to being listed for sale. If you’re in the market for a clean, well maintained S54 M Coupe in a stellar (and rare) color combination…you might not want to wait for the official for sale listing that will be coming very soon. She’s now ready to be enjoyed by her next caretaker.

2002 Titanium Silver over Imola Red


Chris B
Friday, June 24, 2016 5:07:18 AM

jon, please email me.  I'm interested in this coupe.  Thanks!

Friday, June 24, 2016 7:20:49 AM


I wrote this article and the car is in my possession. Please email me your contact information. My email is

Talk soon,




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Jon Martin
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