First thing first: this is not a fully-restored, show-quality car. It's an ongoing project, and there's work to be done.
But it's getting there. For those not familiar, this here is a 1985 BMW 635CSi. A car that, at inception, was the pinnacle of luxury and performance. It cost $50,000 brand new, the same price as a Porsche 930 Turbo. BMW built it as a touring car to dominate the Autobahn, fewer than 90,000 were ever produced, and only 3,700 were sent to the US with manual transmission. No, I’ve never hit its top speed of 165 mph, but I can assure you this car has no problem eclipsing 100.
We'll get to all that. Rewind two years, when I decided to build my own car. The past 24 months have been filled with blood, sweat and, yes, a few tears, but incredibly, the damn thing is now drivable, and awesome. I admit: I've never been more proud of something I've built. Come take a look, won't you?
I've been a gear-head all my life, first owning a go-kart, followed by a family car I used to take apart and put back together in order to teach myself how cars...worked, for lack of a better word. At age 20, it was time for me to buy my first car. I browsed used car forums, eBay, and Craigslist. This went on for a couple months, but nothing felt right.
Finally, one day I found an ad on Craigslist for a 1985 BMW 635CSi with manual transmission. Yes! I knew this was it. I could feel it.
There was just one problem. Actually, there were two.
1) There were no pictures, and 2) this was, uh, not going to be cheap. So I called, asked what was up, and received a single picture of the car. It looked good enough, and the following day I set off to New Jersey with an envelope of cash. The guy wanted close to $5,000, but there was no way I would be paying that. I knew if I could do some sweet talking and get it juuust in my price range, the car would be mine. Armed with some feigned arrogance and a rehearsed negotiation plan, I walked in with a good feeling in my gut.
Fast forward a few hours and I was pulling into my driveway with my new vintage land shark. I was $2,500 poorer.
It's amazing to look at this picture now, and see how utterly it has transformed since that first day. For starters, the interior needed some love. It wasn't in terrible shape but it was dirty and faded and took me nearly two days to clean. This involved vacuuming every inch, then using cleaning product to extract years of grime out of all those inches I had just vacuumed. Finally, a healthy dose of leather conditioner breathed new life into the dried out cockpit.
See that shifter? It's a vintage AC-Schnitzer knob—very rare and period-correct.
These days, a pair of Corbeau racing seats keep me snuggly in place around the twistys. When I bought the car it had the original BMW "comfort" seats, but there was nothing comfortable about them. They were missing foam, the leather was ripped and they offered little support. The seats were just the beginning of what needed replacing.
The problem with buying a classic car like this one is that vintage European parts are increasingly difficult to find and sometimes even have to be shipped from Germany. Remember how I spent $2,500 initially? Oh, how that number looks so small to me now.
I replaced the clutch (and all of its associated bits) for $1,300; I replaced the entire cooling system for $500; and I replaced a shattered back window for $750. Not to mention the numerous other parts which have needed to be replaced along the way. Plus, I re-painted the car in a satin grey...well at least for the time being—a professional paint job is in the works.
All in all, I'm into this car for about $5,000. It sort of makes me cringe writing that, but the hard work I've put in makes it worth it. For better or worse, this car is an extension of me. While I could list about $5,000 of additional modification and work to be done, I balance my expenses towards the car to make sure it never becomes a financial strain.
My main inspiration has been from the Group A racing class, famous in Europe during the 1980s. I've added numerous modifications in order to make the car better resemble one of these classic racers, the suspension and engine chief among them.
The wheels are three piece OZ Fittipaldis, and the car's been lowered on custom coil-overs and undergone other suspension modifications, such as sway bars and bushings. Engine-wise, there is an upgraded intake, computer chip, camshaft, and straight-pipe exhaust. This is where those blood, sweat, and tears come into play.
What drew me to this car in the first place? Its uniqueness. The iconic body, the classic '80s styling, and how when you're sitting behind the wheel, you feel like you're driving through a scene in Miami Vice. And recently, it's become an extremely collectable car, as far as BMWs are concerned.
The sound of the straight 6 motor is addicting—a variety of aggressive growls at low speed, which at 6,500 rpm turns into a piercing metallic snarl.
Owning and working on this car has been an intense learning process, but I have enjoyed (okay: loved, despite those tears) every minute of it. The biggest piece of advice I can give? Do your homework before jumping into a project of this magnitude. Think it'll take a year? It will probably take 18 months and more likely two years.
Be ready for parts to break and things to go wrong. It's not a question of if, but when. That said, if you're passionate about it and want a challenge, I think it goes without saying I fully endorse taking the plunge. The final product is hard to imagine at the outset, but like anything else, spend enough time and offer enough compassion (read: money) and you'll have a proud smile on your face knowing it was your hands that built and maintained a piece of automotive history.