The Sadness of Finding Out Your Old Car Got Wrecked

Photos: Patrick George

I received some unexpected news about an old friend today. But it’s not the kind of news you ever want to hear.

The email came through Jalopnik’s tips line: “Patrick’s Old E30.” I figured my old 1985 BMW 325e was for sale again. I had sold it when I moved from Austin to New York two years ago. I know the person I sold it to had been looking to move it but I hadn’t given it much thought recently.

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And it was for sale—but definitely not in the condition I left it in.

Photo: Craigslist

There it was, the same business-gray coupe with original wheels that I remembered, now sporting a Thule roof rack. But the front bumper was punched in. The fender was jutting outward. The headlights were mangled. The clamshell hood looked so trashed it couldn’t even be opened.

“I was perusing Austin’s craigslist for E30's and stumbled into this,” the tipster said. “Looks like the same license plate, sorry for your loss!”

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He added: “:(”

the ad in full, preserved for posterity
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The seller—the car’s current owner—needs it gone because he’s moving and can’t give it the attention it needs. Besides the obvious stuff, the frame is damaged. The radiator’s busted. It’s a major body and motor repair job for a 34-year-old car, such that this may be the end of the line for it.

Upon reading all this, the only thing more crushed than the E30's face was my heart. Suddenly, memories of a car I hadn’t thought about in a while came rushing back. Early Saturday and Sunday morning blasts through Hill Country back roads because it didn’t have A/C and I had to drive before it got too hot out. Poring through shop manuals to teach myself how to work on its engine. Teaching my friends to drive it. The bad times, too, like when a finicky starter would leave me stuck somewhere, or the surprise fuel pump seal leak I encountered early on.

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It had a five-speed manual, a sport package, sport leather seats, an onboard computer, a limited-slip differential, the hated but underrated 2.7-liter “eta” engine, and a working sunroof—one of the few as far as E30s go. The roof rack wasn’t there when I had it but it was a great addition. It was, in short, a good car.

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Had it not been for the email, I would’ve never known it met this fate. I almost wish I hadn’t.

Photo: Craigslist
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As I’ve written before, you can’t really ever control what happens to your old car when you sell it. And it’s debatable whether you, as a new owner, have any duty or obligation to your car’s previous owner. I think as enthusiasts the best we can all hope for is that someone will take care of our cars as much as we did, to continue on and have adventures in their own way. It’s certainly what I’ve always wanted.

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But shit happens, and so do car wrecks.

Photo by author, in happier times
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I was actually looking for Miatas and Z31s when I found this car on Craigslist, owned by a cop who lived south of Austin. He clearly put a lot of love into it, and he told me as much. As far as project cars go it wasn’t really much of one; it generally ran well. There was the questionable starting and the lack of A/C I mentioned, but beyond that it was a pretty solid old-school daily driver. It was always fun to drive, even with the low-redline engine.

I didn’t write about the car much when I had it, mainly because running Jalopnik means writing for it quite a bit less than the actual writers do. But owning this E30 got me through a rough period, professionally and personally.

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When I had this car our previous parent company was going through a protracted legal battle and subsequent bankruptcy. Many of us didn’t know if we’d have jobs when the dust settled. Most of us made it out okay in the end. Some of us didn’t. But it was a stressful time, trying to keep a publication afloat while reassuring my team—and my readers—that things would be fine when deep down I didn’t really know if that was the case.

But at least I had the E30. And at the end of a shitty day I could turn my work brain off, go into my garage, hose myself down in mosquito spray, open the hood and teach myself to do a valve adjustment. Or a transmission fluid flush. Or I’d change the oil or program the on-board computer. Or I’d just go for a drive.

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I won’t go so far as to say it was therapeutic, but the distraction was welcome, and I figured if I could learn to fix one problem at a time—and correct my own mistakes when I needed to—I could fix other problems in my life too. You, too, have almost certainly felt that way about a car in your life.

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So when it came time to sell it, I just wanted someone who would appreciate it and care for it as much as I did. (And had the cash in hand, but that goes without saying.) I texted the new owner randomly to see what happened, and most importantly, to see if they were OK. Turns out it wasn’t the person I sold it to in 2017—that guy, a young man with wrenching skills above my own, sold it a year later. I know he put in new shocks and a chip, and he told me he fixed the starter issue.

The latest owner told me he did even better, fixing the A/C so it blows cold, a must in Central Texas. He was planning a head swap, too. But not long after that someone hit him, causing the damage you see in the listing.

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My boys, going out for a cruise.

Like I said, the important thing is everyone was fine. E30s are tough cars and they were quite safe in their time, but I never relished the thought of crashing in mine. And at the end of the day, people are not replaceable. Cars are.

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My hope now is that it finds a way to stay alive. Maybe it’ll get bought by some E30 fanatic who fixes the body and motor. Maybe it’ll find a second life as a crapcan racer, in AER or LeMons or something. I know it has a lot left it can give, and I’d hate to see one reckless driver put another great ‘80s 3 Series out of commission. If you’re up for it, find it for sale here.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I’m not involved with this sale at all. Don’t email me about it. I have no financial involvement here, just an emotional one and a general desire to see as many E30s on the road as possible.)

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I don’t think I’m alone in this feeling. Most of us never find out what happens to our old cars, but when we do find out the ones we loved met bad endings, it’s like a punch in the gut. I hope my first car, a Toyota Corolla, is still running around as a reliable transportation appliance for some single mom or college student at 200,000 miles. I hope some tuner kid is out there doing crazy stuff to my old WRX. I hope someone’s still having a lot of fun in my F56 Mini Cooper S. I hope my R56 Mini Cooper S... well, that unreliable piece of shit can go fuck itself.

But I really, really hope the ending to my E30's story isn’t a part-out or a junkyard. I’m probably hoping for too much. I just know it deserved more than that, and I think everyone who ever had it would agree.

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About the author

Patrick George

Editor-in-Chief at Jalopnik. 2002 Toyota 4Runner.