Christmas and the holidays are all about spending time with friends and family. When you’re in your 30s, spending quality time with the former seems much harder than the latter — unless your friend is a trusty car and daily driver that’s also getting up there in age, like my slow but fun-loving BMW 318ti.
Many of you readers are familiar with the 25-year old red hatchback, but the little guy reached a (literal) milestone recently, and I just had to get it a gift or two to celebrate. My 1997 BMW 318ti made it to 200,000 miles, and it’s still on the original engine and transmission — a 1.9-liter inline four cylinder that made a whopping 138 horsepower when new and a five-speed manual transmission.
Hell, the car is on the original factory clutch, which has lived through teaching two of my best friends how to drive stick. I probably shouldn’t be so eager and willing to teach friends how to use a manual transmission in my daily driver, but the 318ti is virtually impossible to stall.
Beside being a friendly teacher, the 318ti has been my daily for a decade. In all that time, it’s put up with me as much I’ve put up with it. Among other shortcomings, these BMW M44-powered cars have notoriously fragile cooling systems thanks to brittle plastics, and like all E36s, the window regulator arms bend and let the glass fall out of its tracks if you look at them funny.
But I like to think that, overall, we’ve both come out the other side of that decade together in better shape than we went in. So, instead of a pair of wool socks (an underrated Christmas present) my 318ti got an M-Technic bumper and M-Technic mirrors this year.
These originally came with the BMW M3 of that era (the E36) and the bumper came with the 318ti Sport. The rare 318ti Club Sport had both the mirrors and bumper, along with a limited slip differential. Mine is a 318ti Sport, but it was mysteriously missing the bumper when I bought it. Luckily, the harder to find rear M-Technic bumper was there.
The 318ti was more or less a parts bin car that BMW hastily coaxed together using E36 and E30 components in an effort to attract young buyers looking for a cheaper way to get into a BMW than the standard 3-series or more expensive 5-series. But the truth is I’m not that young anymore, and neither is the car.
Even so, the 318ti is wearing its age well thanks to what I’ve added to keep it roadworthy and then some. Things like that M3 bumper and mirror set, but also a Strömung exhaust, Blaupunkt SQR 46 head unit, Condor shifter, plus shift and e-brake boots, and, of course, gallons upon gallons of Liqui Moly engine oil and Red Line transmission fluid. Oh, and a pair of comfy seatbelt pads, too.
Other maintenance has been mostly replacing the blown struts with Konis all around, replacing the worn rubber in the suspension, as well as the motor and transmission mounts. Funny story: I bought polyurethane 75D mounts when it came time to replace the originals, but I ended up giving them to my mechanic (who drives an E46) because the poly mounts were not the best fit for a daily.
I also had the front seats reupholstered in Mexico but asked the maestros to re-use the Black Anthracite cloth to keep it stock. I’m probably forgetting a lot of other parts and maintenance, but it’s been so long. So many years, so many auto parts store receipts. My 318ti is far from perfect, but there’s no need to rush.
Neither me nor the ‘ti would have made it without Jalopnik, nor without the help of forums and YouTube, uncles, cousins, honest mechanics and, now, the folks at my local body shop. Thank you, all. Here’s to another 10 years and 200,000 miles on the road.