What to look for

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Buying & Selling -


Watch for cor­ro­sion af­flict­ing the edges of the front wings, the front and rear whee­larches, and the panel around the rear lights. Check also that bub­bling around the edges of the plas­tic body trim isn’t a sign of more se­ri­ous rot be­neath. Be sure to ex­am­ine the bodyshell for any signs of ac­ci­dent dam­age; a thor­ough check of the his­tory is strongly rec­om­mended as even smart­look­ing ex­am­ples can be hid­ing all man­ner of crash and theft-re­lated skull­dug­gery. And don’t for­get to look for the usual dings – es­pe­cially the doors of some Evo­lu­tion mod­els, which were made from alu­minium – and scuffed bumpers that sig­nify a hard life.


Abused or ne­glected en­gines are fi­nan­cial no-nos. Mega-mil­ers and tired track day war­riors could be suf­fer­ing from worn bot­tom ends, so lis­ten for knocks or rum­bles, and en­sure that the VANOS valve-tim­ing is healthy. Rat­tles or slug­gish per­for­mance are signs of trou­ble and re­place­ments are around £2000 each. They can, how­ever, be over­hauled with im­proved so­le­noid seals and bear­ings; bud­get around £1000 to re­build the pair on a 3.2-litre en­gine.


Good ser­vice his­tory is vi­tal; scru­ti­nise the pa­per­work and don’t just rely on the dash­board in­di­ca­tor lights. Ex­pect to pay £550 for a spe­cial­ist ‘In­spec­tion 1’ ser­vice, with the big­ger ‘In­spec­tion 2’ nearer £800. En­sure that valve clear­ances have been checked at each ser­vice and check for oil leaks and smoke. The cool­ing sys­tem is a known weak­ness, so re­plac­ing the wa­ter pump at 60,000 miles is wise. New tim­ing chains shouldn’t be needed on well-main­tained cars.


Worn sec­ond-gear syn­chro­mesh and clunks from worn mounts are the main gear­box is­sues. Clutches should last 50,00060,000 miles but bud­get around £1000 for spe­cial­ist re­place­ment, in­clud­ing the fly­wheel. Heav­i­ness or a low bit­ing point sig­ni­fies hy­draulic is­sues. The au­to­mated-man­ual SMG trans­mis­sion is an ac­quired taste and pump fail­ure can re­sult in a £2000-plus bill. Lastly, lis­ten for noises from the dif­fer­en­tial.


Faulty elec­tric win­dows, alarms and air con­di­tion­ing aren’t un­com­mon and en­sure that wa­ter hasn’t been leak­ing into the boot. The con­di­tion of a con­vert­ible’s hood and mech­a­nism are paramount. It can be trou­ble­some and sort­ing per­ished or leak­ing seals and failed ten­sion­ing straps won’t be cheap.


Check brake disc and pad con­di­tion. Bud­get £500-600 to re­place the fronts. En­sure that the ABS warn­ing light ex­tin­guishes on start-up. Look for kerbed wheels and un­even tyre wear – the M3 is sen­si­tive to proper align­ment – plus worn bushes in the front lower con­trol arms and rear trail­ing arms and failed rear damper top mounts. A full spe­cial­ist over­haul will re­sult in a

four-fig­ure bill.


Rust can af­fect the front and back ends of the sills, the box sec­tions, the front sec­tions of the floor­pan and the jack­ing points. Check for rust on com­po­nents un­der­neath; rec­ti­fi­ca­tion can be an ex­pen­sive busi­ness if items such as the fuel tank and rear sub­frame need re­mov­ing. Ex­am­ine the ex­haust too – is it a proper OEM part or has the owner skimped on a cheaper af­ter­mar­ket sys­tem? If so, where else has he or she skimped?

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