Project 46: Facelift Part II

Project 46 is an on-going series that demonstrates common fixes and preventative maintenance tips, as performed on our own E46 330Ci. You can find the previous instalments here: Introduction, Idle Issues, Control, Housing Crisis, Tyred & Tested, Tuned, Facelift Part 1.

It’s been some time since our last update, which was the first part of our Project 46 facelift. As we said then, the 330Ci M Sport is a beautifully designed car and tends to invite compliments wherever it goes, particularly so after the wheels were refurbished. But the body was not perfect, and we tended to notice the imperfections and attempted touch-ups by previous owners whenever it was clean and parked in the sun.

We decided to get in touch with some body repair shops about fixing the exterior issues. One workshop we spoke to specialised in very high-end marques, and although we’re sure the work would have been exceptional, the quote was significantly more than what we had budgeted for for some fairly minor work. Another smash repairer we spoke to had a good reputation and quoted a reasonable price, so the decision was made to book in the 330Ci with them. The work itself took a little over a week to complete, and we became really excited to see how the car would turn out.

Approaching the car in the bright sun, our black 2003 BMW E46 330Ci looked stunning. A massive improvement, with the stone-chipped and rashed front spoiler, dinged bonnet, and scratched rear bumper all repaired and repainted in the original metallic Sapphire Black. The front bumper grille and badge were also replaced with brand-new parts as the car had originally come to us with a cheap aftermarket roundel, and the plastic grille had faded to grey and suffered some broken spokes over the years.

Unfortunately when we were up close, the quality of work started to become more obvious. Besides some wet sanding marks and grit in the paint, someone had left remnants of dried polish on parts of the body. After we pointed it out, a dirty rag was used to quickly polish the areas clean, scratching the new and soft paint in the process. For most people picking up their family car after a bingle, the work would have been perfectly fine, but as a restoration job it lacked a little attention-to-detail. Better than it was, not as good as it could have been. Maybe we under-emphasised our expectations, or maybe we over-emphasised our budget. Maybe the reality is you just need to spend twice as much to get that little bit more.

We weren’t unhappy with the results, but we weren’t exactly jumping on the phone to book the car into the next concourse event. More concerning for us however was after we jumped back in the 330Ci, we were astonished and disappointed to discover the handbrake cable had been stretched significantly. Having being young once upon a time, we know the likely scenario of how that came to happen.

Shortly after the body repairs were completed, the car was given its first official roadtrip to Byron Bay. We were lucky enough to drive the 330 through some absolutely spectacular roads in the backcountry of New South Wales which made us fall in love with the car all over again (with our thanks to a bad GPS route). Each step of Project 46 has been small, but it’s all added up to a vehicle that is far greater than the sum of its parts. It’s an incredibly capable tourer, with enough power, agility, comfort, and safety to allow the driver to sit back and enjoy the roads and the scenery, yet it’s equally capable as a town runabout. The E46 is not without its flaws, but when it is working well it’s a beautiful machine. Truly, one of BMW’s best.

In the months since, we didn’t really touch the car except for running local errands around Melbourne. Recently though we noticed the E46 began to increase its coolant consumption, with drips forming on the ground after the car had being driven at temperature. The leak appeared to be coming from the thermostat housing, so we put aside a Saturday and swapped the part over with our one of our Wahler units. We then noticed another coolant weep as we were under the car, so we swapped out the faulty lower radiator hose with a new one from Vaico. As we were bleeding the air from the system, we accidentally snapped the plastic bleed screw in the top radiator hose. It’s a pretty common thing to happen with those older plastic bleed screws, so we changed out the top radiator hose with another Vaico item which includes a brand-new screw. Although there was likely nothing wrong with the old expansion tank cap, they play an important role in regulating pressure and reducing the chances of a hose blowing out if the motor is low on coolant. For peace-of-mind we swapped it for a new Behr-Hella cap, and with that same thinking we also replaced the fan switch which has a tendency to fail without notice.

But then as we were bleeding the air from the cooling system (again), we noticed the main drive belt was not spinning true, and a quick inspection revealed that the plastic power steering pulley had cracked. An unbalanced pulley can quickly destroy the internal bearings within a pump, so we grabbed one of our replacement aluminium power steering pulleys from URO. When we were bolting it on we discovered that the centre hole in the pulley was slightly too small, so we spent a few minutes with a file to allow a better fit. The aluminium pulleys don’t suffer from the same sort of ageing problems of the original plastic versions, so this one should really last the life of the car.

Earlier this year Motul released a new motor oil product that is designed to be a road-oriented version of their flagship 300V range, which in itself has a huge motorsports following across the globe. The 100% synthetic Motul Sport 5w40 is designed for high performance turbo vehicles, and we believe it would be a good fit for owners of 135i & 335i models, particularly for those who have modified their engines for more power. We’ve been running Motul’s 8100 X-cess 5w40 in the 330Ci religiously, but we thought it would be a good opportunity to test out the new Sport 5w40 and see how it performs on a naturally aspirated straight six. Along with the new oil, of course a MANN oil filter was replaced, and we put in a new MANN air filter too.

Like any project car, there’s still a ways to go before our 330Ci is finished, but we’re getting there with each step. Including the non-essential repairs we’ve spent $6,000 since Project 46 was purchased a year ago, but it’s beginning to feel a lot more like the $100,000 car that was driven away from the dealership in 2003. When we’re finished, we’re confident we’ll have one of the nicest examples of an E46 in country.

New Mechanical Repairs: Thermostat - $75

Upper Radiator Hose - $35

Lower Radiator Hose - $40

Aluminium Power Steering Pulley - $29

Expansion Tank Cap - $15

Fan Switch - $20

Oil Filter - $10

Air Filter - $15

Total Cost of Repairs: $2744

New Non-Essentials: Body Repairs - $900

Total Cost of Additions: $3297

Total Cost To Date: $6041

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