There are three main things that create the ideal conditions for a project car: time, space, and money. And you wouldn’t really be wise to take on a project unless you have a surplus of these things.
But let’s be honest – if cars are your thing, you are probably not known for your abundance of wisdom. We give ourselves to these machines because they tug at our hearts, not because they make sense. That is why there is now an E39 Touring gracing my driveway.
My time and money situation has not changed, but having moved house recently, I do find myself with much more space. One out of three ain’t bad, so I took to Ebay one Sunday afternoon and found this E39 528i. I could tell from the photos that it needed some love, but it also had eleven months’ MOT. The seller raised a few issues in the description, none of whch troubled me. Having had a 528i before, I know these things inside out. So I finished my coffee (yes, this was an alcohol-free purchase!), entered a bid, and sat back. Forty-five minutes later, I was the owner of another 528i.
With my youngest son in tow thanks to a Covid case in his school, we headed down to Northampton to collect the BMW. My expectations weren’t high, knowing it needed work. But I can’t deny breaking out into a smile as we pulled up. The joyful memories of my last E39 came flooding back, and I found myself eager to dive into this new project.
The sellers are a lovely couple, have just upgraded to an E61, and have a long history of BMW ownership. They’ve had this car for six years, and I don’t think it’s ever left Northampton – it was originally supplied by Wollaston BMW. The car is dirty and the paint needs attention, although it’s remarkably straight and rust-free. There are some bits of trim missing inside, particularly in the boot. But it’s got wheels and an engine, some petrol, and an old-school Nokia phone in the armrest to keep my son occupied on the way home. So we set off.
A good, long drive home is the perfect chance to work out just how much of a project car this is actually going to be. I can feel the suspension is tired, although it still rides smooth at 70. The engine purrs like a BMW straight-six should. I know the rocker cover gasket has to be replaced, and my code reader suggests the thermostat might be stuck open, but beyond that, it feels like a good service will be all it needs to stay happy. It changes gear, and the brakes are surpisingly strong. There are some rattles inside to attend to, and it really does need a deep clean. But even with all that, this remains the best car BMW has ever made, and it is a comfortable and quiet 150-mile drive home.
A dedicated project car is a new thing for me, something to chip away at on my days off. My plan is to bring you some regular updates on the things I’m doing in the coming months. And I can tell you already that the first things on my list are visual – removing the tow bar, dealing with that awful GB badge, and restoring the headlamps. If it’s going to be sat on my driveway for a prolonged period of time, I want to enjoy looking at it!
Welcome to Project Improvvisatore. Because I’ll be making it all up as I go along.