Owner Review: Yellow Submarine - My BMW E36 328i

Owner Review · Aug 15, 2020 05:59 PM

** This article is the personal experience of a 1996 BMW 328i (E36) owner and does not necessarily reflect the views of WapCar.

Facebook: Jack Lee

Owner Review: Yellow Submarine - My BMW E36 328i 01

Owner Review: Yellow Submarine - My BMW E36 328i 02

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“Why do you spend so much on a 16 years old car?”

“What is the cents/km do you pay for the 2.8?”

“How much do you spend on maintaining the car?”

“You know, my road tax only cost me RM 60 a year.”

I get asked these questions a lot when I bought a 1996 BMW 328i (E36). Especially for someone who was just about to exit his 20s and was supposed to buy a house, get married, settle down or something. But I don’t want to get sucked into what I call a ‘societal norm’. Anyway, I digress.

Growing up watching BTCC (British Touring Car Championship) on the telly, I was always fond of the E36. I still think BMW of that era has one of the cleanest designs; kidney grille size that is notably proportionate to the headlights, sharp and edgy lines on the side and the short rear overhang; it has aged very well even to date.

The chance to fulfil childhood dream came when a friend of mine was selling his very well maintained E36 328i, to fund the purchase of a Z3. And, I jumped in without having second thoughts after test-driving it. Well, ideally I would want an M3 3.2 but I would like to still keep my kidney, please. So, I settled for a pseudo one, which I called ‘Yellow Submarine’.

Owner Review: Yellow Submarine - My BMW E36 328i 01

Let’s be honest. 197 bhp, 280 Nm doesn’t sound a lot by today’s standard. A 2.0 turbocharged 4 cylinder engine can easily produce many, many more horsepower than that. However, to truly appreciate BMW’s engines, one has to get the inline 6. Inline 6 engines are inherently mechanically balanced, meaning it has lesser vibrations than cars with fewer cylinders. BMW has still, stubbornly, remained their 6 cylinder engine in this configuration to date.

The most important ingredient in making a Sheer Driving Pleasure machine is the rear-wheel drive. I was very happy the E36 that I owned, came with the creme de la creme, 5 speed manual gearbox courtesy of M3, which was very rare. Cars of that era had Lego-like compatibility, for instance, you can swap the internals of M52 and M54 to bump up the cubic capacity. All these can be done without “coding” or programming, something which is needed E46 onwards. 

Owner Review: Yellow Submarine - My BMW E36 328i 02

You’d be hard-pressed to find a cupholder in the E36 and will be disappointed to learn that the interior space is in fact, smaller than first-generation Myvi. The centre console is angled towards the driver, a tell-tale sign that this is a driver’s car. Interior plastics do look its age, creaks are common but all electrics work. The air con was asthmatic, a common trait of European made cars of that era. 

Owner Review: Yellow Submarine - My BMW E36 328i 03

Owner Review: Yellow Submarine - My BMW E36 328i 04


I brought the car to Sepang twice and it was an absolute delight to track it. I had a hair raising moment, which I never forget; spinning the car while exiting the final hairpin, with a Nissan Silvia S15 head-on narrowly missing me. Being a 1996 car, it was without any driver’s aid on board. So it was back to the basics and feeling the car’s dynamics and behaviour when pushed at its limits. Surely, the time around the track was slower than Golf Mk 5 GTis, Subaru WRXs, Mitsubishi Evos and probably Proton Wiralutions. But you gotta take the wheel and drive it to the limits (in a safe environment) to truly understand the real meaning of Ultimate Driving Machine.

In terms of maintenance, I’m not going to lie and say it is cheaper than similar segment Honda Civic or Corolla Altis. You can’t hide the fact that being a 16 years old car, it’s only a matter of time when part(s) require attention, obviously. However, not all parts are expensive if you know your way around and parts generally do last longer. It’s the sum of two or more parts that fail at the same time that’s going to kill you.

You’re probably going to learn more about the car as you trawl E36 forums on the internet for information or meeting like-minded E36 owners for teh tarik (racun session) and drive runs (touge or convoy). You’re also probably going to get more involved by getting your hands dirty DIY, caring for it and your BMW mechanic will inevitably be your best buddy. It’s the spirit of camaraderie that also comes with owning a modern classic car.

Owner Review: Yellow Submarine - My BMW E36 328i 05

Owner Review: Yellow Submarine - My BMW E36 328i 06

Owner Review: Yellow Submarine - My BMW E36 328i 07

After 6 years of ownership at 343k km, I had sold off the BMW 328i with an ABBA file of receipts (didn’t dare to total up the receipts) to a good home. It still is the longest relationship I ever had with a car and quite possibly the most smiles per gallon I ever had with a car. I guess the answer to those questions is you can’t put a price on matters that are close to the heart and boy, it was money well spent.

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