If you are just joining us you may have missed that some of the team at ShiftAtlanta set out to show exactly how easy it is get into endurance racing. If you read our first post, you know about how we are building an accessible endurance racing team to compete in the 24 Hours of Lemons. We set out to illustrate that average Joes and Janes with not much more money than some people spend on wheels could get into competitive racing. We figured if we could do it, anyone could.
This thread is different the other articles about our 24 Hours Of Lemons Community Project Car. This list will both be a living article, but also cover a number of areas where we’ve learned painful lessons, figuratively and literally.
So far the general feeling on the car choice is that it is a great platform for the money. Sure it’s a bit heavy and slow, but BMW has a great aftermarket availability with lots of interchangeable parts. After all, nearly every wheel on BMWs are interchangeable, the same motors appeared with minor variations across a lot of models.
The platform of choice is the E39 1998 5 Series BMW. We chose this because well, we found it and it had a manual transmission. Plus it was cheap. For Lemons, those are general requirements we had.
Turns out there are some unique quirks to our generation BMW 5 series, as well as some incompatibilities between combinations with this platform. The vehicle being German, the need to do things cheaply, a lot of mistakes and brash decisions by the team made for some painful lessons learned.
Don’t feel like reading all of the details? Here are the highlights:
- Our specific generation 5 Series BMW (E39) has a unique hub so wheel selection is harder than most cars. F’ you BMW for that.
- 3 Series BMW wheels may fit (read for details), but they tapper and don’t clear the brakes. Why would you do that? Again, F’ you BMW for that.
- 5 sets of wheels later we still haven’t figured it out totally, but at least we foolishly think we are close.
- The steering column is controlled by the power seat which we of course removed and got rid of which then rendered our steering column non-adjustable. This was clearly an Octoberfest decision. The engineers must have been still drunk the next morning at work when they designed this.
- Don’t let Paul do electrical.
- Be careful when removing and cutting lines, we accidently cut one of our brake lines prior to the ABS box
- Don’t let Steve loose with power tools without supervision.
- The radiator is not held in by much
- There are a surprising number of fragile pieces on the radiator
- When radiators are plastic and fragile be careful touching them when hot and running you might get a face full of boiling water, ask me how I know.
- With racing parts if they tell you its bolt in, they mean after drilling and cutting, it’s bolt it. But at least you won’t need to weld. No, just kidding you gotta weld too. Nothing is bolt in. That’s bullshit.
- Cheap ebay struts at not labeled right and left, but are unique.
- Don’t let Dean install struts in the rain unattended, no matter how heroic of an effort it was.
- When moving the car around check to ensure no parts are behind or in front of the car, you might crush parts you need.
- When you do crush said parts if you are lucky they will be metal and you can bend them back into shape.
- Have we mentioned E39 hub is unique yet?. One more F’ you BMW for that. We’re still not over it.
- Our generation BMW doesn’t have front chamber adjustment. So during an alignment you get no opportunity to change the chamber. WHY?!?!?!?
There will be plenty more painful lessons as we shake down the car and run our actual race. Keep checking back.
The first and one of the most persistently painful lessons learned were the wheels. Yes, nearly ever BMW can share wheels. They are all 5×120. There is just one problem: The E39 is one of only two BMW models with a larger hub. Thats right, even the much larger heavier 7 series E38 of the same generation, and the newer 5 and 7 series all ran the typical BMW 72mm hub.
How did that impact us? Well our plan to save money was to run 16″ wheels because they were cheap and a dime a dozen. We only later found out while trying to fit some 16″ wheels for an E36 that the hub size meant the wheels wouldn’t fit.
Worse, few people seemed to know this so every time we found BMW wheels if they were not from an E39 they didn’t work. We eventually solved the problem by buying some hub adapters from ECS Tuning that converts out 74.1mm hub to the 72mm hub in the other models to give us more choice. But we didn’t discover this until after we had tried no less than 5 sets of wheels. Silly us.
One other interesting thing we learned about BMW wheels is E38/E39 16″ wheels tapper less because they have larger brakes. So even after getting the hub adapters the E36 16″ wheels tapper too much and wouldn’t clear the brakes. So even though we now have the universal key to all of the BMW wheels, we still have to run E38/E39 wheels.
Over Aggressive Stripping And Throwing Away
As you may have seen, our first order of business was to strip the interior to prep the car for racing. This was time consuming, but otherwise a relatively easy process. So how did this wind up on the regret list?
When we removed all of the seats we took some pieces off of them to get our mount for our racing seat down. Once we got rid of the seats we figured we were done with them. Then, while installing our racing steering wheel we went to use the power steering column. Didn’t work.
After much digging and searching it turns out because of the comfort access, the steering column is controlled by the power seat controls. That’s right, BMW ran the control for the steering column down to the seat and then back out from the seat to the motors in the column that actually make them move. No power seat, no power steering column. While having the power seat instead of the racing seat may have been more comfortable, I don’t think that passes tech.
After some more research we discovered that you can, in fact, just get the seat control and plug it in. The column should work. One team member found a seat control in a junkyard and brought it. One more lesson learned: The harness to connect it all wasn’t in the car, turns out that was attached to the seat. So we didn’t just need the seat control module, we needed the harness too.
Since we didn’t have the seat anymore we had to go and buy another one. So we did. Easy right, other than being a complete waste of time and money having to buy back something we literally already had once? NARRATOR: It was in fact, not that easy.
Turns out the junk yard seat we bought was for a post refresh E39. the harness and connector were different. So we were still without a power seat. We thought for sure it meant finding a pre refresh (pre 2000) E39) seat. Luckily, a little more research on the wiring harness was done and it turns out the wires were the same, including being the exact same color. After splicing the two sets of wires together and bypassing the connector, the steering column moved.
Moral of this story: Make sure everything you take out is truly not needed but TESTING components before tossing it. At least when dealing with German engineers.
With a 24 Hours Of Lemons car there is a lot of focus doing things cheaply. Afterall the price of the car, minus anything you sell off of plus anything you add back in upgrades has to add up to no more than $500, or you get penalty laps.
Our struts were completely blown and we had a few dollars of budget available. Other than cooling system, we knew suspension would make a big impact on our ability to both enjoy the car and have any chance of competing. Na, we have no choice of competing. However, at the time we made this decision we were still lying to ourselves. So to save money we bought replacement struts off of Ebay because we could get a set for the entire car for like $100.
The problem with this is that unlike high quality struts that come clear marked left and right, or with instructions, these did not – just like you might expect from ebay only parts.
More To Come
We’ll add more details to each of these, and new stories throughout the process.