1978 BMW 635CSi Project - part 1: our shed

By: Guy Allen

Presented by

Project 635 Project 635 Project 635
Project 635 Project 635 Project 635
Project 635 Project 635 Project 635
Project 635 Project 635 Project 635
Project 635 Project 635 Project 635
Project 635 Project 635 Project 635
Project 635 Project 635 Project 635
Project 635 Project 635 Project 635

Guy Allen reveals the trials and pitfalls of getting to grips with a big Bimmer…

1978 BMW 635CSi Project - part 1: our shed
BMW 635 Project - part 1

 

Project 635 part 1

We've bought another money pit...

WHY A 635?

If the truth be known, a BMW 635 came into the buying frame by accident. The mission was to get an interesting old toy, preferably with a bit of performance, and it had to be manual...and cheap. I’ll confess to having a soft spot for old Jags, but wasn’t necessarily ready to tackle the reliability issues that many folk swear comes with them. Still, that doesn’t rule one out for the future.

Australian (early XR8), American (a rough Mustang), other Euro (Porsche 924) and Japanese (Nissan 300ZX) were also in the picture, until I tripped over this particular car.

Some research of the history surrounding the six series got me interested, though the earlier 3.0 litre generation – which are undeniably prettier – was out of the price range.

This one, the 24th right-hand-drive 635 ever made, with the rare Getrag dog-leg five-speed gearbox, looked too good to pass up. It was affordable.

 

THE RELUCTANT SALESMAN

Having bought a fair number of vehicles over the years, I’d like to think that I’d come across most kinds of sellers. They include the professional, the shark, the spiv, the confused, the no-bloody-idea, the hopelessly optimistic, the mechanically inept and so-on. But I’d never come across the no-you-can’t-have-it. Or not a real one.

Sure, playing on a buyer’s fear of loss is an old sales technique, but coming across a vendor who really doesn’t want to sell is a whole other ball game.

The owner was going through a divorce and really needed to sell the car. An ugly situation. And he was not happy.

So when it was suggested I might get a relative to check out the BMW (it was in Brisbane and I was in Melbourne), his immediate response was, "Good. With a bit of luck he’ll talk you out of it." Hmmm…negotiating the price was going to be tricky.

Yet again, I broke every rule by buying over the phone, sight unseen. In my defence, however, I will say we had spent a long time chatting over the phone, which gave a good opportunity to make a judgement on whether or not he was straight. His ad on the internet, too, was a good indicator. It had lots of detail and mentioned a fair bit of the bad stuff as well as the good. He and the car came across as an honest package.

 

THE DRIVE

So was the gamble a good one? Having paid a deposit, I flew up to Brisbane with the remainder of the dough, aiming to drive it back to Melbourne. My one back-up was an auto club membership with all the bells and whistles, so at least someone would come to the rescue if it turned ugly.

The plan was to drive it via Bathurst, then Tintaldra on the Murray River, over a few days – catching up with friends along the way. One or two 'mates' in the Lemmings Motorcycle Club (motto: Death before courtesy...it's a long story) reckoned the car would never make it -- with pride now at stake, this of course meant I'd carry it back to Melbourne on my back, if necessary.

Why go to Bathurst? Just for the hell of it. Though a race version of the 635 won the Australian Touring Car Championship in 1985, with Jim Richards at the tiller, it had a patchy record at Mount Panorama – a fifth, a sixth and two DNFs, if my research is right. With no-one to race, I’d be happy with a quiet couple of laps and a 100 percent finishing record -- better than Mr Richards, albeit at a comparative snail's pace.

But first things first. Day one was a gentle drive down to Tenterfield to get to know the car.

It was pretty much as advertised, though it wasn’t happy idling through heavy traffic in a Brisbane summer, flaming out on odd occasions for no apparent reason. Away from the city, it came good.

One thing was clear: though the owner had put a lot into the car, he had run out of money. The interior was sore and sorry, with badly cracked front seats and dash. Its powerplant seemed pretty good, though the throttle response was ‘soft’ and in need of sharpening up. Also, there was a miss at low revs when under load.

Then there was the gearshift. While the box itself was fine, the shift action was incredibly sloppy, making it a real challenge to find reverse, and unnecessarily difficult to achieve slick changes in most other places.

The suspension was tired, and a quick belt through a few sweepers revealed the rear end wasn’t properly tied down – some new bushes were in order. Oh, and the brakes were getting weary. A positive note was the steering, which was clearly in good health and doing a really nice, sharp, job.

We made it into Tenterfield on night one and of course stayed at the Peter Allen Motel. It has a little shrine to the singer in reception, including a set of his maracas. I somehow avoided the temptation to snatch them off the wall and do a quick rendition of I go to Rio. Checking the 635’s oil seemed like a wiser course of action. Oh, and buying a few basic tools, just in case...

As it turned out, all the fluids needed topping up, though it was the last time anything needed real attention for the remainder of the trip.

A quick stop in country music hub Tamworth was obligatory. In keeping with the cultural sensitivities of the area, I tried a Slim Dusty CD in the stacker, which it promptly spat out. Ride of the Valkyries seemed to be more to its taste.

It’s easy to forget how big the state of NSW really is. It was only as I dodged the roos at night in the hills near Sofala, on the way into Bathurst, that it sank home. Still, we came across some great little back roads, including the one from Quirindi through Premer to Gulgong. There’s some dirt in the early stages, which is easy work in dry weather.

(A quick note here: I used a Tom Tom satnav unit for the first time on a long trip. Though not on my must-have list, its greatest virtue was its ability to give you a ‘preview’ of the shape of the road ahead at night. It’s really handy to know which way the tar turns when it’s dark and you’re in the boondocks.)

Mount Panorama was the first order of business on day two, with a few quick laps. You can see why it has developed such a fearsome reputation as a vehicle-killer over the years. Even with the addition of safety features like Caltex Chase, it’s potentially a hair-raising ride that’s calculated to maul any ill-prepared driver and car.

Racetracks aside, the best roads by far were offered by the route into Tintaldra (near Corryong) via Adelong, Batlow and Tumbarumba. Stunning hill tracks and views across to the Snowy Mountains.

All this country driving was having a weird effect. Muggins found himself considering some changes to the car so it blended in a little better with the locals. Maybe a bullbar up front, a Conargo Pub sticker on the back window, plus a couple of spotties on the roof – that should do it.

A night of indulgence at the pub (plus a helicopter ride – another long story) then it was a gentle cruise home via the shortest route – down the Hume freeway, with its hopeless 110km/h speed limit. Despite needing some work, the Bimm was proving to be comfortable and reliable – so the relationship was off to a good start.

SO FAR SO GOOD?

So what's to like? The styling is a stunner. A Paul Bracq effort, it's distinctive and still wins hearts today, while the driver's view over the well-shaped snout is a joy. The handling and powerplant clearly have lots of promise -- it will end up being a true GT rather than race car, given the right treatment. It's very comfortable and feels solid on the road, particularly at highway speeds.

What's not to like? The combination of low roofline and my height (about 190cm) forces a well laid-back driving position -- more than I'm used to. There's a lot of work to do and I'm being told that genuine parts can be very pricey.

Then, of course, came the question of a name -- all good vehicles need one. It had to be grounded in Europe, possibly mythology. While it’s not the sharpest tool in the automotive box, it loves nothing better than to be cut loose on an open bend, where she is confident and settled. So I’ve named her Brunhild, a Valkyrie with a troubled history who wins in the end.

NOW FOR THE REAL WORK

With plenty of fairly undemanding time behind the wheel, there was ample opportunity to make up a mental list of jobs. And, like all these projects, the deeper you delved, the longer it became.

The first order of business was to get a roadworthy and transfer the registration. Given the 635 had just managed near enough to a couple of thousand kays without fuss, how hard could it be?

 

BASIC SPECIFICATIONS

1978 BMW 635CSI

Engine: two-valve M30 in-line six, liquid cooled, K-Jetronic injection

Bore x stroke: 93.4 x 84

Displacement: 3453cc

Compression ratio: 9.3:1

Power: 218hp @ 5200rpm

Torque: 224ft-lb @ 4000rpm

Gearbox: Getrag dog-leg 5-speed

Final drive: rear limited slip diff

Front suspension: independent struts

Rear suspension: independent semi-trailing arms

Brakes: dual circuit ventilated discs

Weight: approx 1500kg

Top speed: 225km/h

0-100km/h: 7.6sec

Price when new: Au$32,000-plus (approx 5 times an Australian 4-door family sedan at the time)

 

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