1977 BMW 633 steering: our shed

By: Guy Allen, Photography by: Guy Allen

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1977 BMW 633 1977 BMW 633 1977 BMW 633
ONe of the struts turned out to be a ring-in ONe of the struts turned out to be a ring-in ONe of the struts turned out to be a ring-in
Shiny new bits beside the old, complete with fresh bushes Shiny new bits beside the old, complete with fresh bushes Shiny new bits beside the old, complete with fresh bushes
Bilsteins may be extravagant but are worth the rent Bilsteins may be extravagant but are worth the rent Bilsteins may be extravagant but are worth the rent
A high-end Euro coupe for around $11k? A high-end Euro coupe for around $11k? A high-end Euro coupe for around $11k?

Muddy steering on the BMW 633 reveals all sorts of woes...

1977 BMW 633 steering: our shed
1977 BMW 633

 

1977 BMW 633

It’s about time to confess to being an early 6 Series tragic. This is my second, and the first – a 1978 635 with dogleg five-speed manual trannie – eventually wore out my patience. And wallet.

Call it restorer exhaustion. Despite all the money and time I threw at the thing, there seemed to be a longer list of jobs to do. Sod it. Though it was handling and performing well, our relationship got to the point where I was happy to answer the previous owner’s pleas to sell it back to him.

Then I went out and bought a cheap 20-year-old Benz C280 (a surprisingly good car at under $6k) as a run-about, and sulked a bit.

Move on a few months and even spouse Ms M Snr was missing the Bimmer ("the holiday car"), so it was a no-brainer to buy a 1976 633 in decent shape for a mere $7500. That was full price, and we hung on to the Benz.

The body was in better shape than our previous Sixer, likewise the interior. Okay, there are one of two minor rust bubbles, and the trim is not perfect.

Under the hood, you have a 194 horsepower claim at 5500rpm for the 633 powerplant (with 284Nm of torque at 4300rpm), versus 215 at 5200 (with 304Nm at 4000rpm) for the 635. And the shifter is a four-speed normal pattern manual, which is a much better day-to-day proposition even if it lacks the dogleg bragging rights.

As a curiosity, this 633 has a Karmann build plate (October 1976) inside the left door frame – nice to have.

This time, I was hoping to keep the bills down to reasonable, hopefully having a fully-functioning classic for $10k.

Any early Sixer is fun to drive, and this ‘new’ 633 already had the head reconditioned, which seems to be compulsory for M30-series engines somewhere around the 200,000km mark. That represented a major saving.

The big disappointment was the steering, which was just plain muddy, when a healthy one should be sharp and up there with the best of them at highway speeds. Really, it’s the big highlight of these cars, despite their age.

With the assistance of Gus, a local retired mechanic, we got the thing up on jacks and had a look. The news wasn’t good. Pretty much all the front-end bushes were worn, including those for the idler arm, one of the tie rods was bent, and the left-hand damper strut was a ring-in, suggesting the car had a big front-end shunt at some stage.

Gus has an eye for economy, and put me on to an aftermarket retailer and wrecker to source new idler arm bushes and a used damper strut. Meanwhile, we ordered new lower swingarms and an assortment of bushes, plus tie rods, from Walloth & Nesch (wallothnesch.com) in Germany.

The latter specialises in gear for older BMWs (the catalogue only goes to E30 series) and has a scarily efficient online service. Generally, I get parts in a week at good prices. The web catalogue is either incomplete or a bit obtuse, so it pays to ask for anything you can’t find.

Though pleased with the new bushes et al, Gus was a bit appalled to learn that I’d ordered four new Bilstein dampers (about $800 landed) – despite the fact the originals had no leaks. Frankly, he saw it as a waste of money.

The front-end parts mostly went in easily (though the idler arm bushes put up a fight) and we took the opportunity to freshen up the cosmetics with some judicious use of black enamel spray paint.

By far the biggest job was fitting the rear dampers. Access to the top end is via the cabin, which meant pulling out the rear seats (must admit, I didn’t see that one coming…) and a fair bit of swearing. All was forgiven after a beer or two.

The result is good. Though still not quite as sharp as my old Sixer (that might be down to set-up), the steering is communicative and it’s now a very different car. Previously you kind of turned the wheel and judged the results, while now you can at least point and shoot.

I suspect replacing the old tyres will find the missing 10 per cent on the sharpness front.

Gus, despite his initial doubts, has become the biggest fan of the installation of the new dampers. "Mate," he reported, "it just glides and doesn’t even notice speed humps."

Though we still have a few issues to work on (the air-con and heating are getting our attention at the moment), the big bills seem to be largely behind us. All-up, I reckon we’re so far pushing the $11k mark, including labour – over target, but not ridiculous.

The trick will be to recognise when to pull it out of the workshop and enjoy the car as it is. After all, the whole idea was to drive it…

 


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