Sunday, November 01, 2009

Blue Ridge Parkway and the Tail of the Dragon

We spent a wonderful 3 days driving the M3 through the mountains of western North Carolina and the foothills of North Georgia. I can't say enough good things about this car. It was fantastic throughout the entire trip. The photo to the left was taken on US-129 in North Carolina on a section of road known as the Tail of the Dragon. Most sporty-car and motorcycle types have heard of this road, also known as Deal's Gap, where there are 318 turns in an 11-mile section of two-lane with no intersecting roads. I went there 10 years ago in my Miata but had never been back until this week in the M3.

The place was crawling with motorcycles and several Corvettes. There was one other M3 but for the most part we stuck out like a sore thumb. It was great fun, though, and the motorcycle guys were appreciative when I pulled over to let them by. In my younger days I'd have been flogging it through there but this time we were quite content to take our time and admire the colorful foliage.

We also spent an entire day on the Blue Ridge Parkway between Asheville and Blowing Rock, NC. It was a glorious day with perfect weather. The brightest colors were at elevations below 3500 feet. Above that the leaves were already past their prime and falling off.

This was an old-fashioned driving vacation. The kind people used to take when driving was still considered a pleasure and an adventure. We had to use some interstates, but we spent a lot of time off of them. We covered over 1700 miles in four days. It's trips like this that are the whole reason I buy cars like an M3, a Corvette, or a Miata. Yeah, it would still have been fun in a Minivan, but it would not have been the same, or as memorable. The M3 is a Grand Touring car of the highest order. It oozes power and authority. It attacks mountain roads with relish. On the interstate, it flies. I had never before driven a car for eight hours and emerged fresh and ready to drive another eight, but with this car I did.

We're going back next year.

Monday, October 05, 2009

M3 Update

The project of the weekend was some new brake pads and rotors on the BMW M3. You can spend thousands of dollars on brakes for these cars, but the stock brakes are not bad by any stretch of the imagination. Rather than bling it up with fancy cross-drilled and/or slotted rotors that sell for several hundred dollars EACH, I went with an OEM equivalent rotor by Centric, purchased from for a handy $62 each. I've bought lots of rotors before and these are the nicest I've ever gotten. The hub area and hat are coated in black, as are the outer edges and the insides of the vanes in the vents. That pretty black paint may burn right off under track use, but should last a long time and keep the hubs looking nice for a while with street use.

For pads I went with another OEM equivalent from Ate (pronounced AH-tay). I've been using Ate's high performance brake fluid in my racing cars for years, but had never tried their OEM replacement parts before. Much to my pleasure and surprise, when I pulled the old pads off I noted the name Ate on the original pads, clips, and yes - even on the M3's calipers. So these aren't just OEM-equivalent. Ate is an OEM supplier to BMW.

Anyway, you can see from the photo that I also painted the calipers red. It's overdone, I know, but I like it and that's all that matters. The calipers were slightly rusty and not looking great, so the paint freshens things up a bit. I used some Dupli-color ceramic caliper paint, applied with a small brush.

So far life with the M3 has been pretty good. No mechanical problems have come up, but I've done a TON of maintenance, cleaning, and general refurbishment. One of the best improvements I made was fixing the sunroof headliner. It is supposed to slide back and forth under the glass moonroof. The tiny plastic guides that it slides on had long ago left their stations and the headliner was now all loose and floppy and wouldn't open more than a couple inches. For about $25 in parts and an hour of my time, the sunroof now operates as it should and there's no more flopping around above my head. Now that the brakes are up to snuff, my only remaining mechanical concern is an oil leak that I need to chase down and fix, and doing a flush of the cooling system.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Awesome video of the ALMS BMW M3

This is a great video of Tommy Milner in the BMW M3 on the streets of Long Beach. This car is just a little more extreme than my stock E46 M3!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Warming up your engine and your oil

Recently the subject of warming up a car came up. Most modern cars warm up very quickly and the water temp gauge reads "normal" within a couple minutes of starting the engine. Based on cars I've owned that have oil temperature gauges, I have observed that the oil takes significantly longer to reach full operating temperature than the coolant does. Something like 10 minutes at highway speed in the Corvette, and a similar time in the M3. The Miata has a much smaller oil capacity than either of those cars, though, so the oil should get to full temperature a bit sooner.
It's important to get your oil up to full operating temperature fairly often so that condensation and unburned fuel that finds its way past the rings can volatilize out of the oil. So, if your daily commute to work is less than say, 5 miles, go for a longer drive every few days so that the oil can get nice and hot (~200-220+ F) for a while. Your engine will thank you.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

It's been a busy few weeks! The M3 has had a ton of work done on it. When I bought it, it needed ALL the periodic maintenance. I had to assume that nothing had been done. I've changed the oil and filter, air filter, cabin air filter, NGK Platinum spark plugs, body-color front grilles (see photo), BMW short shifter kit with a new shift knob, Amsoil 75W-140 in the differential, fixed a wonky turn signal socket, cleaned the leather, changed the belts, and did a TON of little details inside, outside, and under the car. The car is really starting to shine and come up to my usual standards.

One interesting product I used is Dr. ColorChip. This is a paint touch-up system that is designed to help repair road rash and chips. My M3 has a lot of tiny chips on the lower part of the front valance and along the leading edge of the hood and fenders. You can read about how this product works on their website. Suffice to say I'm pretty happy with the result. It's not perfect by any means, but the road rash on my car is pretty bad. I'm sure I'll get the front repainted at some point. But for $60 or so, this product greatly reduced the appearance of road rash on my car and eliminated some bigger chips, too, without making a mess like touch-up paint usually does.

The other really significant thing I did with the M3 was a complete detail from top to bottom, using a random orbital buffer. The paint had a lot of very fine scratches. The previous owners of this car kept it pretty clean, but didn't do it properly and the result was a lot of scratches. I needed a serious tool to tackle this job. I settled on the Griot's Garage Random Orbital Polisher. The results are amazing. I used Griot's Machine Polish no. 3 to remove most of the fine scratches, and then waxed with Griot's Best of Show Wax. There's still a few swirls visible, so I'm going to go back with Machine Polish no. 2, which is slightly more aggressive, but overall the car looks fantastic already. I also noticed that it stayed much cleaner after this was done. In the last week I drove through three separate Florida thunderstorms, which usually gets my car really dirty from road grime and water spots. This time, though, the car still looked absolutely clean. I can only figure that the paint is SO smooth that dirt can't stick to it. The Mystic Blue Metallic paint on the M3 is really beautiful and the Best of Show wax really makes it look deep. I found that the BMW paint is REALLY hard and you have to work it hard to polish it. The random orbital makes it a lot easier but you still have to put some muscle into it. I don't think I'd be able to correct the swirls in this paint by hand.

Finally, today I tried some P21S wheel cleaner. A small bottle of this stuff is about $15, but it comes with a sponge and a little goes a long way. I chose it because something previously used on these wheels has stained them slightly and I don't want to make it any worse. It did a really nice job today of cleaning the wheels on the M3. I used to just use the same soap and water that I wash the rest of the car with but I'm sold on this stuff. It really cleans a lot better. There are some wheel cleaning products on the market that will really damage the finish on alloy wheels. Be careful what you use. I've found that paying a little more for the good stuff usually is worth it. Most of the consumer-grade products sold at your Friendly Local Auto Parts Store (FLAPS) just don't work all that well. I've been buying more and more of the pro-level products lately. I'm really impressed with the Griot's Garage stuff.

Still remaining on the M3 is a valve adjustment, new brake pads and rotors, and new shocks. I'm sure I'll think of some other things to do as well.

Friday, June 19, 2009

More on my new toy

As alluded to in the previous post, I have recently bought something new. I had been toying around the with idea of selling my Corvette and I mentioned it to the wrong person. Next thing I knew, he referred a coworker who was REALLY looking to buy a Vette. I showed the car and he made me an offer on the spot. So then I had to go through with it! Anyway, the sale of the Vette freed up my monthly car budget and netted me a little cash, so I went out and bought a 2004 BMW M3. Here's more pics.

I've had it a few days and like it very much. It is a LOT of fun to drive, and looks like a million bucks. Due to the fact I'm not made of money, the M3 I bought has a few miles on it and needs to get caught up on maintenance, but overall it's still a pretty young car and is in really nice shape. I'm not afraid of cars with high miles because I do all maintenance myself and that saves me a lot of money, and I keep my cars in top shape at all times. There is a TON of info on these cars out on the web so I'm confident I can tackle anything that might come up. Parts are plentiful and while there are a few that are priced like they are gold plated, most are reasonably priced.

We really miss the Vette, though, and will have another one before too long. We might get into a C6 or get another C5.

I don't know the history of this car, other than I am the fourth owner and it has been in Florida most of its life. I have a LONG list of maintenance items and a couple very minor repairs that I will try to document here on this blog. Should be fun.