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Finnish Line – Adventures in Beaterland Part 2

Antti Kautonen October 4, 2012 For Sale, Too Cheap to Pass Up 39 Comments

A couple days ago, I posted an article about trying to find a 1500-2000 euro winter car to drive instead of the Sapporo. The cars that made the shortlist, after seeing Saabs and a Citroen Xantia Turbo Activa, were an Alfa Romeo 156 and a BMW E34 5-series. This part concludes the story, with a car purchase.

Where did we leave off with the first installment of the story? Ah yeah, we’re on a fall-coloured highway up north. The Sapporo is humming sedately, to the extent that my co-driver is nearly falling asleep; the only way to keep his eyes peeled is to dial some Images and Words from the USB stick on the Sapporo’s tasteless Pioneer stereo. The scenery whizzes by, and we reach our destination in good time.

We make a joke; you know how you always make assumptions about a used car? You know, the things it’ll need, how you’ll look in it, getting it insured, giving somebody a ride in it. The usual things. Then you go see the car, and it disappoints you completely and you instantly forget everything you associated with the car – you instantly delete all your pipe dreams. “We’re gonna see the car, we have these plans, and it’s going to be absolute shit.” “Complete shit.” Sigh.

And then we find the neighbourhood with the BMW, pull onto the gravel driveway… and the car is astonishing. It’s really good. It’s nearly completely matte, true; it has been driven through a carwash, but it’s not too shiny. I prod at the rust spots visible, which are much smaller than I originally feared. I quickly get out my phone camera and MMS the tentative buyer friend the shots of the rust spots; I gladly play the car down a bit so he wouldn’t be too interested in it, too soon. With only a couple of photos of rust in his phone and not too much info, we can make some plans of our own.

The seller greets us, tells us he’s not too much of a car-cleaning person – pointing to the mucky Audi A4 in his parking spot – but that the 5-series is honest and straight. He starts it up, and there’s zero BMW clatter in the engine. Even with oils past their changing date, the engine sounds silky even awakened from the cold fall day slumber. The interior isn’t too clean either, and I find a treated rust spot inside the driver’s door, but that’s it. The car is straight and true, and looks like a million dollars underneath the matteness and need for detailing. Let’s go for a test drive.

We pull off and instantly realize we need to get the car. It feels tight for a 228 000 km 1995 BMW; the bushings are clunky and the steering is vague in the center, but that’s just replaceable bushings and scheduleable tightings and nothing too severe. Given some gas, given more gas; the engine is sprightly, but the 1.8-litreness of the M43 engine is felt. The car is far from fast, but the engine is so sweet and useable it’s probably a solid enough all-round choice; it’s eager instead of lethargic, contrary to expectations. It’s the same engine as in the 1996 Z3, just a tad smaller in displacement. Gears engage satisfyingly; here, too, there are parts that need to be refreshed, but it’s not the stick in the pudding I’ve come to experience in most used BMW’s I’ve driven. The diff doesn’t clunk, the brakes pull the car up straight and sharp. The windshield is flawless, the seat covers fairly clean and the seat cloth under them is intact as much as I can tell. The Hankook winter tires look good and have a healthy amount of studs left.

We return the car for the time being, and after getting lost in the small town we pay the car fifty-sixty after some haggling. My co-driver does the bargaining, and personally I would’ve shot for 100 eur less; still, the car is ours and we enjoy a cup of coffee brewed by the friendly family. It’s a young-ish couple reminding me of the 1885 McFly family in Back to the Future III, and the car used to be the wife’s mother’s car but replaced by a newish Audi. They’re selling the BMW and will be getting a rather poor hand-me-down Polo instead, since they do not need a large car with a rear seat that doesn’t fold. The guy says to the two-year-old playing on the floor, “Listen, you just lost the BMW you would’ve inherited.” Papers are signed, hands are shaken and we leave with the Sapporo and the 5-series, fuel up and head home.

The next day, after seeing a band perform in a basement bar the night before, we shake off whatever little hangover we have and start off our journey south to Helsinki. After cleaning the car in a small town and seeing a friend, we drive for hours in the darkening evening. The BMW’s stereo is hopeless; it’s a Blaupunkt unit with a couple buttons missing and we can’t turn it up. I fiddle with my iPhone and manage to turn Scott Walker loud enough to be enjoyable. The walls of the lower centre console plastic reflect the sound, and the albums are mixed so that Scott’s voice is pleasantly audible. After running out of listenable music, we sing old Finnish leftist protest pop songs from the late ’90s, as long as we can remember the words. Memories from a more naive age, but still irresistibly catchy. We find out the BMW’s dashboard lighting flickers and dims every now and then; not all the time, but often enough to warrant a repair in the future. I like to think it’s the light switch acting up, as the illumination returns when the switch is swutch.

We reach Helsinki just before midnight, and drive through the city to a 24/7 electronics store to pick up a charger for my phone, as I left mine back home. The store is located near the shipyards, the harbour and some new building developments; I envision a industrial-strength, good-old BMW model line that would still feature the E34 5-series in white or navy blue for blue-collar usage. The car would still make a damn good no-nonsense taxi cab, too.

The next day, we meet Edvin, the tentative buyer friend, along with a number of car friends. He kicks the tires, gives the BMW an once-over with an iPad under his arm, starts the car up and gets comfortable in it. We go for a speed-bump-infested test drive, and the BMW’s tired bushings and 115hp engine are especially felt with all seats occupied in the cabin. We gather around at the parking lot of an another service station and offer Edvin the car. He politely declines, factoring the bushing replacement costs and the surface rust repairs into the asking price, and I feel the 1.8-litre engine isn’t quite what he needs. I step forward and claim the BMW for myself; having grown attached to it and shown it to my appreciative girlfriend the day before, I’m happy to take it under my wing. The whole time, I’ve thought it would be a terrible shame to let it go, and sensing my chance to grasp it I take the keys. Edvin buys me a half of tank of gas for the trouble of driving the car down south for him to see. I shake hands with everybody, pack my stuff and head back up north, greeted by a smiling girlfriend who welcomes the Alpinweiss BMW. I pay my car-scouting colleague his share of the BMW the next day.

The terrible seat covers reveal original unripped seat cloth underneath; the interior is not far from completely unmarked.

This week, I registered the BMW in my name and ordered a new set of plates without the European Union extension. The oil-seeping valve cover gasket’s replacement and a new set of BMW wiper blades are also ordered, the motor oil is changed and a suspension inspection is booked. I also ordered a set of junkyard five-spoke BMW Styling 16 wheels with good tires, to replace the Mille Miglias, and a Kienzle stereo to replace the tired Blaupunkt. Looking at the underbody when the car is hoisted up in the oil service garage, I note the car looks like a Japanese import viewed from below. There’s nearly no rust at all, save for some slight surface browning in the suspension arms. The boot floor is as-new, and the spare unused. I’m chuffed to bits, especially as the garage resets the due service display without charging extra for it.

Next weekend, I’ll be polishing the shit out of the BMW, literally. It’ll also get a good hoovering, along with the detailing of the interior plastics. So far, the car has felt like a damned good decision. It gives me a solid, dependable winter car that’s worn its seventeen years exceptionally well. There’s such a huge amount of BMW enthusiasts in the country, the car will be easy to maintain, upgrade and possibly sell on; many of the major points on it are in impeccable shape and the inspection will only run out in Nov 2013. Looking for a beater, I nearly plumped for the similarly priced, but less well-kept Alfa; even if going for a slower, more mainstream car I do think the RWD-ness of the BMW will pay me back with good times. I message the Alfa seller, he’s understandably annoyed at losing a certain sale, but we do not make enemies.

And, were I to sell the Sapporo instead of putting it to sleep for the winter, I might even get the Alfa as well. Who can tell? This is madness – this is Winter in Beaterland.


  • JayP2112

    Nice. There are just not enough big, manual transmissions sedans with velour seats.

    My brother had been looking for a BMW/Audi in west Germany. He'd checked out a few 5 series, an S8 and an A4 (that was CVT) and ended up with a 2007 Opel Zafira diesel. I had no idea what a Zafira was and had to google it.

  • BobWellington

    "Next weekend, I’ll be polishing the shit out of the BMW, literally."

    I hate it when people use their cars as bathrooms.

    "we pay the car fifty-sixty after some haggling."


    The car looks great, though. The styling of that generation is classic.

    • "Fifty-sixty" is a phrase over here, meaning the split wasn't quite 50/50. It's an idiom.

      • BobWellington

        Roger that.

      • Manic_King

        Ha, I was wondering if Mr. Ski Jumping God originally used this line also outside of percentage calculations, when reading this, but no, it seems.

      • OA5599

        I'm glad to know you gave a hundred and ten percent effort.

        Still grossed out about you having to literally polish the shit out of it, though.

        • We drove through what can only be described as a cloud of shit. The powerwashing depicted here was absolutely essential, as was Febrezeing the interior.

  • I'm still conflicted about not buying the car. It's a good car for sure, but it just wasn't right for me at this particular time. That being said, I'm really pleased it got a good home and I'll enjoy watching it improve in the near future. Anyway, pleasure almost doing business with you. 🙂 My search goes on…


    • facelvega

      I know of an Alfa 156 available for 1650…

  • Synchromesh

    I'd much rather have the Citroen. It's way cooler than a basic E34.

    • What, even an E34 with U-Crank-'Em windows? Like, no way, bro.

      • Every part that's winterproof on the car is a . 🙂

        • Yup. You need enough electricals to provide a spark and possibly some forward illumination. This ticks all my poverty-spec Euro-barge boxes. It's lovely.

    • Well, obviously it depends on where you're standing. In these parts of the world a Citroën in general isn't that exciting or rare. A Turbo Activa is ofc. always a different story, but then again you don't see mint 518's often either (unlike run down 6-cylinder German imports). As a daily driver and taking the rust situation of the Citroën into account, I'm sure the BMW was a better choice.

  • FuzzyPlushroom

    Buying a RWD car especially for winter driving is always a good decision, Antti. I hope you're keeping the Mille Miglias for one set of tires – to me, they suit the E34's lines rather well.

  • Jay

    That first photo is epic.

    • The Citroëns lie just around the block from where I live.

      • TrueBlue315

        The fall colors, the quiet cars… art, my friend. Art.

  • Van_Sarockin

    It's clear that you don't understand what a winter beater is, nor its purpose. That BMW is a terrific bargain and in great shape, truly a fantastic find. But it will be absolutely criminal to use it as a winter beater, when it has many years of faithful service before it if treated well. And you're buying a set of alloy wheels for it too? Unbelievable.

    A beater is a car that you don't car about; a car you will do the absolute minimum of service and repairs on; a car that can rust away and fall apart, just so long as enough of it still works to get you to and from where you're going. A beater is not a car that you do rust repairs on. You do not replace things that break or fall off. You do not wax it to a mirror shine. You don't even clean it, and the trash that builds up in the footwells helps to soak up all the slush that you slop in. A beater is a car that you feel fine about cleaning the snow off it with your shovel, which lives on the back seat.

    • I know, I can't really treat a car that I've paid for completely nonchalantly. My next-door neighbour replaced his W210 E-class with a 350 euro Corolla, he's doing it right. Me? I'm this close to ordering a new shifter pleather.

      I originally did start out looking for a beater, but I just end up looking for the cleanest thing possible for the allotted money. 🙂

      • Van_Sarockin

        In the US we tend to get old pickups or old GM full size sedans for winter beaters. If they run when you buy them, they'll probably make it through the winter with no further attention. Then you can see where you are in the spring, and decide whether to sell or scrap the car, or whether it's worth keeping in good shape for another winter or two.

        I hear you about your choice and approach. You've definitely got an excellent value in that car. I just bought a nineteen year old car which has no rust on it. I knew it looked pretty clean, but I couldn't believe it. It's a little painful, knowing that I'll be driving it through winter snows, and it's unlikely to remain rust free for too many more years.

        • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

          It's not too late to find a beater on CL! But where to park it?

  • quattrovalvole

    Congrats on your purchase! It's nice to see a solid car like this changes hands to someone who really love his cars. I assume you'll be posting updates in FG?

  • e46christopher

    After reading part 1, I was rooting for the e34. Lovely car; I hope you enjoy it.

  • David Walker in NZ

    I agree with e46christopher-and I'm glad my advice was concurrent to your decision.There is a manual E34 in my future,I'm sure, (to go with the Mk1Renault Espace, Citroen BX19,& CX 2400 ,Lancia Gamma Coupe,Rover 800 & P6s and Mercedes 124,300CE & 300E).Why yes ,I'm unmarried.

  • mr. mzs zsm msz esq

    Congrats Antti, happy GF is big bonus, better than little rust even! Got any Finnish leftist protest pop songs to recommend?

  • Xehpuk

    I'm a bit disappointed with how this story ended. Too obvious and safe a choice 🙁
    A happier ending would've been for example finding a Citroen XM like in the photo at the top of the page. Preferably with DIRAVI. Anyway, I forgive the writer since he owns and drives a Sapporo.

    • Well, there's a 500 euro XM for sale in this town. Needs a head gasket. In case the BMW's too good to drive through the winter… 🙂

  • I just Googled what a Kienzle radio looks like.
    <img src="; width=480>
    I like it–it's a lot classier than flashy units that exist in the North American aftermarket. I might try to find a seller willing to ship overseas.

    • TurboBrick

      That looks really nice. I'm often tempted by the cheap Pioneer decks but I just can't pull the trigger on something that would look so out of place in my 1988 vehicle. Now this is what a radio is supposed to look like.

      • Vairship

        I just use my stock Corvair radio (AM only, vacuum tube, mono speaker), which looks something like this:
        <img src=",!noF!PE)7EiGBQWf)0Guyg~~60_35.JPG" width="500/">
        image source:
        the RediRad (hidden under the dash) which allows me to plug in my MP3 player/FM radio:
        <img src="; width="600/">
        image source:
        This way I have a completely stock looking car, but I'm not stuck with angry talk radio on AM. Instead, I can play '60s tunes from my MP3 through the stock vacuum tube/mono speaker radio.

    • Exactly! The idea is that it suits a BMW dashboard perfectly and has all the things I need. No CD player, since I prefer either radio or AUX/USB/SD card; this way I won't scratch or mix up my CD:s.

      This is how it fits an E30:
      <img src="; width="700">

      (Photo by nicjasno)

      • TurboBrick

        Looks like they do not have a reseller in the US. Where do you buy these from?

      • Stu_Rock

        Are they good quality units?

        It looks like there are a few eBay sellers willing to ship to the US. Total cost would be $140-$165. (items 330805149646 and 330667716140, for example)

        • TurboBrick

          I could buy three ugly Pioneers for that. Cost of doing business and all that, I suppose… still cheaper than a Becker Mexico Pro.

          • The unit costs something in the ballpark of 65 eur on Kienzle's webshop, but they only ship to German-speaking countries. I ordered mine from ebay.de for the price of 74 eur, 15 eur shipping.

            • B72

              And yet the markings on the unit are in English!

      • alain

        oh my god, i need this radio in my life, i mean, my e28, haha. i … must .. find … a … way..

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