BMW 316i Convertible: Droptop Pop
We are winding back the hands of time for this edition of Tuned. What we have here today is a pristine example of what can be truly called a unicorn. While modern classic BMWs are difficult to come by in India, a droptop E36 316i is almost impossible considering how rare they are. The E36 we have here is owned by Kishore Rao, who runs RaceKraft Automotive in Hyderabad. Working on many new cars, Kishore developed an interest in modern classics, and a curiosity to learn more about them. And out of this affection rose an affinity for the E36. This is a story of not losing hope and faith, and believing in your love. This is a story about a phoenix.
BMW introduced the E36 3 Series in 1990 as a compact executive sedan. Like its compatriots, its design was quite aerodynamic and it offered a plethora of engine options and body styles internationally. And while we are on the topic, here’s a fun fact – this Bimmer was only available as a rear-wheel-drive, unlike its predecessor and the successor, both of which had all-wheel-drive. Coming back to India, the 3 series wasn’t officially on sale right up till 2007. So all those pre-2007 3 Series that you see, including Kishore’s, have been privately imported and maintained by their respective owners, and that deserves special applause. Now you realise what makes this generation of the 3 Series so special.
This love story begins circa 2012 when Kishore first laid his eyes on this BMW 316i cabriolet when it was put on sale. However as fate would have it, it was snagged by someone else by the time he could make an offer. Love knows no bounds and being as lovestruck as he was, Kishore couldn’t keep his eyes off it, quite literally, keeping track of the car all along. While the world stood still during the pandemic, Kishore’s heart grew fonder. This period was quite harsh on this E36 too. As he found out, it was in a very sorry state, almost neglected by its then-owner. It had developed a host of electrical and mechanical problems in this period, rendering it unusable since spares and service were almost impossible during the pandemic. While it sounded like the end of a dream, Kishore saw this as a window of opportunity to unite with his love and offered to alleviate the owner’s woes. Come 2022, Kishore’s dream had finally come true, after what can only be called an arduous decade. While this would be a new chapter for Kishore and the E36, this was only the beginning of a journey out of the storm.
This convertible E36 was parked uncovered, with its roof down, for more than three years. Yikes! That alone is a major red flag. It was never even started during this period. As many would have imagined by now, this meant the interiors were fully destroyed. Electricals were all in shambles. This was going to be an uphill task for Kishore and his team at RaceKraft since they weren’t used to working on a modern classic like the E36. However, they took this up as a challenge and decided to restore the E36 in-house to its full glory. This began with a blood transfusion, which is what I call replacing all the fluids – coolant, engine oil, transmission oil, and all the fluid filters, followed by a new battery. This gave the team a starting point for the restoration process which was then divided into two phases – mechanical & electrical restoration and then the cosmetic bits like paint, upholstery, and lights.
Cranking up the engine revealed the engine block had a crack and was leaking oil. It was also knocking quite severely. This meant a full engine rebuild, including sourcing a defunct donor engine, which in itself was quite difficult. However, once it was in, the team rebuilt the using working components from both units. This was followed by rebuilding the transmission, which Kishore says wasn’t as difficult since it is a manual unit. Once the drivetrain was sorted, the team overhauled the brakes, suspension and air-conditioning. All the basic electricals were repaired along with these. This meant the E36 could finally roll on its own combustion.
Mechanicals and electricals sorted, it was time to refurbish the aesthetics. It was stripped to the bare shell so that all the rust and dents could be taken care of. The sheet metal on the doors and panels had to be hammered out into the original shape. Once done, it was ready for a base coat, and final inspections before Kishore could apply the Verde Ermes paint.
The E36 had slowly and steadily started to look like an immaculately restored example, but it was far from done. The team then took up restoring the interiors, starting with upholstering the seats, door pads, and trims with synthetic leather in the shade of cognac. Restoring the interiors wasn’t an easy task either. Sourcing trim pieces for this RHD version was difficult but not impossible.
Kishore has customized the E36 with an M Sport gear knob. Other personalizations include period-correct 15-inch AC Schnitzer Type II wheels, which are very, very difficult to get a hold of internationally, let alone in India. Keeping true to its rare appeal also a genuine Italian Nardi wooden steering, made specifically for the E36.
What I personally like is the fact that Kishore has chosen to keep his E36 as close to stock as possible and to “enjoy the car in its true essence.” This was a car that had almost died under its own weight, but thanks to Kishore’s undeterred love, has risen from its ashes.