Quality and Expectations

Jake Messer was the first participant to drive to D4C from Missouri. He attended the event in 2012 in his 3.0 Z3. This is the story of he and his car.

A quick anecdote about an adventure on that trip: Sandra and I decided to go out and see the sights and chose to hike to see this waterfall that was supposed to be the tallest in the state or something. The directions made it seem like it was not far out of town, so we drove the Z3 to go there. The last road I remember turning on was called 4-Mile Road. Well, let me tell you just how long 4-mile road is because it is not 4-miles long, and it is definitely not something you drive on in a lowered Z3 with the top down.. 4-mile road is 14 miles long– 14 long miles of gravel, rocks, boulders, steep inclines, washed out parts of roadway and cattle crossings. That was by far one of the worst roads I have driven on in my entire life.

 

The waterfall was pretty cool though.

 

But back to the story of the car: I started looking to purchase my first car back in 2010 as a second car to my daily driver 1998 Saturn SL2. The only requirements I had at the time were that it had to have more than 4 cylinders and be a manual shift vehicle. I was very performance oriented and really focused on horsepower-to-weight ratio of the cars I was looking at.

Somehow, I managed to buy a BMW Z3. I purchased the car in July of 2010 from CarMax after searching for several months and debating what car I should buy. In hindsight, I wish I would have known about BimmerForums and other BMW resources before buying the car. I simply choose the car because out of everything I was looking at, it seemed to have the best performance and value. Plus, you don’t see too many of them cruising around compared to Corvette’s, Mustang’s, RX8’s, 350Z’s and so forth.

 The car has been through several iterations and this was one of them while I was awaiting new projector headlights to come in the mail. It is just a quick car meet pic, but remains one of my favorites. I love this view, the Z3 has just amazing lines…

Some of the first things I did on the car was to lower it on blistein shocks and h&r springs. At this point, it had the angel eye projector headlights installed with the slightly gawdy windshield banner.​

This was the first time I really took my car out to take photos after I had done a bit of work to it.

For the first 2 years of owning the car, it spent more time in the shop/my garage being repaired than it did on the road. After the initial upgrades, my car was down for an extremely long time due to a series of unfortunate events. You would never know the difference from the photos, but the car was not drivable for roughly 5 months while it got pieced back together. A severe electrical shortage stemming from an aftermarket thermostat shorted the entire system. Luckily, only minor components were damaged and the engine wiring harness, along with all other smaller accessories survived. The damage summary: Thermostat, starter, alternator, battery, dme, and battery cable melted from engine compartment to trunk. At the time of the repair, I also replaced the fuel pump and a few other odds and ends. To say the least, despite how the car looks currently, underneath it is nearly new. ​

After owning the car for a while and growing older, my tastes finally mellowed out. The car was already noticeable enough and did not need any more attention being directed towards it. ​The window banner was removed, and the look of the car remained subtle enough.

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The entire time I have owned the car, I have always been working towards the goal of racing it. Each year, I would say to myself that it was going to be after I replace X parts with upgraded performance parts or complete Y maintenance items. I went and installed a new clutch and flywheel and redid all the bushings and mounts for the transmission. Knowing that I wanted to go in a more race oriented direction with this car, I even installed a stainless steel pivot point for the clutch arm to actuate on.

Little to my knowledge did I find out that I guess you are supposed to grease those things? I don’t know.

Anyway, one night I was driving to work (my overnight shift) and I got a phone that my girlfriends dog had passed away. Not exactly a huge emergency to me by any means, but I know how much it means to her and her family. So I went ahead and called into work and was rerouting to pick up her sister when something went awry. I had obviously quickened my pace due to the situation and was mashing gears, but as I had done so, I suddenly could no longer change gears. It turned out that over time the stainless steel pivot had worn a hole in the clutch arm so far that it broke through and no longer operated properly. Needless to say, I wasn’t able to help with the dog situation, having to now fix my daily driver…

I pulled the transmission off in about two and a half hours and I had it all back together, including new shift pins in the transmission, before sunset–and that included a trip to the parts store and even McDonalds.

Among the other upgrades and maintenance items during my ownership, was the addition of the MS97 shift knob, which took me a while to source. I still love my Whalen, but when I daily drove the car, it either burnt me or gave me frost bite, making me develop a love/hate relationship with it. Here is the polished stainless steel knob and redline leather boot.

BMW’s were brand new to me when I had bought the Z, so learning and appreciating how the Germans build and manufacture cars has really opened my eyes– especially compared to where I had come from working on all domestics. My father, my mechanic mentor, normally does not talk so lovingly about the car (probably due to the excessive down time it spent in his garage while I still lived at home).
To be honest though, I am not a huge fan of the convertible top. I have only put it down maybe around 20 times in the 4 years I have owned the car and would REALLY like to purchase a hard top sometime soon.

I have removed the secondary air pump and the windshield wash reservoir permanently. Overall I have to say this has to be the least practical car I think I could ever own, and I can’t imagine ever getting rid of it.

Here, I was doing VANOS seals and a valve cover gasket after the car had been sitting for about a year when I was in military training.
My father has been a great help in instructing me and assisting with whatever shenanigans I decide to do on the car. And he really doesn’t complain too much about it. The opportunity finally came in 2014, when my father and I drove the car out to Lake Garnett for the Grand Prix. Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined the experience and feeling of actually racing my car. After all the blood, sweat and tears that had been poured into it through the preceding years, it was quite a feeling of accomplishment!
 Here’s the in-car video from the 2014 Lake Garnett Grand Prix:

I have owned the car for 4 years now and I have been daily driving it for nearly 3 of those years. I totaled my daily driver 1998 Saturn SL2 after I hit some black ice on a highway on ramp and rolled it several times. I walked away a little sore and with a pretty beat up ego on my own ability to handle a car. I think there are a lot of things I could have done from preventing a roll, but I will never know; all I know is when you go into a 4 wheel skid in a FWD car on ice, you have nothing but problems.​
 

[cryout-pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”33%”]”…and I could just see the bewildered look on his face of like how the hell are you even driving in this? Or why are you out? Out of all the cars in a snow storm, you choose that to drive?​”[/cryout-pullquote]

Everyone always gives me crap about how bad my car will do in the snow.

I was working at my civilian job after I got back from the military and hadn’t had a lot of time to set my car up for winter, so I was still running full summer tires and all. Typical Midwest gave us a random mini-blizzard and dumped a couple of inches of snow on us. When you only have a couple of inches of ground clearance in the first place, that is A LOT. My 30 min drive home took about an hour, and it took me 15 minutes alone to get up an inclined on-ramp because my car has an open differential and half of the time, I was sticking my foot out trying to push it!

But, the faithful Z3 made it home with no problems. I can’t remember how many 4wd trucks, suvs or semis I saw off in a ditch or literally stuck in the middle of the highway that night. I remember driving north on I-35 going about 30mph, they still hadn’t plowed so there was snow all over the road, and the car was wriggling around all over the place, but I was comfortable in the car, I had faith in it’s ability and my ability to control it.

An suv came up behind me and he was really unsure if he wanted to risk a pass, he kept edging out trying to decide if he was really going to pass. He finally found the courage to get in the next lane and go to pass me. Well, it ended up being the Kansas City Police Department and I could just see the bewildered look on the officer’s face of like ‘how the hell are you even driving in this?’ Or ‘Why are you out? Out of all the cars in a snow storm, you choose that to drive?​’

And my response will always be a resounding yes.

Through the trials and tribulations of owning this car, I have to say that I absolutely love it. I have put way more money into it than it will ever be worth or than I will get out of it. Hell, the amount of maintenance that still needs to be done on it is mind boggling. And I always keep saying to myself, “Ah yes, once I am done and get caught up, I will sell it and buy an M Coupe or an E46 M3 or something.” But​ I have really learned a lot doing all my own work on this car, not just about BMW’s but really engineering overall and the level of quality and expectations you should have with a vehicle. And the truth is, I don’t know that I could actually go through with parting with the Z. The fact of the matter is that this car has really developed a soul.

Here’s a quote about driving it around a month or so ago, that exemplifies what I mean:

“It had been unnaturally nice in Missouri for being January, so I took the car out to go cruise down i-70. Traffic is always a pain, so no sense in speeding. But of course as typical, I had a semi cut me off and drop a tire into the shoulder on the left lane and start kicking up gravel and old road salt and crap. I am extremely defensive to the well being of my car when I drive, and as he moves back over to the middle lane after he gets done doing whatever it was, I decide to drop it down a couple gears and accelerate past him…

Put it in 3rd, let it settle on the revs for a quick sec and then just get on it.

Top of 3rd for me is near 90…I think ( because I never have time to look at the speedo), but instead of shifting to 4th, I let it engine brake in 3rd for a moment and just listen. The sound that bounces back from the concrete divider in the middle of the highway is just something I can not even explain. It is the embodiment of captivation to the ears, a sound just utterly mesmerizing. In that moment, with an open road ahead, I just laugh, more than satisfied.

It’s like the car only gives back to you as much as you are willing to put into it; and only after you have put all you have into it; your blood sweat and tears….(and lots of money) that it rewards you more than you can put into words. It truly returns the favor in moments like that one.”

After wrecking my Saturn, the Z turned into my Daily Driver. Since purchasing it, I have put 70,000 miles on it in 4 years. It has been put through some serious work and has never let me down, besides a few times of a coil pack going out, or a fuel pump relay dying. Overall very reliable and now sitting at 145,000 miles. Looking back, I am still glad I purchased the 3.0 compared to the M. I like the modest styling more and the power differences for the street are really negligible from the M54 to the S52.

My Z3 has finally been retired from DD duty and replaced with a 1991 325ix. I think I am starting to like these German cars…

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