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JOEL’S E39 523i
I know I sound a little like a broken record over these last few Our Cars entries but there’s a reason for it. Fugazi, despite her slightly dishevelled appearance, damaged paint and sad-looking stock wheels tucked up in the arches never, and I mean never, fails to do what I ask of her. A track day on a hot afternoon? Not a bother. Central London stop-start-stop-swear traffic? Not a whisper of complaint. Four hours up the M1 in the wind and rain? She just gets on with it, no questions asked.
Which is why I thought this month I’d treat her to a freshen up. Not on the outside in terms of new paint or wheels but where it actually matters, with north of 120k on the clock, inside the engine. Now she’s not got a stock 2.5-litre engine; back in 2008 or so I had a 3.0-litre top end conversion, had the head ported and polished and whacked in some bigger injectors too, so she’s had attention before. But that was nine or so years back and well, things could probably do with a clean in there.
I’ve been doing a lot of research on carbon clean machines which are said to remove the carbon deposits that build up over time and clog up your engine’s vital bits. A lot of machines make a lot of claims, but from my research and from talking to people in the know the best one with proven results to boot was from a firm called, simply, Carbon Clean. I booked my service at a local Authorised Carbon Clean Centre online and a week later I was there watching Fugazi get hooked up.
Plugging her in took a matter of minutes with no invasive surgery required and the process takes just 30 minutes where water is turned, via electrolysis, into a hydrogen and oxygen mixture that is cooled and filtered before going into the engine. This oxyhydrogen (aka HHO) mix is what breaks down the carbon deposits inside the engine.
Carbon Clean claim that, by removing the carbon deposits, the engine will perform better, use less fuel, use less oil, run smoother and, overall, be more reliable. Seeing as Fugazi is not getting any younger and has been running a little rough of late I figured giving it a go was well worth the £99 price of the service.
Boy, was I happy with my £99 spend on the drive home. She definitely felt a little perkier and keener to rev and felt noticeably smoother too. Obviously I can’t report back on long-term reliability improvements just yet but, as the figures state, CO2 emissions are down 14%, hydrocarbons are down by a factor of six and the O2 readings are through the roof, proof positive that there’s more efficient combustion.
Perhaps this is why I can happily report that MPG has gone up by around 10% over the course of four tanks so far. I’ll call that a win considering the miles I do! I’ll admit I was sceptical but as you can see from the printouts pictured, the numbers representing the #BMW-M52 ’s health don’t lie, she’s definitely running better since having it done. Well worth the price I’d say. Now, if only I could sort out how clean she looked in just 30 minutes…
Joel’s E39 hooked up to Carbon Clean machine. Before and after printouts show a significant improvement.Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
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JOEL’S E39 523i
Well I did it, after near-enough ten years out of the game Fugazi made it to her first track day at Bedford Autodrome! And boy oh boy she was far better than I could have ever have expected! Last month you may remember I had the clutch, flywheel and a few other bits taken care of and despite the sizeable outlay on a car that’s worth virtually nothing, I bit the bullet, and I am delighted I did.
Now I am not an experienced track day driver, in fact in my entire life I have completed about ten track days in a variety of cars, from my old and highly modified Z3 M Coupé that you may remember (what a car that was), to various 911s, RS Audis and a dodgy old Volvo, but there have been few I have enjoyed as much as the day I completed a week or so ago now. The reason, I think, is threefold. Firstly, the E39 in my opinion has one of the greatest chassis of any car, and I really do mean that. Its long wheel base translates into predictability and, more than that, gives you a chance to actually feel and catch things before it’s too late. As an example in the Z3 M Coupe, for someone of my skill level once the back broke loose at speed there was little chance to gather things up neatly. It wanted to spin and it often did. Secondly Fugazi isn’t too fast! Now I appreciate this magazine is called Performance BMW but performance, to me, doesn’t always have to mean straight-line speed. Thirdly she has a cracking chassis; running on H&R coilovers with Eibach springs she sits low enough that you can barely squeeze your little finger between the arch and tyre. On top of this, my Eibach anti-roll bars front and rear do an excellent job of staving off body roll. In fact, Fugazi ducks and dives far less than the Z3 M Coupé used to before I got busy with her! Alongside the solid bushes, uprated EBC discs and pads and a short shift kit that makes cog swapping a real pleasure, Fugazi does everything you ask of it and more.
This was my first time at Bedford and I was really impressed with the way the day was run. I had access to the GT Circuit, which is near-enough four miles in length and that circuit features a variety of corners, from sweeping right handers to tight hairpins and ‘come at me’ chicanes, and unlike Silverstone, for example, there’s a lot more to do from a driver’s perspective on each lap, which gave me a lot more enjoyment. I also love the fact that there’s loads of run-off, so room to spin and make mistakes, which for anyone wishing to push their skill set, is essential! There was also a really eclectic mix of cars on the day, from 600hp supercharged E46 M3s and stripped-out E30s to classic Fords and Lotus Exiges. It’s fair to say that in terms of hp per tonne I was most likely the least powerful car there, yet through the corners I kept up with, and gained ground on, virtually everything! Now I do have a set of very sticky and expensive Pirelli rubber and I have no sense of self-preservation when driving, but still, only the Exige and rather gorgeous old Scooby left me for dead, and they were both sporting slicks.
Now, I’m not getting ahead of myself because on the straights everything went past me, but with every turn I caught the field up, and at Bedford there’s a lot of opportunity so lap after lap I rarely lost places (not that I was racing anyone!). Fugazi was quick to turn in, she felt poised and flat and churned out what must have been 40+ laps without incident, although if truth be told I did get to a point where my brakes stopped braking, but when you’re slowing near-enough two tonnes from 100mph to nothing lap after lap I guess it’s somewhat understandable.
I suppose my main point is that of all the track days I have ever done, this car is the least powerful yet one of the most, if not the most, enjoyable to drive. Fun is a factor few mention when talking track, but it’s one I think is very important. When tuning your BMW, a solid and well-sorted chassis will prove more enjoyable on track than big power. Saying that, though, once your chassis is sorted where do you turn? You’ll have to wait until next month to find out.Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
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Having had all the minor issues fixed last month my first port of call was to have the car’s alignment sorted. After having a new side steering and track rod end the car was pulling under braking and tramlining all over the shop, making it really unrelaxing and unenjoyable to drive at any speed.
We all know tracking and wheel alignment are important but many people spend money on suspension enhancements that firm up or lower their ride and then don’t bother to spend a few quid on making sure their wheels all point in the right direction! People tend to talk about stopping irregular tyre wear, which sounds boring, but not enough about the startling improvement to a car’s handling proper alignment can make – especially one on #H&R coilovers! I would say that alignment is the best bang-for-your-buck investments you can make on any car.
It’s been very long time since I took Fugazi anywhere at all, let alone setting off with the intention of simply driving, so with everything in order, and after six years, the time had come. A full tank of super, a greasy and (almost) inedible sausage roll, and a full day ahead of me, I started early and headed south out of London. Once you’ve negotiated the A21, the Garden of England has some pretty tasty back roads which I was hoping to explore.
There were some real positives. The Rogue Engineering short-shift kit I fitted years ago is awesome. And the chassis still feels very stiff indeed thanks to the Eibach anti-roll bar kit and slam. I don’t know how low it is but you can’t even get a finger between the rear tyre and arch, and it doesn’t rub (unless there are people in the back) so it’s nicely setup to go quickly round the bends. The brakes are pretty good actually. I’m surprised how much bite they have and the roadholding is impressive for such a massive hunk of metal. But there’s a limiting factor to both aspects: I can feel the budget tyres squirming. They need to be changed asap! Speed-wise it’s not fast in the grand scheme of things but the power delivery is linear and it sounds brilliant with the air box and exhaust mod, so I think it will be fun to drive on track – especially for a relative novice like me.
The bad news came at the end of the day when, after six hours of thrashing, the clutch started to slip, and then slip some more! It has been with me for a good 50k miles so I’m not too upset considering the abuse it’s taken but that’s going to be another big bill for sure!
Living with the car, one thing that I have really enjoyed (which I never expected) is the thrill of owning a car with its bodywork in bad shape! Stick with me here… most cars I have owned I have wrapped in cotton wool. If I scratch the paint, curb a wheel, scuff a mirror it’s all I can think about. I park it away from other people. I keep thinking I can hear it being driven off. And I stay awake at night replaying the crunch, the silly gap I went for, the width restriction I lost the fight with, beating myself up about any and every bit of damage I subject the car to. Those moments of stupidity feel like you’re withdrawing your savings and eating them.
I totally appreciate having a car with perfect paint and bodywork, but you’re on a hiding to nothing and it’s a stress. Having a car that drives beautifully but one that you don’t have to worry about is liberating. When I park I use the bush as a gauge: when it almost falls over I’m in. Dog, get in the back son. Keys and shopping, on the roof. Supermarket car parks, right in that tiny space by the front door. People actually avoid you when there are bits of your car hanging off – it’s joyous. I am in no rush to get any bodywork sorted but I warn anyone against parking near me.Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.
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Well, for a change we can kick off with some relatively good news – even after a five-year stint under a tree without a key turned, Project Fugazi seems to have held up rather well mechanically, somehow!
I appreciate the bodywork looks like several solid objects have hit it (because they have), but underneath that shell it turns out she’s in good health. Not perfect, but good.
I sent the car to Porschacare, a rather serious Porsche specialist in Welwyn Garden City owned by a chap I have known for many years, who took on this job as a bit of a favour. The good news was that suspension-wise (my primary concern was a leaking damper), my H&R coilovers are as good as new, the top mounts are sturdy, the bushes are all in order, and bar a steering arm, there’s no play at all at the hubs. The upgraded EBC brake discs have plenty of meat on the bones while the pads are nearing the end of their life and will be replaced next month with #Brembo pads and #DOT4 brake fluid as pictured (right).
Matt the Porsche man also reminded me about a few choice upgrades that were fitted to the car all those years ago too, like the front and rear Eibach anti-roll bars, a custom air feed that runs through the front bumper, braided Goodridge brake lines, a pulley kit that adds a few ponies by some sort of witchcraft, as well as a short shit kit and an insanely complicated system that feeds the angel eye headlights (that I just know will one day cause me a great deal of pain when a light goes out).
Back to today and it wasn’t all good. Porschacare spotted a few niggles that needed attending to if it were to pass its MoT. These included a new driver’s side steering rod and track rod end. For some reason the radiator viscous coupling fan that cools the engine when the temperature picks up has been running permanently too, with a laugh-out-loud whoosh accompanying every prod of the accelerator, and while it sounded pretty cool, it certainly wasn’t supposed to sound that way!
While the car was in for the work, I also plumped for a full service, which included all-new spark plugs, new oil, pollen and fuel filters and a shed load of 5W40 Carlube oil. As I’m not a huge fan of actually spending money I decided to visit my local parts supplier, GSF Car Parts, rather than shell out direct from BMW. In the process I saved myself a small £300-shaped fortune, around 40% less than the main dealer, just what you want to hear when you have to spend a bunch of readies on a car that is worth, on paper at least, about the same as a big bag of Haribo. Not only that, all the parts were ready for collection within 24 hours so hats off to the guys there for all their help; they even threw in a sticker too!
The car is still currently on the ramp so a bill for the labour is still on the cards, but it has been a pretty solid start. The foundations are now in place, so things are about to get a lot more interesting.
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- Post is under moderationJOEL’S #BMW-E39 / #BMW-523i / #BMW-523i-E39 / #BMW-5-Series / #BMW-5-Series-E39 / #BMW
It gives me great pleasure to be writing for you all again. For those of you with a long memory, I spent many years scribing on these pages for your pleasure (or pain!) around a decade ago now. Back then, as a young twenty-something, I purchased my first BMW: a poverty-spec E39 523i with over 115,000 miles on the clock. The good news was it was a five-speed manual, with cloth seats and 170hp. And while she was an exceptional cruiser, she was not a precise performance tool by any stretch of the imagination. And so Project Fugazi was born – Fugazi being a fake diamond, a line from Donnie Brasco. My god, I was a t**! The plan was pretty simple: to turn this fake diamond into the real deal. And in the three years that followed, that’s exactly what we did.
Performance-wise we changed everything. I lavished Project Fugazi with: H&R coilovers; bigger brakes; Eibach anti-roll bars; 19” genuine G-Power Wheels (I sold these for £300 which still haunts my dreams); a short-shift kit; a carbon air box; and a custom hidden exhaust and pulley kit. To get the best from the mods she went through various remaps and, in the end, because power was a concern (don’t start with a 523i right?), I went as far as to have a 3.0-litre top-end conversion which included a ported manifold, bigger injectors and throttle body, taking power to a heady 215hp! With all due respect Fugazi was actually a very composed, reasonably quick and highly enjoyable car to drive on track when we’d finished.
So here comes the drama. When I left the magazine I started a new venture and, as such, bought a sensible run-around that saved me a few quid on petrol and insurance. I parked Fugazi up and planned to get her back on the road in about six months. That was six years ago! Then, about six months ago, I got the old girl out of retirement. She was actually in good shape and, apart from new tyres and some perished rubber hoses, it didn’t take too much to get her roadworthy. But then the bad luck started…
In the first couple of months of having the car back a few things started to go wrong: the suspension seemed to sag a little (to the point I can’t have people in the back until the coilovers are raised); the fuel gauge broke (although I had that fixed); the handbrake has gone; and the fan won’t stop, well, fanning. Then there’s the bodywork. In a few short weeks I’ve managed to wallop the rear bumper, dent the bonnet while tailing a friend’s X5 (yep, that’s the impression of a tow bar) and then entirely scrape the passenger side while pulling out of my own drive! Apologies to Jags Bodyshop for undoing all the custom bodywork it put in back in 2006. Seeing her in this state doesn’t sit well, so after a chat with Elizabeth I thought about it and decided the old girl deserved better; Project Fugazi 2.0 was born!
So far I’m not entirely sure what’s feasible, but I’d be keen to use what I have: a cracking chassis and a great engine, and develop her further. I have always enjoyed track driving and funnily enough Fugazi is a lot more fun than you’d expect on the limit, mainly down to the great #H&R suspension and long wheelbase, which makes it controllable when it lets go, which it can do if you hugely over-inflate the tyres and Scandy flick it into every corner – even with an open diff.
I have zero mechanical skills but I am mates with a chap who knows what he’s doing (or so he tells me). So things are going to take shape on the driveway! There seems to be a fair amount of space up front to play with, so maybe a blower is in order, maybe even a brand-new lump. The plan is to make this car as fast as I can, familiarise myself with various circuits and then I hope try out for a racing licence, with the eventual goal of racing this car in a competitive fashion. It should prove interesting! By interesting I mean expensive. So, what do you think readers? I’m all ears. Email the mag with some ideas for her and lets do this!Stream item published successfully. Item will now be visible on your stream.