As BMW’s only foray into hatchbacks in the North American market, the E36 generation 318ti is rather unusual. There are usually a couple of reasons for manufacturers to offer a lower-tier product than in the past – economic reasons, like a recession, or trying to attract up-and-coming buyers who haven’t up-and-come yet, like Mercedes is doing now with its CLA sedans. Thinking back to the late 1990s, it seems like BMW was doing the latter – perhaps sensing up-and-coming Generation X car enthusiasts, along with an attack from underneath by VW with their VR6-powered cars, they probably felt the need to offer their new (and first, since the E10 touring) hatchback. Oddly enough, they only saw fit to offer the 318ti with its 1.8-liter four cylinder, but did not go as far as bringing over the 323ti, which meant some enthusiasts saw fit to create cars like this 1995 BMW 328ti for sale for $3000 in Atlanta, GA.
Here’s a case of enthusiasts taking a page out of the manufacturer’s playbook, basically doing what BMW did 20-odd years prior to this car’s manufacture. Moving from the M42 to the M52 gives a meaningful 58hp/35 lb.-ft. boost, making up for the extra weight in front, and of course you get BMW’s trademark engine. It should also cut around 3 seconds off the 0-60 time. The appealing part of this particular car is it looks like any other used 318ti – no wide tires, spoilers, wings, or stanced-cuz-I’m-on-coilovers-bro pose.
Fortunately, that stock look is not indicative of the level of mechanical care the car has received over the last 5 years. In addition to the M52B28 engine, it’s said to have a recent clutch, new axles, radiator, thermostat, hoses, waterpump with metal impeller, and a performance ECU flash. The chassis has also had some attention, with new front control arms and bushings, rear subframe bushings, lollipop bushings, shocks and struts, springs, and new tires. On the downside, there’s an exhaust leak, faded areas of paint, and a non-functional sunroof.
As you can see, the rocker trim is also rather faded, but this is not unusual for base-level E36 cars. Fortunately, the body looks pretty decent, so if you choose to work on cosmetics, you’ve got a good basis. For the price, what you’re getting is an engine conversion and the platform, and everything else is icing. And if you choose to ignore cosmetics, perhaps you’ll put that money towards one of BMW’s bigger six-cylinders, all the better for that old E30-based semi-trailing arm rear suspension to surprise you.
Interior shots aren’t great, but what is visible is a complete, decent interior. Seat covers make the seats look like something out of a 1990s Detroit product, but with any luck, a trip to a BMW junkyard should net you some usable seats from a higher-level E36. Everything else looks clean and stock, down to the stereo, so once you’ve done a careful inspection of the car’s structure, it seems like the best path for this one is continued tasteful modifications that will help this one remain stealthy and sporty, just like its ancestors.