Bargain or Basketcase? 1988 BMW M3


This 1st generation BMW M3 caught my eye here on eBay. The first of the legendary sedan-based M-cars and looking fairly good in traditional German alpine white paint, this M3 has 45 bids but is still only at about $12K. Is that telling us something about a car that often sells for $40K or more these days? Or could it truly be a diamond in the rough?


The body looks pretty good at first glance, but the rest of the photos and the description raise some big red flags. The seller spends part of their short description lamenting the lack of time and funds to properly fix the car, not to mention his 3 kids who are also holding him back. He then says that it ran when parked but confessed that was 11 years ago and that he “parked it for lack of the money for upkeep”. None of that sounds good.


Looking at the photos starts the red flags waving. First is the neglected engine bay. Next is the large rusted out area of the driver’s floor area, and the description mentions more rust in the rockers. At least he removed the seats to take photos of the rusted floor pans.


There’s more: wires dangling from the dash; the odometer has stopped working, but no information on when; “will need exhaust replaced”, followed by an ominous “etc”. What does the “etc” refer to? And it’s got a tuner chip. How many other unmentioned mods are there that would reduce the value to M-car collectors?


One positive is the claim that it has a “good strong motor and no chain or valve train noise”. But that non-working odometer stopped at 129K miles, which is pretty high on what is basically a big 4-cylinder racing engine. This is a special car, but a mixed bag at best. If I were in the market for a first-gen M3 I would definitely want to see this car and hear the engine run because it could be a good purchase for someone willing and able to fix the rust and sort out the other problems. But would it be better to come up with another $20K for a cared-for M3 that won’t have the potential pitfalls of this one?


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  1. Gear Head

    Does the term ‘rust bucket’ mean something here?

    • frank

      I think I have seen this car before on one of the forums. it was in a garage or barn and it got flooded. it wasn’t claimed so I think it has a clean title.

  2. Rich Behrends

    Due to it’s location it has major flood damage.
    A quick search on the net for Chalfont, Pennsylvania tells me this location has been flooded by Hurricane Floyd, which hit the area on September 16, 1999. Then again when the Mid-Atlantic United States flood of 2006 on June 25 through July 5, 2006. And also In Late August through Early September 2011, Hurricane Irene, and Tropical Storm Lee.
    I wouldn’t even consider buying it for a parts car.

  3. david

    Looks like who ever buys this car is opening a can of worms. Rust and more rust. Maybe for 500 hundred

  4. bill

    Rich is dead-on…Chalfont is in the Phila area…lots of flooding here in the past few years.

  5. Larry Kelley

    03/08/1994 NJ
    01/28/1996 NJ

    Motor Vehicle Dept. WATER DAMAGE
    01/31/1996 HARRISON, NJ

    01/22/1997 WEST ORANGE, NJ
    Motor Vehicle Dept. TITLE
    03/03/1997 NY

    Motor Vehicle Dept. TITLE
    03/04/1997 HEMPSTEAD, NY

    Motor Vehicle Dept. TITLE
    03/09/1997 HEMPSTEAD, NY

    Motor Vehicle Dept. TITLE
    03/12/1997 HEMPSTEAD, NY

    Motor Vehicle Dept. TITLE
    04/15/1997 HEMPSTEAD, NY

    Motor Vehicle Dept. TITLE
    01/13/1998 DURHAM, PA
    Motor Vehicle Dept. TITLE (Title #:51672037)
    01/30/1998 DURHAM, PA

    05/07/1999 DURHAM, PA

    05/07/1999 DURHAM, PA

    Motor Vehicle Dept. RECONSTRUCTED
    05/15/2000 DURHAM, PA

    Motor Vehicle Dept. TITLE (Title #:51672037)
    05/16/2000 DURHAM, PA

    06/28/2000 PA
    Motor Vehicle Dept. EMISSION INSPECTION
    05/18/2001 DURHAM, PA

    07/18/2001 PA
    Motor Vehicle Dept. EMISSION INSPECTION
    06/26/2002 DURHAM, PA

    01/09/2003 DOYLESTOWN, PA
    Motor Vehicle Dept. TITLE (Title #:51672037)
    02/06/2003 DOYLESTOWN, PA

    01/29/2004 DOYLESTOWN, PA

    03/29/2005 LEVITTOWN, PA

    03/01/2006 LEVITTOWN, PA

    Motor Vehicle Dept. TITLE (Title #:51672037)
    02/28/2007 LEVITTOWN, PA

    02/21/2008 BUCKS COUNTY, PA

    State Agency RIGHT FRONT IMPACT WITH ANOTHER VEHICLE (Case #:2008036704)
    02/21/2008 PA

    Police Report ACCIDENT REPORTED (Case #:20080221M0013)
    02/21/2008 PA

    11/18/2008 DOYLESTOWN, PA


  6. Michael Rogers

    Mechanic friend at a German shop complained to me that EVERY year he has to buy $2000 more tools to work on those German marvels Unless you have large DISCRETIONARY funds stick to something YOU can maintain–

  7. Brian

    Based on the above information, it sounds like the best option is to get another e30 body and try to create a “tribute” car or, my favorite, change over all the mechanicals and build a sleeper M3 powered 325i! Five digits is a heafty sum for a parts car but clearly things are changing faster than I am! Hopefully, the buyer was smart enough to do what Larry did, and just decided that the project car in his shop required some M3 parts and knew what he was getting himself into before bidding 12G. Hopefully, there will be some lemonade in this deal someplace?

    As for the broken odometer, they are standard equipment on a mid ’80s BMWs and usual a simple fix. Either the seller doesn’t know about that or is honest enough to not just fix it and pass the car off as actual mileage.

    • Dolphin Member

      Good idea….if what the seller says about the engine in this M3 is true.

      I’ve seen the engine swop you describe in both a 325i and also a 2002, which the owner says worked out really well and is a blast to drive. You wouldn’t want to degrade the value of an expensive 2002, so just keep all the original 2002 parts. Then when you sell it down the road they will have continued to appreciate and some BMW fan is sure to want it for more than you have in it because he can have fun with the M3’d version and still have the option to return it to original.

      The 325i swop is probably best done with a 325is, which has a decent factory-lowered suspension, a LSD, and nice sport seats. And they are still available fairly cheap. Since the value of this M3 is so degraded it could be parted out to recover some costs.

      • Brian

        The bidding is up to $13.5k now. Your right, if the engine is toast, all the buyer will have is high dollar parts car. I’d go with the 325is plan Dolphin, but, like the other commenters, I’m having alot of trouble with this car at this price. For this kind of money, you could get a REALLY nice 325 e30, pull the engine, and let the machine shop go insane on it! If bidding were at 2-5k bid, it might be a good gamble, but for more than double that amount, the bidder would probably have better odds dumping $13,500 on scratch tickets at the supermarket!

        Whenever I see a deal like this, I keep wondering if I missed something, but if I did, I’m still missing it! Hopefully, the buyer’s plan comes together!

  8. hhaleblian

    I run a 9 minute mile and that’s not fast enough from this pig. It was already underwater once and forever will be.

  9. hhaleblian

    The t-shirt ad is… well I’m a dad of mid 20’s daughters

  10. dj

    This is a basket case. The salvage history will always be there. And who knows how far under water it was? The engine could be just patched together. I would run, not walk away from this. Nicer E30 M3’s can be had. Sure a nicer one will cost a little more. But think of the money you’d have to spend on this rustbucket. Those people bidding have no clue what they are getting into.

  11. Bryan Cohn

    I’d say its a LeMons candidate but it has already exceeded the price limit by $11,250 and I think, as others have noted that paying $500 might be too much!

    The roofline on the E30 M3 is different than a regular E30 so you can’t even make a tribute car out of the rebuilt, transplanted driveline, transplanted front fenders and fascia. The rear fenders would also require being chainsawed off and scabbed onto the donor car. The trunk lid might be a bolt on swap…..

    Any sheet metal part would be suspect at best. From the corrosion on the A-pilar area and the engine bay, the water it sat in was pretty deep… in driver in need of full scuba gear please!

    A LeMons theme, with everyone in Scuba Gear MIGHT, just might get your team a pass on the price. Also, knowing the car is going to blow up/burn to the ground, break in half, or any combo of all, the judges might just turn the other way. That and a proper bribe of Warstiener should do the trick.

    Nah, on second thought, take it out back and shoot it, put it out of its misery.

    • Mark Aitken

      Don’t even reckon the Bootlid (Trunk) would swap easily as M3 had a different Rear Window Angle to assist with Aerodynamics in DTM/STW Racing! There’s a Couple of M3 Tourings that have been Built & its the True Sleeper! The extra length of the Touring carries the Grafted M3 Arches so well!!

      • frank

        being a big fan of the e30. I have looked into what it takes to convert to a m3 clone. it will take a lot of work not just the window but the sides are different where the trunk meets.

  12. Chris H.

    We all scoff at this car now, though I bet in 15 years, this will be one of those finds that goes for big cash, similar to what those Porsche 356 shaped piles of rust are going for now.
    When it comes to this era (or any era) M3, always try to buy the best example you can find, as an engine rebuild alone can put you quickly underwater. Pass on this fright pig!

  13. RotaterCuff

    Bidding started at $200…couple of retracted bids at $7K & $12K…auction ends in about 2 days. The law of supply and demand clearly in effect here…

  14. Rich Behrends

    Here’s a article by Hagerty about the History of the 1986-1992 BMW M3.
    And I still say that I wouldn’t even consider buying it for a parts car.
    One in Fair Condition are worth about $15,000.00
    Hagerty considers one in Fair condition as
    cars are daily drivers, with flaws visible to the naked eye. The chrome might have pitting or scratches, the windshield might be chipped. Paintwork is imperfect, and perhaps the fender has a minor dent. The interior could have split seams or a cracked dash. No major parts are missing, but the wheels could differ from the originals, or the interior might not be stock. A #4 car can also be a deteriorated restoration. “Fair” is the one word that describes a #4 car.
    The Average Value is $29,908.00
    I would rate this car POOR

  15. Dolphin Member

    Sold for $17,200 with 63 bids.
    Are these the next early 911?

    • Jesse Mortensen Jesse Staff

      I’d say. That’s insane!

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