Waterlogged 1988 BMW M3


We don’t typically feature cars built in the ’80s, but the E30 BMW M3 is one of the best driver’s cars ever built. So when we came across this 1988 BMW M3 barn find, we were torn as to whether to feature it or not. It might be one of the best driving cars ever built, but this one was parked in the barn after being flooded during hurricane Ike. As a result it is going to need a complete restoration. Find it here on eBay out of Kenedy, Texas.


We tend to avoid water damaged cars, especially ones built after ’75. Electronics and water obviously don’t get along and if this M3’s wiring got too wet, it could mean rewiring the entire car. The interior looks worn and it’s difficult to know the severity of the damage from photos. The seller believes the carpets and electronics will need replaced, but it may need more than that. Obviously if the electronics are shot, the engine won’t run, but the seller also believes it may have a blown head gasket… The M3 specific parts might also be a challenge to find, but luckily most of other parts are readily available.


With most water damaged cars we are concerned with rust, but not so much with this one. The electronic issues on the other hand will be a major pain to sort out. The E30 M3 has been going up in value and this one could actually be a great buy if the seller’s reserve isn’t set much higher than the current bid. We just aren’t sure whether we would want to tackle such a wire intensive task. Would you take it on or should this one be left in the barn?


  1. Jeff

    Poor thing. The values on these are so crazy at the moment that I have little doubt it will sell for at least $10K. Gut it, swap in an S54 and call it a day – it’s been done before on cars that didn’t already require extensive repair, so I’m sure this one is headed for swap-heaven.

  2. Jim-Bob

    The question to ask is whether it was in a fresh water or salt water flood. The electronics of most automotive systems are designed to deal with fresh water since things like doors and engines are regularly bathed in water. Most quality modern cars use weather tight seals on the wiring to keep out moisture where it is typically found, so the engine harness is probably OK. The interior will need some help, but how much help depends on if it was immediately dried out afterwards (pull the sound deadening, carpet and seats and dry them and the floor out) and how high the water got. If it covered the dash then this car could get fairly expensive to fix, if you can’t source most of the components from a regular E30. Also, if the water got that high, and the engine was not IMMEDIATELY drained of water, it is likely the engine is a lost cause after water has sat in the cylinders for over a year. with the reserve not yet met at over $7,000, it may well be that the costs involved will exceed the price of a good, driver quality E30 M3. Plus, this one has the taint of being a flood car on it.

    • JZ

      I fix high end euro cars for a living. Have been doing just that for 30 years. If you truly believe that these control units, modules, servos, switches, lighting fixtures are able to be submerged safely because of the modern sealing methods. Might I suggest that you put your money where your mouth is and purchase a flood car. Boy are YOU going to learn, and spend alot!

      • scot

        ~ true statements, listen and learn.
        as JZ, i’ve lived the nightmare. after the ’93 flood of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Meramec Rivers the autions were jam-packed with bargain ‘swimmers’. having had some success with simple, carburated, manual window and lock cars that were rescued we thought we could beat the game. the two greatest failures were a 2 year old Allante and a 3 year old 535. the electronics on each ran from 5 to 7 thousand 1994 dollars, and things never stopped failing.
        – warning, severe headaches ahead.

      • Jim-Bob

        Like I said, it depends on how high the water got. If all it did is flood the floors then many components may be OK. If it went much higher then the cost will depend on how many of those modules are shared with normal E30s and can be sourced from a U Pull it junkyard for $10 a pop. While this may not be the way it is done in top quality shops, it is usually the way I handle such things and why I shy away from cars that are not common in self service junkyards as daily drivers.

        As far as it goes, I have flooded my daily driver 3 times because of poor drainage on my road. A few times it was actually floating. All I ruined is the carpet, which I pulled and threw away. However, I knew where all of the components were and how high the water needed to get to damage them, Fortunately, all are up high in the dash and none were touched by the 12 inches of water I was going through. It needed to be over 2 feet high before it damaged the ECU or A/C control box (it is also a simple 1991 Geo Metro with a 3 cylinder, so not much electrical could go wrong).

        Would I buy and sort a flood car? Yes, but I would need to know the circumstances of the flooding it went through and the price would have to make sense. If this M3 was going for $2500 it would be worth the risk to me to try it if the engine was not flooded and the car was in fresh and not salt water. At the price it is likely to fetch though…no. I wouldn’t touch it.

        As for my wiring experience, I have cleaned and repaired complex electrical accessories before in my Cutlass Supreme Brougham. I added a second power seat, power locks, power trunk release, rally gauge cluster, switched the engine harness from a Buick V6 to Chevy V8 using a Grand Prix harness that I had to reprogram for the Oldsmobile dash by adding pins and wires to the bulkhead connector, cruise control, changed the driver’s seat to a 3 motor power seat from the broken 1 motor stock setup, added an electrochromatic rear view mirror with compass, and wired in a 1,000 watt stereo system as well as replacing all of the sound deadening due to mold. I am certain I could do it again in a newer vehicle if I had the proper service manuals ( a problem in and of itself for modern vehicles requiring a subscription to them over the internet). For all their complexity, modern vehicles are logical systems designed by man and I have yet to be defeated by one for which I have the proper tools and data.

    • DJ

      Depends on how high the water was and for how long. I’ve been fixing them over 30 years myself. I drove a 95 M3 that was a flood car for years and never had a minutes trouble out of the car.

  3. rancho bella

    Yep…….what Jeff and Jim wrote. Sure enough, the prices on these have gone up dramatically.
    What happened to the clutch pedal? As in, where is it?

    • DJ

      Under the mat.

  4. Jonathan Bush

    Clutch pedal is probably stuck the floor, under the floor mat. A blown clutch master will do that on pretty much every BMW.

  5. Keith

    I’d be concerned that the wet wiring might be conveniently hiding prior mechanical issues that caused it to be put in the barn in the first place. Either way, if the water was fresh and the price is right, I’d say bring it on… and welcome to project car hell!

  6. 88R107

    Cannot imagine the nightmares this car holds for the next owner.
    Still going to have a salvage title, I guess, no matter what you do to it.
    Buy it cheap, do the work yourself and have some fun.

    • 88R107

      “Plus a possible head gasket blown” Keith is right, this thing was in trouble before the bath.

  7. Brian

    OK, I admit I am a cheapskate, but it seems like you could get alot more BMW-ness for the nearly eight grand this thing is fetching. Probably with alot less M3 but alot less water mess and ready to ride. My money is better spent elsewhere and without shipping cost to boot. I guess this is for the BMW collector who has everything. If you have to ask, you just don’t understand!

  8. Mr. Moe

    The body appears to be in pretty good shape, surprisingly. The wiring would be a nightmare and the motor may or may not be worth saving. If I was to tackle this one, I would gut the interior, swap out the motor, do a repaint, new wheels and tires and hit the road with it. That being said, if you did do all the above, you would need to keep it a good while to get a decent return on your green.

    • Brian

      But with a salvage title, you might have to keep it 20-30 years to get that green back in your wallet; until the selection is thin enough and the demand high enough that issue like these become non-issues. That is, of course, assuming cars aren’t flying by then (god help us!).

  9. Robert J

    Restoring a waterlogged car is rarely a smart thing to do.

  10. Dolphin Member

    Lots of comments are right on the money on this poor M3. You could get a decent-to-good E36 M3 for the current bid or a few thousand more, but these were homologation specials for the most successful racing sedan in history, so should be saved.

    There’s not enough information in the listing, unfortunately. A lot depends on whether it was in fresh or salt water, as Jim-Bob said, and how deep the car was immersed. If fresh water, it will require a lot of work on the wiring loom, and more. Every component of the loom will need to be opened up, inspected, cleaned, and dried. A part of the loom in these runs along the floor toward the rear of the car under the carpets and will need close attention. I have seen connections in that area completely covered with corrosion and rear lights stop working in an E30 that never even had fresh water inside. If the water got as high as the dash, the computer that lives above the glove box will be toast and the dash wiring will take a long time to R&R, instruments replaced, etc, etc. Then there’s the underhood electricals. My head is starting to hurt now…..

    If salt water, just replace the wiring loom and every other electrical component. Strip, flush, and thoroughly dry the whole inside of the car first. Fortunately most of the car is the same as the E30 325i/e, so there will be lots of used parts available. If you need new, BMW is making a lot of the crucial parts for these available, but bring lots of $$$.

    Then there are the engine problems. The most unique thing about these is the engine, and they are very expensive to rebuild, being 2/3rds of an M1 engine. A big concern is, why the head gasket problem? Is it really a head gasket problem, or was the engine submerged, water-locked, and then somebody tried to turn it over? If so, there will likely be at least one bent connecting rod.

    This might be best for someone who already owns a rusty E30 M3. I hope someone steps up and saves it, but that person will really be doing it for the greater glory of Der Fatherland. For the rest of us it would make a lot more sense to just save up and buy a good one.

  11. rapple

    The Grammar Police are issuing a citation here for careless and inappropriate use of the J-Word “All the other working parts in the car (engine, transmission, etc) JUST need to be taken apart, cleaned thoroughly, and then rebuilt.”
    Should be no problem to “just” do that on a flooded car parked in a barn for the last 5 years!

  12. Horse Radish

    No, no, no
    If this owner had the car when it drowned it should have been cleaned out with fresh water within hours and it would have been fine or at least salvageable…… Now it’s toast.
    Most likely the seller bought it at one of hundreds of flood car auctions (they literally had thousands, if not 10-thousands of cars after Ike) for pennies on the dollar and that is its current value. Period.

    • Brian

      If the owner did buy it for pennies on the dollar, he’s making a killing now! Last time I checked, the bidding was up to (about) $7500.00. The owner must be Ray Lambrecht. I think I’m gonna build a barn and store cars in there…

      • Horse Radish

        I know the high bidder will be a fool, if I ever saw one.
        I would love to see/ have a video of the guy’s face when he sees this car up close !
        Priceless !!

  13. geomechs geomechs Member

    Most insurance companies will write the vehicle off if the flood water level was up to the vertical part of the firewall. If this was in that deep or deeper, I’d wish the buyer good luck, both on restoring it and getting it to pass an inspection. Otherwise, it looks like a good candidate to attempt a restoration, if the price were right. And it would have to be right.

  14. CBryant

    Hey,the cars under warranty………All is well!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  15. Michael Rozmen

    First off, the best thing to come out of the 80’s was the 1989 Mustang 5.0 convertable. This ain’t to far from me if he would take $100!!! $8100, gotta be some of his friends bidding up thinkining its really special.

    • Brian

      It’s up to $8,100 now??? Man, I’m in the wrong business!

    • JZ

      Wrong room, wrong car. I would take ANY submerged e30 M3 before I would waste my coin on ANY 1989 Detroit ragtop. Just sayin’.

  16. jim s

    Hurricane Ike happeded in 2008, more then 5 years ago, i think. nothing good came out of just letting it set all this time. also in a flood it is not just water, but also industrial and sewer waste. household chemicals and the like floating around. which is why i do not do flood cars ever.

    • jim s

      taking another look at this car i have to say i am learning something here. right now there are 9 bidders with a total of 20 bids and the high bid is $9100 so some people really want this car. plus the seller is upfront about the flood damage. the reserve is not met but there is more then 5 days to go and i am going to watch this one play out. thanks for posting this car Josh.

  17. Charles

    Many years ago, I reworked a couple of flood cars for an employer who specialized in German cars. Flood cars are always a nightmare, and if they are allowed to sit wet for a while, you can forget ever making them right again. Salt water sets up rust that one cannot stop. Since this car has been sitting for five years, I doubt if it was flooded with salt water, as the rust would be desolving it.

    Water can cause a lot of damage If the car has been allowed to sit all in one piece wet, because the car will not dry out. I’ll bet the floorboards are a rusty mess. We had the best luck with cars that were completely disassembled quickly, all the parts flushed with clean fresh water, and allowed to dry completely before attempting to reassemble the car. I am not convienced that the car is worth a restoration regardless of how rare or valuable it is.

    Parts car may be more like it.

  18. JohnD

    As far as speculation about the severity/extent of the flood, just Google “Hurricane Ike”. That storm sat over Galveston Bay for hours. The result was not pretty.

  19. Dolphin Member

    Like someone said on here a while back, the devil’s in the details. Some details that would be important to know about for whether this M3 is worth saving are:

    1. During hurricane Ike rainfall was up to 15 inches in Houston/Galveston (Google ‘hurricane Ike rainfall’). This car might have been in salt water, fresh water, or a mix. Where was the car in the storm and how high did the water come? The car does not have a salvage title. Does that mean it was in the general area of the storm but didn’t actually get submerged?

    2. These E30 cars have galvanized bodies and the toughest undercoating I have ever seen that sticks on for decades. These are regarded my many as the toughest modern BMWs ever built. I’ve owned them as winter beaters in the rust belt because they can actually survive salty roads for many years. Seller says there is no rust. That could be true. You would have to examine it to know for sure.

    3. Engine is a big question mark. You could find out something useful by going to the car with a battery, cables, and a compression gauge. Bring a good starter just in case.

    4. There’s not enough information in the listing to make a judgement about whether it’s worth buying, and at what price. Maybe it’s junk, or maybe it made it through Ike without actually being submerged and was dried out quickly by someone who knew what he was doing. Best to go to the car and examine it directly and thoroughly. These are limited production homologation specials that are appreciating every year. 22 bids to $9,300 so far and 4 days to go—no surprise there.

    • Horse Radish

      As for the toughest undercoating:
      that is true, tough to keep moisture out !
      BUT WHAT IF: the whole car was inundated in (salt) water and so were ALL HOLLOW SPACES.
      And what is a uni-body built out of ?…hollow spaces !
      Bingo ! and that is why this car is toast.
      Rusting from the inside out.
      It may take a while (like 5 or 10 years), but every seam and every weld inside these hollow spaces is compromised !

  20. Brian

    But did you pay 10 grand for it?

  21. Charles

    The first place that I would look is under the carpet and insulation. If that insulation got full of water and was never removed to properly dry out, the insides of the floorboards could be a mess.

  22. Brian

    The central point here (I believe) is that there are much smarter purchases for ten thousand dollars than this. If the bidding was a few hundred or even a thousand, it might be worth the gamble just to say you own one and to have something to tinker around on during the weekends, but this is some serious money for a swamped out car. Ten grand in the old car market will still buy you some nice (baby) blue chips!

  23. Dolphin Member

    Horse, when I was unfortunate enough to live in the rust belt the only cars that would survive unrusted very long were ones that had galvanized bodies, like this car does. That’s why I had an E30 BMW as a winter beater. Bought is used and kept it for over a decade as my beater and it still looked good. I had no trouble at all getting a good price for it when I moved away. People who know them know that these are very rugged cars that can survive well in the rust belt.

    It did not rust because of the zinc galvanizing that the unit body was coated with when it was manufactured. It’s on both the inside and the outside. That’s what makes the difference. The undercoat that BMW put on the underside just protects the thin galvanize layer from damage by the grit and stones that grind away at the undersides of cars in the rust belt.

    I was under the car a couple of times every year and I can tell you that the undercoat remained intact and didn’t keep any moisture in at all. You must be thinking of that bad No American undercoat that splits and separates from the ungalvanized undersides of the cars its on. I’ll take an old BMW with a galvanized body and that Krypton undercoat to use in the rust belt any day. If it’s got a LSD all the better, because it will handle snow real well with intermediate tires.

    Lots of comments on here seem to assume that the answers to the important questions about this car are known and are very bad. Has anyone been to check it out? I haven’t, so no, I didn’t buy it for $10K because I don’t know the answers to the important questions. I have learned not to assume anything, good or bad, about a car before I look at it myself.

    But IF I did examine the car, and IF the answers to my questions came out favorable, then I sure would buy this M3 for $10K because these are selling for over $20K now, they are great collectible and great driving cars, and they are appreciating every year.

    And since this one doesn’t have a bad title according to the seller, IF it actually does check out and doesn’t have an engine that’s toast it could be a very good buy…….IMHO, of course. Your opinion might differ, which is fine. Less competition for the cars I like.

  24. frank

    I’m the buyer of this ///M!!!!
    I did think like you guys but ??? I paid $9000
    for it !!! the bad .. bad carpet wheels tires radio shift boot shocks . i put a lot of you parts bc I wanted not bc they were bad .
    if you ppl believe the car started with the same old gas that was is the car
    lol I did .. clean the car about 30 and Buff
    a least 10 times the patint got where it needed to be.. the car Dos not have any rust except by that window ., and it’s a hole I love it now it look me good 6 months to get it running .. I worked home in my garage weekends when I got home from work

  25. frank

    I’m the buyer of this ///M!!!!
    I did think like you guys but ??? I paid $9000
    for it !!! the bad .. bad carpet wheels tires radio shift boot shocks . i put a lot of you parts bc I wanted not bc they were bad .
    if you ppl believe the car started with the same old gas that was is the car
    lol I did .. clean the car about 30 and Buff
    a least 10 times the patint got where it needed to be.. the car Dos not have any rust except by that window ., and it’s a hole I love it now it look me good 6 months to get it running .. I worked home in my garage weekends when I got home from work I change the oil about 10 times turn out to be a good deal I only did this bc I love -///M3 not for the money in keeping it .. frank from ny

    • rapple

      Good for you! Along with most of the commenters here, I would have never taken the plunge. With great risk often come great reward. I hope you enjoy it for a long time.

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