Cosmetic Restoration of an Old School BMW (E36) 320i
Successor to the E30, the E36 was launched at a time of tumultuous change in a Germany unified for the first time in over forty years. It was the third generation of BMW’s range of compact executive cars and although originally meant to be little more than a revision of the outgoing E30, BMW made a couple of changes that to prove crucial to the overall appeal of the car: introducing 6-cylinder models (in addition to the 4-cylinder) boosted performance to around 150 HP, and, coupled with a new Z-axle multi-link rear suspension first introduced for the sporty Z1, the E320i now could boast a comfortable ride, improved performance and significantly improved handling. Little wonder it was marketed as ‘a driver’s car’. So successful was the new model, the E36 was named in Car and Driver Magazine’s ’10 Best’ list each and every year it was on sale. Certainly, the E36 became a template for the core design in BMW’s current range and, some might say, the E320i was responsible for establishing the reputation BMW enjoys today.
Following a couple of minor mechanical issues being resolved, the owner of this classic BMW 320i decided the next step in his quest to restore it back to its former glory was to arrange for a number of cosmetic enhancements to be carried out at the award winning Brands Hatch based UF Studio.
Prior to an appraisal of the vehicle, a thorough decontamination was required. This involves using non-contact methods to remove debris before the main wash and by doing so, prevent damage to the paintwork and other substrates. A trolley jack was used to raise each corner of the car, in turn, increasing the distance between the wheel arch and tyre to allow for easier access and therefore more thorough cleaning. The wheel arches and wheels were then sprayed with a degreasing solution to eliminate greasy residue and diesel splatters.
After rinsing with a pressure washer, the wheels were sprayed with UF Safe Wheel Cleaner, a fast acting pH neutral wheel cleaner that gets to work on baked on debris.
After rinsing the loose debris away, UF Iron + Fallout Remover was sprayed onto the rims to eliminate brake dust build-up. Changing colour to indicate the presence of ferrous particles, the active ingredient shrinks the particles, causing them to break the bond formed with the rim so all can be easily rinsed away.
The lower bodywork and sill were also treated first for greasy contamination and then for brake dust. Then using a Kranzle-adapted foam lance attached to a K-1152 pressure washer, Ultimate Snow Foam was applied to the vehicle, the thick foam lifting larger particles of dirt and grit away from the surface of the panels. These particles become encapsulated in the foam and can then be rinsed away before a wash mitt comes into contact with the car, helping prevent incurring swirl marks in the paintwork.
Once the foam had been rinsed away, the BMW was washed using the Two Bucket Method to keep wash solution separate from rinse water. The wash mitt is first dunked into the Wash Bucket and loaded with UF Pure Shampoo. A section of the car is washed and the mitt rinsed in a separate Rinse Bucket containing clean water. The mitt is rubbed across the Grit Guard to release particles collected from panels and caught up in the pile. These particles sink to the bottom of the bucket and Grit Guard helps to keep them there. The clean wash mitt can then be wrung out and dunked back into the Wash Bucket and reloaded with clean soapy water and the process repeated until the car is completely clean. At the end of the process, the water in the Rinse Bucket is usually quite dark whilst the water in the Wash Bucket is still relatively clean.
If you wash and rinse in the same bucket, all the dirt removed from the vehicle is swirling around in the wash solution. It’s unavoidable to then transfer some of that dirt back onto the car again. Keeping the two separate prevents that from happening and so helps preserve the integrity of the clear coat that is quickly swirled by dirt being rubbed over the surface. – Matt Back, Master Detailer, UF Studio
Once clean, and having been given a pure water rinse with an Aqua Gleam De-ionising Water Filter, the BMW was brought into the detailing studio and the paintwork inspected. Some stubbornly bonded contamination persisted, making the paintwork feel rough to the touch. A clay bar and lubricant were used to shear this contamination away leaving the surface as smooth as a mirror, absolutely key to obtaining the maximum levels of gloss.
A BigBoi BlowR Pro touchless car dryer was used to ensure the car was completely dry, the powerful jet of warm filtered air chasing water out from behind natural trap areas such as mirror housings.
The paintwork was inspected under high-intensity lighting so all the damage could be properly highlighted. Particular areas of concern were noted on a Vehicle Appraisal Sheet and then multiple paint depth readings were taken over each panel.
Prior to commencing machine polishing, it’s essential to take paint depth readings. It’s even more important on a classic vehicle such as this due to the likelihood of the car having been subject to paintwork during its history. – Matt Back, Master Detailer, UF Studio
Plastic and rubber trim were protected using detailing tape to avoid any polish residue causing staining. Detailing tape has a high grip / low tack feature, so it grips onto the areas it needs to protect and yet peels off easily.
The paintwork had many swirls, clearly visible under the bright LEDs of the SCANGRIP lighting.
The paintwork was incredibly hard, particularly in the areas that had been resprayed. The bonnet in particular, was heavily swirled and generally had a variety of textures, flattened in areas, orange peel, sanding marks, lines in the paintwork – and it was challenging to work with. It was immediately obvious it would require intensive polishing to regain some uniformity to the finish and restore the gloss. In the end, we used a two-stage microfibre pad polishing process followed by a refinement stage with a foam pad. – Matt Back, Master Detailer, UF Studio
The bonnet was first tackled using a RUPES Microfibre Coarse Cutting Pad on a RUPES BigFoot LHR 12E Duetto dual action polisher with a Kamikaze Collection Beast Backing Plate. This backing plate is thinner than most providing immediate feedback and a direct, intense polishing action. Made from precision milled billet aluminium, when fitted to the polisher, the Beast is set apart from the RUPES anti-spin shroud allowing for a higher spin rate and free-spin orbits. This enhances the compounding action of the polisher. Using Koch-Chemie Heavy Cut H8.02 with diminishing abrasives, the bonnet took six passes to bring it up to the desired standard. The coarse microfibre pad was then replaced with a RUPES Microfibre Polishing Pad and again, using H8.02, the bonnet was polished to a point where it was ready to be refined.
The roof had not been resprayed and the paint finish here was softer. A Meguiar’s Microfibre Cutting Disc was used to eliminate the swirls and oxidised paint.
When paint is softer, more is removed during polishing and this can cause the strands of the microfibre pads to become clogged. This in turn, produces a less uniform polishing result so it’s essential microfibre pads are regularly brushed and cleaned to allow all of the fibres to work together.
To refine the paintwork, a RUPES Yellow Polishing Foam Pad was used with Menzerna Super Finish 3500.
Every substrate of the car was wiped with Gtechniq Panel Wipe to remove any residues of polish that might remain, leaving the finish ready for a protective coating. In this instance it was decided to use Kamikaze Collection Infinity Hybrid Wax to protect the Alpine white paintwork. Combining the highest-grade carnauba with ceramic coating elements, Infinity Wax delivers a stunning combination of gloss, water beading, and wet-look reflectivity, along with the durability expected of most ceramic coatings.
Infinity Hybrid Wax works differently to many hybrid waxes in that it requires mixing for sixty seconds prior to application. This is to activate the ceramic coating elements so they are primed to form bonds with the clear coat and allowing the hybrid to be as durable as most enthusiast-level ceramic coatings. Having the carnauba element brings out an additional depth in the shine that seemed entirely appropriate for a classic car such as this. – Matt Back, Master Detailer, UF Studio
The metal trim was lightly polished by hand using Britemax Final Shine Metal Sealant, a gentle cleansing agent that also protects metal finishes against tarnishing.
To complete the look, the tyres were treated with Gtechniq T2 Tyre Dressing.
The interior was cleaned and protected with Gtechniq C6 Matte Dash AB, a dust repelling treatment with the added protection of carrying a persistent antibacterial function. Leaving a natural satin finish, rather than a gloss finish means treated surfaces do not attract dust. C6 also helps protect interior trim from UV fading and staining from accidental spillages.
With the cosmetic restoration complete, this timeless classic looked as good, if not better than when it rolled off the production line some 25 years ago!