・One owner from new
・Sympathetic recommissioning program
・Great driver’s car
・Nice investment purchase
The E46 was the fourth generation of BMW’s 3-Series model, its compact luxury car. It took the pointy styling of the preceding E36, the first coupe, and rounded it to gave the car a much more balanced aesthetic. It also marked the introduction of much of the technology that we take for granted today, including satellite navigation and CAN-bus electronics. It was also the first 3-Series to use variable valve lift technology to optimise engine efficiency and performance alongside the variable valve timing system, VANOS.
Introduced in late 1997, the car was available in five bodyshapes; the four-door saloon, two-door coupe, two-door convertible, the estate or Touring and the Compact hatchback. A range of engines was available, from the 1.8-litre inline-four to the straight-six engine up to three litres with the range-topping M3 using a 3.2-litre straight six. The highest-specification model below the M3 was the 330 with coupe and convertible versions dubbed the 330Ci.
The fourth generation was replaced in 2004 though models were still coming to market until 2006.
The owner of this car, who is a self-confessed BMW fan and aficionado, became aware of it after it had been stored since 2014. Knowing that this particular model is becoming increasingly rare and desirable – many cars have apparently been damaged or even written off as people sought to use them for drifting – one with the provenance of this car, with one owner from new and with just 50,000 miles on the clock, would be a worthwhile investment.
He managed to secure the car at the beginning of 2021 and immediately set about recommissioning it and putting right some of the typical E46 BMW faults that had affected it, both while on the road and during its six years of storage. He has returned the car to excellent condition as befitting the highest-specification model that doesn’t wear an M badge on the bootlid.
He is now presenting it for sale so that the next owner – what will be its second ‘proper’ owner – can take it on and use it while respecting its importance and its value, which is only going to increase with time. However, he is realistic about that value and should the auction reserve price not be met, he will simply retain it and offer it for sale in the future when its value should have increased even further.
The car is accompanied with its full raft of original handbooks and publications, as well as the logbook, which remains in the first – and previous – owner’s name. Included are the owner’s handbook, the audio guide, the warranty and emergency handbook, the guide to BMW services, the original BMW accident management handbook and the all-important service book with seven stamps confirming its record, six from renowned BMW expert Sytner in Nottingham.
Internally, the car is in excellent condition, as is to be expected with a vehicle that has covered just 50,000-odd miles. The owner states that the car was apparently used – and lived – in the city, as evidenced by some of the external damage and the condition of the drivers’ seat would suggest that it was used for lots of short journeys; there is some wear and discolouring to the seat-back bolster but a little care and careful revitalisation should bring this back to similar condition to the rest of the car. The electric adjustment for the front seats works perfectly, including the memory functions to retain the different drivers’ preferences.
The grey leather is generally in very nice condition and the passenger seat, as well as the two rear seats, appears to have had very little use. The front-seat folding mechanism to allow access to the rear seats function perfectly and the mats, while appearing as if they could use a clean, seem undamaged. The headlining is also in excellent shape and the glass sunroof operates as it should.
The multi-function ‘M’ steering wheel shows little signs of wear with some slight glazing and the dashboard itself is in excellent condition, the road and engine speed, fuel and coolant temperature gauges working as they should and all indicators functioning as intended. The heating and cooling systems also work as intended though the owner feels that the air conditioning system requires re-gassing, as it didn't get as cold as he would have expected in the recent warm weather. The car is also fitted with the high-specification harman/kardon audio system with a CD changer in the boot and a subwoofer mounted under the rear parcel shelf.
The exterior of the car is in excellent condition, the owner having attended to various typical faults, including rusting of the wheelarches. He replaced the front wings in their entirety and these were painted in the car’s original colour. While the car was in the paint shop, the rear wheelarches, which had also corroded but not to the point where they required full replacement, were repaired and painted before the extremities of the car were also repaired and painted. There was extensive small-scale damage around the car, commensurate with it being used in an urban environment and these were all repaired and the lower parts of the car, such as the rear bumper, repainted though one small mark remains in the paint.
Keen-eyed potential buyers will have noticed the broken front-left indicator lens; by the time the auction begins, the owner will have fitted a new, standard lens. There are slight traces of adhesive still around the car from where it was masked for the paint, notably on the lower rear plastic splitter and one of the headlight lenses but the owner has said he will remove these before the car is handed to its new owner. There are also the odd mark around the exterior and one or two tiny areas of the beginnings of surface rust inside the tailgate, for example but none appear to be of any real significance and a dab of paint should prevent these from becoming worse.
The wheels are in excellent condition, having also been repaired following some time suffering from city use. They sport clean paint and brand new tyres all round.
As part of the recommissioning work, the owner also carried out a significant amount of work to the car’s mechanics. Brake lines had deteriorated during storage and so these were replaced, as were the brake discs and pads. The car was treated to a full fluids service and several areas that are notorious for leaking on the E46 model, such as the oil filter housing and the rocker cover gasket, were remedied to prevent future leaks – none are evident with the car.
The legendary six-cylinder engine fire instantly and settles to an even purr, with just the right amount of rortiness from the chrome-tipped exhaust. The engine performs just as it should, according to the owner and the five-speed automatic transmission, with tiptronic-style manual-shifting option, compliments it perfectly.
The suspension is in excellent shape, the original M-specification package working well, though the owner did replace both rear shock absorbers as they looked to be in need of it. There are no untoward noises, knocks or bangs as it is driven and the owner feels that it is remarkable condition for a 20-year-old car.
For many, this writer included, the E46 is the best looking variant of all of the seven generations of the 3-Series. Its rounded curves and perfect proportions sit between the clumsy, pointy hatchback shape of the E36 and the angular and sharp-edged ‘new’ E90 design. And with the addition of the M-Sport suspension package, the 330Ci sits perfectly on its 18in wheels; not too large, not too small but like the rest of the car, in perfect proportion and ready to do exactly what the BMW engineers intended – make you smile.
The adoption of the three-litre straight six mated to the five-speed automatic transmission gave the 330Ci the highest level of performance short of the fabled M3 yet it was still a subtle and everyday useable car. It didn't shout from the rooftops like the M3 did; it quietly went about its business of devouring fast A-roads.
According to the owner, this is where the 330Ci is in its element; where it can use not necessarily its lowly (by M3 standards) 231bhp but its vast reserves of torque; it was only 48lb·ft short of the range-topper that grabbed all the attention, with a huge 221lb·ft available at the driver’s discretion.
Add to this the fact that the 330Ci is an increasingly rare sight on British roads (howmanyleft.co.uk says just 666 on the road though don’t let that number worry you) and few are likely to have had one owner from new and only just crept over the 50,000-mile mark. You could, quite easily, use this car every day though that would feel like a bit of a waste. It will make a nice investment, particularly if the condition is maintained and the mileage doesn't increase. But somewhere between those two extremes is a happy place where this car should live; looked after but used on warm and sunny weekends or for an annual jaunt to Goodwood or perhaps Le Mans.
It's a car; a rare and desirable one but a car nonetheless and it is supposed to be used… just not abused.
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