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Why I Un-Modded My E30 Project Car

Road & Track logo Road & Track 7/5/2022 Brian Silvestro

Earlier this year I purchased a 1991 BMW 381i sedan to use as my autocross and track car for the summer. I've since fixed or upgraded a handful of things to get it up to snuff, including the tires and brakes. But one thing has been nagging me since I bought the car that I have yet to fix: The cooling system. But I think I finally solved it.

The car's cooling setup was far from stock when I bought it. The factory belt-powered fan and shroud were deleted and replaced with an electric fan mounted haphazardly to the radiator. It worked just fine in most scenarios, keeping the car cool through long trips and highway commutes. But try to climb a steep hill or sit in traffic for more than a few minutes, and you could see the temperature gauge begin to creep up. I've never had the car overheat on me, but it's come too close for comfort a couple of times while sitting in hot, standstill New York City traffic. So I decided to do a little un-modding.

The worst feeling in the world. © Brian Silvestro The worst feeling in the world.

I cut out the electric fan and sourced an OEM fan clutch, fan blade, and a factory fan shroud from the folks at FCP Euro in an attempt to return the cooling system back to its original, analog self. I figured the setup that came with the car from new was going to work better than some random electric unit. And if it didn't, I could always just put the electric fan back in.

Installing the new hardware was simple; all I had to do was screw the fan clutch onto the water pump and clip the fan shroud to the radiator. Those who work on old BMWs often will know you need to purchase a specific tool to tighten the fan clutch onto the water pump. It's essentially just a long piece of metal to hold the pump in place so it doesn't spin while you're mounting the fan. I opted for a high-quality version from CTA because I know I'll have to use it again.

Yes, both fans could fit. But that doesn’t mean they’d work well together. © Brian Silvestro Yes, both fans could fit. But that doesn’t mean they’d work well together.

Lo and behold, it seems like this E30 can finally hold a reasonable temperature in warm weather. I thought about leaving the electric fan in to complement the auxiliary unit, but decided against it because it was mostly just blocking air from traveling through the radiator. I left the car to idle in the sun for a bit and the temp gauge never crept over the middle marking. But I won't know if I fixed things for sure until I spend a day in horrific summer traffic.

I wanted to ensure the system was in good working order by installing a new thermostat, but I forgot to order the correct gasket for the housing, so that'll have to wait. I also want to install a set of new rear shocks and put in new front calipers, which I plan to do before the car's first track day happens. Stay tuned.

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Gallery: Important Gear and Equipment to Use at Any Autocross or Track Day Event (Road & Track)


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