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BMW E36 Three Series - Convertibles

In contrast to the E30 an E36 convertible was planned from the beginning. But production capacity meant that the E30 cabriolet continued until 1993 before being replaced. However the new car was worth the wait and at once it was obvious this was a no compromise design that was clearly and cleverly thought out.


BMW E36 328i convertible

328i convertible with 16" double spoke alloys.

Initially the car was available as a 320i or 325i M50TU or a 318i with the M43 8 valve engine. It was a real shame that the euro/UK cars had to make do with the M43, the 16 valve engine would have been a far better driving experience (although still a bit underpowered). As it was the M43 really wasn't up to the job and was poor value for money in a very expensive car. The US and South African 318i always had the 16 valve.

The car drives well and retains the Z-axle and other features from the coupe. But it's not as stiff a body and never could be so ultra-stiff suspension is never going to be a good idea. With M-Tech suspension it's quite up to twisty B-roads and will put a smile on anyones face but even with added bracing it shouldn't be made stiffer.

The M3 version comes in 3.0 and 3.2 Evo variants and the single throttle body version for the US market. Bearing in mind my comments on stiffness I never really saw the point in the full euro soft top as it was never going to handle as well and was hugely expensive. The 1998 onwards US version on the other hand was better value and gave a useble power upgrade over their 328i, plus the US has the weather for it! The M3 is described on it's own page.


BMW E36 328i convertible

328i with Motorsport body pack and later style 68 17" alloys.

Where the car comes second to the coupe is in terms of space. Thanks to the hood mechanism's need for space the back seat can only seat two and has a large central ridge to enforce the policy and provide more lateral support. The roof pocket in the boot greatly reduces storage space and more than one owner has fitted a boot lid mounted rack to compensate. It's still got a more useful boot than the Z3 though.

Power roofs are very complicated and have a plethora of micro-switches to control operation. For the roof to work the car's electric windows and even the boot central locking need to be working perfectly. Equally a faulty roof can electronically block the boot from opening. The roof will not operate unless your foot is on the brake pedal at all times. The linkages and pivots should be lightly lubricated to ensure smooth operation as the last thing you want is a bent frame. A faulty roof can drastically lower the value of a car and depending on the fault you might get a cheap fix or a car that needs a new roof frame or drive motor. A hard top was available and works well in the winter months but having the plastic rear window folded up for extended periods does it no good.


BMW E36 convertible hard top

Removable hard top.

The rear window goes cloudy with age but it can be improved with a bit of effort. Plastic polish and a micro-fibre cleaning cloth should be the first attempt but don't press too hard and be careful of smearing dirt particles into the plastic and scratching it deeply. Various acetone based products also claim success and you'll see videos on ebay extolling their virtues. But if it's too far gone or cracked a new one is the only alternative. The window isn't that expensive and is zipped into place but not in as easy a way as you might hope. A new one can be installed in around an hour if you're lucky or know what you're doing.

An innovative safety feature was introduced in the form of pop-up rollover protection struts behind the rear headrests. In the event of a roll these would be pyrotechnically fired and go through the rear window to form a safe space for the heads of back seat passengers. The front A pillars and window surround were so strong than BMW had a marketing photograph of one convertible balancing on the windscreen rail of another!


BMW E36 convertible interior

Luxurious interior. Pop up roll struts visible behind head rests.

BMW sold a removable wind deflector which gave the driver and passenger an easier time but blocked off the rear seats. It was designed to fold and could fit in the boot when not in use. The deflector worked more effectively than you might imagine and was most useful on colder days. It's surprising just how cold a day you can drive with the top down and still be comfortable. The E36 has a good heater and with a suitable hat and some thin gloves (I use my autumn cycling gloves) winter trips are most enjoyable despite the odd looks you get from other drivers who think you must be either crazy or from Greenland.

Today in the UK the convertible is by far the most common version of the 328i still on sale. The other 328i's have been bought and wasted by the drifters to the extent that even the soft tops are now falling prey to them. Due to their value and the fact that a good few were only used in the summer months the cabrios have lasted better than the other versions and this has boosted the numbers still on the road. But there are only so many people who want an older four door convertible and supply has outstripped demand to the stage where decent 328i cabrios can be had for 1500 quid, the same as a Z3. For me the Z3 is the better buy as it's more fun to drive, lighter and feels a bit more special. In fact that's why I bought a Z3.


BMW E36 Baur TC convertible

Baur cabriolet, a rare sight.

Baur Top Cabriolets

From the early days of the saloon Baur made a four door "top cabriolet" TC with a full length fabric roof. It sold best in Germany and could be had even as a 316i with steel wheels.

I've never heard of one in right hand drive but I'd be surprised if none were made as the earlier E30 Baur sold fairly well in the UK and the E36 Baur was available years before the factory's full convertible.