Successful E30 Clutch and Timing Belt Project!!

Ever since I saw cars being built in an automobile assembly plant where I worked as a cost analyst, I was puzzled why people don’t focus more on how the factory did things, because that was probably the more efficient way, by far.

I have personally struggled with many tasks that could be done far more easily when another part were first removed, or when the paradigm changed.  “How did they do this at the factory?” became a good guiding principle for me whenever I worked on a car.

When my 1987 325 needed both its clutch and its timing belt replaced, I chose the approach where the entire sub-frame would be removed from the car, complete with engine, transmission and suspension.

Previous to that, my team had struggled with removing the transmissions off two other 325 cars, and it was a miserable task.

On the third car, it was super-easy. Removing the transmission from the engine was SO much easier and nicer with everything in the open.

It was also easier and nicer to work on the clutch and the timing belt, with everything in the open, completely out of the car. The car was many feet away, hanging from a mobile gantry that I’d bought for this purpose.

Many hoses, pipes, cables and wires needed to be undone, but that was (for me) preferable to the alternative.

I loved seeing how easily everything came apart, and how easily accessible everything was once the sub-frame had been removed from the car.  I didn’t even care if the car ever ran again. I’d proved a hypothesis that I’d been wanting to prove ever since I was 22 years old.

My tenacious technician, who prefers to remain anonymous, wanted me to have the benefit of a functioning car too, and he doggedly pursued getting the clutch, timing belt and water pump replaced, then putting it all together again and hooking everything up.  The victory is mostly his, since he did more than 95% of the work, and more than 99% of the most difficult tasks. Yet, I love seeing the basic concept having been proved.

Today, everything was finalized and I actually drove the car on the road again.  The gratitude, joy, satisfaction, pride and vindication were intense and wonderful.

It’s an open question as to whether, when it’s all said and done, this was easier than the traditional way.  I plan to keep refining this approach until it is certainly easier, because I think it fundamentally has more merit.

Things I would improve include:

  • Not removing parts unnecessarily, such as the glove box
  • Putting pans underneath the car so when fasteners or parts fall down, they don’t roll or bounce far away
  • Having a spare set of all the fasteners needed
  • Having spare parts in case things break
  • Having another car to go look at to see how things come together
  • Having cans or bins nearby so that as I remove fasteners, I can put them in a known place.  There’s a lot to be said for putting fasteners right back, but that isn’t always viable.
  • Having the right tools
  • Knowing which tool I’ll need for which task
  • Knowing what goes where, such as how to connect the fuel lines the right way around.

I’m about to get into my 325 and drive it to Reno, 60+ miles away.

Before today, the last time I drove the car was almost two years ago.

I’m happy. 🙂


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