Classics, Opinion Pieces, Reviews, Used Cars / Bikes

Classic Restorations: 1977 BMW 635 CSi



As she was driven away, I knew immediately that I’d made a grave mistake. It’s not often that I admit to mistakes especially when it comes to anything automotive related, but I knew instinctively that I’d made a huge blunder, and I regretted it even before she was past the first corner and out of sight. A few years ago, I’d stumbled on my dream car, a BMW 635CSi. It was immaculate. Seriously, it needed very little work to be done on it, and I’d managed to procure it for a very decent price.


One day a friend comes over, sees the car, falls in love with it and utters the words that anyone who’s ever wanted to sell a car hopes to hear, “Name your price”. Thing is, I had absolutely no intention to sell her, so I jokingly muttered a ridiculous price, thinking he’d just laugh it off and walk away. He didn’t. Instead he thrust out his right hand and said “Deal”. I was stunned. Now, in the world of classic sales and trading, once someone agrees to your first opening offer with no negotiation, you are honour-bound to sell.


Damn. Yes, I’d make a clean five-figure profit, but for the first time, I was actually regretting the handshake. As she rounded the corner (it was the last time I ever saw her) I promised myself to get another 635CSi. The big problem is, ‘Sixes’ were getting rarer by the day, and the ones that were available for sale we going for what those in the classic car world technically call ‘silly money’. And then this beauty popped up out of nowhere.


It was far from perfect. In fact, it had been left idle for more than a year, but thankfully, it was kept in a porch under a shade. The actual history of how this car came into my possession is peppered with irregularities and spiced with more grey areas than the skies at 4pm these days. I have actually forgotten the actual details, but it was first sold to a restoration centre which started to restore it, and then stopped, I came along and traded something else for it, along with a bit of cash and took over. Yeah, that’s it… I think.


It was a glorious day when I finally picked up the car from Car Rejuvenation Centre in Segambut (more on this place in a future article here) and drove it home. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and I was feeling on top of the world! All was great again, I had another BMW 635CSi and nothing, absolutely nothing, could spoil this day. And then the engine blew up in front of the Bukit Kiara Equestrian Club.


Yup, in my haste to get this car home, I’d somehow forgotten that it had not been driven much in more than 12 months. In non-automotive terms, it was like jumping out of bed and running a marathon without warming up and having had zero training in the past. Big mistake. A steady billow of steam from the bonnet and a steadily rising temperature gauge needle – weirdly I recall actually being a bit chuffed that the gauge was working – necessitated an abrupt detour and immediate stop at the parking lot of the Science Centre.


As I popped the bonnet, only to be greeted by a rush of steam that closely resembled Old Faithful in Yosemite, I swear I heard the car say, ‘serves you right, what were you thinking moron!?’. A phone call and 40min later my friend arrives with a flat-bed tow truck and WAR7168 was brought to a workshop near my house, where she would remain for (get this) 6 months.


One thing I did know going into this project, was that parts for this car were going to be hard to come by. It is after all a first-generation Six from 1977. Some of you reading this weren’t even born then, and I was just 9 years old when this car was new. Kinda puts things into perspective doesn’t it?

Well, apart from the busted radiator-reservoir tank, the car was in dire need of several new wear-and-tear parts that looked like they needed replacing about 10 years ago. A major chunk of the restoration budget went to rectifying the braking system, and this included new discs all round. Yes, ouch. Pretty much everything that was made of rubber or PU needed replacing; hoses, bushes, etc. and it was those little things that were killers to get, and made up the bulk of the eventual bill.


For some weird reason, the floorboard behind the driver’s seat had rusted badly (below), perhaps from bottoming out over a hump many years ago or something, but it was the only area that needed welding.


I wanted to get this done fast because rust is a cancer to old cars and it never goes away, it always gets worse. My friend – and very well-known welder amongst the classic car crowd – Patrick assured me that it could be done in a day, and he managed to pull that off too.


The Six went straight back to the workshop after that, since there was still a lot to do. She eventually emerged from Benzone about a month ago and I’ve been doing several ‘shakedown’ drives since. All in all, it’s safe to say that I can smile again. She may not be as perfect as I would like, but she’s getting there, slowly.


I’ve often been asked why I bother with these old cars, why not just buy something new and be done with it. I do ask myself that too sometimes and when I do, I just hop into the Six and go for a drive. The drive always answers that question. It’s another one of those situations that have to be felt and experienced to be fully understood, words cannot impart this.


In this line of work, I get to review some of the best new cars in the market and all of them have something unique to offer; that’s my job and I love it. But what really makes me feel like a car enthusiast are cars like this ’77 BMW 635CSi. It’s nowhere near as good as some cars I’ve reviewed recently, it’s far from perfect, but when that big-bore six roars to life and we go for a cruise, somehow the world seems like a better place, troubles evaporate and somehow, for some weird reason, it all makes perfect sense.