E30 Project: Manual Swap Part 1 “The Removal”

After addressing all of the glaring safety and mechanical issues with the car, it was time to change arguably the worst thing about this car, the transmission. This E30’s transmission was an automatic transmission and a bad automatic transmission at that. On the way to get the car registered and smogged, the auto transmission spilled its guts and sent fluid everywhere and I had to get the car towed home. The car was having trouble staying into gear and I kept losing power to the wheels. This was beyond frustrating since I had just purchased the car but was grateful I initially had it towed home. I was planning on eventually doing a manual swap at some point because I wanted to take care of some cosmetic things first but, oh well… here it comes sooner than expected. This path is well traveled and all of the parts and pieces are readily available new or on Facebook marketplace. I was ready to get stuck in. 

Fully welded exhaust
The Fart Cannon

Exhausts are the first thing that needed to be removed for this swap. The previous owner had thought it was a good idea to put a fart cannon of exhaust on the car. It was almost deafening to drive down the road with the windows down. This had to go. The whole exhaust was welded together as one piece while the factory unit was two parts. Removing this one-piece behemoth was not fun when I was removing the ancient exhaust hardware from the headers. Another tip of the hat to the previous owner who obviously wasn’t thinking long-term with this car. The only thing I wish I had done was to cut off the muffler and save the rest of the exhaust because I had to find a whole new exhaust later on. I put this up on  Facebook marketplace and some unsuspecting E30 fanboy was ecstatic to take it off my hands and even paid me for it. I will never understand fart cannons. The droning of exhaust simply dulls the car driving experience. A good exhaust note should compliment a car and not announce its presence with cannon fire. 

More hands makes light work
Always the last bolt has to protest

Next up was removing the transmission. I am sure every car mechanic guide says this should take 2-3 hours tops. This, however, was not my first rodeo in removing a BMW transmission,  so I decided to call a friend to help out. With the exhaust out of the way, the drive shaft was next. This was an easy removal because the drive shafts are a two-piece design. Removal of the cooling lines from the radiator was straightforward and disengaging the shifting linkage was easy. The hard part of removing transmissions on these cars is the transmission and starter bolts. The bolts at the top of the transmission fought long and hard but eventually gave in after many wrench extensions were added. All of the other bolts eventually gave up except the started bolts. The starter bolts thread into nuts which are inconveniently placed under the intake manifold. Getting a wrench around these nuts and loosening the bolt is a herculean task, especially if the bolts and nuts have been there for 30 years. Predictably, the bolts eventually stripped and we had to grind the tip of the bolts off in order to get the transmission free. All in all, a simple task is made harder with time and grime.

Removed automatic transmission
Back of the engine

The transmission was fairly dirty but seemed in good condition. The back of the motor was also dirty but nothing seemed installed improperly. The rear main seal was still in good condition and there weren’t any oil leaks and didn’t need to be changed. It was still a mystery why the transmission gave up but I wasn’t really interested in finding out due to the manual swap I was planning. The one thing I could have done better during the removal was to completely drain the transmission and cooling lines. Not sure how I could have done this but, this was a mess I could have done without. My driveway needed a much-needed cleaning after this transmission removal. 

Torque Converter
Draining all the fluid took days
Draining the Tranmission

The torque converter had a date of “01/03/17” on it which led me to believe it had been replaced within a few years. I suspected the torque converter to be the culprit. When the transmission acted up, it spewed fluid and slipped in and out of gears and the transmission was also overheating. This to me was a sure sign of a bad torque converter. I wasn’t sure if this was a new or used unit but to me, the torque converter was garbage. I spent a good deal of time letting the transmission drain since I didn’t want any more fluid dripping all over my garage floor. Props to those in the transmission business who have to deal with this foul-smelling fluid day in and day out.  

With the transmission out and drained, I decided to help fund the project by selling the automatic flywheel, torque converter, and drive shaft since I had no use for any of it going forward. Keeping the garage clear of old car parts is a good way to stay married. A willing soul stopped by and took the whole lot off my hands. I felt I should have paid him rather than he paying me. At this point in the project, I had no transmission, flywheel, drive shaft, shifting linkage, pedals, or clutch. This was a lot to purchase and would take some time to gather up. I was also not going to do it quick and cheap. I wanted to do it right and only once. This wouldn’t happen overnight and would take quite a bit of research first. The next blog post will deal with the process of acquiring all the parts needed. Motor on.