How Bad Could it Be? Importing a 325iX from Lebanon

Since I bought my first iX, I have been searching for a touring. I love the iX for its utility, and while the trunk space is fine for luggage, it would be nice to have space for longer loads. Of some 30 thousand 325iX’s produced, less than 5300 were long roofs, and exactly none of those were sold to the US. Europe has some good ones for about 20kUSD, and some rust buckets for 5. My conditions for this car were that it couldn’t be so good that I wouldn’t cut it apart because my long term plan was to install M3 flares, but it couldn’t be so rusty that I couldn’t work with it. The drivetrain condition was of little importance as it would be replaced with an entirely new setup.

Max Reisböck with his prototype sedan conversion which would launch the E30 touring

The hardest part about importing a car is finding someone to act as your agent on the other side. In July of 2020 I came across a guy selling his iX sedan Lebanon. I’d heard from a few other people that the country has plenty of iX tourings. I sent a message and found this to be true when the seller responded with a few different cars i might choose from. After a month communicating, I settled on the first car he showed me, chassis 0951233.

The car had clearly been painted, and not well, this alone should have driven me away from it. I knew there would be horrible things beneath but it was CHEAP at $2600, and I planned to tear it apart for full restomod anyway. So in I dove.

Initially the plan was to container ship the car to Texas, but in early august the port of Beirut was rocked by a massive explosion and that vessel was cancelled.

This put things a couple of months behind as did paperwork in Lebanon, but finally the car left the port in early October. This ended up being a Roll-On-Roll-Off shipment which turned out to be far cheaper anyway. Though it was still more than the cost of the car to get it to Baltimore. It finally arrived in early November but I didn’t have time to fly out until a couple of weeks later. One thing that my contact emphasized was that it had a transfer case but needed a front driveshaft. The smart move would have been to ship the car to Colorado but I seem to like doing things the hard way. Besides, the seller promised me that the car drove fantastic, which turned out to be true, up to about 60kph. So I packed some t-shirts, tools, and a front shaft in a box and headed to the airport.

On Friday I got a ride to the port escort service’s office expecting to drive the car out an hour later. Fortunately, the escort called the shed in charge of releasing the car and we discovered there were two holds on the car. The first was a special inspection fee which was quickly paid and cleared. The other was a hold from the steamship line that couldn’t seem to confirm i had made a wire transfer for their port fees a week earlier.

If I didn’t get the car that day I wouldn’t have time to drive it back so I waited impatiently for a reply under the hot sun on a picnic bench, for 7 HOURS. It was one of those times where it seems like it’ll be resolved soon but never does. I went for a late lunch and of course that’s the exact moment the second hold was resolved. So lunch didn’t happen and the escort took me into the port. I paid yet another hidden fee and then finally got to the car.

Here I’m seen smiling with the car, but there are very few photos of it after this because I was so saddened by its condition. The first thing to notice when I opened the door was that the interior had been destroyed. I gather that this was the result of the $80 “intensive exam” conducted by CBP, totally understandable as the drivers floor would look like a smugglers compartment had been tacked together when inspected with a mirror. But underneath the floor was the big surprise, there was no transfer case. I had planned to swing by a shop to inspect but decided to head straight home in hopes the car would stop driving in the middle of nowhere so that I might set it ablaze and walk away. Unfortunately the M20 is an imortal powerplant and 2 days later I was home.

The next day I got the car on a lift and discovered that driving it 1900 miles was perhaps not the greatest idea. Had I inspected it I would have left the car in Baltimore. The substantial vibration which was felt at anything above 60kph turned out to be the worst driveshaft I have ever seen. And the transmission crossmember not pulling out of the car is nothing short of a miracle.

If you don’t know what the underside of an iX looks like let me explain the warzone hackery that was performed here. The transfer case has been removed and a transmission crossmember from a RWD e30 has been installed. Except that iX’s don’t have the mounting rails for said crossmember, so some M8 bolts were just drilled through the footwell vents instead. This trans was supported by 3 bolts through thin sheet metal! Instead of using a 2-piece RWD shaft as the civilized world might, the single piece iX shaft was sleeved into an E36ish driveshaft and welded together. The guibo was just about disintegrated by the time I returned.

The car had been hit in the left front and rear and the drivers floor went over a boulder or landmine at some point. Clearly this was not the car for what I wanted to do and i just couldn’t stand to look at it any longer, so just a week later I put it out of its misery.

In summary, if you’re going to import any car, trust no-one, have the car independently inspected on a lift before shipping. It’s been said many times before that the smart money is always spent on the best car you can afford, not a cheap shell for your project. I must attest that this is true.

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