For the pros, I first want to thank everyone for their responses. I do not have any pictures, but for my 98 E36 M52 engine, the process was much easier to complete than I had thought.
For the noobs, I fully recommend cleaning the MAF (mass air-flow sensor) once a year. Spend the $20 dollars for the premium contact cleaner. It's a $500 part new. It does make a nice performance impact, depending on how dirty it is. Second, Idle control valve (ICV). Clean it every time you do a tune up. Pulling it out sounds much harder than it is. Although, it may have been easier on an M52 engine than on an M42/M50. There is only one hose connected to the ICV for an M52 (connects under MAF rubber boot to ICV). The other end of the ICV is inserted directly into the manifold. All the diagrams I got from realoem.com showed the ICV with two hoses, not only one.
Because there was only one hose, I was able to get under the manifold to the part without pulling the whole manifold out. I didn't really feel like playing with fuel lines during my first under the BMW hood experience. Kudos to you who provided pictures.
Conclusion: As discussed in prior posts, the ICV was the problem, and wouldn't show up on a computer/DME/OBD Problem code. It was gummed shut, and thus my car was unable to breathe unless I had my foot on the pedal, opening the throttle bodies slightly to allow airflow. With large quantities of rubbing alcohol, q-tips, and an electric tooth brush, I was able to clean up the ICV.
UPDATE: The E36 idles very smoothly now, purrs like a kitten. We have since sold the car. But thank you all for your help. This simple maintenance saved me from having this car towed to the stealer for hundreds of dollars!
LESSONS LEARNED: This may be a simple one for experienced mechanics, but for those of us who are new to getting under a BMW hood, do NOT use Q-tips to clean out the ICV. I ended up getting the valve open but then some cotton came off and wedged the valve open. I was able to remove all of the cotton by using my electric toothbrush with a spare travel head (smaller than regular) and really clean out hte inside of the valve. After that, the valve sprung free and was able to swing back and forth freely.
Last edited by fro3and5series; 04-02-2010 at 12:55 PM.