Monday, April 15, 2013

The Ultimate E30 Driving Machine Collection...

I had the pleasure of meeting Barry Robinson a few weeks ago after we were linked up by Harlan Chau of Elefant Supply Company. What started out with only one car to shoot, turned into a goldmine. Barry didn't only own the lachssilber E30 M3 I was originally supposed to shoot. He ended up having two other E30s in his collection. I was in awe, "another E30 M3 and a legit M-Tech, what the..." I couldn't up pass this opportunity. E30's are my first love! Perfect excuse to get up-close and personal.

After meeting Barry and getting to see his undying enthusiasm for the E30s, it brought me back to my first car, a 1984 E30 318i. Ahhh, the high school days, when I would send letters and fill out post cards to get BMW aftermarket part catalogs. I remember daydreaming and circling everything I wanted to buy. B&B Tri-flow exhaust...circled. Three spoke Anteras...circled. Intrax lowering springs...circled. E30 M3 dream car...circled, cut out, taped to the wall. The list went on and on.

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I'm sure Barry had his fare share of dreaming things up, but the difference between him and myself is that he did something about it and turned in into reality. During the shoot I got my complete history on everything E30. He made me appreciate older BMW's even more and the people that keep them going. A purist at heart and the most enthusiastic E30 owner I've ever met.

I asked for a short bio on how he got into all three cars so I can get ideas from. Then, two weeks later, he sent me his-story...

BMW E30 ///M-adness

​Nostalgia is an often underrated thing, but it’s the reason people pay $30,000 for an obscure Atari 2600 video game cartridge from the early 80’s that cost a mere $30 when first released. Sure the game was rare but not all things rare, command a premium. It must also be desirable to at least a few people. When the first BMW M3 hit US shores in 1988, it was louder, lower/wider, more aggressive looking than most cars of the era and it was a BMW! BMW hadn’t made anything quite like it. It was a true homologation special designed for racing with the road car being an afterthought. BMW’s E30 (internal name for the chassis designation), was very popular among young professionals and was commonly referred to as the “Yuppie car,” but the M3 was a different beast.

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How it began

In 1982, my uncle brought home the family’s first BMW…a 320i. Having a sunroof and power features were a big deal back in much simpler times. It was the nicest car in the family, until my mother bought a 325e in 1984. This was the first year of the new 3 series body style designated “E30” in the US. The body was updated and streamlined while maintaining the classic BMW look. The M20 6 cylinder ETA engine was smooth and quiet unlike the 4 cylinder M10 in the 320i. The sport bucket seats held you in place in the turns. The windows and sunroof were fully powered. Stereo with power antenna that retracted into the body and an On Board Computer that gave you information on how many miles you had left on your fuel, fuel consumption, avg speed, even a programmable anti theft CODE feature that disabled the car. How cool is that? This car was well ahead of its time and really was the Ultimate Driving Machine.

In 1992, I was a 16 year old with a new driver’s license and like most 16 year olds, I desperately wanted a car. I looked at RX7’s, Sentra’s and Jetta’s. None of which, were even close to the BMW. I eventually bought my mom’s car from her by making payments. I was already taking care of the car anyway and knew it rather well. I was crazy over the car. Earning $4.25/hr, I worked 2 jobs and saved for modifications. My first was a Sebring cat back exhaust system bought from Bavarian Auto Service (now Bavarian Autosport or BavAuto) for $500(!) It did very little on my stock 325e but that huge chrome tip looked great.

One day, I found a local BMW shop who had magazines called “Roundel” all over their waiting room. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was a magazine catering to nothing but BMW’s and that’s when I was first introduced to the BMW Car Club of America (BMW CCA/ACA). Before that day, I thought I was the only one crazy enough to be a BMW enthusiast as they really were not as common as they are today and very expensive. Being young with most of my peers driving old VW’s, El Camino’s, Nissan’s and Honda’s...I got pulled over every day. Today, it’s pretty common to see young people in BMW’s but in early 90’s Los Angeles, many assumed you were just a drug dealer. I relished the attention but the car really did keep me out of trouble. I bought the E30 bible (E30 Bentley Manual) and studied it well. I knew it better than any book I read in school. I began tinkering with the car, learning how to do things myself.

Then a family friend who also had an 85 325e introduced me to another BMW shop in Gardena called South Bay BMW, which would later become South Bay Independent (SBI). The owner/lead technician Hoa Nguyen is Vietnamese (an Asian guy working exclusively on BMW’s??) but like I’ve also experienced, it’s wrong to judge a book by its cover. Hoa is a master and diagnosed my stumble problem right away as incorrect spark plugs. From that point on, I hung out at the shop whenever I had free time. I think I was the first customer to approach him with the idea of building an M20 stroker e to i conversion or swapping final drive ratios for performance. Like everybody else I wanted to do what Pete McHenry and Jim Rowe was doing and make these old BMW’s perform.

Enter M3

In the Roundel, I would see pictures of an unfamiliar E30. It had these body colored bumper/spoiler, wide flared fenders and a huge wing in the back. Like many who are unfamiliar, I thought “wow, that’s a nice bodykit.” After some investigation, I found more pictures of them and learned that it wasn’t a kit at all but a factory BMW produced model called “M3.” What is this??? What’s going on here? And it had a 4 cylinder! I started seeing magazine articles written about them, advertisements and a place called Noble Foreign parts had a special catalog JUST for the M3. This must be some special model to create such a stir yet strangely, I never saw these mythical creatures anywhere.

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It wasn’t until a BMW ACA (which would become the LA chapter of BMW CCA) event that I finally saw an M3, how different it was and was hooked. Admittedly, like many people, I didn’t understand why a 4 cylinder engine (known as S14) was used. It didn’t make sense with all of these excellent BMW 6 cylinder engines available in various sizes. It wasn’t until I started studying the M3 and what it had accomplished in BTCC/DTM racing that I began to understand what it was about and became enlightened. BMW Motorsport had done something special with this car. They took a step back to take two forward. The boys in Munich had turned the Yuppie car into a bonafied race car to be reckoned with.

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So in 1998 when my 325e/i 2.7 stroker was rear ended and totaled, I knew exactly what my next car would be. As luck would have it, I found almost exactly what I was looking for the next day in the LA times classifieds. It was like destiny that an ‘88 Salmon silver (lachssilber) on black M3 with just 77k miles would be advertised for $8200 OBO. I must admit, it was my second color choice behind Sterling silver but I was not picky. The car was driven by a college kid whose parents owned the car in Beverly Hills. The car was neglected but stock except for Antera 5 spoke wheels. By this time, the M3 was 10 years old and the parents had grown tired of spending big money at the dealership chasing down problems. With their son groveling in the background against the sale of the car, they accepted my $7800 offer and I was the new owner of an M3.

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325i vs M3

Most of knowledge of the 325 carries over to the M3 but there are quite a few things that are M3 specific. The most critical of them all being the engine. The S14 2.3 liter inline 4, made a very peaky 192HP and 170 ft lbs torque at 6700 RPM’s. Which means, in order to make the car go fast you must drive it enthusiastically and keep the RPM’s up in the engine’s power band, otherwise it feels uninspiring. In contrast, the 325i M20 2.5 liter baby six cylinder engine, peaks at only 168HP around 5800 RPM but has a much broader power band. Given that much more time is spent in the lower/mid RPM range on a streetcar, the 325i is actually better suited for everyday driving with lots of stop and go traffic despite a 25HP disadvantage. The M3 on the other hand, is more of a momentum car. If you can stay in the power band and keep the car moving…it is the faster car. Weary of the high strung 4 cylinder S14 and cost to repair, many people opt for 6, even 8 cylinder conversions. I, however, am sort of a purist when it comes to the M3 and kept mine as they left the factory…S14 powered, albeit with a little more horsepower.

Enter BMW M Technic

In 1991 BMW imported only a few hundred special edition M Technic convertibles for the US market. These cars were only available in three colors, Brilliant Red, Sterling Silver and Macao Blue. These special cars were fitted with a full M Technic II aerodynamic bodykit, Shadowline trim, M technic suspension, 15x7 BBS wheels “Euroweaves,” Leather sport seats with Motorsport cloth centers or full leather, leather door pulls/panels/liners, leather handbrake handle/boot, leather center consoles including the ashtrays, BMW M Technic door sills and front/rear badges which finish the car off and lets you know it is not your ordinary 325i. Being based on 325i convertibles, some of the most expensive 3 series one could buy, the M technic package added about $4700 to the $36k MRSP, making the M technic the most expensive and also the rarest in the E30 line.

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To take some of the sticker shock off, BMW also imported convertibles with only the M Technic II aerodynamic bodykit, body color matched interior and wheels for only $1600 more. As a result, there were many more of these cars sold in 91-92. These “appearance package” cars, were available only in Alpine white or Diamond Black.

In 20 years of being an E30 enthusiast, I had only seen 2 “full” M technic convertibles in person. One was owned by a fellow enthusiast and another was a random sighting on the freeway. After having owned several 325’s and my M3 for 13 years, I began searching for an M Technic. In 2006, I found an original owner Macao Blue in West Los Angeles advertised for $5500. At the time, I was in college and living on a budget which didn’t allow for a third car but I knew how special this one was and how rare they were. They don’t come up for sale often and this was an original owner Southern California car. A few months later when I had the funds to buy it, of course the car was sold. I had mixed emotions as I really wanted that car (Macao Blue was the rarest color too) but I also didn’t need to be buying a third car at the time so my search for an M technic was put on hold.

Three years later in 2009, I saw a feeler ad on an E30 discussion forum online for a Turbocharged M Technic in Macao Blue and saw that the owner was in Southern California. When I saw the pictures of the car, I recognized it as the same exact car I was looking to buy in 2006. As it turns out, the new owner who is a BMW mechanic had completely gone through the car and turbocharged it. At the time, M technic values weren’t as high as they are today and I felt his price was too high so I passed on the car yet again. Several months later I noticed the car back up for sale, with several additional modifications and a lower price! I arranged to see the car and a deal was made. In the end, the car remained in its natural habitat here in Southern California and I got three things I have always wanted in a car…a turbo, a convertible and an M Technic II bodykit.

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M3 revisited

In 2011, a fuel flooding problem turned into a complete teardown and rebuild of the engine. It had clocked 145K and I wanted to freshen up the engine now before parts became too expensive or no longer available. Since I had spent months troubleshooting before the rebuild which also took 6 months, I hadn’t driven the car in over a year. I toyed with the idea of getting a second M3 for multiple reasons but I mainly just wanted to get behind the wheel of an M3 again. I was passively searching for an Alpineweiss (Alpine White) on black but with the market the way it is, it’s hard to be choosey. Why Alpineweiss on black? Alpineweiss is the quintessential M3 color. Most of BMW’s advertisements and race cars featured Alpineweiss M3’s. They were used in Skip Barber racing schools and various BMW catalogs including Noble’s. Korman bought the first two M3’s imported into the US, also Alpineweiss. Finally, the E30 M3 just looks great in Alpineweiss. The lines, shades and contrast all work together.

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One day, a fellow enthusiast tells me he knows someone who had an M3 and was going to swap the S14 engine into a 2002 and sell off the rolling shell. He was going to buy this shell for a future S54 swap. Somehow the owner of the M3, decided not to go through with it and sell the entire car, at which point my friend had lost interest since he only wanted the shell. I told my buddy if he was going to pass on the car that I may be interested in it and he sent me pictures of an Alpineweiss on black M3.

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The car had been salvaged but the frame was straight, exterior repainted, interior retrimmed and the original S14 engine ran well with 176K on the clock. All for a price I couldn’t refuse given the market for M3’s. The value of salvaged cars does take a hit but given how hard it is to find a decent M3 these days, it doesn’t matter much. A salvaged M3 is still an M3. As long as it’s appropriately priced, buying one of these should be a no brainer. Besides, resale value only matters if you sell it later and I plan on keeping my pieces of BMW Motorsport history for a very long time.

- Barry Robinson

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Additional photos here: E30 photo collection

Spec Sheet:

Lachssilber 88 M3:
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Overbored 2.3L, 284/276 Cams, Rick Kemph ported head, JE forged/coated pistons, Maxx Alpha N Closed loop piggyback, Innovate LC1, Supertech valves and springs, 48mm throttle bodies, coated Evo 2 2pc 50/50 header, Custom stainless 3” exhaust, CF DTM race airbox, 30lb Bosch injectors, 8.5mm GSP Magnecor plug wires, adjustable cam gears, SBI oil pan baffle.
Mishimoto aluminum radiator and puller fan.
Z3 1.9 short shift kit with DSSR.
Ground Control coilovers 350F/650R w/short Koni adjustable shocks.
Vorschlag camber plates.
ST swaybars.
M coupe diff cover.
17x8 BBS RC090 “Style 5” refinished with nogaro centers and polished lips + microclear.
215/40/17 Nexen 5000 tires.
Genuine Evo 2 front and Evo 3 rear adjustable spoiler, Hella euro ellipsoids, Evo grills, Grp A mirrors, Startec tail lights.
M tech 2 leather steering wheel, M tech cloth centers with alcantara bolsters.
Recaro SR front seats.
VDO 3 gauge center console.
UUC RK2 weighted shift knob.
Kenwood cassette pull out, 11 band digital EQ circa 1992, 10 cd changer, Kenwood components, 2 amplifiers, 10” Alpine Type R sub in custom German Audio Specialties “LukeBox.”

Alpineweiss 89 M3:
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Stock 2.3 with TMS chip, evo airbox, custom 2.5” exhaust, 8.5mm GSP Magnecor plug wires.
Autosolutions short shifter.
German Engineering 450F/650R coilovers, camber plates and Bilstein Sport shocks, Mason front and rear strut braces.
17x8.5 3pc Epsilon black mesh wheels with polished lips.
235/40/17 Falken FK452 tires.
Evo 3 front and rear spoilers, DTM cup mirrors, Startec tail lights, DEPO smoked headlights.
Alpina 4 spoke leather steering wheel, Recaro LS seats, alcantara headliner and pillars.
Alpine headunit with Aux.
ZHP weighted shift knob.

MacaoBlau 1991 M Technic:
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Rebuilt 2.5L, Garrett stage 3 T3/T4 turbo with external wastegate, front mounted intercooler, PnP Megasquirt 1 v.3 tuned by Church, Ebay stainless manifold, 42lb injectors, Metric Blue headbolts, Cometic MLS headgasket, 3” custom exhaust, 8mm Magnecor plug wires, MSD Blaster 2 coil.
255lph Walbro fuel pump, Spec stage 2 clutch.
H&R Race springs with Bilstein Sport shocks + offset mounts and M3 control arm bushings.
BMW Technocast Style 10’s 15x7 wheels with polished lip. 225/50/15 Falken 912 tires.
Hella colorline smoked headlights, MHW tail lights and sidemarkers.
M Tech 2 leather steering wheel, M coupe shifter and lighted knob.
Alpine headunit with Aux, Alpine components, 12” in cabin slim subwoofer.
VDO 3 gauge center console.