By definition, what we do here at Speedhunters is hunt. We’re always on the lookout for something unique that stops us in our tracks, and the stories that come from true on-the-spot finds when we are out in the field are always my favourites.
When I headed to Studie the other week to have the suspension, wheels and tyres fitted to Project Drop Top, I arrived at the shop just as it was opening up for the day. As I parked my car the Studie staff were moving customer and demo cars outside, and that’s when I saw it…
Actually, I heard it first – a barely-silenced, raspy cold-start idle which didn’t sound anything remotely similar to the polished, burbly and dare I say artificially-engineered sounds of modern day BMWs that I had heard moments earlier. No, this was something special, and once I laid eyes on the little angular E30 as it slowly came out of the garage my jaw just dropped.
I remember uttering the word ‘wow’, surprised that Studie would still be dealing in such old metal. But among all the amazement I spotted something that I immediately recognised.
My eyes went down to the corner of the bumpers…
And up again to the windscreen banner… All of a sudden it made a bit more sense. As Bob Suzuki, the man who setup Studie in Japan, once told me, his company often collaborates with Auto Garage TBK – one of the most revered body shops in the Kanto region.
When the owner of this E30 showed up at TBK, his list of requests were unlike anything they had ever seen before. The idea was to take the stock car and transform it into a true street racer – something that Auto Garage TBK knows a little bit about having previously worked with Promodet to create some of Japan’s most legendary Porsches. Does Black Bird and Wangan Midnight ring any bells?
The car stayed with TBK for the better part of two years, and over the course of that time it was stripped down to a bare shell and slowly built up with additions like a custom multi-point rollcage gusseted to the pillars, boxed-out and stiffened stress points around the chassis, and beefed-up suspension pick-ups. We’ll get to all those details shortly, but for now let’s concentrate on the looks, which are unique to say the least – especially with that signature TBK front featuring HID projectors nestled away in the lower corners of the bumper.An Unexpected Base
The looks alone make this car stand out from other E30s that we’ve come across, but that’s not what makes this car special. It’s the fact that the base car is not actually a BMW, but rather an Alpina. The Alpina C2 featured a naturally aspirated 2.7-liter straight six engine and was a rarer and slightly more powerful alternative to the E30 M3. Coupled with a well-appointed and comfortable interior and typical Alpina touches, it made for a slightly different take on the performance coupe. Pretty cool, right?
Like you’ll see, many of the details around the car are far more impressive than what they might first seem. The Watanabes, for example, aren’t from a catalogue – they’re actually special order, extremely lightweight forged magnesium versions of the Type F8 base wheel. Impressed yet? By this point I definitely was!
Both the front and rears sit inside meticulously widened fenders that TBK made sure would accommodate the custom offsets of the wheels. The 17-inch rims measure 8-inch wide at the front and 9-inch wide at the rear, and are shod in Advan Neova AD08R rubber – 215/45s and 235/45s respectively. When it comes to stance, this car has perfected the art.
I’ve always been a big fan of the contoured aero mirrors that came out of the ’80s, and even if no one knows where these particular units originated from, they tie in perfectly with the Alpina’s profile.
The more I looked at the car, the more impressed I became. I personally think that the 3.0 CSL Group 2 inspired racing stripes are a little too much, but it’s not hard to look beyond them and realise how special this one-off project is.
The custom touches continue inside. The moment you open the reassuringly-heavy driver’s side door, you immediately notice the Alcantara-trimmed door card, sans the original handle and storage pocket. A simple Carrera RS style door pull does the job nicely.
A ton of work went into stiffening up the cabin, and the rear seats were removed to open up space for the gusseted cage. Because you always need to address safety and rigidity, right? The crazy thing is, despite this particular modification, the car’s primary use is a street car – a fun toy that the owner can use to attack challenging mountain roads on a quiet day off, or just to enjoy on the weekend driving to and from gatherings. It might seem a little over the top, but not if you expect and demand the best. That’s what dreams are made of after all.
Stripped of the trademark Alpina wood trim and replaced with bespoke black paneling, the dashboard is beautifully simple. The centre console retains the ventilation controls and above them sits a modern 1-DIN navigation system with a pop-out LCD screen. It’s a street car remember! The suede-wrapped Momo steering wheel is the only place around the car that you’ll find an Alpina emblem.
The stock analogue instrumentation has been completely removed, and seeing the engine is managed by a MoTeC M800 ECU it made sense to build on the road-racer ethos with an ADL3 digital dash logger. The display is fixed to a carbon fiber panel which also has a few warning lights around it, as well as Studie’s recognisable logo. Simple toggle switches control the small and main headlights, with the third on the right igniting the HIDs in the bumper. As you can see on the top left picture, the Momo steering wheel is mounted on a flip-up boss to allow more space when swinging your legs over the diagonal cross bar.
Carbon-Kevlar Recaro race buckets and Willans harnesses make up the seating arrangements.
I really like how the A-pillar and door entrance rollcage bars have been subtly highlighted with the same BMW racing stripes used on the exterior.
Swing around the back and you quickly realise that the subtle changes don’t stop at the cabin. The carbon fiber boot lid is not super light being double-skinned, but it’s definitely a nice detail. To shave weight, or probably to create a little conversation starter, the hinges that hold up the lid have been drilled out.
The Alpina C2 2.7 was fitted with a bigger fuel tank than BMW’s E30 as it was geared towards longer cross-continent drives. But it’s what the tank is attached to that’s more impressive. Specifically, curved bars that extend from the rear suspension turrets to the ladder frame welded within the reinforced floor.A Straight Six That Wants To Sing
Let’s move up front now…
Lift the double-hinged hood and you almost expect to see carbon fiber weave. Yep, that box has been ticked too. The meticulously sculpted dry-carbon piece was constructed with thick fibers and is supported with a secondary skin to add extra rigidity.
Compared to an E30 M3, the Alpina came with two extra cylinders and with it a glorious and unmistakable straight-six sound.
During the build the engine was freshened up and fitted out with slightly bigger forged pistons that bump capacity closer to 2.8 liters.
There are nice additions like a crackle blue finish on the cam cover and a custom intake plenum that draws from a carbon fiber air box.
Along with the MoTeC engine management, the straight six has been fitted with a modern (and seriously powerful) ignition system from Okada Project.
The engine bay is further spiced up with custom-made brushed aluminium tanks; the round one an overflow for the race radiator and the rectangular one serving as the oil catch can.
The Alpina chassis plate that certifies the car as a C2 2.7 has of course been kept intact.
To give the car the handling sharpness it lacked out of the box, the Alpina now runs a full E30 M3 suspension layout along with adjustable 3D dampers and ARC sway bars. Just like at the rear, the front suspension strut towers have been seriously stiffened up. AP Racing 4-pot callipers and slotted rotors feature below.
You can never have lights that are too bright when you’re out doing some serious driving at night, and for that reason TBK driving lamps are joined by upgraded main headlight units. The main beams run Xenon bulbs and modern day projectors, and the high beams use HID lamps.
The baffled-off section on the side of the engine hides a custom stainless steel header that connect up to an Arqray exhaust system.
It’s pretty much a straight-through affair with a couple of small silencers, the tails sticking out at the very center of the rear bumper.
A subtle trunk spoiler completes the gently-massaged stock lines that make this one of the most unique and impressive E30-based projects I have ever come across.
Indeed, it’s the cars that we find by pure chance that often make the biggest impressions. This is why I love being a hunter of speed and sharing these glorious findings that I come across in Japan. I can’t wait for my next accidental hunt!
Dino Dalle Carbonare