Improving A Legend: A Modern E30 M3 Rally Car
On The Hedges

There was a time when rallying was everything to me.

I’m not really sure when that changed, but I can’t say that it holds the same allure as it did for my younger self. No doubt, I still respect the sport and those who participate. There are few forms of motorsport that are as beautiful to watch too, and even less which seem to create experiences that are never forgotten amongst friends and fans.

Every rally attended is indeed an adventure too. It always starts with a plan and a map before decisions have to be made of where to try and view from. Ease of access has to be considered, along with trying to avoid the really popular spots as they might become overcrowded. You have to consider your escape route as well, and how quickly you can get out of the area and get to the next stage.

There’s definitely a part of me that misses those adventures.

I don’t blame rallying for my apathy towards the sport, I put the blame entirely at my own door. Rallying isn’t easy to follow, at least not in person. Also, it’s incredibly dangerous for competitors, safety crews and spectators alike. I’ve always said that the safest place to watch a rally is at home, but then it’s that risk which is half the attraction.

Writing this though reminds me that I do miss it and that I should also apologise for not bringing more rallying to Speedhunters. Especially considering that I live in a country that is incredibly rally rich. I’m not sure if it’s still the case, but there was a point in recent years where there were more WRC cars in Irish rallying, than there were WRC cars in the WRC itself.

Strangely, one of the things I miss the most isn’t the action but the waiting. Standing on the side of the road, maybe in a forest somewhere when it’s typically raining. I miss the smell of the trees, the relative silence save for the quiet conversations taking place amongst the waiting spectators. There’s that strange sense of calm while waiting for the stage to go live, when the silence will eventually be shattered by the sound of a hard-charging field of rally cars.

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There is nothing in the world quite like the sound of a high revving, naturally aspirated four-cylinder echoing through a forest as it approaches you at maximum attack. Nothing.

Stood in this exact spot, at pretty much this exact moment waiting for the blue E30 to appear, I was reminded of everything that I loved about rallying. Better still, I was in the company of a car that was absolute brilliance in every department.

It’s time to make up for past regrets.

Avoiding Blasphemy
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It all started with a phone call from a very good and long time of friend of mine, Robert Thornton of Trackday Performance in Co. Wicklow, Ireland. He had in his workshop what he considered a very special car, and one that both you, the readers of Speedhunters, and I would be interested in. He invited me to come along and shoot the car while he was performing some tests pre-event with it. The test would happen pretty much on my doorstep in the ‘Garden of Ireland’ on a secret road, so it was a no-brainer to come along and join the party.

There are several key talking points about this, most of which you probably won’t expect. Actually, I pretty much guarantee that you won’t expect them, unless you’re already familiar with Kevin O’Donoghue’s Marina Blue BMW. Despite appearances, this isn’t originally an E30 M3. There’s a simple reason for this: Kevin didn’t want to cut up a genuine E30 M3 to build the car that he wanted to build.

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Much like a factory M3, this also started as an E30 shell before being converted to full M3 specification using original BMW panels. The conversion was carried out by Dunne Motorsport Engineering, right down to the different C-pillars, the raked rear window and extended rear shelf. Everything is as it should be, at least on the surface.

Compared to the immense success the E30 M3 enjoyed globally in touring cars, its rally career in Group A wasn’t nearly as impressive. In the World Rally Championship, it only won a single event out of 48 entries with just a 41.7 per cent finishing rate. There was something that didn’t suit the E30 M3 on the stages and that something was the rear suspension setup. Like the production car, the rally equivalent built by Prodrive featured a semi-trailing arm at the rear which only offered around 60mm of bump travel. A short travel range was suited to the smooth race circuits, but it made the E30 ill-equipped to handle the rough roads of the rallying world.

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This was the first issue that needed to be addressed. The original setup was pulled from the car and a Motor Design Sweden rear axle setup was put in its place. Compared to the original 60mm of bump travel, this setup now allows a total of 250mm rear suspension travel.

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The front suspension design was much better though, and as such has been retained by using the Prodrive-designed Group A setup. All around the car are custom Proflex dampers with remote reservoirs.

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Underneath the BMW is an impressive display of packaging; the flat-bottomed exhaust is just one piece of the puzzle that has been kept as close to the body as possible so as to prevent it from being removed from the car against its will.

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What the exhaust is connected to though, is the next piece that probably would have pushed the E30 M3 purists over the edge, if they had not been already.

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This might be an ’80s car in the visual sense, but underneath it’s very much a brand new car using the latest technology to be competitive in its class. When the M3 competed in Group A, it ran a modified S14 engine which made somewhere around 235hp at the wheels from approximately 2.3-litres of capacity. To be competitive now, especially against the likes of the Millington Diamond-equipped Escorts on the Irish stages, requires considerably more power.

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That’s not an S14.

It’s a custom Motor Design Sweden 3.0-litre 16-valve Evo engine, based on the Volvo B230R. MDS actually developed its own cylinder head and block which are cast from scratch, so it’s a new engine with the B230R’s shortcomings already addressed. It makes quite a considerable amount of power, but I’ve been asked not to publish the numbers as the team want to keep the information to themselves for the time being. I can say that according to Robert, it’s the most powerful naturally aspirated four-cylinder 16-valve rally engine he has ever come across.

A Volvo-powered E30 with a live rear axle? You can probably appreciate why Kevin decided not to use an original M3 now…

Nut & Bolt
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What’s really impressive about this build is that despite being a fully fledged competition car, it’s cleaner than some show cars that I’ve shot. It’s an immaculate build and continues to impress the closer you look.

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The interior is a work of art.

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I’m particularly enamoured by the impact gun that’s recessed into the carbon fibre door panel on the navigator’s side of the car. Not the fact that it’s there – it’s an obvious requirement -but just how neatly it has been implemented.

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I dropped into the driver’s seat to shoot some details and had a realisation: this is certainly more car than I could currently handle. If I was to choose one word to sum up my feelings from the driver’s seat, it would be ‘intimidating’. On so many levels too. When you look around, you’re immediately aware of how this is a vehicle with a very specific task in mind. There’s no f**king around here; this hasn’t been built for the craic.

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Everything in place is either designed to allow you to go as fast as possible, or if it goes wrong, to do everything it can to protect the occupants. There’s nothing surplus to requirements. Truth be told, when the shoot started I was excited and almost giddy running around the car trying to take in the details.

But those couple of minutes where I just sat quietly on my own in the driver’s seat made me acutely aware of the danger and risk faced by every crew who competes, regardless of class or skill level.

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Entertaining us, the spectators, is just a byproduct of the pursuit of speed. The only goal is to win, to be the fastest. It’s intense and something that I think we can easily overlook being outside the car.

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These cars aren’t built to look good or to be a talking point, they are built to be driven fast with as little compromise as possible. Anyone who straps themselves in and closes the door, has to be aware that there’s always the chance that you might never get out of that seat again. That’s a fairly substantial risk by anyone’s standards, but one that countless drivers and crews take every weekend the world over.

This isn’t an attack, by the way, rather it’s an appreciation. To pursue something with so much vigour and intent, that you’re willing to accept the chance that you could lose your life in the process is dedication of the highest order. For me, it makes a lot of other sports look inconsequential and futile. I wonder how many soccer players would take to the field if faced with the same level of risk? I say that as a soccer fan, too.

All this has done is further my resolve and pledge to go further into the world of motorsport. It’s long overdue.

Paddy McGrath
Instagram: pmcgphotos
Twitter: pmcgphotos
paddy@speedhunters.com

Cutting Room Floor
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40 comments

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1

Seriously impressive build.  I'm definitely going to be poring over the fab work pictures for a while.  With the live axle and engine, I wonder why they didn't go with a  Volvo 240.  From the factory the chassis is pretty stiff, I'm guessing it's a lot heavier than an E30.

2

What an amazing piece of heaven! Wonderfull work!

3

Perfect build.. The engine alone is impressive enough.

4

i wish i can hear how it sounds with that flat exhaust. you guys, for every car feature, you should have a soundclip of each car starting up at least and then a 0-60 or something like that pull. it would be nice for us to hear what the engine sounds like, especially with ones like these.

5

It may have had its shortcomings on gravel, but it was pretty gnarly on tarmac!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzKnUkHLkwY

6

Absolutely stunning build, surely even the purists can appreciate the quality of finish on the car. 
And shame on you for forgetting the rally heritage of your country Paddy: can we have plenty more Irish rally features to make amends please!

7

I love it when people go through all the effort to make an ordinary car look like a legend simply to preserve another classic

8

Perfect example of form following function. It's already a beautiful car, but these modifications turn it into a bar-raising example of what performance can do to the looks, and not just the speed, of any vehicle.

9

being in Greece, i miss the days when we woke up in the night to start chasing the special stages, and run around the country for the Acropolis rally. Trying to see more than one stage every day for three days. With maps and asking peaple around to find your way..Rallying is the most satisfying motorsport for us spectators because it is very close to us. I mean that you see these monsters in the same roads that we drive. And yes, i think that wrc cars are closer to the old group b cars rather than the cars that they share the name.

10

Incredible build.  The details!!! Even down to the passenger-side footwell.  Great pictures, Paddy, you did a bang-up job of getting all the goodies.

11
90nissanS13@my350z

Awesome car
Awesome album
Awesome article
That's how Speedhunters is done, take notes SH photo-journalists.
It had a little Ansel Adams in those shots.

12

What kind of trailer is that? I've seen them in pics elsewhere, always in Europe. Would love to find something like that stateside. Some of the upsides of an enclosed (keeping the car safe, keeping the rain out) without the added weight for a smaller truck.

13
JohnVanlandingham

j_tso First: no modern chassi is 'strong'...and I do a lot of Volvo 240 work and they're no different..The strength comes in the intergrating the weld in cage and in the stitch welding.. Second.. I din't catch if this car is actually a active rally car or a 'replica" "inspired by" the yummy old E30 M3 (the ONLY BMW I'd ever want to even sit in) but the 240 is a fair bit longer wheelbase....2641mm that the ol' E30 which i think (memory time) is about 2540 or so...and the 240 does have a good bit of rear overhang..Now we all recall that Volvo 240 did kick and stomp the 'best' BMWs into twitching lumps of lifeless protoplasm on circuit race tracks....and they're great cars in some forests, I think that length and especially the overhang in back with be a serious problem on Irish lanes cause those buggers are NARROW as fawk.

As for weight I have official weights from a Swedish National Championship event in the early 90s and the average 240 in that event was around 1125kg..which was on average about 70-80kg heavier than the Escorts in the event... No idea what the BMW weighs..I do know the Volvo block and crank are a lot heavier than the BMW parts, the block is a rather tall block. 
You a 240 fan or a rally fan or a rally 240 fan?

14

abmotorsports  It's a Brian James Race Shuttle 3

15

Thank you Paddy McGrath for taking awesome photos of this cool car.  I really hope the Speedhunters readers like it.

16

GiorgosAthens exactly, thats why i love rallying as well, the closer you can get the better

17

awesomefearwave For the sound visit shopmotordesign on facebook

18

So.
Much.
AWESOME!
-Alex

19

JohnVanlandingham j_tso Just a casual rally fan, thanks for your insight.

20

What a build. Amazing stuff. And amazingly deep pockets.

21
DavidDakdakkTripoli

Beautiful scenery, I was out there cycling a few weeks ago!

22

Turbology Ever see a rally 635CSi? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OXlQEjCwuA

23
GeorgeHarrington

WHAT!! your going to have to give some indication of the power range, are we talking 250(easily) or 450hp? That single sentence is giving me anxiety!!

24

Paddy, you are honestly on a completely different level of journalism than other automotive journalists... period. I've been reading your articles for years, and honestly... you are throwing some serious "Hay-Makers" when you write. You are a master in your craft man. Case in point:

"To pursue something with so much vigor and intent, that you’re willing to accept the chance that you could lose your life in the process is dedication of the highest order."


"When you look around, you’re immediately aware of how this is a vehicle with a very specific task in mind. There’s no f**king around here"


MASTER... nothing short.

25

Motorsports work of art.

26

The car is very nice, but some one should state the rear axle "watts linkage set up".

27

robbieTDP Like it? I'm a co-driver myself and all I could think of is how much I want to sit in that left hand side seat. Brilliant execution!

28

eejjkk Exactly what I wanted to say, thank you. 
Paddy, this article has everything a Speedhunter would want. Beautiful photos while many of them are of mechanical bits and the text you write is really something else I enjoyed this article immensely.

29

GeorgeHarrington In the range of 400 HP shopmotordesign

30

Just want to thank you Paddy for this beautiful coverage of one of the best builds we have ever been involved in.

The car owners dedication and no compromise way thru this build and the passion when first talks about the engine build we 

know that this task was not easy.

31

I didn't even know that a mother can make $7175 


in one month on the internet . 



http://tinyurl.com/youtube-make-mony

32

The car is cool, but the story is better, great job, Paddy!

33

I know the article is about the car but that trailer tho!! Want level: 9001

34

Rally to the core bro! Rally respect all round

35

"Let's build an insane rally car, cost be damned! What kind? Oh idk, I like e30s."  Kevin probably
Whenever sweden is involved things get crazy. Thanks for showing this beast.

36

**wiping off drool**

labeling myself "a fake E30 M3 Volvo powered rally car" - purist - LMAO

37

How true! He did it right.

38

as Kathleen replied I am blown away that someone able to get paid $7234 in a

few weeks on the internet ...............  







http://tinyurl.com/fastincome79

39

my Aunt Hailey recently got an almost new cream Mercedes-Benz S-Class Hybrid ......................



see more details                    https://qr.net/3GtZDe

40

just   as Dasha said I didn't even know that a dad able to earn $654 in a 20 weeks on the internet . read more .........>>>>>>feed22.com

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