What were you doing in 1989?
Whatever it was you were up to — watching Tim Burton’s Batman, listening to Poison on your ‘personal stereo,’ or generally not yet existing — things were more simple. From the way we consume media to the way we produce it, for the better or worse a lot has changed in the decades since. And the same is true of cars.
This is why, when Paul Chavez cruised by us on the freeway in his ’89 E30 BMW M3, our hearts skipped a beat. “That is a good-looking E30,” I distinctly remember saying to Sara as the car downshifted, filling our ears with a hearty buzz from its four cylinder S14 and disappearing into the distance.
I’m sure you know the feeling, but that was the end of that. Or so it seemed.
A couple months later when we were shooting Nick Sunseri’s Pandem E46 in Watsonville, a guy in an SUV pulled over and started talking with Sara and Nick. I perhaps thought it was a bit odd as I clicked away in the distance, but it turned out that he was just a German car lover. His name was Paul and he owned a 1995.5 Audi wagon as well as an E30 M3, black with red trim, sitting on AC Schnitzer wheels. Wait a minute…
Suddenly, the dots connected.
This was the owner of that E30, the one that got away.
It turns out that Paul was practically our neighbor, and a week or so later we were shooting his BMW, the stunning example you see here.
Having just purchased a film camera that would have been cutting edge at the time this car was a few years old, I opted to bring it out for a few shots. After all, simpler times call for simpler measures.Analog Feel
With half a roll of Kodak Ektar 100 to burn — now processed and scanned at my local Bay Photo in Soquel, California — we kicked back and asked Paul how he got into German cars in the first place.
He says when he was younger he had an affinity towards Volkswagens, partly because that was all he could afford at the time. Paul also shared his plans for the ‘95.5 Audi he recently picked up, but the E30 M3 was always the car for him.
Paul says he loves the lines of the car, particularly the M-only box flares. These lines Paul enjoys so much are a clear nod to the simplicity of the original 3 Series, a car which was initially designed back in the early 1970s.
Although much of the DNA of the E21 was passed on, BMW also modernized this subsequent generation in many ways. If this was to be the next 3 Series, and this model the first M3, it would need to be.
Still, while you could purchase the base model of this car with a six cylinder engine, BMW opted for a naturally aspirated four cylinder in the M3 version. The result was the 2.3L S14 mill which was good for 192 horsepower and 170 lb-ft of torque — not much to sneeze at today but great numbers for the early ’80s.
Paired with a car which weighs in under 3,000lb (1,360kg), BMW had the foundation of a fantastic car in the E30 M3. With revised suspension and steering components for the M version, which didn’t share much with standard E30, the recipe was still simple.
Compared to the E36 and later E46, there’s not much wiring, far less sensors, and a much more direct feel when piloting the car around the backroads. The incredible sound can be heard more clearly than in newer model M3s, and the car speaks to the driver on the limit.
Details like this matter when it comes to the experience, and in many ways this was the last ‘straightforward’ M3.
More recent versions have featured various versions of BMW’s six cylinder line to introduce more power, but this came with an extra mess of wiring and other complexities, as well as more weight. Paul says he prefers to own and modify older cars, as he enjoys being able to work on them himself. That’s a sentiment I understand entirely.
While I do enjoy a good E36, and E46 for that matter, when it comes to character and the experience of driving — be it a winding mountain pass or a simple trip to the grocery store — the E30 has them all beat fair and square.
Film spent, we dove into the details and upgrades on this particular chassis.Boosted
Paul’s E30 has been lowered with Ground Control coilovers, but they don’t really change the look of the car all that much with the 18-inch AC Schnitzer Type 2 Rennsport three-piece wheels fitted.
While larger in diameter than what I would typically associate with a car from this era — the original M3 came with 5-lug 15×7-inch wheels standard — it’s hard to argue with the look of the polished lips which hug the wheel wells.
The patterned contrast is a good look, too.
With space to spare, the brakes have been upgraded with a Wilwood 6-pot package up front and upgraded rotors out the back. The handling department is finished off with Suspension Techniques sway bars and Powerflex polyurethane bushings front and rear.
Under the hood Paul has opted for a rare Vortech ERT supercharger. I’m told there are perhaps only five cars on the road with this setup, and although it’s a fact that’s hard to check, I’ve certainly never seen one on an S14 engine before.
The setup is good for 246 horses and 210 ft-lb of torque to the wheels, a healthy jump from the original naturally aspirated output. Custom piping was made for the relocated MAF, and exhaust gasses exit via a custom stainless steel header that leads to a Vibrant silencer and resonator through 3-inch diameter stainless piping.
The carbon fiber intake plenum is a nice touch, too, and I couldn’t help but snap a few extra shots with my digital setup.
Inside the car a BMW Alcantara M-tech II wheel has been used. It measures 370mm and matches the Alcantara handbrake found next to the Husco center armrest which wears M-tech stitching.
Sport Evo Recaros have been custom upholstered to match using cloth inserts and grey bison leather, and the front and rear door panels are coordinated as well. Original Evo Red seat belts have been installed into the car, along with a Sport Evo foot rest and door sills.
The entire interior is a stunning throwback to a bygone era, one which I sometimes wish we could aesthetically return to. I enjoyed seeing a matching car seat tucked into the back as well; who says you can’t have your cake and eat it, too?
Paul’s E30 is a masterpiece of masterpieces, a carefully curated rendition of one of BMW’s greatest cars. More power, updated inside and out, and a close attention to detail – it’s practically a new car, but at the same time far from it. This M3 features loads of new and upgraded parts, but none of the analog experience has been lost along the way.
In a world vastly transformed since the 1980s, that’s what matters most.
Trevor Yale Ryan