Unless you’ve been living under a large rock, you’ll be aware that BMW have finally confirmed that they will build the M3 Touring the world has always asked for.
While we’ll have to wait until 2022 to see how it stacks up against the current crop of Autobahn-storming estates, I at least hope it balances performance and practicality as well as Gavin Murphy’s subtle 1994 E30 Touring.
This is a car so subtle that it sat quietly in Gavin’s family for over 10 years before he finally saw the potential in it.
It was originally bought by Gavin’s brother, Kieran, as his first car. When Kieran moved on from the E30, it stayed in the family with various members using it as the official ‘in between car’, including Gavin himself. “We just called it the red car,” he told me with a smile.
The electrician from Co. Meath has a history of low German cars, and took a lot of influence from our brothers and sisters in the VW scene over the years. It was at some point in 2015, when Gavin was growing tired of his then diesel daily driver, that he started to think about putting the E30 back on the road, albeit with a few small changes.
At this point, the estate was in need of a restoration, so that was the starting point. Despite having always wanted to own either a black or Dolphin Grey E30 Touring, the decision was made to retain the original ‘Brillantrot’ colour. While there was a lot of consideration for the car’s originality, there was a lot of foresight involved, too.
A perfect example of this is the M50B25 non-Vanos engine swap at the heart of the build. It’s more common for owners to use the easier-to-source M52B28 when upgrading, but Gavin was set on using the simpler, earlier engine.
The M50B25 is widely considered to be bulletproof, and as Gavin told me with a knowing smile, reacts better when boost is added. That’s for a future evolution, however.
Rather than trying to take all the credit for the build, Gavin was quick to assign praise to those who helped him and offered advice along the way.
“When we were doing the bodywork and engine bay, my painter would say that if we’re doing something, we can always push it a little bit further for a nicer end result and that was pretty much how the car was built. Just taking every little thing a step further.”
Rather than just dropping the engine in and shooting a fresh coat of red paint at the car, they decided to tidy things up and paint the bay as well. It’s not a full tucked and smoothed in here, but more than enough to pass for nice, while still retaining the ability to work on the car when required.
The Garagistic strut brace, BC Racing adjustable top mounts, and heat-wrapped and modified Mishimoto exhaust manifold are perhaps the only visual performance-related cues.
Because despite the immaculate bodywork, this isn’t a show car, something Gavin was keen to stress. “I think a lot of people were surprised when they heard I had booked in for a track day a while ago,” he says.
And that’s exactly where it ended up, happily lapping Mondello Park for a day, pre-COVID.
The track day did reveal one or two areas which needed improvement (as all track days tend to do), and parts are already to hand in order to upgrade the brakes before the next day out. Stickier tyres will be fitted, too.
It would have been a shame to have built something like this and not drive it. Gavin told me that “the plan for the car was always to drive it, both for daily use and for track days. I can nearly fit the same amount of work gear in the back of it, as I can my proper work van.”
“I love the raw driving experience of it. There’s no ABS or traction control, and the driving position is just perfect,” he continued.
The driver’s touch points in the car have been carefully upgraded to enhance this experience. The front sport seats, trimmed from factory with the M3’s ‘Überkaro’ fabric, were sourced second-hand. The rear seats had to be custom trimmed with the same pattern to match the fronts, as this particular finish wasn’t an option for the Touring.
The small-diameter M-Tech II steering wheel turns an E46 steering rack, which offers improved feel and tightness over the original E30 item. Interestingly, the steering linkage is from a Vauxhall Corsa, and the brake servo from a Renault Clio. These were just some of the solutions to the challenges faced during the project.
The mechanical improvements which further the driving experience include an M20 lightened flywheel between the engine and a Getrag 260 5-speed gearbox. There’s also a weighted E46 knob to improve the shift feel, and a 3.91 final drive limited-slip differential to ensure that the power can be put down predictably.
None of these changes on their own are enough to dramatically change the driving characteristics of the car, but they have a comprehensive cumulative effect. Then there’s the further subtleties inside, like the custom temperature display from bad_e30, and the deleted rear wiper’s switchgear being re-appropriated to control the front-mounted 16-inch cooling fan.
All small things, which have a big impact on the finished car. Well, almost finished…
“I think the next things that are on the cards will be to fit the upgraded Wilwood brakes and then follow up with a new air suspension setup,” Gavin informs me.
The roads in Ireland aren’t exactly what you would call ‘good’, so a decent air setup will allow Gavin to continue enjoying his car in more ways without worrying about potential disastrous outcomes should he suddenly run out of ground clearance.
The point of this car is what all cars should really aspire to: to be driven and enjoyed. It’s all too easy to go so far down a route when building a car, that you start to lose sight of what you originally had in mind. Knowing when to stop is one of the best skills that any owner or builder should look to develop and improve.
When it gets to a stage where you’re hesitant to drive your car, that means you’ve simply gone too far down one route. If you’re worried that it might get dirty or pick up a stone chip or two, then it’s too late. If you are worried that you won’t survive a simple journey in your daily driver because it’s become so track-focused, that’s the other side of the same coin.
Of course, it’s fine to build dedicated track and show cars, but just remember what the original plan was and not to lose sight of it. We build cars to enjoy them, not to endure them. There are no prizes for those who choose a life of self-inflicted automotive suffering.
With the help of friends and family, Gavin has achieved exactly what he set out to do with his subtle E30 Touring. In this car, he’s built something that he can use everyday without worry. While others were storing their cars for the winter months here, he had just renewed its tax so he could continue driving it.
It’s a car which he can bring to a show or meet, and it’ll fit right in while generating a lot of conversation. He can bring the same car to a track day, drive hard all day and know that he’s having fun, but also will be able to drive it back home. It’s the one car to do all things for him.
As if to put a fine point on all of this, Gavin tells me about his plans for 2021 which involve packing up his Touring and heading cross continent to Germany from Ireland for a proper driving adventure.
What started as just the ‘red car’ in the family is now a car which will stay in the Murphy family forever. It might have taken 15 years or so for it to realise its potential, but there’s no doubt that this E30 Touring is now doing more than anyone could have ever imagined previously. I really don’t think this would have had the same outcome if Gavin had tried to build this as an outright stripped, performance car from the get-go, and it definitely wouldn’t have seen the usage it currently does.
By taking a humble estate and gently improving it in all areas, Gavin has ended up with a more complete and involved car that he can use more of the time.
Gavin Murphy’s 1994 BMW E30 Touring
2.5-litre M50B25 non-Vanos, M20 lightened flywheel, E36 M3 full exhaust system modified to E30, heat-wrapped Mishimoto custom cxtended M52B28 exhaust manifold, Mishimoto 16-inch front-mounted fan, Mishimoto AFM bend, Davies Craig electric fan controller, Turner Motorsport remap chip, AKG 24V swap engine mounts, Condorspeed engine raiser
Getrag 260 5-speed gearbox with Garagistic brace, 3.91 limited-slip differential, Garagistic braided brake & clutch lines
Garagistic strut brace, BC Racing coilovers, 20mm five-stud adapters front & rear
BBS Style 5 wheels, 16×7-inch with tyres 195/45R16 (front), 16×8-inch with 205/45R16 tyres (rear)
Full body restoration & respray in original ‘Brillantrot’, smoked custom Hella Crosshairs with wiper kit
Überkaro E30 M3 front seats, Überkaro M3 cloth custom made for rear Touring seat, small diameter M-Tech II steering wheel, custom temperature display from bad_e30, weighted E46 leather gear knob, map light mirror, rear dog net blind
“Al and Keith at Bloomfield Garage, Valdas at Motor Confidence, Martin Tracey at Westward Precision Engineering, Conor Smyth, Kieran Murphy and a special thanks to Kieran Dixon who has helped me so much with the build. Outstanding work and knowledge got the car running to where it is today.”