I hate to open a feature by quoting a famous song, but I’m going to do it anyway. “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find, you get what you need.”
While I don’t think Mick Jagger and co. quite had the idea of an S50B30-swapped BMW E30 in mind when they wrote You Can’t Always Get What You Want in 1969, when you discover the story of Josh Greene’s car, you would swear that The Rolling Stones must have had some sort of time machine. It might also explain how Keith Richards is still alive.
You see, throughout the course of my line of work, I’ve seen so many people get so far in over their heads with a project, that it stops being a source of joy for them. Instead, it becomes an exercise in attrition and endurance.
More often than not, these hugely ambitious projects never get finished, and it seems to have a lasting effect on the people who tried to create something, but ultimately fell short.
Even sometimes, those who do make it over the finish line, often don’t get anywhere near the amount of enjoyment relative to the amount of hardship previously endured as their reward. The amount of suffering seems to raise expectations to a level which can never be met.
If it’s this hard, it surely must be worth it in the end, right? Well, not always.
“I don’t even like two-doors, I prefer saloons,” Josh told me over a post-shoot fast food dinner. It wasn’t the opening line I was expecting, if I’m being honest, as we began to explore the story behind this E30. “I took it as a trade against my old shell and some parts,” he added.
Before we delve deep into this build, I need to mention Josh’s previous car, an E36 325i saloon, as a point of reference. This had long been his favourite car, the one he was known for driving mostly sideways at every opportunity, before he decided to rebuild it into his ultimate Gatebil-style M50 turbo and fully caged track car.
Josh was on the cusp of going deep down that particular rabbit hole, but just before he reached the point of no return with the project – with the E36 already caged, the front and rear tube-framed and the M50 mocked up – he knew he was going too far with it. While the idea of a big-power E36 is a great one, the reality of owning and maintaining a hardcore track car is very different.
More power requires more upgrades, more fuel, more tyres, stronger parts, more maintenance and certainly more chance of sending a piston or two into the outside world. The financial commitment is something a lot of people probably don’t realise until it’s too late, and they never even get to the end of their project. There’s also the issue that when it’s broken (it will break), and you’re saving for the repairs, it’s more time spent not driving it.
I think it was that last part in particular that forced Josh’s hand. The idea of missing out on events and track days or even just a Sunday drive didn’t sit well with him.
Josh loves to drive as much as possible, so he had to make a new plan. Funnily enough, despite accepting the E30 as a trade for his E36, it didn’t really factor into what he had in mind.
It was only three days after making that deal, and before he had even collected the E30, when an S50B30 came up for sale that the proverbial light bulb lit up in his head. Even still, it wasn’t intended as anything but a fun, temporary kind of deal. “We swapped the engine and gearbox in over a couple of weekends; it was really straightforward. The car has never really been torn down completely, just small upgrades otherwise.”
The E36 M3 engine has only been lightly modified, and more so for long term reliability with ARP rod bolts and ACL Race bearings at the bottom end. Josh has also added velocity stacks to the engine’s individual throttle bodies, along with a custom tray underneath them.
There’s an Alpha N chip with cooling taken care of with a Driftworks radiator and a Mishimoto oil cooler and adapter plates. Heat is a big killer of engines, so these upgrades are all simple but effective ways of prolonging the S50B30’s life. Still, producing a healthy 315hp with a similar torque figure, is more than enough for the lightweight E30.
After the engine and the E36 M3’s ZF 5-speed were installed, Josh set about making the car more distinctive, more his. When a friend pointed out that you can order a brand new set of Work Equip 40s in the exact widths and offsets you want, Josh knew it was the path he wanted to take.
Both his E36 before and the E30 have clear Japanese influence, but it’s something that goes much further than just a set of Japanese wheels.
It’s about a certain style, how everything is put together and how it’s used. It’s hardly surprising to discover that Josh is surrounded by Japanese car-owning friends, who have just a little influence on him.
Another distinct change is the Taifun headlight conversion, one which seems to divide opinion, but doesn’t phase Josh, as he likes it. Combined with an Mtech 2 front lip and Mtech 1-style rear spoiler, the exterior of the car is about as subtle as it can be otherwise, including the sunroof delete.
For a road legal track car, the interior is as you might expect. The driver’s seat is a Bride Zeta II, while the passenger can get comfortable in a Bride Brix. Both occupants are secured with TRS 4-point harness belts, with the added protection of a custom 6-point bolt-in roll cage.
Josh’s other points of contact with the car are a 340mm Nardi steering wheel, a custom shift knob, and a Chase Bays hydraulic handbrake. The latter is connected to a dedicated pair of rear callipers, in addition to the standard rear brakes, via a Born2Drift adapter.
At all four corners you’ll find Carbon Lorraine pads with HEL Performance braided lines, although since the shoot Josh has upgraded the front brakes to 4-piston callipers from an FC3S Mazda RX-7.
The motor’s vitals are monitored with a trio of GReddy gauges on top of the dash, along with a large Auto Gauge tachometer which sits front and centre in the instrument cluster. Further JDM touches include the wide-view Broadway mirror and the twin Mitsuba horns.
So far, so straightforward. With everything focused on enhancing and prolonging the driving experience, it won’t come as much surprise that the car is every bit as considered underneath, too.
BC Coilovers with 10kg and 12kg springs suspend the car, while a host of polyurethane bushes, including those for the modified rear subframe, the differential mounts and the trailing arms, reduce deflection, improve handling and maintain more consistent suspension geometry.
As a car which is more often than not sideways, the use of a Z3 quick-rack and steering rack spacers, which provide extra steering lock, are sensible ones.
Despite how quickly and well considered this car came together, it’s still amusing to hear Josh describe it as an “accidental build.” It was really never meant to be anything but a stop-gap while he figured out what to do after selling his E36, but he has clearly warmed to it.
That doesn’t mean that he’s afraid of using it. Far from it.
The E30 wears its scars with pride, and Josh isn’t afraid of adding new ones. Just the night before this photoshoot took place, the car was having its driver side door replaced following a coming together with a tyre bale at Anglesey Circuit late last year. If it breaks or gets bent, he’s just going to fix it and drive on.
That’s probably the beauty of it all. By building a car he had no intentions or desire to originally build, Josh is not all that precious about it. He can get in, drive it as hard as he likes, and he know that if the worst happens, he can either repair it or walk away without any real regrets. That’s why it’s so simple.
For Josh, it’s all about those moments driving that really matter, whether it’s on track or the road. Those experiences mean more to him than having a flawless show car that’s never really used as it should be. I respect someone who knows what they want from a car, and this is no different.
When I asked him at the end of the day, what he think of the car now after everything that’s gone into it in such a short period of time, he just looked up, smiled and said, only half-jokingly, “it’s probably the best thing ever.”
I guess he finally got what he needs.