I’ve advocated for the E36 M3 for as long as I can remember. Is that because I’m biased towards classic M cars? Maybe. But the truth of the matter is, if you’re looking for a car that can ‘do it all’ without breaking the bank too much, there likely isn’t a more sufficient answer than the E36 M3.
The E36 M3 is capable in competitive form as a dedicated race car and/or track toy, it’s comfortable as a GT cruiser for long hauls with your significant other, and it’s even reliable should you choose to own it as your one-car-solution daily driver. This versatility is what has drawn so much interest in the chassis from enthusiasts on all sides of the spectrum. The example here today, however, hits a sweet spot for me and has been a story years in the making.
Andrei Astafyev’s example is what I would consider the perfect balance of what an E36 M3 should be: It’s pretty, it’s functional, it’s driver-focused with meticulous attention to detail. But most importantly, it’s utterly cohesive. While all of that sounds great, after learning more about the process of the build, I realized that this is what differentiates Andrei’s M3 from the rest.
So to further articulate the build, I’ve decided to let Andrei give his perspective on the build via a Q&A session. He’ll also be around in the comments section to answer your questions, so don’t hold back, whether that be technical or general.
Naveed: Let’s start with the basics. I’m always curious to understand what gets people interested in cars in the first place, so how did your engagement with the hobby start?
Andrei: “I grew up in the 2000s, and around that time the Fast and Furious movies were making their rounds and cool racing video games were being released. I would watch all of the movies and play those games for hours on end with my friends. I would spend my free time drawing side profiles of cars that I had seen on episodes of Top Gear or in magazines and tinkered with 1/28 scale RC cars found at the local electronics store.
“My father took note of what turned out to be my passion, and would take me to local auto shows and events of that nature. While I certainly wouldn’t call him a ‘car guy’, he definitely had an interest for good design and the aesthetics of cars prominent throughout history, so he supported my interests too. As a carpenter by trade, he was very do-it-yourself oriented, and the term ‘perfectionist’ would be putting his attention to detail lightly. Much of that has influenced my approach to the way I build, restore and modify my cars.”
Naveed: That’s pretty similar to many of our stories. So how did it translate into BMW ownership?
Andrei: “Well, I initially took a liking in the quirky nature of the Lada 2106 after visiting my relatives for the first time in Uzbekistan. I loved the boxy, compact nature of the car and soon longed for something to satisfy that appeal. I stumbled across the E30 BMW chassis and was immediately drawn to its aesthetics. After learning of their rich racing history and importance in motorsports, I knew that it was the platform for my first project.
“I purchased my first BMW – an Alpine White 1989 325i – in my senior year of high school and took on the task of restoring it. The E30 was an excellent learning platform, challenging me to take on projects I couldn’t afford to pay the professionals to do. I started with changing fluids and detailing it, which eventually evolved into body and paint work, fabrication, tearing apart engines, and even re-upholstering the entire interior. While I had always been interested in motorsports and racing, the E30 I built was far more ‘show car’ oriented. After cruising around in the E30 for a few years, I found myself more keen to get out on a track, and that car wouldn’t have made the cut.”
Naveed: I can relate to that. I’m sure I speak for both of us when I say that I’m all for going the show car route, but I also think we’d both agree that it does get rather boring after some time. I mean, you and I go on drives every now and then, and we have a blast doing so – probably more than if we hung out at a show of some sort. I assume this is where the transition to the E36 M3 took place?
Andrei: “Yes, and totally agreed. Despite the E30 chassis being very capable on track, their increasing values and the overall condition of my example deterred me from turning it into a track tool. So I sold it in early 2017 and bought the E36 M3 towards the end of that year. I initially wanted my dream M car, which was the E46 M3. Unfortunately, they were a bit out of my budget, so I decided to settle for the budget-friendly E36. If you don’t know already, the E36 M3 was the red-headed stepchild in the family of M3s. For lack of a better explanation, the US-spec M3 was basically a ‘332is’.”
Andrei: “When I initially started my search, I was hoping to find an unloved example; someone’s unfinished project, maybe even an ex-track car that I could bring back to life. I had a vision in my head before I even bought the car. It had to have wide over-fenders, TE37s with sticky rubber, and an S54 from the E46 M3 so I could get point-bys from Porsches. At this time, E36s were gaining traction in the enthusiast market as people were finally realizing just how potent these were, and prices were going up. I realized that every M3 in my initial $6,000 budget needed far more work than they were worth, and it would cost less money to buy a car in better shape than one that needed a plethora of mechanical and cosmetic work. On my way home from checking out another $6K beater, I received a phone call from the now previous owner of my E36. I arrived shortly after the call to inspect the car with two of my good friends, Etienne and Tyler, both E36 experts. This car wasn’t my ideal color combo, nor was it in my budget, but I was tired of unpleasant surprises. The owner – an aircraft mechanic – tossed us the keys and told us to go for a short ‘five-minute’ test drive, then proceeded to direct us on what turned out to be a 20-minute long route. After arriving back to the owner’s home, I couldn’t get the grin off of my face. A few hours, a compression test and a smog check later, we had settled on a deal that would be considered a steal in today’s market. I was then the proud new owner of an Estoril Blue, 1999 M3.”
Naveed: It’s funny how fate always plays its part when you’re determined to get something you’re yearning for. So now that the foundation of the project was acquired, how did the build process pan out?
Andrei: “Plans changed after purchasing such a clean example. My goals were still the same (get point-bys from Porsches), but the approach changed; I had more respect for the car. While I certainly wasn’t afraid to make some permeant alterations, I fell in love with the shape of the car and wasn’t willing to cut into it quite as much as I initially intended, especially since these cars are now considered modern classics. So over the past four years I have carefully planned modifications to suit my taste and facilitate my performance driving education, paying particularly close attention to the details and ultimately allowing it to become the car it is today.”
Naveed: Were you able to meet the benchmarks you set in place for yourself? Are there more plans left in store?
Andrei: “While my initial intention was purpose-built track car, starting off with a nicer canvas shifted my goals to build somewhat of a hybrid. It’s certainly built like a track car, but I refuse to call it that. The paint is swirl free and I enjoy putting many street miles on it, cruising back roads and even taking it on road trips. It’s definitely not a show car, either, accumulating rock chips and rubber slag marks, kicked up from other cars on the circuit when I do track it. I guess I’m not quite sure what it is or what to call it. Perhaps ‘clubsport inspired’?”
Andrei: “Either way, the car is definitely nowhere near complete. Every time I look at it or drive it, I find an improvement that can be made. The project truly never ends. As mentioned earlier, since before I purchased the car, I wanted to swap in an S54. After I complete my higher education, I’d like to make that dream a reality. While I don’t have any intentions on turning this car into a dedicated track/time attack car, it’s certainly a separate project I’d like to take on one day. Those who have built dedicated race cars know you almost have to hate the car to drive it at 10/10ths. At this point, I just have too much love and passion to be willing to risk stuffing it into a wall, racing against the clock. Not with this stepping-stone, but maybe that’ll be my next.”
Naveed: It’s always interesting to see how these sorts of plans pan out. I can’t express enough how many times I’ve told myself that the next car I buy will be something that I can feel comfortable enough to take onto the track and drive like I don’t care. But I too find myself in your shoes where I just care too much to see it possibly buried into some wall over an amateur or unforeseeable mistake. So I can’t blame you here. And aside from that, I’d probably cry if I saw you total this car, especially with all of the work you’ve put into it.
Andrei: “Exactly. This car is super sentimental to me for more reasons that just being a car. While I predominantly built it by myself in my mother’s garage, it wouldn’t have been possible without the friends who have supported me and lent a hand along the way, and the new and old relationships that helped foster memories that I will hold on to forever. It’s been an incredible journey, and I’d hate to see that go to waste.”
Naveed: I love that. I think this is something that is often forgotten in our world, especially lately with every ‘build’ being aimed at gaining likes and shares on social media. People just seem to forget about the passion part, and how much that ties to building long-term relationships with like-minded individuals and growing your real-life social circle. It definitely sounds like this car is a keeper for you, for a variety of special reasons. What would you say makes it most special for you?
Andrei: “Well, the most prominent aspect of the car is that it fits me like a glove, which is what we all strive for – achieving that perfect harmony between driver and car. I’ve driven many different track-focused cars, but have yet to find one that I feel so in tune with. But that’s the same message you’ll likely hear from anyone who owns one or has devoted a lot of time to any of their passion projects. I’ve got that down to the details with my M3 – it’s perfect for me.”
1999 BMW E36 M3
Engine: Factory BMW S52, refreshed top end, ARP head studs, M50 intake manifold, Dinan cold air intake, Dinan tune, Rogue Engineering DMS exhaust, ASC delete, MSportParts SS radiator mounts, safety-wired oil pump nut
Driveline: Factory 5-speed gearbox, AKG 75D engine/transmission mounts, 14lb single-mass flywheel, 3.38 LSD, CAE shifter, 5×114.3 drilled hubs, MSportParts transmission tunnel insulation brackets
Suspension/Brakes: Ground Control coilovers and camber plates, 525lb (front) & 700lb (rear) Eibach springs, Ground Control Race rear lower control arms, Racing Dynamics 27mm front sway bar, Ground Control rear sway bar, Ground Control sway bar end links, Dinan front strut brace, MSportParts trunk latch reinforcement, poly front control arm, rear trailing arm, rear subframe & differential bushings, reinforced rear trailing arm pockets, sway bar mounting tabs & rear shock mounts, Stoptech ST40 front big brake kit, stainless steel brake lines, PFC 08 pads for track use, Stoptech Sport (front) Hawk HPS 5.0 (rear) pads for street use, Motul RBF600 fluid
Wheels: RAYS Volk Racing TE37 SL 17×9.5-inch front/rear
Exterior: Circuit Variant front aero package incl. chassis-mounted ABS/ACM splitter & air dam, OEM fog light deletes, Circuit Variant carbon fiber cabin air duct, fiberglass M3 GT wing with risers, MSportParts upper & lower Gurney flaps, MSportParts door molding badges, Depo Euro glass headlights, OEM Euro connectors tied into the harness
Interior: Momo Monte Carlo Alcantara steering wheel, MSportParts gauge cluster replacement, Circuit Variant Alcantara-trimmed CAE shifter surround with matching handbrake boot, OEM radio delete plate, Kirk Racing roll bar modified & welded by Calem Dennis (rear ‘slip fit’ down bars cut off & replaced with one-piece units, x-bracing added for additional rigidity), Recaro Pole Position seats, seat backs painted BMW Apline White III, new Recaro seat skins, cushions/inserts reupholstered in M-cross fabric from ASC Fabrics, door panels trimmed in M-cross fabric, rear OEM M-cross seat base, Alumulite rear seat delete, side bolsters stripped & notched for the roll bar & wrapped in Alcantara
Andrei thanks: Brett Raymond, Calem Dennis, Jeff White, Pete and the team at WORKS Motorsports, Rich at TEM, Etienne and Tyler, Sylas Montgomery, and all of the friends who have helped get the car to where it is today.