1990 BMW M3 E30

2020 Jason Dodd and Drive-My EN/UK

Owned since the early 1990s and daily driven for almost a decade, Alex Moore’s E30 M3 has since been restored by his own fair hand. That’s all the more impressive given that he had absolutely no restoration experience before starting the project… Words: Simon Jackson. Photography: Jason Dodd.

The Apprentice

“In 1990 I went to look at a Lancia Delta Integrale with my workmate as he was looking for a new car, that’s when I saw an M3 for the first time – it was Alpine White with Red leather. I knew I had to have one…” Alex Moore was the tender age of 20 when he first clapped eyes on a BMW M3, it was undoubtedly a defining moment in his automotive life. Seven months of working solid overtime shifts followed, the savings accrued putting Alex in the financial position of being able to buy his first BMW just in time for his 21st birthday. With little knowledge of the E30 he now so adored, Alex promptly sold his trusty 1.3-litre Ford Escort and acquired the 1987 Alpine White BMW M3 you see here now, swallowing the resultant eye-watering hike in his insurance premium which was – wait for it – a staggering £1900 per annum!

BMW M3 E30

BMW M3 E30

Regardless, Alex had worked hard to achieve his goal and all power to him for that. “For eight years I used the car everyday to drive to work – a 60-mile round trip – I loved driving it, it was great fun and always got attention from people waving or pulling up next to me asking about the car. My shift finished at 4am some mornings and driving home through London I was stopped two or three times a week, I was always asked what I was doing. Most of the time the police just wanted to talk to me about the car! This happened for a couple of months then I think every copper in Lewisham knew who I was and never stopped me again!” Alex laughed. By 1999 Alex and the E30 had racked-up some pretty serious mileage together and the engine, now showing 200,000 kilometres (124,000-miles) was starting to grumble a bit – rattling on start-up. Following some research, Alex booked the car into a BMW main dealer expecting a £300-£400 bill for a quick tune-up.

“If you are going to restore an M3, or any E30 really, rust is your enemy…”

In Alex’s own words the resultant £940 bill ‘knocked him sideways’, and the worst part was that the rattling issue was still present when he collected the car. An argument obviously ensued which led Alex to seek a second opinion, in the process finding specialist Bexley Motor Works / BM Sport it diagnosed the car’s chain tensioners (or guides) as the issue, providing Alex with all the ammunition he needed in his disagreement with the BMW dealer in question. With the eventual involvement of the dealership’s Area Manager, and Alex’s legal representative, things were resolved, BMW dispatching one its talented Classic specialists specially to work on Alex’s car. “This guy knew what he was doing,” Alex recalled, “After talking to him it turned out that he had owned three E30 M3s and had been a mechanic for a race team using the cars. He talked me through what needed replacing and why. To say that I was now a lot more confident was an understatement!” All was well again in Alex’s world, the work completed perfectly, but at £5,000 the resulting bill was £2,000 greater than Alex had been expecting. A payment plan for the difference was agreed, but Alex vowed in future to use Jags and Nigel at BM Sport – 20- years later that still remains the case. In 2003 another horror story befell Alex and his E30: “I came out of work one night and the rear quarter panel had a big dent in it… it must have been from one of the delivery drivers but I couldn’t prove it as there was no CCTV around,” Alex said.


1990 BMW M3 E30

1990 BMW M3 E30

“I went absolutely berserk in the middle of the showroom – while it was full of customers!”

“My insurance company agreed to fix the car using the correct BMW parts, which meant the car had to go back to BMW. After the engine saga I wasn’t too happy about going to them but this time it was for bodywork – how bad could it be?” Alex dropped the car off, seeing at the time a list of new parts required as part of the rebuild, and he was loaned a new MINI Cooper S for the two month period the repairs would take. “They invited me down to view the finished thing – the car was in an absolute state. It looked like a 16-year-old had gone crazy with a mop – there were marks everywhere.” Alex recalled. “I went absolutely berserk in the middle of the showroom – while it was full of customers!” The same Area Manager that dealt with Alex’s engine issue called him and was extremely apologetic, ultimately the dealership required more time with the car. Another two months passed by with Alex racking up mileage in the MINI loaner. “I kept calling asking for updates, I was told it would be ready in a couple of days, but that went on for another two months,” Alex told us. “I called for a meeting to explain the time issue and to ask what was going on, at this point I was being blanked by the service and bodyshop teams. When I arrived I saw my favourite manager who led me into the workshop to see my car, there, fixed and clean, exactly how it should have been all those months before – I still don’t know why it took so long as never got an explanation!” Alex soon changed jobs gaining the use of a work van, the M3 happily became a weekend toy, however, now not being used everyday and being parked in a slightly damp garage all the time, rust began to rear its ugly head. In 2009 the annual MoT revealed that the car’s sills required replacement. With the sill work completed the car remained in use for another year or, but Alex noticed more rust – this time at the rear and this would be the catalyst for serious restoration work to begin.

The rust issue halted the M3’s use for a few years as Alex didn’t have the spare funds to undertake the work required. That it would eventually take place though was never in any doubt. “In 2014 I did the PPI claims thing and the restoration was go!” Alex said. “I started calling around recommended bodyshops and there were some big differences in prices – from £5,000 to £12,000. That higher figure was just for paint with no metal work, and the car had to be delivered to them ready to prime and paint. The average quote was £6,000 to £8,000 which was in my budget with some money for new parts.” At this point Alex began searching the BMW forums where he was exposed to people tackling their own restoration work, it sparked an idea for this hands-on kind of guy who already knew that the M3 could, for the most part, be taken apart with standard tools. Alex began looking for local bodyshops on the recommendation of others who suggested a workshop nearby that he could visit for regular check-ups was a sensible idea. This appealed, especially given his previous experiences.

“My brother-in-law owned a local MoT station so he gave me details of a few bodyshops he had used in the past, a particular one had just finished a Nissan Pulsar GTI-R that looked amazing so I asked around about the place.” A sure sign that this place was a good option was that it was consistently busy and that its turnaround times on vehicles were pretty long. Alex requested a quote for the restoration work on the M3 and a member of the team came to view the car. The numbers came back in the region of £6,500-£7,000 with the work set to take approximately one month. However, there was also a second rather appealing proposition put forward… “If I fancied it, the chap said I could work weekends on the car myself, doing all of the grunt work – stripping and cleaning it. He would be there to help out and show me what to do, and said I could use all the tools in the bodyshop, this way instead of paying him a daily rate he would take 50 percent off the cost – saving me £3,250. It was too good an offer to pass over, but I’d never worked in a bodyshop before!” Alex explained. For the following 18 months Alex’s Saturdays saw him up and out the house at 8am for a quick breakfast before heading to the bodyshop. First the strip down saw him taking items off the car for refurbishment wherever possible, if bits were not salvageable those parts were added to an ever-expanding shopping list of new items. “It was a great learning experience,” Alex said. “He showed me every aspect of the process, from using a Dual Action (DA) sander correctly, to welding and brazing. I even got to paint some of my car, only the inside of the sunroof in case things went wrong, but he said not to let it dry as we could then sand it back and start again if we needed to. It’s the only way to learn, and I really did learn a lot.”

In November 2017 with the car painted and just a few little outstanding jobs in need of addressing, for once things were looking good for Alex and his M3. However, as is the recurring theme of this car’s story, events would soon change that. “I got a call from one of the guys at the bodyshop to say there had been a big bust-up between the business partners, my contact had left. I was told I needed to get my car back quickly before it was pushed outside – I shot down there as soon as possible. Luckily over the 18 months I had been working weekends there I’d got to know everyone on the industrial estate, and one of the other bodyshops on the site said it would transport the car to my friend’s warehouse.” With the car relocated, its bonnet, doors and boot lid on and properly aligned, it was time to put everything else back together. Handily, Alex’s boss at his day job, Chris Ruel, was an electrical expert who lent a hand with the BMW’s central locking system – it had never worked correctly during Alex’s ownership of the car – and a few other niggling electrical issues. New brake callipers were paired with fresh discs and pads, a new carpet set was offered inside, so too a full set of (second hand) leathers to replace the car’s original cloth inners. Three months of tinkering saw the car finally ready for the road in Spring 2018. It had been a long journey for Alex and his E30, but had it been worthwhile? “Would I do it again? Yes!” he smiled. “If you are going to restore an M3, or any E30 really, rust is your enemy, but most of it can be fixed – its just time and money! If you can do as much of the work yourself it keeps the costs down a lot, but new parts from BMW are hard to get hold of and second hand ones are expensive.” Today Alex’s refreshed M3 has covered a total of 143,000-miles and he gets out and about in it most weekends, taking the car for early morning blasts around his home county of Kent when the roads are quiet, attending some local monthly car meets, and he’s also visited the Goodwood Festival of Speed in it with is father – there the car attracted an exceptional amount of interest from enthusiasts keen to chat about it. Rightly so. Alex is keen to mildly improve upon the car when funds allow, but one thing that looks absolutely certain for the future is that Alex’s 29-year relationship with this car is unlikely to end anytime soon.

THANKS “Thanks to my other half, Nicky, for letting me disappear at weekends for 18-months, and anyone who has helped me out with the car.”

The M3’s restoration took 18-months, with Alex learning on the job as he went. Being hands-on with a project like this is a great way to gain a better understanding of what’s involved in reviving a classic car…



E30 M3

ENGINE: S14, four-cylinder, 16-valve, DOHC, Evo II cam cover and air intake

CAPACITY: 2302cc

MAX POWER: 200hp @ 6750rpm

MAX TORQUE: 177lb ft @ 4750rpm

0-62MPH: 6.7-seconds

TOP SPEED: 146mph

EXTERIOR: Evo II chin spoiler

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Additional Info
  • Year: 1990
  • Body: Coupe
  • Cd/Cx: 0.38
  • Type: Petrol
  • Battery: 12 volt
  • Engine: 2.3-litre L4
  • Fuelling: Injection Bosch
  • Aspirate: Natural
  • Power: 200hp @ 6750rpm
  • Torque: 177lb ft @ 4750rpm
  • Drive: RWD
  • Trnsms: Manual 5-spd
  • Weight: 1199kg
  • Economy: 29mpg
  • Speed: 146mph
  • 0-60mph: 6.7-seconds
  • Price: £57,210
  • Type: Petrol