Back From The Brink E30 M3
Bought new with some rather unique features, sold to a 21-year old who didn’t even know what an M3 was, then abused via burn-outs, crashed at nearly 100mph at the Nürburgring, and then actually forgotten about in a garage for almost a decade – this 1989 E30 M3 is now rightly revered. For the first decade of the car’s life this BMW led a rather sedate life. Owned by a life-long BMW lover it was impeccably maintained and never driven hard. But, around the turn of the century and then in his late 60s, the owner wanted something a bit more modern and easier to drive. At a chance meeting at a petrol station in 2001 a young lad with a E30 316, who with his M Tech badging thought he already had an M3, offered 5000 Euros for the M3.
Not that he had 5000 Euros… Staying in his girlfriend’s university digs, Bert De Jonge was for all intents and purposes, homeless, and so selling everything he owned for an M3 wasn’t exactly the most sensible financial decision he’d ever make.
“Back then it was just a 12-year-old car, no-one really cared about it,” Bert says. “But I loved it at first sight.”
Selling his 316 for 2000 Euros and getting a loan for the rest from his grandfather, which he dutifully paid back over a few years. Bert has not regretted buying the car for a second, although at first he was a little underwhelmed by its performance…
“When I pushed it for a test drive the old guy really panicked when I took it over 4000rpm, he shouted at me that it’s not good for the engine.” With 113,000km on its clocks at the time, Bert thinks that by keeping the rev needle as far from the red line as possible could have caused a big build-up of energy sapping carbon deposits. The more he drove it the better the performance got as it cleaned itself up. “For a few months it just kept on getting faster and faster,” he smiles.
The commute to work, holidays and shopping trips weren’t really the best way to enjoy the new car though and so he took it for some track days at a few local circuits, pushing it in the dry and learning how to drift when it was wet. “My friends had Nissan 300ZXs and Sierra Cosworths, old-school rear-wheel-drive cars. Honestly, they were the days of our lives,” Bert reminisces.
The only modifications came in this early period of ownership when an Evo Sport front spoiler and rear wing extension were added. Homologated so that the then current DTM cars could run with the extra aero, Bert rightly thought that they would enhance the car’s look.
At first the rear extension was bolted onto the wing but with the sheer speeds he got up to on track days the bolt threads underneath stripped. And so he glued it in place. It hasn’t moved since. The mesh grills in the front bumper are to protect the oil cooler as a stone cracked the first one. The wheels match the bodykit as well.
These 16-inch Evos were bought damaged from a Sport Evolution for just 200 Euros. He had them welded up, machined down and powder coated so that they look perfect. One thing that Bert kept getting asked about though was the unusual interior – he struggled to find an answer and so he decided to contact the previous owner. “He was getting on a bit, in his 70s I guess, and had got himself an E46 as it was easier to drive and look after. But seeing the M3 he’d bought from new and owned for ten years, and knowing that his young years had gone by, well, he cried when he saw it again.”
As far as he knows there were two factory interior options offered as new, Black or Red. “When he was buying it the old guy said that Black is boring and as he wasn’t a pimp he didn’t want bright red upholstery either. So somehow he managed to arrange a compromise with BMW and got a Red and Black combination. This wasn’t offered as an option and seems to be unique as it, and the other ones I’ve seen in the same colours, are poor quality and obviously not genuine BMW.”
The leather in Bert’s car is the same that BMW used, the stitching is also a match for BMW’s own quality and yet he has never found any hard proof that it is from BMW. “I’m curious,” he says. “And of course if I have the only BMW E30 M3 made like this then I wouldn’t be too upset!”
Another anomaly he’s come across is the power output. Official figures state that there should be 200hp at the crank but successive dyno tests put the number at a firm 224.5hp at the wheels. “Not many people are going to complain that their car is too powerful, but I’d like to know the reason for this.” The dyno test numbers were born out on the German autobahn where a friend – using GPS to get an accurate reading – saw them topped-out at 249kmh, significantly higher than the maximum of 235kmh the car is supposed to be capable of achieving. “I think that there might be an Evo engine inside as that has a stock 220hp. I added a chip but that only explains about 5hp, not 25. Also, on the registration papers where the horsepower is supposed to be written there is nothing, just a blank space for some reason…”
Spa Francorchamps was another track that Bert took the car to ‘back in the day’… Followed in short order by the Holy Grail of track day venues – the fearsome and infamous Nürburgring.. Here everything was very close to coming to an end. With overheated tyres following five consecutive sub 10-minute laps, a bike puled across the track right in front of Bert through the kink at the end of the Döttinger straight. Instead of just driving into him at 100mph Bert swerved and it was only by the good grace of all the motor racing gods that the only damage came from a light glance of the armco barrier. It was such a terrifying experience though that Bert realised he wasn’t a good enough driver to push the car to its maximum. Still in a state of shock he put it in the garage where, under blankets not plastic sheets he’s keen to point out, it remained for nine long years.
“All those years later we moved house and I needed to move my motorbike, the BMW was next to it. I pulled the covers off and suddenly remembered that I had an M3. I had lost all emotional connection with it and so I really had forgotten about it.”
But with its sparkling paintwork looking just like it did when he last wheeled it out, and driving it again, the old spark was reignited. “I asked my wife if we should sell it so we had money to pay for our house renovation, but she said no.”
Wife Sofie adds with a smile: “It’s the only other woman I tolerate in his life.” Times had changed though and whereas before it was just a nice old car, now people knew that it was a real classic and wherever Bert went it garnered appreciative attention. ‘Cars and Coffee’ meets, classic car shows where it won awards for originality and presentation, and weekend drives all ensued.
“It hasn’t seen a wet road since that day at the Nürburgring, even if there are clouds outside it stays in the garage.” Another rule Bert has is not to do stupid stuff on bad roads. Track days are also no longer on the agenda. “It’s different now,” he explains. “Back in the day it was really fun to do a few laps of the Nordshliefe but now every idiot is out just for a fast lap time, to get punted off by someone in a Honda Civic doesn’t really appeal too much.”
The only serious attention the car has needed in Bert’s near two decades of ownership was when the central bolt on the output flange worked itself loose, and when the gearbox needs to come out you might as well get it reconditioned. “There’s a price for a gearbox that you need to send off to a mechanic and then there is the price of an M gearbox… and they are a lot different,” he says, pulling a pained expression. And so Bert decided to do the work himself. After three weeks of spare time, late evenings and more than a few YouTube tutorials, he had reconditioned his own gearbox with new bearings and seals. And seeing as it was completed on 23rd December, he decided to tie a bow around it and put it under the Christmas tree. Apart from that, even with 219,000kms on its clock (136,000 miles) that’s the only major work this car has ever needed during its time.
It’s usual to perform a little test drive in a car such as this. Bert’s M3 barrels down some Belgian country lanes with gusto. The level of acceleration in second gear from 4500rpm to 7500rpm is just fantastic. Thirty years ago it must have been absolutely sensational. Bert drives his treasure both as it should be driven and respectfully, which he argues is the same thing, as he firmly believes that if an S14 engine doesn’t get revved it will slowly die.
At the same time he is well aware of the cost of parts if anything were to go wrong. Every 2000km the oil is changed and a sample is sent off to a laboratory for analysis. It also has a yearly run on the dyno just to make sure that it’s not lacking any power, which could be indicative of a problem somewhere. “The thing is, I’m not rich, I’m just an average guy with a cool car.” And so seeing the price of M parts these days always triggers a little panic attack.
A few years ago he tried to stockpile a small collection of spares whenever he saw anything at a reasonable price, but it’s been a while since anything qualified as “reasonable”. Making sure Sofie was out of earshot Bert reels off a painful list. An exhaust is €5,000, second-hand front struts are M3 specific and also cost €5,000. “I asked someone about new suspension and got a quote of €1250. I said that over €300 each was very expensive and he explained that actually the price was each! Second hand! It’s like everything is made out of gold!”
“The thing is, I’m not rich, I’m just an average guy with a cool car…”
And let’s not mention the engine. A full rebuild can easily cost up to €15,000. And so when the time comes Bert will perform the rebuild himself. “I’ll have to start dropping some hints to Sofie so she won’t be too shocked about finding engine parts all over the kitchen table one day.”
BMW recently offered to exchange Bert’s M3 for a new M2. “It was tempting of course but in ten years what will the M2 be worth? Also I know the driving sensation will be nothing compared to the M3. I politely said no.” We doubt he’ll regret that decision at all.
According to Bert’s research his M3’s interior could be quite rare. The E30 still gets driven hard, but Bert is mindful of its value today.
TECHNICAL DATA 1989 BMW M3 E30
ENGINE: S14, four-cylinder, 16-valve, DOHC
MAX POWER: 200hp (195hp with cat) @ 6750rpm
MAX TORQUE: 177lb ft (170lb ft with cat) @ 4750rpm
0-62MPH: 6.7 seconds
TOP SPEED: 146mph
PRODUCED: March 1986 to August 1989 (non-cat), May 1986 to May 1989 (cat), March 1987 to December 1990 (US specification)
HOW MANY?: 4181 (non-cat), 4585 (cat, including 148 Europa Meister models), 5300 (US spec)