BMW E30 M3 Perfection Stunning, flawlessly modded 2.5 beauty. Built over 17 years, combining OE elements with aftermarket additions and topped off with a 2.5 S14 under the bonnet, this E30 M3 is really something special. Words: Elizabeth de Latour Photos: Tony Lopez.
I AM LEGEND 240whp 2.5 S14 E30 M3
Legends aren’t born, they’re built and one of the greatest legends ever built is without doubt the E30 M3. Plenty of cars have achieved legendary status but while not all of them might be wholly deserving of that hallowed title, the E30 M3 deserves every ounce of praise heaped on it. We bang on about how great it is all the time and we make no apologies for that – it’s a car that deserves to be celebrated at every occasion and one that will never be forgotten. If you’ve never sampled one, it is truly a special experience, so involving, so full of feel and so connected to the driver it’s as if you are a part of the car. Then there’s the S14, a thoroughbred race engine that puts just about every other four-cylinder engine in the shade for aural satisfaction, with induction bark to die for and a frenzied, frantic top-end. It’s soul-stirring stuff and just writing about it puts a smile on our face. Sadly, insane and ever-increasing prices have put the E30 M3 out of reach for many; while not all examples are crazy-expensive, the cheaper ones still aren’t especially cheap and the problem is that, even if you could buy one, you could never have it as your daily, you’d never want to keep it outside because of the threat of rust and it’s a car that you would always be ultra-precious over. It is truly a collector’s piece now, something to be revered and preserved in perfect condition for future generations to enjoy. Or is it…?
“The carbon fibre intake combined with the 284/276 Schrick cams, Supersprint centre section and Eisenmann Race exhaust sings a symphony that would make Wagner weep”
You see, while not everyone can afford an E30 M3, not everyone who can afford an E30 M3 thinks that these are museum pieces to be locked away, looked at and kept pristine and original. There is a small proportion of M3 owners that believes cars are to be driven, enjoyed and modded and it doesn’t matter what that machine may be – if extracting maximum enjoyment from it means throwing some choices mods at it then so be it. These are most definitely our sort of owners and Brandon Wheaton is one of them.
The car you’re looking at here has undergone restoration, preservation and modification and the end result is the ultimate example of what can be achieved with time, patience and dedication. For Brandon this has been a long journey, not necessarily an easy one, but the incredible end result makes everything that came before it so incredibly worthwhile.
Before we can talk about the M3 we should talk about Brandon. What can we tell you? Well, he’s 44, he’s a systems and networks engineer – which sounds pretty technical – and, surprisingly, there’s little in his motoring history to suggest that he has the sort of tendencies that result in the construction of a car such as this. “My first car was a 1978 [Chevrolet] Monte Carlo, black with black vinyl roof, red interior and chrome Cragar Mag wheels.
A time capsule from the ’70s preserved into the ’’90s. The car wasn’t at all me, but it’s what I had and she treated me well,” Brandon tells us. “My father owned an E30 back in the 1980s and that is the car that sparked my interest in the marque. They seemed much more solid and wellbuilt than the Chevrolets, Toyotas and Hondas I had driven to-date. I was passed down my father’s 1984 325e in 1992 when I graduated high school. He had barely driven the car, it was always garage-kept, meticulously maintained, and it had about 12,000 miles on the odo. It was the nicest E30 anyone had seen at the time,” he says. “The 325e remained stock until it met its untimely end on a wet and windy road. I drove a boring stock Honda Accord for many years, until purchasing the M3,” and, as you’re about to find out, there appears to have been a lot of pent-up, latent modding desires hidden within Brandon which rushed forth once he’d bought the right car.
“The purchase came about by happenstance. I was browsing eBay one afternoon and came upon this M3 just a few miles from where I lived, in Mountain View, CA. I decided to meet with the owner for the heck of it and I couldn’t resist pulling the trigger after seeing the car in person,” he says. “Until that point, I had always loved the E30 M3, but was never able to afford one. At that point in my life I had an additional few dollars in my pocket and that was the start of an 18 year journey,” he smiles. “The car was in pretty poor condition,” continues Brandon. “The previous owner was a good 6’ 6” and 280lbs, so the driver’s-side seat was broken. He had also installed far too large wheels and tyres that damaged the original arches. Otherwise, the car was in fair shape with no other body damage or rust. The suspension and mechanicals were stock and sound.”
Having owned the car for 18 years now, you can imagine that no aspect of this build was rushed and Brandon took his time at every step, being meticulous in his planning and research in order to execute every mod, every upgrade perfectly and it has most definitely been a projection of passion and patience. Step one was getting the car into good shape and undoing the previous owner’s wrongs; “Though I had a little more disposable income at the time, the car was maintained religiously (fluids, belts, alignment, tune up – all preventative maintenance), but not modified. The stock, damaged arches were repaired, wheels and tyres replaced and the car cleaned/ paint corrected to return her to the best original condition possible. I daily drove the car in this condition for approximately two years. Luckily, I had a short commute to work, so I didn’t put too many miles on the car during that time,” says Brandon but, with the car now looking good and running sweet, his thoughts began to turn to improving his M3 and so the first of the mods began to take shape, with the suspension first on his to-do list. “The Ground Control suspension was chosen because it was a good compromise between a street and track setup. I had a more aggressive track–oriented setup previously, but it was too harsh for normal street use and I didn’t see enough track or autocross time to justify the discomfort.
Also, I’m just getting old and want a slightly cushier ride,” he laughs. The Ground Control coilovers run Eibach Race springs and Koni dual-adjustable shocks and Brandon has also added a set of Suspension Techniques front and rear antiroll bars, OEM aluminium control arms with offset bushes, Turner Motorsport subframe and anti-roll bar reinforcements and a rear subframe adjustment kit, giving the chassis a serious overhaul, ensuring it felt pin-sharp and delivered exactly the sort of handling you’d expect from an M3.
All was going well with E30 M3 ownership but, unfortunately, the course of car love never runs smooth; “Some minor front end damage in mid-2012 prompted an unplanned restoration that was completed in mid-2013,” says Brandon, which was obviously very unfortunate but gave him a chance to give the car a refresh and make a whole bunch of improvements while he was at it. “With so many original body fixtures and components NLA (No Longer Available from BMW), the restoration was equal parts exciting treasure hunt and frustration. I swore to myself many times throughout the process that I would never again undertake such a project, but the great folks at D&V Auto Body and Road Race Technologies worked tirelessly with me to bring this ambitious endeavour to a stunning conclusion,” says Brandon. “The car was fully repainted and the interior refreshed, which involved replacement of every interior component (carpet, seats, door cards, consoles, etc.), save for the dash. Throughout the restoration, I did my best to stay very close to a factory original appearance, but with subtle interior improvements that I call ‘OEM+,’ to include a digital Podi vent gauge that reads voltage, oil pressure, oil temperature and fuel pressure. The stereo system was upgraded with hidden components and stock speaker locations. The only audio component I didn’t hide is the Alpine head unit, but I can slip it out and put the original tape deck back in to maintain the stock interior look for display purposes.”
Brandon fitted an Alpine CDE-HD149BT head unit and this was joined by an Alpine PDX-F4 amp, pumping out 4x100W of power to really give his music a kick. Focal 130 VRS shallow-mount 5 1/4” component speakers were then added front and rear and the finishing touch was an Alpine 12” sub in a custom enclosure, though the audio has since been trimmed down for reasons we’ll come to later…
As you can see, there’s rather more to the exterior than merely a full refresh and Brandon has enhanced the M3’s natural good looks with some choice styling additions. “The additional cosmetic/ aesthetic choices were made to be subtle and to keep in line with the original design/look/feel of the car, with small improvements. The exterior components are sourced from the Sport Evo,” he explains and while they may indeed be subtle, like a visual Voltron they combine to make a big difference and really enhance the M3’s muscular motorsport looks. On this M3 you will find Sport Evo bonnet and bumper gaskets, front splitter with integrated brake ducts and an adjustable rear wing plus Brandon has also fitted Euro tow hook covers and Euro ellipsoid headlights and they work so well together. With styling sorted, now came the time to shop for the perfect wheels and that’s not easy when you own an E30 M3. “It’s very difficult to choose modern wheels that look appropriate on a vintage ’80s car,” says Brandon, “but I found a set of BBS LM098 wheels that did the job. I had the centres refinished in a custom Nogaro silver to pay homage to the original Sport Evolution wheels, which had centres also finished the same colour and I couldn’t be happier with the results. The centre caps are red and dark silver, which ties in very well with the body and wheel colour combination,” and we can only agree. LMs are an awesome choice of wheel and they look so good on the E30, especially the M3 and especially in this colour combo and anyone who thinks 18s are too big on the E30 will surely have their mind changed in an instant with one glance at this car. You’ll also spot that Brandon has enhanced his E30’s braking capabilities, with a Brembo front BBK running red four-piston calipers with slotted discs combined with braided hoses all-round.
With exterior aesthetics on-point, Brandon decided to revisit the interior and take it to the next level, and it is now a rather special place to be. “The interior was also inspired by the Evolution I, II, Sport Evo, Europameister and Cecotto special editions,” says Brandon. “I always admired the very rare full leather interior unique to the Cecotto/Europameister/Evo editions, so I purchased the OEM interior components necessary for a conversion,” and his E30 now boasts OEM BMW leather door panels, map pockets, door pulls and front and rear centre consoles. “The front seats are genuine Recaro SRDs that were retrimmed to resemble the Sport Evo front seats, complete with Motorsport striping.
They were the biggest challenge to the interior, because there is a complicated compound curve on both sides of the exterior bolsters that will cause an unsightly wrinkle in the leather when done improperly. There are only a handful of craftsman in the country who are able to properly re-cover the Recaro SRDs to factory-spec and I was fortunate enough to have found Euro Interiors in New Bedford, NY, as recommended by other E30 M3 enthusiasts with the same standards and OCD as myself,” he says. The finishing touches are one-touch power windows for convenience and a 370mm M Tech 2 steering wheel.
Impressive as all that is, we’ve saved the best for last – as did Brandon – as we come to the jewel in the crown, that being what’s under the bonnet and that is no ordinary S14… “The engine rebuild was helped along by the development of a crack in the number three cylinder. I originally thought I had a leaking head gasket, but my worst fears were confirmed when I removed the head and found the number three cylinder full of coolant.
Luckily, I had been searching deals and saving (hoarding) parts for an eventual engine rebuild. I had the majority of the main parts, so it was time to contact a respected engine builder and come up with a plan for the remaining details. I removed the old motor with the help of a friend in my garage and used this opportunity to do a deep detail/refresh on the engine bay, as it wasn’t painted at the time of my rebuild. Everything possible was replaced or repaired and every crevice was cleaned with toothbrushes and Q-Tips until it looked better than new. I knew no one would ever be able to see or appreciate most of the work I did, but I was comfortable in the knowledge that I had done it,” and that’s what really matters. The resulting engine is really something special; it’s now a 2.5, using an Evo block mated to a VSR Stage III ported head, custom JE 11.25:1 pistons with ceramic-coated crowns and Tefloncoated skirts, Evo oil squirters, Schrick 284/276 cams, Supertech valves and springs, port-matched OEM 48mm TBs and a DTM oil pump. There is a custom Luis M tuning chip, ceramic-coated Evo 2 rally two-piece exhaust manifold, Supersprint de-cat centre resonator section and an Eisenmann Race rear section, but the star of the show is without doubt the MAXX Alpha-N tune and carbon fibre intake. “My favourite modification is easily the intake/cams/exhaust combination,” grins Brandon. “The carbon fibre intake combined with the 284/276 Schrick cams, Supersprint centre section and Eisenmann Race exhaust sings a symphony that would make Wagner weep. The sound is so amazing that it has actually rendered my previous multi-amp and subwoofer stereo setup obsolete, so it was removed in favour of a simpler installation merely for background noise on longer road trips. Around town and for long stretches on the freeway, I am known to turn off the radio, roll down the windows and listen to the music coming from the motor,” he smiles and we are not at all surprised because this is an incredible engine with a soundtrack to die for.
“It was a 17 year affair from start to finish,” says Brandon. “There were times when I lost interest and faith in the project, let it sit and even considered selling, but my good friends and fellow enthusiasts James Liu and Willy Lutz talked me off the ledge,” he laughs. “I can’t thank them enough for that. I should also note that I did all work that I could do myself or with a friend in my garage throughout the life of the car. I only used professional services when necessary, or when the job was just too large/specialised for me to handle on my own in my garage, which was rare,” and that endows this whole project with an even greater sense of achievement. “I’ve spent the better part of 18 years getting her to where she is today, so I think I’m in a good place to call it effectively finished,” he smiles. “Next I’m going to build a restomod/ backdated Porsche 911. I’ve always loved the 911s, but my time, attention, and money has been focused on the M3. As that project has concluded, I think it’s time to concentrate on enjoying the M3 as is and satiating my desire to tinker on a new project,” Brandon says and we wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. With this extraordinary build, Brandon has kept that pure E30 M3 DNA but enhanced it at every step and the end result is nothing short of awesome, a stunning-looking and sounding machine that is OE enough to be loved by the purists and modded enough to be loved by the likes of us. That heady combination is all you could ever ask for and makes this one hell of a dream machine.
DATA FILE 2.5 E30 M3
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 2.5-litre four-cylinder S14, factory Evo block, VSR Stage III ported head, custom JE 11.25:1 pistons with ceramic-coated crowns and Teflon-coated skirts, Evo oil squirters, Schrick 284/276 cams, Supertech valves and springs, port-matched OEM 48mm TBs, DTM oil pump, carbon air box, Maxx Alpha-N tune, ceramic-coated Evo 2 rally twopiece exhaust manifold, Supersprint de-cat centre resonator section, Eisenmann Race rear section, Luis M tuning chip. Getrag 265/6 five-speed manual gearbox, Evo lightweight flywheel, Rogue Octane short-shift kit, Z3 rear differential cover
CHASSIS 8x18” (front and rear) BBS LM098 wheels with Nogaro silver centres and red centre caps, 225/35 (front and rear) Yokohama S.drive tyres, Ground Control coilovers with adjustable camber plates, Koni dual adjustable struts and Eibach Race springs, Suspension Techniques anti-roll bars (front and rear), aluminium control arms with offset bushes, Turner Motorsport subframe and anti-roll bar reinforcements, rear subframe camber adjustment kit, Brembo BBK with four piston calipers and 330x28mm slotted discs (front), stainless steel braided hoses (front and rear)
EXTERIOR Zinnober red, Sport Evo bonnet and bumper gaskets, front splitter with integrated brake ducts and adjustable rear wing, Euro tow hook covers, Euro ellipsoid headlights
INTERIOR Recaro SRD seats custom-trimmed to resemble Sport Evo seats, custom leather throughout, OEM BMW leather door panels, map pockets, door pulls, front and rear centre consoles and handbrake handle, M Tech 2 steering wheel, digital Podi low-profile vent gauge for voltage, oil pressure, oil temperature and fuel pressure, one-touch electric windows, completely refurbished/ overhauled R12 air con, Alpine CDE-HD149BT head unit, Alpine PDX-F4 4x100W amplifier, Focal 130 VRS shallow-mount 5-1/4” component speakers (front and rear)
THANKS D&V Masters, Sterling, VA, Vintage Sports and Restoration, Bedford, NH, Road Race Technologies, Sterling, VA, BMW of Fairfax, Fairfax, VA, BMW of Sterling, Sterling, VA, BMWCCA National Capitol Chapter, Euro Interiors, New Bedford, NY, E30 M3 Special Interest Group (SIG) organisers and all members, GlasWerks DMV
“Brandon has enhanced his E30’s braking capabilities, with a Brembo front BBK running red four-piston calipers with slotted discs combined with braided hoses all-round”
Ground Control coilovers deliver the perfect drop. BBS LMs with Nogaro silver centres and red centre caps over Brembo BBK OEM leather door panels. Eisenmann Race exhaust. Custom-trimmed Recaro SRD seats. Carbon air box has made the stereo redundant.
Engine bay was detailed to within an inch of its life. Stunning Zinnober red. This BMW E30 M3 is just stunning. Original tool kit in immaculate condition. Original first-aid kit and warning triangle.