Epic BMW M3 E30 – full-on hardcore club-sport build. Built to club sport-spec and designed to be driven hard and fast on both road and track, this awesome E30 M3 has tapped into its racing roots and It’s a serious driving machine. Words: Elizabeth de Latour. Photos: Daniel Bridle.
CLUB RED Awesome club-sport-spec E30 M3
Once upon a time, quite a long time ago now actually, the E30 M3 was cheap. How cheap? We remember them dipping to around £8k a good few years back, and that’s because there was a period during the late 90’s and early-’00s where what would now be considered iconic performance weren’t considered that at all. Back then there wasn’t money to be made, people just weren’t that interested in these cars, prices were low and that meant that, certainly in the case of the E30 M3, the people that were buying them were modeling them. Sure, we see some modded E30 M3s on the scene today, but there really aren’t that many of them and the ones we do see tend to be show builds; stunning show builds, of course, but show builds all the same. Back in the day, the E30 M3 was considered a prime track car candidate thanks to its racing heritage and fantastic foundation on which to build. Seeing an E30 M3 being built for that purpose and used as intended today makes us very happy, which is why we’re such big fans of Mark Brown’s full-on build.
You might recognise him as Mark B from the mag’s Our Cars section, and the car as the M3 he ran in the mag until not so long ago; regular readers will therefore know that there is a sad end to this story as Mark prices were low and that meant that, certainly in the case of the E30 M3, the people that were buying them were modeling them. Sure, we see some modded E30 M3s on the scene today, but there really aren’t that many of them and the ones we do see tend to be show builds; stunning show builds, of course, but show builds all the same. Back in the day, the E30 M3 was considered a prime track car candidate thanks to its racing heritage and fantastic foundation on which to build. Seeing an E30 M3 being built for that purpose and used as intended today makes us very happy, which is why we’re such big fans of Mark Brown’s full-on build.
You might recognise him as Mark B from the mag’s Our Cars section, and the car as the M3 he ran in the mag until not so long ago; regular readers will therefore know that there is a sad end to this story as Mark sold his beloved E30 recently. We can’t get hyped about what an awesome build this was - and is - without getting the sad stuff out of the way first. “Unfortunately I have some health problems that meant I had to replace the E30 with something a bit less track-focused,” Mark explains, which is a huge shame as so much went into this car - as you’re about to discover for yourself - but sometimes you have to prioritise other things over cars, unfair as that may be.
We don’t know how old Mark is - and he’s not telling - but we do know that for a long time now, and a significant portion of his life, BMs have been kind of a big deal for him. “I’ve been driving one BMW or another since buying my first one in 1989,” he says with a smile and it was a real classic; “I bought a 1977 1502 because it was cheap and I liked the simple three-box design,” he reasons and since then there have been many, many more and pretty much all of them have been modded, which we wholeheartedly approve of “I’ve always modified my cars. In fact, I think I have only ever owned three standard cars and they didn't stick around for long,” he laughs. “I’ve just always enjoyed making my cars my own and spent several years building a Laguna Seca blue E21 with an M62 conversion,” which we featured back in our July 2016 issue - in fact it was on the cover, which tells you all you need to was. That makes this Mark’s second cover, so he’s clearly a bit handy when it comes to putting together an awesome BM.
Going by our glimpse into his BMW past, Mark is clearly a fan of the classics so his love for the E30 M3 is easy to understand; “I had been lucky enough to own a few E30 M3s but always wanted one to modify to a kind of club sport specification. I’ve always enjoyed track cars but I wanted to be able to enjoy it on the road too,” he explains. “My M3 was advertised on one of the bigger classic car websites but it was in Ireland and starting to look a little tired. I had already started squirrelling parts away for when I finally found the right car. Bits like the Bonrath single wiper and the AC Schnitzer carbon door mirrors are as rare as worms in top hats, so you need to grab them if the opportunity arises,” he explains. Mark has cut no comers at any stage of this build and, with a clear goal in mind from before he’d even got his hands on a car, once he’d actually bought it he wasted no time with getting stuck into creating his perfect club sport-spec build.
A car built with primarily the track in mind needs to have a suitable interior, and that’s exactly where Mark kicked things off; “I knew from the outset that the interior would be more race car than road and that was always going to be dictated by safety equipment,” he explains. “The very first modification was to replace the seats and harnesses. I wanted to be comfortable, but also safe; as it already had a full Safety Devices roll-cage fitted, I opted to buy new Sparco seats and Sabelt supplied their five-point harnesses.
I opted to retain glass windows though, as opposed to Plexiglass, plus I refitted the carpet to make it a little more civilised in the cabin. The removable Momo steering wheel and Samsonas shifter give a really tactile fed, as well as being extremely efficient. They also look great and add to the sense of theatre when strapping yourself into the driver’s seat,” he grins.
“Having spent so much money on modifying the S14 engine, it was important to know exactly what was going on with it, which is where STACK were the obvious choice. As well as being another stylish piece of design, their gauges are well know for their clarity and accuracy. The analogue rev counter is very clear and the LCD display allows you to scroll through pretty much every parameter you can think of, from fuel pressure to oil temperature and everything in between. There is also a speed sensor for road use, and clear visual and audible alarms should you need them. The additional STACK gauges for fuel and a clock are just the finishing touches to the flocked dashboard and centre console. I love how the cabin feels when you’re sat there, engine running and about the select first gear. The Samsonas shifter gives such a precise, mechanical feel and Royal Steering Wheels retrimmed the Momo wheel to my own spec with Alcantara and M tri-colour stitching. It’s all those little details that make it so personal and such a special place to be,” he smiles and this interior is really exceptional. It has been built with function in mind first, with nothing but the best components installed here and it all combines to make this car feel like the road-going racer it truly is.
While the interior was given a complete transformation to give it the feel that Mark wanted, when it came to the exterior he knew better than to mess around with one of the most iconic-looking machines ever created and one that already has the perfect road-going racer looks, so it was simply a matter of building on those and enhancing what BMW had blessed the E30 M3 with all those years ago. “In my opinion, the Evo 2 styling from BMW is just about perfect and the details, such as the single wiper and ACS door mirrors, were all that was needed,” he says and we can only agree. “I know there are some aftermarket tuners that have attempted to include design cues from other BMW models (such as E46 M3 wing vents) but they just don’t suit the styling of the E30 M3, where less is most certainly more. There is a reason why the E30 M3 is such an icon and its styling is a part of that,” he adds. So you will find nothing excessive or outlandish adorning this M3’s exterior - Mark has simply added a selection of genuine BMW aero upgrades, including the Evo 2 carbon fibre front splitter, Sport Evo lower rear spoiler and Gurney flap along with the rubber aero infill’s, and there’s also an awesome quick-release quad HID high beam rally light pod that mounts to the bonnet for winter use and helps Mark light up the narrow Cornish lanes around his home. When it comes to looks, as Mark himself says less is definitely more with the E30 M3, and just enhancing the car’s factory styling was absolutely the right decision here; the end result is just perfect, especially finished in that striking shade of Brilliant red.
Complementing the styling and adding to the racer look are those wheels, which work so perfectly here; “The wheels are M3-specific Compomotive THs in an 8x17” ET15 fitment all-round. I did run BBS E50 reps but they weren’t strong enough for the roads down here in Cornwall. The Compomotives are certainly heavier but they’re also incredibly strong and their styling suits the E30 M3 perfectly. They’re just an iconic wheel,” says Mark and he's absolutely right. They are enhanced by the drop that this M3 has been treated to, but when it came to suspension on this build what mattered was performance. Mark drives his E30 M3 the way it was meant to be driven and that means he needed a chassis that would deliver the sort of handling and communication he demanded. “The car came on H&R fast road suspension but I was able to get a complete set of competition-spec coilovers from KW and they totally transformed the way the car felt and handled,” he says. “I also strengthened the rear turrets, as you should when swapping to a true coilover on the rear, plus I run adjustable ARBs and a front strut brace. A Z3 steering rack was bought new in Germany and has quickened the steering nicely," and it’s the finishing touch on a focused setup that’s been assembled with on-track handling placed first and foremost, but without the on-road driving experience having been forgotten about. That makes this build that much more of a challenge and makes the end result that much more impressive; after all, it’s easy enough to go all out and build a pure, hardcore track car, but building something that can take you to a track day in sufficient comfort, allow you to absolutely drive the doors off your car, and then cruise home again takes a lot more skill and careful planning and that’s exactly what Mark has achieved here.
While all those aspects of this E30 M3 are very impressive, we’ve saved the best for last because we reckon what’s wider the bonnet is the crowning glory of this build. It’s still an S14, but that’s why it’s so impressive because just doing an engine swap and dropping in something a lot more powerful is easy; getting decent power out of the iconic S14 is much more challenging, but arguably much more rewarding and the engine itself is that much more special. “The car came with a DTM-style carbon airbox and was running Maxx Automotive Alpha-N. The airbox was on my list of “must-have’ items but the Alpha-N was just too sensitive to things like ambient temperature and elevation changes. I’d always planned on replacing it but I had some serious saving to do before I could rebuild the S14, so I ran it as it was for the first year or so,” says Mark.
“I know a lot of E30 M3s run engine conversions, as power gains for the S14 are bloody expensive and dropping an S54 into the bay gives way over 300hp; getting that power from an S14 is possible but costs way more than I could afford.
As it is, I spent &1000s and only have 260hp+ but it’s not all about big numbers; the S14 is a pretty special engine and the noise, combined with 8.5k rpm and a close-ratio gearbox makes for a pretty intoxicating combination,” he grins and we can absolutely imagine that. “I also run a shorter final drive ratio which makes for livelier performance and helps keep things on the boil. Added to that, the E30 isn’t exactly heavy so performance is stronger than many might have you believe. It’s more than that though; BMW built the E30 M3 with the S14 for a reason and overall it’s just such a special car. It begs to be driven hard and flatters even mediocre drivers like me. I put in a few laps of Goodwood and Brands Hatch and it’s just such fun, while being hugely capable. It’s easy to see why they were such a dominant race car back in the day,” he smiles and these are exactly the reasons why Mark has stuck with the S14. Everyone these days is obsessed with power and getting big numbers but the way the car feels, the way it makes you feel, and the driving experience it delivers count for so much more, and this S14 does just that. What makes it special is all the work that Mark has carried out on it and he’s really gone to town: it’s got a flowed head, Schrick cams, Arrow rods,
CP pistons, standalone DTA management, uprated injectors, and a carbon airbox, while the transmission has been treated to a race flywheel, uprated AP clutch and the 40% locking LSD was fully rebuilt and is equipped with a finned Z3 M cover. That’s a serious selection of mods and while heavily modding the S14 is not the option many people would have opted for, it’s just another reason why this isn’t just another E30 M3 and why it’s so special.
In case it’s not quite clear, we’re huge fans of this car and Mark has done an awesome job with it. He’s taken the E30 M3, a car that was always a thinly-veiled racing machine, and he’s tapped into that racing heart that beats within it and taken it back to its racing roots. Mark started out with a vision, a goal to build his ultimate, perfect club sport machine, and this E30 M3 is it It’s as focused as he wanted it to be, every mod on this car has been chosen with purpose, everything you see before you was selected to help make this car go faster and handle better, but he’s created the perfect balance between hardcore track machine and usable road car, and that’s what’s so impressive and what makes the car so special to him, and so special in general.
“In truth, I think it’s the overall effect all the modifications have and how special they make the driving experience that is my favourite thing about the car,” he smiles. “Eveiything was done with a view to enhancing the E30 M3 but without taking anything away from that original ethos BMW had in mind. I just wanted to turn the race car side up a few notches but not to the extent where driving it on the road was a chore. It might look like a race car but I regularly drive 100s of miles to UK circuits and hill climb venues, or head to Wales to enjoy the roads there. That said, I also take it shopping at the local supermarket or for early morning drives along the coast I built this car to be driven,” he grins. So, just over four years on from the moment Mark paid the deposit for the car, the E30 M3 is gone, but it will never be forgotten and the BMW journey that he began back in 1989 continues with an E46 M3, so it’s clear that his passion for Motorsport machinery will never die. The hardcore, lifelong enthusiasts like Mark are the people who make the scene what it is, and who we aspire to be like when we grow up.
E30 M3 club sport build
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 2.3-litre four-cylinder S14B23, flowed head, re-bored block, Schrick cams, Arrow con rods, ARP studs, CP pistons, uprated injectors, carbon airbox, DTA Fast standalone ECU, Radtec Motorsport radiator, Eisenmann Race exhaust and 50/50 exhaust manifold, all plastic reservoirs and header tank replaced with aluminium. Getrag 265 five-speed manual dogleg gearbox, uprated AP clutch, competition gearbox mounts
CHASSIS 8x17” ET15 (front and rear) Compomotive TH wheels with 215/40 (front) and 235/40 (rear) Nankang AR1 tyres, KW Competition coilovers, H&R adjustable ARBs, Compbrake six-piston calipers with 330mm discs (front), Hawk road pads, Ferodo DS2500 track pads
EXTERIOR Brilliant red, Evo 2 carbon fibre front splitter, Sport Evo lower rear spoiler and rear Gurney, rubber aero infills, Bonrath single wiper conversion, AC Schnitzer door mirrors, quick- release quad HID rally light pod for winter
INTERIOR Safety Devices full roll-cage (door bars removed for road use), Sparco Evo race seats, Sabelt five- point harnesses, Momo quick-release steering wheel modified by Royal Steering Wheels and trimmed in Alcantara with M tri-colour stitching, Samsonas gear shifter, flocked dash and centre console, STACK analogue fuel gauge, clock and AEM digital AFR display, STACK dash display with analogue rev counter and multifunction LCD display, black carpet fitted and OE glass retained, carbon fibre rear parcel shelf and ski hatch covers, carbon door cards, Sabelt door pulls, handheld extinguisher, external emergency electrical cut-out
THANKS I am extremely grateful for all the help I have had over the years putting this car together. Thanks to: Joe Geach at ARM BMW and Motorsport (who I’m sure must have grown tired of the endless questions!), Ben Lawson at Nankang UK for helping me out with their excellent AR1 tyres, STACK Ltd (for working with me on the dash display), Radtec UK (for solving my cooling problems), Compbrake (for putting together a great brake kit), CA Technologies international and Eisenmann exhausts, and finally, corny as it sounds, my partner Claire who has put up with so much grief, expense and inconvenience
Eisenmann Race exhaust