Sublime S50 E30 Coupe. This stunning, S50-swapped E30 delivers the perfect blend of classic style, OEM+ individuality and outright performance, making it a retro package to die for. Words: Elizabeth de Latour. Photos: Courtney Cutchen.
THE RIGHT STUFF S50-swapped E30
A well-modded car makes this whole modding thing look easy but it’s quite the opposite; when you see a car that looks spoton, you know that car has had so much work and effort and time and love poured into it, countless hours agonising over every single little mod, detail and decision and that’s what you don’t see. You see the finished article, that perfect end product but, until you read a feature like this, you really can’t appreciate everything that’s gone into that build and Ryan Carder’s E30 is the perfect example of that. One glance is all it takes for you to know that everything about this E30 is just so right, it’s just sheer 3 Series perfection but it’s taken a lot of work to transform this car from unassuming classic to the showstopper you see before you now, and it’s all been worth it.
Mr. Carder strikes us as a man with maturity far beyond his meagre age – he’s only 24 but not only has he built a stunning E30 with the eye of someone who’s an old hand at modding but he’s also an infantry officer in the US Army, and those two things set him apart from most 24-yearolds. Most impressive of all, though, is the fact that he has built this E30 from the ground-up with his own two hands, which makes the end result even more satisfying for him and even more impressive for us. “I will never forget the day I saw my first E30,” reminisces Ryan; “It was around 2009 and my best friend pointed one out on our way home from high school. I was not impressed!” he laughs, and that’s not what we expected to hear. “The car was completely stock and beat up. It wasn’t until two years later, when I began searching for my first car, that my opinion changed. All of my friends were buying Honda Civics or Acura Integras. I remember hearing them pull up to school sounding like a squeaky dog toy that was just stepped on, gasping for air (I never envied them to say the least) and I wanted something different. Something rare. I saw a red E30 on Craigslist that I fell in love with. The car allured me. It was Brilliant red with a Rieger body kit and BBS wheels. It stared at me with this enticing glare. I had to have it! But I couldn’t afford it,” he laments. “Unfortunately I settled for a cheap Cadillac Coupe de Ville which was eventually sold to fund parts for the current car,” so it at least served a noble purpose in the end.
While his first E30 encounter may not have been great, once he’d realised that he needed one in his life he was not going to stop until he got his hands on one. “In January of 2013 I purchased my first E30. It was a mostly-stock 1991 Coupé with BBS RS reps and cut springs. What should have been a dream come true turned into a nightmare! I drove three hours with a friend to Los Angeles to check out the car. On the way I dropped the envelope of cash behind the dash of my VW Jetta. I had to rent tools from a local parts store and take it apart in the parking lot to recover the funds!” he exclaims. “I was so in love with the E30 that when I bought it from the guy I didn’t realise it was out of registration. About halfway home I was stopping by a friend’s to show off the car; I took a turn too fast which resulted in a destroyed control arm, shattered oil pan, and crunched fender. Oil was everywhere. The sidewalk looked like it had been hit by artillery. In a panic, I fled to a parts store and purchased the cheapest tow strap I could find. 20 minutes later the VW Jetta became my tow truck and I towed the E30 through my old neighbourhood to my friend’s house. That was my first experience with a BMW,” he laughs. “It took at least a month to convince my grandfather to trailer the car and two more for me to fix the damage,” he says and Ryan’s grandfather is actually the main “ I found this car in May of 2015 in Sacramento, California – it was in running condition, with a rattle-can primer paint job and Honda Prelude front seats” reason he has the mechanical skills needed to work on and mod his own cars in the first place. “I moved to Fresno, California to start college and began hanging around my uncle Jeff and grandfather Gale Riggin, who has owned and operated Gale’s Automotive since 1980,” says Ryan. “I began helping him when I was free between my full-time job and college. I told him I wanted to build a car so I could learn about mechanics. He agreed to let me use his tools and the space. The only conditions were I paid for the parts and did all the work. I was going to be the one blamed if anything went wrong. To this day he won’t even touch the E30 since he wants me to be responsible for any issues,” he laughs. “He says: ‘It’s your problem, not mine. You can break it not me.’ But he has always been there to guide me. I don’t think he realised how much work I expected to put into the car when I first bought it,” he says.
So that’s enough backstory, what we want is the story of the machine we’re looking at here. “The same E30 was totalled in a parking lot a year later by a lady in a rush to eat her freshly-baked pizza,” sighs Ryan with a roll of his eyes. “With the insurance money I collected from the crash I purchased a late-model Alpine white E30 Coupé but, after closer inspection, it was too rusted for me to save. Then I found this car in May of 2015 in Sacramento, California – it was in running condition, with a rattle-can primer paint job and Honda Prelude front seats. It had the straightest body I could find and was the perfect canvas for what I had been imagining in my head for the last few years. It came into my life as a 318iS and I daily drove it for three months,” says Ryan and while it took him three goes to get his perfect E30, now he could begin to create the vision he had in his head.
“Disassembly began in July of 2015 and the car was finished August of 2016. However, the actual build really took over three years since I went through three shells, and began hoarding parts since the first E30,” he explains. “When I started my build I knew I wanted an M3 motor, Recaro seats, and a greyish colour. When I bought this car I had already stashed away many parts; the S50 was on an engine stand halfway assembled, and I already had the interior redone. I bought and sold a wrecked VW Jetta GLI just for the Recaro seats (the greatest seats of all time) and nearly all of the parts were traded or funded from my past E30s. By the time I acquired this car I basically had all of the main components, I just needed to find time in between college and my job. During summer of 2015 I left for the military so I dropped the car off for paint. When I returned a few months later I continued with the build by installing the motor, interior, wheels, and suspension,” says Ryan.
Let’s begin with the engine, because that’s as good a place as any to start on a car this nice, and the S50B30US that sits snugly in this E30’s engine bay is far from ordinary, as Ryan explains. “I traded a dying VW Jetta for the engine and transmission out of a ’95 E36 M3. I trusted the guy, but little did I know one of the pistons was bad so it has been completely rebuilt with CP-Carrillo forged pistons, ARP hardware, an Achilles Motorsport upgraded oil pump, new gaskets, and lots more. To clean things up I also powder coated many of the parts to clean up the bay. The trade came with a few Dinan and AC Schnitzer parts which I sold to pay for the rebuild. I wanted a bulletproof motor, and I am more than happy with the finished result,” he smiles and with good reason because that is a mighty motor. An S50 is a nice upgrade anyway, especially from the M42 that originally powered this car, but with those extras on board, brought about through necessity though they might have been, it’s really given this E30 that extra edge. It looks great, with the black block and powder coated accessories and beneath the surface there’s a Dinan chip with a red label 413 ECU and the whole lot is finished off with an exhaust system comprising Magnaflow high-flow cats connected up to a Magnaflow cat-back system and finished off with polished tips. The aforementioned M3 gearbox has also received a few upgrades, with an AC Schnitzer shortshift kit on board, AKG E21 transmission mount cups, a Stage 2 FX Racing clutch and lightweight flywheel combo with a 3.15 ratio LSD from a Z3 M Coupé sitting at the back.
A great engine deserves a great chassis and while we can all see that this E30 is on air, there’s a lot more to it than that.
“I originally had a coilover setup from KW Suspension. They rode amazing, but driving a slammed static car on the streets can be a headache,” winces Ryan. “Since I wasn’t tracking the car I looked into air suspension. Bag Riders offered me a partial sponsorship, and I couldn’t resist. They hooked me up with an Air Lift setup with V2 management. I finished the install just hours before the West Coast Bimmerfest 2016 show and drove a 10 hour round trip to show the car. I have been living the life on air ever since,” he grins, and he’s got his E30 sitting oh-so pretty but Ryan is a man who likes a job to be done properly and he was far from finished. The subframes were removed, reinforced and repainted and all the suspension components were refurbished with new bushes throughout while Treehouse Racing control arm bushes were installed to aid with exhaust clearance. With a significant increase in power the stock brakes were now found to be wanting so Ryan rebuilt them front and rear and StopTech discs and pads were fitted all-round with stainless steel brake lines, and that combo now delivers far more meaningful stopping power.
While all the work that Ryan has carried out beneath the surface is very impressive it’s not what you first notice about this E30; what gets you first are the looks because this is one beautifully-presented machine and a lot of effort has gone into delivering the perfect styling. “The late-model E30 iS body style is a simple design with body lines that attract a modern, but retro complexion,” reasons Ryan. “It is my favourite of all the E30 body styles. Add Euro trim to the car, and those body lines become more crisp and natural with the removal of the ugly US side markers. BMW has pioneered several colours throughout the years, but I have never been a huge fan of any of their metallic shades. Solid colours just pop, and in my opinion have the best shine when done right. When I laid eyes on a grey Porsche 911 GT3 RS I knew what needed to be done,” he grins. “I found the colour code and placed a sample next to my tan door cards and immediately finished the car in my head. I wanted the colour scheme to stand out without it looking like a 1960s Impala in Lowrider magazine. Something above stock, but not extreme; I wanted an OEM+ look,” he explains and he’s achieved that and so much more. The Porsche shade in question is called Grey Black and it looks stunning on the E30, that swathe of solid grey really grabbing your attention and Ryan’s not kidding about the shine, either. The faded door trims have been wrapped in matt black to bring them to life while all the weather stripping was replaced to make sure everything looked perfect. Beyond the paint, Ryan has also added a few subtle styling touches, as per his OEM+ plan, with an iS lip with RyanG splitter up front, Euro grilles, Euro smoked smiley headlights, iS side skirts, M Tech 1 boot lid spoiler and custom all-red rear lights for that finishing touch, and they deliver the perfect punch of contrast against the grey bodywork.
So far, so good, but we must now discuss the finishing touch that brings it all together, and that’s the wheels, and Ryan’s choice does not disappoint on any level. “I bought and sold around seven sets of wheels before I finally acquired a set of BBS RSs. I almost went with a set of Gotti wheels off a Porsche, but they required too much work for the right fitment,” he says. “The other wheels I considered were BBS E50s or Compomotive TFNs, but I was always a day late or a dollar short. I knew I wanted a period-correct wheel, and you just can’t go wrong with BBS on a BMW. I originally wanted to fully polish the wheels, but the tan gave the car a perfect colour contrast,” and we agree wholeheartedly. Ryan’s RSs have been custom-built to his perfect specs and he’s opted for 16s, which look great tucked under the arches, measuring 8.5”-wide up front and 9.5” at the rear, with matt black barrels, those tan centres made to match his interior, BBS stainless steel valve stems and BBS RX2 hex nuts with up-sized carbon centre caps for the finishing touch. Matching those centres to the interior was a great decision as they offer a double contrast to that strong slice of grey, with a serving of creamy leather goodness throughout the cabin really brightening up proceedings. “The Honda front seats were thrown away and the Recaro seats were reupholstered to match the OEM tan interior,” says Ryan. “Black door pulls and door pockets were added to give the interior some contrast. A black powder coated Kirk Racing roll-cage was installed along with a Nardi wood grain wheel with matching shift knob and custom all-leather handbrake and gear lever gaiters. I also added a Euro clock, 1 Series floor mats and the cluster was rebuilt and black textured trim rings were added for an OEM+ look,” he says. He’s put together a great-looking interior, one which feels fresh but still retains that classic look; wood is all good and Recaros are pretty much seat perfection so it’s a killer combo. Ryan’s E30 is a stunning machine and all the work that’s gone into it, not including having to get through two previous E30s before he struck gold with this one, has absolutely paid off and while it hasn’t always been an easy journey, it’s been an exceptionally satisfying one. “The biggest obstacle I had with the build was time. I could never devote all of my time to the car. I was either in school, working, or gone for military training during my summers. It was hard to stay organised and I made many mistakes from trying to work fast. It was always 20 minutes here or an hour there on lunch breaks, nights, or weekends. A few times I even bought two of the same part since it was misplaced. I was constantly moving one step forward and two steps back,” he says but all that is in the past; all that matters is the present and that is being firmly taken up by this magnificent E30.
Complete as the car might appear to be, Ryan’s not done with it yet and already has the next phase of mods all planned out; “I am currently hoarding parts to boost the car. I have a Garret GT3582R setup I will be installing in the future. My goal is 450whp,” he grins. He’s got more on his mind than just his E30, though; “When I get a place of my own I want to build a classic 2002 tii. Or maybe LS-swap my E46 M3… who knows, only time will tell,” he muses but, whatever other automotive adventures he might find himself on, his E30 will always be by his side, a stunning machine he built himself and will always treasure, and that’s something really special.
DATA FILE S50 E30
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 3.0-litre straight-six S50B30US, rebuilt with CP-Carrillo forged pistons, ARP hardware, K&N filter, Mishimoto intake hose, Achilles Motorsport oil pump, air con and power steering-delete, block painted black, accessories powder coated black, Dinan chip with red label 413 ECU, Magnaflow high-flow cats, Magnaflow cat-back exhaust with polished stainless steel tips. E36 M3 ZF 320 five-speed manual gearbox, AC Schnitzer short-shift kit, AKG E21 transmission mount cups, FX Racing Stage 2 clutch and lightweight flywheel, Revshift giubo adapter paired to new propshaft, 3.15 LSD from Z3 M Coupé
CHASSIS 8.5x16” (front) and 9.5x16” (rear) BBS RS009 wheels with polished stepped lips, tan powder coated faces, matt black barrels, BBS RX2 hex nuts, up-sized carbon fibre centre caps, BBS stainless steel valve stems, 195/45 (front) and 205/45 (rear) Yokohama S.drive tyres, Air Lift Performance air suspension with V2 management, all suspension components refurbished with new bushes, Treehouse Racing control arm bushes, new OEM bearings, brakes rebuilt, StopTech pads and drilled discs (front and rear), stainless steel brake lines
EXTERIOR Full respray in Porsche Grey Black, door trims wrapped matt black, all weatherstripping gaskets replaced, iS front lip with RyanG splitter, Euro grilles, Euro smoked smile headlights, iS side skirts, M Tech 1 boot spoiler, custom all-red rear lights
INTERIOR VW Jetta Recaro seats trimmed in tan leather, black door pulls and door pockets, Nardi wood grain steering wheel with matching gear knob, custom leather gear and handbrake gaiters, Euro clock, 1 Series floor mats, rebuilt instrument cluster with black textured trim rings, black powder coated Kirk Racing roll-cage
“I found this car in May of 2015 in Sacramento, California – it was in running condition, with a rattle-can primer paint job and Honda Prelude front seats”
“Little did I know one of the pistons was bad so it has been completely rebuilt with CP-Carrillo forged pistons, ARP hardware, an Achilles Motorsport upgraded oil pump, new gaskets, and lots more”
Paint protection coating keeps that gorgeous grey looking its best. Stunning, custom-finished 16” RSs feature tan centres. Porsche Grey Black paint looks stunning. S50 is the perfect match for the E30. Air Lift comes with adjustable top mounts. Simple air-ride setup. Gorgeous custom-trimmed Recaros Kirk Racing roll-cage has been fitted-Nardi wooden steering wheel and matching gear knob.