First time lucky – #BMW #E30
engine boost. For a first project car, the E30 makes sense. To Karel Silha, so did 726bhp. Words: Joel Newman. Photos: Lars Sikhammar.
Take a second and try to picture the very first car you modified. For me, that car was a #VW
Mk2 Golf Driver. It may have had a measly 1.3-litre lump under the bonnet, the steering was heavier than death metal and the interior looked like a duvet cover stolen from a ’70s swingers party, but it did nothing to deter me. This was my first motor and as such I wanted to personalise it. It wasn’t great but I think I can be forgiven; it takes time and rather a lot of practice to get things right.
For my sins I popped to the local modding hut, which was like a cheaper version of Halfords (if you can imagine such a thing). Here I selected a set of 17” unbranded rims, a huge exhaust and one of the world’s loudest and perhaps poorest audio systems (complete with MiniDisc player). Not only did the ICE die after six months, in retrospect the wheels were chavvy and it’s safe to say that the 4” pipe out back was not yielding any additional power. I tell you this because, like most, I made mistakes. But for every thousand of me you may be lucky enough to find one Karel Silha.
Like many of you, Karel picked the E30 #325i
for its classic styling and appeal as a true driver’s car. He concurred that for a first attempt, an E30 made perfect sense. The parts are relatively cheap and much of the service and tuning work can be completed without specialist equipment.
For most, one’s first modified car is generally a styling exercise. Initially, new wheels, bumpers and side skirts, lowering springs and an exhaust system are about as far as most are comfortable with, but Karel had vastly different concerns. Despite this E30 being his first project car, he knew what he was after, and styling just didn’t come into it. Although he was on a budget, for him modifying is about one thing. Power. What’s the point of having the sickest rims, the best suspension, the widest of body kits if, you only have a hairdryer to plough you along? For Karel this side of tuning is fake. A staged world of ‘look at me’s’ and flash idiots; a world he just didn’t want to be a part of.
“I’ve always loved the E30 because it’s so much fun and it’s not expensive nor exclusive. I paid just £350 for this car and even though it was rusty and in need of some TLC I knew I could save it,” he explains.
So, what exactly was Karel’s big plan? Amazingly, even from the outset his hopes were pretty out there. He explains: “The line of the attack from the beginning was to turbo it and keep the standard internals. I was told the M20 could handle around 400bhp at the crank in terms of rods and pistons and I felt that would be more than enough.” You don’t say!
Karel was lucky enough to have a small workshop, something it seems all Swede’s have access to (I wonder if it’s the same one?). Over the next five months he would get to work, and with no prior knowledge of turbocharging, he would attempt to install and fabricate this entirely new setup. Before any of the real work could begin, the #M20
was sent to Engson Motors, which increased the bore to 2.7 litres and welded the head. This was one of the only areas of the entire build Karel did not do himself.
With the engine back and ready to roll, a huge turbo was required, and you’ll never guess where it came from… The 61mm trim beast was removed from a Volvo truck, which gives us a clue to its capacity!
As stated, Karel wanted to plumb this in with the minimum of fuss, to work out what could and what couldn’t cope. To this end he first needed to sort out the cooling and fuel delivery, so popped in larger 1260cc injectors, a front-mounted intercooler and got on with the long job of fabricating the required exhaust manifold and turbo tubing.
With combustion increasing so abundantly, Karel also fitted a race fuel tank in the boot along with two new Bosch 044 fuel pumps capable of running E85 (or 98 grade octane fuel to you and me).
With such a huge turbo it was essential for Karel to fit two Tial wastgates to keep boost pressure in check, while a decent sized 50mm Tial blow-off valve stopped pressure build-up and turbo surge, which can severely damage an engine. An Aeromotive regulator also made its way into the engine bay, helping him determine and direct boost and fuel pressures, as well as a Nuke Performance fuel rail for good measure. As Karel planned to keep the bottom end standard, he fitted Nuke Performance cam gear, enabling him to match cam timing by advancing or retarding the cam profile in one-degree increments. This meant he could keep his standard M20 cams.
With the engine working, Karel got on with installing an #Alpina-B7
differential, involving customisation of the driveshaft to enable him to utilise the standard Getrag 260 five-speed gearbox. He also added a hydraulic handbrake so he could compete competitively in the drift events so popular in Scandinavia.
The car was then gifted FK coilovers, the front end dropped as low as it could go, giving it a brutal dragster look. Finally a Brembo big brake kit featuring 302mm discs and four-piston calipers made their way behind the 18” ASA Pirate rims. These are wrapped in Pirelli P-Zeros, however as they are changed twice a month during the summer often anything goes!
Karel, of course, stripped the entire cabin, installing a set of Radiopower fibreglass red buckets with Elite four-point rally harnesses, a grippy Momo drift wheel and a new custom-made aluminium instrument cluster.
Karel then spent two weeks sanding and prepping the car for its new Army green paint job. The car’s only exterior modifications were made in order to reduce weight; although the bonnet and boot look original they are now manufactured from fibreglass. He also replaced the rear windows with Perspex to further reduce weight. Overall he has shaved off some 250kg from the original 1250kg, which makes one hell of a difference.
So what to do? Test the damn thing! The car and driver were sent off to a street drag show, but not long after, something went bang. It was an ongoing issue; broken rocker cover and arms, which plagued Karel for some time. “Eventually we realised that we were producing far more power than we originally planned. I just had to strengthen the engine internally,” he explained.
So Karel rebuilt the entire bottom end with the help of Pure Performance Factory, which provided him with race valves and springs, custom pistons and rods, a new heavy duty camshaft and, to quote, “bloody strong” heavy-duty rockers. To make sure history did not repeat itself, Karel also installed a fresh Haltech ECU, so parameters could be kept on check at all times.
Since that day there have been no issues, with the car returning an awesome 650bhp at the wheels and 726bhp at the crank on E85 fuel at 29psi. With 654lb ft of stomachchurning torque, Karel laughs: “Any more power would be a waste of good rubber and 144 neck muscles. So far at just 21psi we ran a 10.28 at 138mph and that was on old tyres.” He’s even put some videos up, at youtube . com/karel021 .
There is something so inherently wonderful about an E30 that looks pretty much standard yet goes like the clappers. To many, it is the underlying soul of performance modifying. It’s not dressed in labels; it is as honest as tuning gets and I hope it inspires some heavy-hitting UK followers. It’s time we got in on this performance act because it doesn’t need to cost the earth. Over in Sweden they’ve been doing it for years. And we can all appreciate a lightweight road-legal E30 325i with that kind of shove. It’s a bruiser, not a supermodel, and it’s fun. And isn’t that what it’s all about?
ENGINE & TRANSMISSION: M20B25 engine stroked to 2.7 litres with custom-forged pistons and rods, Pure Performance Factory ( #PPF
) race valves and springs and CrMo retainers, custom PPF camshaft and heavyduty rockers, Nuke Performance fuel rail and cam gear, 1260cc injectors, custom exhaust manifold, #Volvo
truck 61mm trim turbo, Aeromotive regulator, Tial 50mm BOV, two Tial 38mm wastegates, front-mounted intercooler, two #Bosch
044 fuel pumps (running e85), Haltech single coils, Haltech e11v2 ECU (with electronic boost control),
Davies Craig electrical water pump, modified water-cooling system, support Girdle for the bottom. #Alpina
B7 rear differential, custom E30 325i driveshaft, standard five-speed gearbox, Polyurethane bushings for engine, gearbox and rear end.
CHASSIS: 7x18” (front) and 9x18” (rear) #ASA
Pirate wheels shod in 245/35 Pirelli P-Zero tyres all round. FK coilovers. Brembo BBK with 302mm disc and four-piston calipers.
EXTERIOR: Full respray in Army green, fibreglass bonnet and bootlid, Perspex rear windows, boot-mounted race fuel tank.
INTERIOR: Raidopower fibreglass seats, Elite four-point rally harnesses, custom-made aluminium instrument cluster, Prosport /Autometer gauges, Momo drift wheel, hydraulic handbrake, electrical water pump controller, roll-cage.
THANKS: Fredrik, Ivars, Ted, Jakobsson, Jansson, Magnus, Johnny, Bayrisch, Dogge, Robba, the guys at BVS, Billy, Limmet, Mats, A&A at PPF, Hilda, Arash, Jocke, Larsson, Nicklas, Stefan, Emil, Armin, Johan, and my sponsors Waarwest, PBZ ,VPM, Däckkompaniet, Raidopower, Racedäck.nu, Swedish woodworks, Engson Motor, Dalhems.
“Any more power would be a waste of good rubber and neck muscles”
There is something so inherently wonderful about an E30 that looks pretty much standard yet goes like the clappers.