If you think BMW racing is dear, Tiff reckons you’re wrong, as he recalls a lot of cheap fun in an BMW 320i E30

THE RACER Tiff Needell


When it comes to discussing BMW road cars, I have to confess I still get mightily mixed up with my E-numbers and often need to resort to Wikipedia to check out which years models were produced.

The series I’m probably best at understanding has to be the 3 Series especially as an E21 was the first BMW I ever owned – and how well I still remember that little mid-range rasping exhaust note.

Being rear-wheel drive, BMWs were always going to be popular when it came to having a bit of fun on a racetrack and, if you want to go one step further than track days, there are all sorts of opportunities to go racing in a classic BMW.

Back at the end of 2016 I sampled one of the best value, entry level series when I jumped at an offer from Graves Motorsport to join a grid of E30 320is for a round of the Production BMW Championship at Thruxton sponsored by Toyo Tyres.

The fact that the E30 reigned for longer than any other 3 Series, from 1982 to 1994, means there are plenty of examples ready to be converted to race and you can now buy one fully prepared and ready to join the grid for between £4000-£6000. Racing cars don’t come much cheaper than that.

Of course, you can also build one up for yourself, but you’d probably spend nearer to £10,000 doing it. Or you could rent one from teams like Graves for a double header weekend for £1500, which includes the entry fee – the choice is yours.

Regulations allow you to strip out the car and drop the weight to 1125kgs including the driver, fit coil-over springs front and rear and you can rebuild the engine as long as it doesn’t exceed the 145bhp limit, which is checked on a rolling road dyno after races. Standard gearbox, shorter 4:1 differential permitted and away you go!

In practice I managed to set the fastest time using my extra knowledge of the Thruxton circuit to my advantage while working out how to get the best out of the E30.

First problem was realising that limited-slip differentials weren’t allowed so my showboating TV style of pitching it into the corner wasn’t going to work as it lifted its inside wheel and spun all the power away. So, smooth, neat and tidy was going to be the quick way.

Come qualifying and I was firmly put in my place by the regulars and lined up fourth on the grid. It turned out to be a very close race, rather like Formula Ford racing with roofs, constantly surrounded by cars trying to slipstream past. Slotting into fifth gear on the run down to Church, trying to keep full throttle and as tidy as possible through the corner and then into the slipstream to prepare for the great out-braking battle into the Chicane, with brakes locking and smoke pouring off the tyres, it was as good as it gets!

I missed winning the first race by 0.059secs – and I was still only third. Another bottom step of the podium was earned in race two after a bit of rubbing and racing, but nothing could take away my grin.

Running costs for a season of the E30s could be as little as £3000 – as long as you don’t hit too much or blow anything up – and plans are afoot to run a series for the E90 325is to a similar set of regulations. So, if you’ve always fancied racing a BMW but thought it might be a bit too expensive, why not think again?


After a long career not only as a motoring broadcaster but also as a racing driver, his opinion on any car needs to be taken seriously.

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Jean-Claude Landry
Jean-Claude is the Senior Editor at eManualOnline.com, Drive-My.com and Garagespot.com, and webmaster of TheMechanicDoctor.com. He has been a certified auto mechanic for the last 15 years, working for various car dealers and specialized repair shops. He turned towards blogging about cars and EVs in the hope of helping and inspiring the next generation of automotive technicians. He also loves cats, Johnny Cash and Subarus.