M20 2.7-swapped BMW E30 Baur


2.7-swapped E30 Baur TC TOP CLASS

Time for a history lesson. If you’re a dedicated BMW fan (and if you’re here, reading this then we’d like to think you would be) then you’re probably familiar with the Baur name and might have seen a few of its quirky softtop creations. Karosserie Baur, to give the company its full name, is a German coachbuilder based in Stuttgart; notice we said is because it’s still around today, impressive considering the family business was founded in 1910. Baur has been building sot-top BMWs since the 1930s, starting out with full-on convertibles before switching to targa-style bodies in the ’70s. Porsche owned the “Targa” name so Baur came up with its Top Cabrio (TC) name and it’s probably what the company is best known for, despite having developed the E30 Convertible design for BMW as well as having built most of the M1s. Love it or hate it, the Top Cabrio concept is pretty cool and gives you greater flexibility than you would otherwise have with a straight-up softtop.

There’s a removable hard targa roof panel that can be stowed in the boot and a separate folding rear panel, with the two being able to function independently of each other. This means you can roll along with the rear folded down but the roof in place, or vice-versa, or everything off and it’s this versatility, along with the rarity, that makes Baur’s creations so appealing to fans like Tony Forbes-Marsden.

Tony is a lifelong BMW fan and has been involved with Bavaria’s fi nest in both professional and enthusiast capacities; 30 years ago he started working for the Sytner group as a panel beater before moving onto paint, spraying his own cars and now he works for himself painting cars fulltime, with a hefty waiting list testament to his skills and attention to detail. As for his personal love for BMW, he’s owned somewhere between 50 and 60 of them over the years, he estimates, but while many models may have come and gone, it’s the E30 that is undoubtedly his one true love and his passion. He’s currently got four of them for starters; he established the Essex E30 Collective three years ago, he owned an E30 320i Coupé for 15 years that he competed in sprints and hill climbs with and then we have this, quite possibly the jewel in the crown, his E30 Baur TC.

“It’s actually my second Baur,” Tony tells us, “and I just happened to be browsing eBay when it popped up. This was about two and a half years ago; a trader in Chelmsford was selling it, it was up for £700 and it was in very bad condition, really rusty, the sills and arches were completely rotten,” and while most of us would have run a mile at this point, for Tony it was right up his street. “My plan was to tidy it up and let my wife drive it; it wasn’t daunting and buying it so cheaply and doing it up myself I saved a fortune over buying a mint one, as this one is now valued at £18k,” he explains. So that’s all good but the fact that we’re talking to Tony and not his wife, and the car is clearly very far from having just been tidied-up, indicates that things didn’t quite go to plan.

“My inspiration to turn it into a project came from Daniel ‘Ginge’ Davison, who had the only Baur on air-ride in Europe,” he says and so a new project was born. Before he could get his E30 build off the ground, the first thing Tony needed to do was to take care of all the rust and rot and get the car as good as he possibly could in order to give himself the best possible base from which to begin modding. It takes all of five seconds looking at the car to tell you that he’s done an absolutely incredible job of it. The finish of the Zinnobar red paintwork, the car’s original colour but resprayed by Tony’s own hand, is absolutely immaculate, and the colour is so bright and bold, delivering that intense visual hit that you only get with solid colours. All rust has been removed, all rotten parts and panels have been replaced and both the engine bay and boot area have been sprayed while the undercarriage is now like new. Before it was modded, this car was completely restored and while for some that would have been enough, for Tony it was just the beginning. It’s taken him two years to get the car to where it is now, unrecognisable compared with how it looked back then, and while the work involved has been seriously full-on the results inside, outside and everywhere you look speak for themselves. One thing that won’t be immediately evident, however, is the engine but it’s most definitely worth noticing as there has been some serious work going on under the bonnet. “This was a 318i originally,” explains Tony, “and initially I was planning on doing an M52B28 swap but I decided I wanted something more period. A guy on the Collective was selling a 2.7 Eta block so I snapped it up and built the engine that you see here myself over six months.” The way Tony drops this into conversation so casually makes it all the more impressive and while we know he’s a guy who likes to do things himself, building up an engine is no small job. The 2.7 Eta block has been fitted with a 289° Piper cam and adjustable camshaft vernier pulley, an enlarged throttle body, a BTB six-branch exhaust manifold and the whole lot is topped-off with a 2.7 ECU chip. It’s an impressive lineup and it gives this E30 Baur some decent punch and a stirring soundtrack to match.

It’s not just the engine that’s changed – this car also started out life as a Chromie but, as you can see, that’s no longer the case. “I Shadowlined the car as the original chrome was in a bad way,” says Tony, “and was no longer available (NLA) from BMW.” The end result works really well, the black detailing offering the perfect contrast to the bright red bodywork and it ties in especially well with the roof.

With replacing the chrome not an option, we ask Tony if getting hold of other parts along the way was equally difficult; the E30 may be extremely popular but it is an old car now and BMW has a habit of even casting parts from newer models into the NLA void, rendering them unpurchasable.

“Actually no,” he replies, “a lot of the parts I got straight from BMW, genuine, new and still available; I even managed to get the last set of headlights! James Aston at Cotswold BMW was very helpful when it came to getting hold of all the parts I wanted; I ended up spending £12,000” he adds and while that’s serious wedge, the car is literally worth more than the sum of its parts so it was money well spent.

Tony’s not just focussed on the bigger picture here, he’s also paid attention to the details, and these always make all the difference. At the front of the car you’ll find a Jimmy Hill front lip, with an M Tech 1 boot spoiler at the rear end while the indicators and rear lights have been smoked and gently tinting away the clashing amber and bringing these elements in line with the car’s black and red visuals makes the whole look of the machine that much more cohesive. This is a good-looking car, of that there can be no doubt, and a big part of its success comes courtesy of the one part that some people might take offence with, that being the air suspension. “I got stick for it,” says Tony straight away as we chat bags, “but people like it. I actually wanted coilovers but I wouldn’t have been able to get the car on my drive with it sitting as low as I would have wanted it so I went with air purely for practicality.” Tony has opted for a manual D2 setup, which he fitted in a day with a friend, and the first thing you’re likely to notice is that, unlike most bagged BMs, this one isn’t sitting absolutely on the ground. “I didn’t want to go too low,” he explains, “as you get rear suspension problems and you can also crack the sump” so instead the lowest his E30 ever goes is as you see it here in the pictures, sitting with just the right amount of tuck and lower than most people would ever go on coilovers while still being able to revert to a daily-drivable ride height. Once you’ve got your sweet, sweet lows on the go you need the right wheels to add the finishing touch and, while the Borbet Ts that Tony initially had on the car are a classic design, we reckon what opting for what he’s rocking now was the right decision. “I decided to split some 14” bottle tops,” he explains and so he turned to CR Customs, the Polish company that is a dab hand at taking plain old single-piece wheels and turning them into three-piece works of art, and that’s exactly what they’ve done here. The original 14s have been stepped up to 17s via the use of some highly-polished lips and they look fantastic, period correct but with a modern twist and they suit the car so incredibly well.

Previously, this E30 Baur had been fitted with a cloth Sport interior but, with such an exquisite build, that would never do; Tony, therefore, decided to hunt down a black leather interior and it looks superb, much nicer than plain cloth and obviously it had to be black to tie in with the whole colour scheme. The analogue air pressure gauge and two-way switches are mounted discreetly below the heater controls while an Alpina steering wheel and sexy wooden gear knob add a touch of class. The boot, meanwhile, houses the simple single tank and compressor setup, leaving plenty of room for the targa roof panel to slot in above it.

The E30 Baur TC is a quirky, charming machine that’s easy to love and Tony’s superb example is so good it’s impossible not to. The changes he’s made throughout are subtle but they add up to create a bold, bright, beautiful car that carries its classic lines with ease and the numerous subtle enhancements only serve to bring out its absolute best. While everyone goes gooey over Chromies, taking the Shadowline stance in the pursuit of restoration perfection has given this E30 a tough look and Tony’s commitment to the colour scheme – even the tips of his Scorpion exhaust system are black – has worked wonders. Two years of work have totally transformed a tatty soft-top that would only have been fi t for the scrapheap had Tony not come along and rescued it from a rusty fate and he’s not about to stop just yet. “My jobs for the winter are a full ICE install,” he tells us, “all the seats are going to be recovered in new leather and the car is also being fitted with individual throttle bodies. I won four trophies this year, “ he beams, proudly, “and I’m hoping that with the changes there will be many more next show season.” Considering that you’d have to invent time travel and head to an ’80s showroom in order to find a cleaner E30, we don’t doubt that and every single one will be absolutely deserved. This E30’s story is only just beginning and it’s only going to go from strength to strength.

“A guy on the Collective was selling a BMW M20B27 2.7 Eta block so I snapped it up and built the engine that you see here myself over six months”


ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 2.7-litre straight-six M20B27 Eta, enlarged throttle body, 289° Piper camshaft, adjustable camshaft vernier pulley, BTB, six-branch exhaust manifold, 2.7 ECU chip. Getrag 260 five-speed manual gearbox, LSD

CHASSIS 8×17” (front) and 9×17” (rear) Style C bottle top three-piece splits by CR Customs with 205/40 (front) and 215/40 (rear) Falken Ziex ZE914 tyres, D2 analogue air-ride setup with single tank and compressor, all suspension parts stripped and powder coated, new brakes all-round

EXTERIOR Full body restoration, full respray in original Zinnobar red, new hood, Jimmy hill front spoiler, M Tech 1 boot spoiler, Shadowline trim, tinted front indicators, side repeaters and rear lights

INTERIOR Carpet dyed to black with black leather seats fitted, Alpina gear knob and steering wheel, Alpine head unit, custom-mounted pressure gauge and air-ride switches

THANKS All the guys from Essex E30 Collective for their support and also Daniel ‘Ginge’ Davison for the inspiration, James Aston at Cotswold BMW for the great service and tracking down the hard to find parts, Dan, Rob and Dick at WTC and the wife for not leaving me seeing as it took two years to build the car!

Cloth interior has been replaced with black leather. Tony started the Essex E30 Collective three years ago Analogue pressure gauge and manual air-ride switches. Sexy Alpina gear knob. 14” bottle tops transformed into 17” splits. Simple single tank and compressor setup. Targa roof panel stows away neatly in the boot.

“The finish of the Zinnobar red paintwork, the car’s original colour but resprayed by Tony’s own hand, is absolutely immaculate”

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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.