Fully-custom, M52 2.8-swapped E30 Have you ever met an E30 you didn’t like? Sure, there are a few examples out there that are slightly questionable but for the most part E30 owners are true enthusiasts who love their cars and respect them and only want the best for them. The E30 is one of those cars that is truly universally-loved; it’s one of BMW’s most timeless and most iconic designs and it just looks so good. Its simple, classic lines have stood the test of time and it still looks sharp and smart and the breadth of aftermarket offerings available for the compact executive is truly overwhelming, allowing every owner out there the opportunity to create something truly unique. For the perfect example of that you need look no further than Rafal Sadowski and his gorgeous coupé.
Rafal has been a BMW fan ever since he was little, as he recalls; “I really liked the E30 shape since a young age. I remember that my father was really close to buying an early model E30 as a family car with the 2.0- or 2.5-litre engine when I was around ten-years-old; at that time this was the best looking car for me and I was upset that he didn’t buy it in the end.” Of course now Rafal is the master of his own motoring destiny and has made the E30 part of his life in a big way and while it wasn’t his first BMW ownership experience, it is the third in a family of Threes that have spent time with Rafal and his wife. “The first BMW I bought – but not for myself – was an E46 Coupé; my wife loved it so much that it became her car, so the first BMW I actually bought for myself was an E36 Coupé,” he says. “After we sold my wife’s E46 we only had one car in the family and because we needed a second one I decided to give her my Audi A6 Avant so we could keep it as a family car and get myself something cheap to travel to work. Of course the E36 didn’t stay stock for long,” he grins, “I’d lowered it a few days after buying it and fitted a set of AC Schnitzer wheels, which I then stored at home, waiting for the E30.”
We need to do a little backtracking here because we’re skipping over the fact that Rafal is something of a serial modifier. That A6 Avant he gave to his wife? Yeah, that wasn’t just any old sensible estate… “It had air-ride, a couple of sets of rims, an S6 front grille, US boot lid; I owned it for five years and won a few car shows with it,” he says. “After three years of using it as a show car I decided to make it stock again and use it as a family car. I then used the money which I got from selling the parts to build an E30,” and we’re very glad he did.
So, the hunt was on for an E30. Except it wasn’t… “I didn’t actually find the car anywhere,” laughs Rafal, “my wife did, through my best friend, Sebastian. She asked him what she could buy me for Christmas one year and he knew very well that I was on the hunt for an E30 at the time. He found one in Dublin, 200km from my house, and asked friends living nearby if they could have a look at it. When they said the car was in really good condition he told my wife that she should get me this car and because it only cost her €600, including towing it from Dublin to Galway, she didn’t have to think about it for long. It was the perfect Christmas gift,” he smiles.
Having done his research, Rafal was fully aware of – and prepared for – the usual E30 imperfections but everyone involved in the purchase of this particular example had done a sterling job because it turned out to be a cracker. “This E30 was 25-years-old by then and, typically for an E30, had a few rusty places like the rear pockets, two small holes in the floor and some rust around the sunroof and that was it. When I was reading forums and looking at other E30s I have to say mine was in amazing condition.” Now, there is that old saying ‘Never look a gift horse in the mouth’ but in this case that needs to be changed to ‘Always look a gift E30 in the boot’ because what Rafal found made his present all the more sweeter. “I was really surprised when I opened the boot and found a set of pop-out windows, M Tech 2 boot spoilers, electric mirrors and a few other bits, so at the end of the day it turned out my wife paid way less than €600 for the car,” he grins. With E30 in hand Rafal could get cracking with the mods and he wasn’t going to hang about; he always had a plan for the car, even before he got one, and that was to make it low, wide and eye-catching and we reckon all three of those boxes have been well and truly ticked.
We begin beneath the bonnet, because that’s always a good place to start, and exactly where Rafal began his E30 modifying journey. This E30 started life as a 318i, powered by an M40B18, and his plan was to swap in an M54B30 but this changed slightly when he found an E39 528i for sale at an auction. He decided to buy the whole car, whipped out the M52 and manual gearbox and sold the rest of the car part by part. “In the end the engine and gearbox cost me nothing, in fact I even made some money from it,” he laughs, so clearly doing an engine swap is the most sensible thing you can ever do. “Because I knew I wouldn’t be able to do most things myself I decided to send the car over to Poland to my friends at Swap Garage in Poznan,” says Rafal. “They rebuilt the engine, fitted it and, before they sent it for a respray, they did a wire tuck to keep the engine bay as clean as they could. They swapped the original intake system for a carbon Simota induction kit and custom-made the exhaust manifold and 2.5” exhaust system.” The guys at Swap Garage have done an exceptional job on this particular swap and the M52 install is exceedingly clean and tidy, resulting in a very smart-looking engine bay. It’s a great choice of engine too, endowing the lightweight Three with some serious straight-six muscle and a stirring soundtrack to boot, and with the additional mods carried out by Swap Garage, Rafal’s M52 is particularly healthy.
Once the E30 had returned to Rafal he could crack on with the rest of his build and next on his list was getting the suspension sorted. As per his plans before he’d even bought the car, he wanted it to be low so the hunt was on for a set of coilovers that would deliver the drop he was looking for. “The car is sitting on ISC coilovers with custom-made springs as the original ones weren’t hard enough in my opinion,” says Rafal and these coilovers deliver a serious drop, getting the tops of the tyres tucked just under the arches, with a bit of stretch on the rubber helping to get the car sitting perfectly.
Rafal wasn’t just interested in getting the drop right, he also turned his attention to the E30’s brakes, the stock stoppers now rather inadequate companions for the M52 under the bonnet. “In order to get bigger brakes onto the car I had to do a five-lug swap and now I’ve got 325mm discs up front from an E46 330i, which fill out the wheels fairly well, and the rear discs are 276mm. Unfortunately, because of the front disc size, I had to get 17” wheels as 16s wouldn’t fi t over the brakes,” he says but we reckon there’s no hardship here as 17s are the sweet spot for E30 wheels and his choice really hits the spot. “From the beginning I had a few types of wheels, BBS RSs, OZ Hartges and these Schnitzers; some people say you often see them on old BMWs and yes, they are right, but I don’t think any other classic wheels would suit it better,” he says and we’re in agreement with him there. The ACS Type 1 Racing alloys suit the car so well, it’s just such a timeless, iconic design of wheel for a timeless, iconic design of car and here they measure 9” wide up front and 10” at the rear and they sit perfectly.
With the engine and chassis sorted, Rafal now turned his attention to the final elements of the build, that being the exterior and interior and here, as with every other aspect of the project, he has really made a huge effort to get every aspect of this car’s appearance absolutely perfect. As we always say, the E30 shape is so pure and iconic that you really don’t want to mess around with it and Rafal is clearly in agreement with us as he’s just added the most subtle of additions to enhance its natural good looks, but what you notice before anything else is that colour. It’s a rich, deep, lush purple that’s absolutely gorgeous and we are fully in love with it. Exactly what is it? Well we’d love to tell you but we don’t know and Rafal’s not about to reveal the secrets of his paint job. “The hardest decision was choosing the right colour for the Bimmer; I had a few options but wasn’t 100% sure about any of them though. From the beginning I knew I wanted to have either a dark cherry colour or a really dark purple but there are loads of different colours and shades to choose from and that’s why I couldn’t decide which one I should go for,” says Rafal. “Then Marcin Ukleja helped me; he is a great car sprayer, one of the best I’ve seen, and he gave me two or three different colour options and after a while we knew we had it,” he grins.
He’s gone to great lengths to ensure that it’s a seriously special shade and it works so well on the E30, especially when the sun hits it and you get to experience that intense purple in all its glory. In addition to the sensational shade, Rafal has enhanced his E30 with an iS front lip and M Tech 1 boot spoiler, E30 Touring side skirts, US front and rear side markers, he’s deleted the side repeaters and fitted those popout windows along with the US rear plate panel. All these subtle alterations combine to give this E30 an especially clean and distinctly different look, building on those natural good looks and bringing out its absolute best.
Turn your attention to the inside, though, and you’ll see that here Rafal has gone all-out and the results are nothing short of spectacular. “I had problems with choosing the right front seats for it and for the first few weeks I was thinking about getting some Recaro CS seats, but I couldn’t find a set for a decent price, all of them were overpriced,” Rafal tells us. “Then one of my friends asked me why I didn’t try to get some Recaro Speeds, the same ones that were in the E30 M3.” Rafal took his advice and started looking around and a few weeks later had bought a set from one of his friends. “I told him to send them straight to my upholsterer,” he says.
“I decided to retrim the whole interior in one colour, including the front and rear seats, door cards and the dashboard too. I know a few people are not fans of it but I think it’s one of the things that makes my E30 stand out from the crowd. I’m really happy with my decision and wouldn’t change the interior at all,” he adds and we don’t blame him. It’s a bold look, of that there can be no doubt, but the interior looks absolutely lush wrapped in acres of caramel leather. It adds an air of opulence and luxury and really makes the interior feel like a special place to be, further aided by the addition of those super-sexy front seats and additional touches like the rear seats having been reshaped to look like the E30 M3 rear seats. In addition to all that the colour offers the perfect contrast to that dark exterior and it really is a sensational combination. Rafal has also added a Nardi Deep Corn wood-rimmed steering wheel and matching wooden Nardi gear knob and we love little touches like the original radio being just for show in order to keep things looking period, with the actual, far more modern head unit hidden in the glovebox so as not to spoil the E30’s dashboard aesthetics.
We love everything about Rafal’s E30, from the engine swap to that incredible purple paint job to that lush caramel interior; this is a car that’s been built with passion and some serious attention to detail, resulting in an absolutely spectacular machine where everything has been executed to the highest possible standard. Everything about it looks good and it really is a one-off build, quite unlike any other E30 out there. The major mods, says Rafal, are done but that doesn’t mean he’s finished and there are a few items left for him to tick off his to-do list. “I want to raise my engine up a little because my oil sump is 1.5” from the ground,” he laughs, “and I also want to do a boot build with some audio. Other than that I’m thinking about changing the wheels for something else in the future and maybe I will finally find a set of Recaro CS seats,” he adds, wistfully. Of course, the modifying mind never rests and Rafal has already started his next project, a Lexus GS450h which he plans to take down the VIP path but he’s also already thinking about his next BMW build. “The E30 was built for my son,” he explains, “so I will have to build another BMW for myself sometime and if I have the funds to do it I will definitely pick an E24 6 Series,” he says with a smile. Whether he gets stuck into a classic Six or something else from the Bavarian back-catalogue, you can guarantee that it’s going to get turned into something seriously sensational.
DATA FILE M52 2.8 E30
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 2.8-litre straight-six M52B28TU, wire-tucked engine bay, carbon Simota air intake, custom exhaust manifolds, custom 2.5” exhaust. Five-speed manual gearbox, 25% LSD with 3.20 final drive ratio
CHASSIS 9×17” (front) and 10×17” (rear) AC Schnitzer Type 1 Racing wheels with 195/40 (front) and 225/35 (rear) Hankook tyres, ISC coilovers with custom springs, rear camber kit, E46 330i brakes with 325mm (front) and 276mm (rear) discs, copper lines
EXTERIOR Full respray in metallic purple, iS front lip, M Tech 1 boot spoiler, E30 Touring side skirts, US front and back side markers, side repeaters deleted, pop-out rear windows, US rear numberplate panel
INTERIOR Whole interior trimmed in caramel leather, Recaro Speed seats, rear seats reshaped in E30 M3-style, Nardi Deep Corn steering wheel with matching Nardi gear knob, original radio with second radio hidden in glovebox
THANKS First of all massive thanks to my amazing wife Monika (love you lots) and Sebastian for getting the car for me, Miker for help with suspension and brakes, Karol, Jakub and Dariusz at Swap Garage for building my car, Marcin Ukleja for helping to pick the right colour, Exotic, Adams, Przemyslaw, Elvis and Przemek and TeamAF for the continued support
Nardi Deep Corn wood-rimmed steering wheel. Pop-out rear windows. Recaro Speed seats up front. Nardi gear knob.
You’ll find Rafal and his E30 on Instagram under @_midnight_haze.
17” ACS Type 1 Racing splits.
M52 sits in immaculate, wire-tucked engine bay.
“The car is sitting on ISC coilovers with custom-made springs as the original ones weren’t hard enough in my opinion”
“The M52 install is exceedingly clean and tidy, resulting in a very smart-looking engine bay. It’s a great choice of engine too”