Schnitzer Group A BMW E30 M3

It is, sadly, the fate of many important classics to be locked away in collections for years, if not decades, but what’s worse is when they’re forced to be. When there’s no real opportunity to stretch the car’s legs and let it scream.

Such is the situation Hashimoto-san faced with many of the amazing machines in his care. An avid collector of some of the best racing cars on the planet, he was nonetheless saddened that many of them couldn’t compete because of Japan’s virtually non-existent classic touring car racing scene. There was the Time Machine Festival at Fuji a while back, but that stopped running in 2009, and as far as we can tell, hasn’t been revived since. So, in hindsight it was perhaps fortuitous that back in 2012, Hashimoto-san received a message out of the blue that someone from Australia, a country with an active and growing classic touring car racing scene, was interested in buying some of his cars. Specifically, a Shimizu-sponsored Group A RS500 and this gorgeous Auto Tech E30.

“It took Mr. Hashimoto a while to figure out what we were all about,” says current custodian Chris Bowden, owner of many of the other classic racers we’ve been featuring over the past 12 months. “He was mystified that these Australians were even up there to buy his old touring cars. It wasn’t until we were on his doorstep that he said, ’Oh now I believe this is happening’. He thought it was a joke. And that highlights what the historic racing scene up there is like, for the touring cars, anyway”.

Of course, regular readers will know that once there, Chris also found that stunning M1 Procar we featured back in June 2016 and decided to work out a way of getting that to Australia as well, but at the time, his main focus was the two Group A machines. And while the Shimizu car was nice, the E30 was the real standout, as it was not only the last ever Group A E30 M3 Schnitzer built, but also one of the most successful to ever race, taking out three JTCC class championships in four years – 1990, 1991 and 1993. Indeed, the only year it didn’t win, it still came third, and its final class win in 1993 was the last national championship a Group A E30 M3 ever won.

No doubt a lot of that success was down to the drivers, given it was piloted by none other than Roland Ratzenberger (ably assisted by Takamasa Nakagawa, Thomas Danielsson and Andrew Gilbert Scott) for the first three of those years, and Scott and Akihiko Nakaya for that final class win in ’1993, but there’s a lot to be said for the engineering Schnitzer put into the car, too. Having spent years developing the E30 chassis, by the time it came to make this final example (before switching to DTM-specs), it had a wealth of knowledge to draw from and poured everything into this machine. Chris says it shows, too.

“It’s just a magnificent example of the breed. In true Schnitzer fashion it’s just beautifully crafted”. Looking at the car in the metal, even at night time when we did the shoot, it’s plain to see he’s right, too. Bar fluid changes, the car in its current state is exactly the way it was after the final Intertec 1000 in 1993 (right down to the Shinto good luck charm stuck to the rear firewall), so it is scratched up and bears all the other scars of war, but even then, the quality of the engineering shines through. From the welding on the cage to the look of every nut and bolt, you know this car was built to last, and its results in the JTCC reflected that. In 1990, it won the Suzuka 500km and Tsukuba 300km races, while in 1991 it went one better and took out the Sendai Hi- Land 300km and Autopolis 300km events on top of repeating its success at Suzuka. 1992, the only year it didn’t win its class, Ratzenberger and Andrew Gilbert-Scott could only manage the one victory at Sendai, but in 1993, after the driver line-up changed to Scott and Nakaya, the pair smashed the opposition, grabbing wins at the Mine 300km, Autopolis 300km, Sugo 300km, Suzuka 500km and Tokachi 300km events. So yes, the car was not only fast, it was incredibly reliable, and given its JTC-2 class consisted of only E30 M3s (sadly, by the early 90s it just couldn’t compete on speed with the RS500s and R32 GT-Rs, which were placed in the JTC-1 category), the fact it outpaced and outlasted similar rivals is yet another tribute to Schnitzer’s work, as well as that of the Auto Tech engineers that looked after it.

 Obviously, fluids aside, there are some changes that need to be made to bring it up to shape for 2017 though. The first is obviously the seat. As you can see from the photos, the elderly carbon Recaro Pole Position (a startling 2.5 kilos with padding) suffers from considerable resin yellowing, which means it definitely needs to go if the car is ever to see serious track work again, and the slicks, from 2009 and already a couple of heat cycles old, need binning too. However, in yet further testament to the car’s build quality, that’s about it. Ecurie Bowden tore the car down last year prior to a light test run and found precisely no problems, and as Chris found upon driving it, the Evo III-spec engine meant the car was still very fast and Schnitzer and Auto Tech’s work to set-up the Evo III suspension components meant it was very good fun to drive, if a little skittish in current spec and on the very old rubber.

“The engine was very strong,” he says. “We weren’t too sure where we stood there, but Mr. Hashimoto told us it was a great engine, and everything else he’s ever said about the cars we’ve bought from him has been entirely correct and yet again, there you go, there was not a rattle, not a leak. It pulled beautifully through the whole range and had a heap of power. It was really grunty up high. The car’s got quite a bark to it with the later Evolution diameter headers and the straight-through exhaust, too. My first time out, I forgot to put in my earplugs and I can assure you I didn’t make that mistake again,” he laughs.

As for the handling specifics, the rock-hard Schnitzer-spec springs (Chris believes they’re 1250lb front and around 800-900lbs rear) proved the biggest issue on the bumpy Morgan Park circuit the team used, exacerbating the tyres’ lack of grip, but it was still great fun, Chris says.

“Just testing her on the little Morgan Park track, with it oversprung for how I like it and the slightly old tyres, the whole thing made for a real laugh-a-lot experience. I was just sliding it through every corner and getting the tail out and just having a ton of fun. It was a really great little [local] debut for her and I could even see just with three modifications of the Motec M4, changing the spring rates to what we run on the other M3s, which are a lot more user-friendly for an amateur driver like me, and a new set of boots, and it’d be a very competitive car. Very competitive.”

And that’s just as well, because Chris does indeed plan to race this car in 2017 if he can, using it instead of his Group C RX-7 at classic race events (yes, he races a second car on top of the M1). As many of you might already have realised, this move would also work perfectly timing-wise, as it’s the 30th anniversary of the M3 this year.

“I’d love to get her out if all the boys get together and decide we’re going to have, like an RS500 versus M3 grudge match somewhere. I’ll certainly have her front and centre, and while you’ll never dispatch a late-spec RS500 with its oodles of power and all the Evolution upgrades, you’d certainly give them something to think about through the tighter sections, that’s for sure.”

Indeed, Chris says such is this M3’s handling, even in its current state, that he felt his usual RX-7 was a severe step down afterwards, noting, “It felt a little bit yucky for a few laps, and it’s quite a sharp, bright little car, too. Shows how good the M3 was; spoilt me!” But of course, that’s all part of the E30 M3 legend, and this car just proves how far development on the Group A cars went before the focus in Germany switched to the DTM. As Chris puts it, this car is “One of those vehicles that feels like it shrinks around you. Some race cars, whether it’s through a lack of rigidity or sheer girth, they feel like quite big things that you’re perhaps battling a little bit with to get around a circuit, whereas this M3 really felt like you were putting on a pair of lightweight sneakers or something. It was extremely rigid and agile. Where your eyes went, the steering wheel went.”

The Evo III upgrades no doubt play a big part too, with Chris saying that “She’s faster and 10 percent better in every single area you can perceive, whether it was torsional rigidity, braking, acceleration, aero, the whole thing was just a step up.” He even reckons that had BMW produced the M3 with the Evo III upgrades out of the box, they would have walked over the competition in the WTCC, as the RS500s at the time would not have even had the power, relative to an Evo III, to counter their lack of reliability. Sadly, that’s not how it went, but hopefully Chris can still show the fast Fords a thing or two through the corners this year.

End Note

This concludes our coverage of the Bowden Collection cars that we started with all the way back in June 2016. We hope you’ve enjoyed this look at one of the finest BMW race car collections anywhere, and leave you with this wonderful image of all of them together as a celebration of both the collection and BMW’s glorious motorsports heritage.

It was not only the last ever Group A E30 M3 Schnitzer built, but also one of the most successful to ever race.

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