The Power of Three – BMW classic touring cars

BMW classic touring cars

There’s nothing quite like a historic BMW Touring Car and this month we’re up close and personal with three examples at Amspeed Racing.  The enthusiasts at Amspeed have been making a name for themselves in recent years, looking after historically significant BMW race cars for modern competition. We caught up with them for a closer look at three cars they prepared for the 2015 Silverstone Classic. Words: Daniel Bevis. Photography: Dave Smith, Steve Hall and Jacob Ebrey.


There are some people for whom historic racing begins and ends with the Goodwood Revival. And these people really need to be sat down and given a good talking to because, as fabulous and unmissable as Lord March’s high-octane garden party is, it’s not the only thing on the menu. Not by a long chalk. The UK’s retro motorsport calendar is rich and varied in piquant treats, from classic hillclimbing at Prescott or Shelsley Walsh to tin-top mischief at Brands Hatch or the ineffably noisy Dragstalgia at Santa Pod. And that’s just if you’re averse to leisure aviation – spread your wings further and you’ll find Le Mans Classic, Malta’s Mdina Grand Prix, the Spa Classic… the old-school racing world is your oyster.

Chief among the delights that shouldn’t be missed is the Silverstone Classic – the self-styled ‘world’s biggest motor racing festival’, that’s probably the only place where you’ll find Ferrari F40s, Lola T70s and Status Quo sharing the same bill. The number of noteworthy cars on display stretches into five figures, and with over 20 races spread across the weekend, there’s something for everyone. The competitors don’t hang about either, it’s no slow-mo showcase – proper racing in great cars, that’s the order of the day.

The Power of Three - BMW classic touring cars

The timetable of races is broad and varied, ranging from historic Formula One cars to ground-shaking Group C brutes, GT legends to Formula Juniors, but the exercise that’s piqued our interest here is the Super Touring Car Trophy. Now, it goes without saying that these machines rock. Pick any era from Touring Car history, and you’ll find charismatic drivers doing impressive things in cars that look like stickered-up versions of your neighbourhood’s daily drivers, probably while amusingly clattering into everybody in the vicinity in a bloodthirsty rush for the apex. Look at the inaugural 1958 season, in which Jack Sears and Tommy Sopwith ended the year on equal points, so the winner was decided by a head-to-head sprint around Brands Hatch in a pair of Riley One-Point- Fives. Or last year, when Rob Austin threw his Audi up the strip at Santa Pod against a 500hp VW splittie, just for a laugh. Or the 1992 season finale, when Cleland, Hoy, Harvey and Soper all got very physical indeed, ending in acres of crumpled steel and all manner of bruised egos. Noisy, shouty things, they were – and the cars were pretty boisterous too…

We’re not alone in being held in the thrall of this era of Touring Car racing, as surely any visitor to the Silverstone Classic will confirm. There were three cars in particular that raised eyebrows and dropped jaws as they tore around the Northamptonshire circuit’s slinky curves; BMWs, naturally – a pair of E30s and an E36 that evoked a golden era of Touring Car racing, when budgets were muscular and a healthy disdain for the rules was all in a day’s work. We visited Amspeed Racing prior to the event to capture the cars in their full polished glory, before they strode bullishly into the field of conflict and started rubbing shoulders with a cast of classic characters (we’re pleased to report that none of the cars came a cropper in front of the crowds, but you know how it is – it pays to hedge your bets…).

Now, Amspeed is a name that you need to scrawl on your ledger of ‘Companies Who Count’, because it’s been instrumental in the upkeep and perpetuation of more chapters of BMW history than you can tally without running out of digits, limbs, and possibly follicles. Founded in 2011 by Arran Moulton-Smith, the firm started out providing freelance race services and BMW racing components, and this was clearly something that it displayed a certain aptitude for, as within a year Amspeed was moving into a 2000sq ft premises in Brackley – handily just six miles from Silverstone, which affords it the ease to stretch the cars’ legs as and when it pleases.

“We’re now ready to take on more customer cars,” Arran enthuses, barely disguising the eagerness for rolling up his sleeves and getting stuck into further projects. The aura that’s exuded by the firm in general is one of the proverbial kid in the sweet shop: there’s a finite number of old-school BMW race cars out there, but if Arran had his way, he and his colleagues would have a hand in every one of them.

“We began preparing the two BMW E30 M3s of Mark Smith,” he continues, “one Bigazzi 1989 CIVT Group A car, and one Prodrive 1991 BTCC car – both of which we still look after, with all preparation and track support from us at Amspeed. Over the past four years we have grown to become one of the UK’s leading specialists in BMW Group A/DTM E30 M3s, and also a UK leader in the preparation of E36 M3s; we currently have a stable of 16 cars, with ample room for expansion.” The stable in question is diverse indeed, encompassing six Group A E30 M3s – five of which compete in the celebrated HSCC Super Touring Championship – along with five E36 M3s, jousting for glory in the CSCC Modern Classics, and every one of them competing for the top step of the podium with countless race wins among their number. There’s also an E36 318i Super Touring Car, a Group 1 Ford Capri, a Porsche 997 GT3 Cup car and, just for the sheer madness of it, a bona fide GT40, prepared for David Cuff and Steve Soper and used at the Goodwood Revival and FIA Historic Sports Car Championship. So it’s not all Bavarian propeller badges in the workshop, but they’re certainly a dominant force in the line-up.

It makes sense for the firm, then, to get rather excited when an event of this magnitude is happening on their doorstep. Kettles are boiled, schedules are cleared, and spanners go into overdrive (figuratively speaking, they don’t have magic geared spanners – at least, not as far as we know) as they endeavour to provide a broad spread of evocative fare for competition purposes. These three cars we’re looking at today do not in fact represent the entirety of Amspeed’s efforts for the 2015 Silverstone Classic, there were other BMs in the offing too, but we cherry picked these as the three most likely to set your pulses racing. So, on to the cars…


Auto Trader E30

Nick Whale competed in this car in the British Touring Car Championship in 1991, with the Tech-Speed team. You’ll notice that the period-correct Auto Trader livery is still proudly complemented by Nick’s name in the rear windows. Why is this? Well, early in 2014 Nick bought his old race car back, and has since been competing with it in the HSCC Super Touring Car Championship alongside his son Harry Whale. Harry is currently third in the overall standings, which really is doing his dad’s legacy proud. Imagine seeing your old man racing in a shiny new E30 as a kid, then growing up to race that very same car yourself, and doing it well too – if that isn’t the fulfilment of the average petrolhead’s dream, we’ll eat our collective hat.

Auto Trader BMW E30

Tech-Speed were worthy contenders for the BTCC honours back in the early Nineties. The team were formed back in 1984, although their heritage stretches a further decade beyond, with team manager Marvin Humphries cutting his teeth in saloon car racing with the celebrated Broadspeed outfit; he went on to be chief mechanic for a couple of Formula One teams before switching to World Sportscar Racing, at which point he brought his extensive experience and knowledge to Tech-Speed.

They made waves in Formula Three throughout the 1980s, then radically changed focus in 1991 – having brought Auto Trader into the cheerfully symbiotic world of motorsport sponsorship, the new partnership turned their sights to Touring Car racing, and Whale’s car symbolises the result of this effervescent approach. Under the bonnet is the 2.5-litre variant of the intoxicatingly howling S14 four-pot; while the E30 M3 was introduced as a 2.3-litre car to kick some sand in the face of Mercedes-Benz’s 190E 2.3-16, the 2.5 evolution that was introduced to the racing sphere in 1990 allowed an entertaining 380hp straight out-of-the-box. Whale’s car offers a slightly more modest (but no less manic) 340hp in current race trim, all of which is channelled via a six-speed dog ’box, its towering, super-tall shifter dominating the interior as a place of extremely serious business.

The interior itself is a masterpiece of function, with impeccable form happening as a happy consequence; the fully stripped guts reveal a flawless white finish, the modern Recaro bucket and plumbed-in Lifeline extinguisher system joined by a full dash and road car doorcards, as was the style of the time. These hat-tips to the production model belie the hardcore nature of the base’s build – Tech- Speed built it up from a BMW Motorsport Group A shell, and the whole thing comfortably weighs in at under a metric tonne. The chassis also sports vast AP Racing brakes and air jacks. It is, by any measure, a very forthright piece of kit. The fact that it’s studded with glorious and gorgeous detail – the carbon fibre intake, the roll-cage anchored to the strut tops, the fuel fillers in the rear panel, the delicious BBS splitrims – is merely a by-product of a job well done.

“The car was bare-shelled last winter,” Arran explains, “and the engine and gearbox were rebuilt at the same time. They’ll be rebuilt again this year, we don’t like to leave anything old or worn in there over the winter and it’s important to enter each new season with the car in the best possible form. It’s actually a Bigazzi shell on this car, an ex-Vic Lee/Laurence Bristow one, with an ex-DTM motor mated to Whale’s original running gear.” And how did the car fare at the Silverstone Classic? “Pretty well, we were pleased with it,” he grins. “It took two second-inclass finishes with Harry behind the wheel, only bested by another E30 M3 driven by Jan Bot. It behaved brilliantly over the whole weekend.”

“It’s important to enter each new season with the car in the best possible form”

“This is one we’ve been looking after for some time so we know it inside out”


Warsteiner E30

Any motorsport fan will effusively enthuse that certain race liveries are more important and evocative than others. There are the obvious choices – Gulf, Martini, JPS – while others prefer to chase the niche offerings, like the Penthouse Rizla stickers of the old Hesketh 308s. But as any Scalextric fiddler of the 1990s will attest, the coolest cars wore Warsteiner livery. While the Sierra Cosworth RS500s of the BTCC shouted ‘Don’t drink and drive!’ in their Kaliber colours, the Germans trusted us to behave sensibly while still maintaining awareness that beer was a thing (even if Scalextric did seem to hit the odd licensing issue and have to write ‘Westminster’ on some models instead…).

 Now, the BTCC of the early Nineties was in a state of flux: 1990 was the final year of the multi-class format – 1989’s four-class system (Class A was for cars over 3000cc, Class B for 2001-3000cc, Class C for 1601-2000cc and Class D for under 1600cc) had already been streamlined to two classes, which effectively worked out that the Sierra Cosworth RS500s were in one group and everything else (E30 M3s included) were in another. For 1991, Group A disappeared entirely, with all cars running to the new Super Touring regs. This gave all the other cars a fighting chance – Group A Sierras could still compete, but only if restricted down to Super Touringcomparable speeds – and as such it was BMW’s time to shine. The manufacturer’s trophy was theirs in 1991, they came second overall in ’92 with the latest-spec E36 318is, and they were back on top for 1993. Happy days.

Warsteiner BMW E30

Over in Italy, the tectonic plates of Touring Car racing were shifting in similar style. The CIVT (Campionato Italiano Velocità Turismo) series, introduced in 1987, started out as a championship for Group A cars of various classes, before refining in 1990 into the Campionato Italiano Superturismo, largely for DTM-style Group A cars. It was in this arena that the Warsteiner E30 you see here boldly strode back in 1989, wearing Shell livery at the time and running a 2.3-litre S14. The car was originally built by Bigazzi, one of the BMW works Touring Car outfits, and as with the Auto Trader car, we’re looking at a proper BMW Motorsport Group A shell with air jacks and all the trimmings. The M3 was driven by Antonio Tamburini and Pierluigi Martini in the Italian series, before going on to become a test car for Bigazzi, its duties including a round in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft (DTM) in 1990 with Steve Soper driving. It was at this stage in its evolution that the 2.5-litre DTM-spec S14 engine arrived, with the 1991-era Warsteiner livery following soon after.

“Like the Whale car, this is one that we’ve been looking after for some time so we know it inside out and it gets regular rebuilds and refreshes,” says Arran. “Everything’s looked after, so it doesn’t give us any surprises and we know what we’re looking for. It performed consistently over the Silverstone Classic weekend too, taking two third-in-class finishes.”


Omega E36

The Omega-liveried E36 is something of a European exotic, sporting a rare and jewel-like four-banger under the bonnet. The S14B20 is a variant of the E30 M3’s S14 engine with a shortened stroke to bring displacement just shy of two litres, and could only be found in production form in the jazzy E30 320iS in Portugal and Italy. It also just happened to combine the perfect combination of size and raciness to work well in the E36 for the Italian CIVT series (and for the BTCC 318iS racers, albeit with a different bore and stroke to the road-going Italian 320iS coupés).

This particular car was prepared by Euroteam for the 1993 season with Stefano Modena driving, running for a year before finding its way to Sweden where it raced in their domestic Touring Car Championship. In its current form, it is resplendent in its original Omega livery, but wearing the updated aero addenda that it was treated to in 1995, when it also received a Holinger six-speed sequential gearbox. The E36 migrated over to the UK for a spell in the Formula Saloon Championship, eventually being bought by Darren Fielding in late 2013, who treated it to a restoration to make it competitive before engaging Amspeed to prepare it for UK racing.

Omega BMW E36

“We’ve only recently taken it on, and so it’s still – to a certain extent – an unknown quantity,” Arran admits. “We spent a solid week going over the chassis, rebuilding the suspension (all of the bushes were shot for a start!) and refreshing everything that was tired under the skin. It’s a bit different to these other E30s that we’ve been looking after for some time and rebuilding on a regular basis; with those cars we know just what to look out for, whereas with the E36 we’re learning as we go. It’s a beautifully built car though, and it’s going to be very competitive.”

Okay, we may have given you a bit of a bum steer in saying earlier that none of these cars came a cropper at the Classic. The E36 actually suffered a couple of unfortunate DNFs – on the Saturday its qualifying was stymied by poor weather, and in the race itself the throttle cable snapped, which isn’t an eventuality that anyone could have seen coming but is still something of an onion in the ointment. And on the Sunday? Things really didn’t go well at all. “The engine blew,” Arran sighs. “It put a rod through the block, so that was game over for that one.”

Don’t let the indignity of a couple of unfortunate mechanical failures tarnish your perception of this formidable 3 Series – the ex-CIVT E36 is a riot of outrageous unusualness, from that obscure engine variant to the sculpted fangs of the front bumper, the art gallery-worthy engine bay to the tucked stance that predates the modern concept of ‘stance’ by a good couple of decades. It’s a fabulous, gorgeous thing, and it promises great things for the future, with the podium-hungry Darren at the wheel keen to show the modern racing scene what it’s made of.

“It’s a beautifully built car and it’s going to be very competitive”

The principle takeout of this sterling showing at the Silverstone Classic is that Amspeed really does hold the keys to an astonishing toy box. Its collective experience is growing with every outing, and the stable of cars it looks after is testament to the trust that owners of top-flight racing cars are happy to place in its skills. And as you’ve probably gathered, the company is pretty keen to expand…

“We’ve just recently brokered a deal on the Tim Harvey Labatt’s car,” Arran grins, with the satisfied air of a young boy on Christmas day whose stocking haul has gone really, really well. This is the Vic Lee Racing E30 M3 that contested the BTCC in 1990/91, and fans of getting out and about will probably have seen it tearing up Lord March’s drive at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in recent years.

 “Like Darren’s E36, it’s something of an unknown quantity, but we enjoy a steep learning curve. Half of the satisfaction comes from the challenge,” he laughs, and with infectious enthusiasm it’s obvious that this car’s future can only get brighter. With racers like that bloodied but unbowed E36, the lost-and-found Auto Trader E30, and the Warsteiner E30 whose history is disparate and intriguing, Amspeed is really proving its prowess in the retro motorsport scene. The team are certainly worth keeping an eye on, as it’s surely only a matter of time before they have every significant historic BMW racer on the ramps and ready for spannering… that’s certainly what Arran wants, and it seems as if there’s no stopping him.


CONTACT: Amspeed Tel: 01280 701230 Web: www.amspeedracing.co.uk


“We enjoy a steep learning curve. Half of the satisfaction comes from the challenge”

There’s something simply wonderful about an E30 M3 race car whether you look at its stunning S14 powerplant, meaty BBS rims or the period Stack dash; road car dashboard and door cards are indicators of a bygone age.

TECH DATA 
CAR Auto Trader E30 Warsteiner E30 Omega E36
ENGINE & TRANSMISSION:  S14B25 (Evo 3) 2.5-litre four-cylinder, 340hp, six-speed dog-leg gearbox

S14B25 (Evo 3) 2.5-litre
four-cylinder, 340hp, Getrag five-speed Group A gearbox

 S14B20 2.0-litre fourcylinder,
280hp, Holinger six-speed sequential gearbox

CHASSIS:

8×17-inch  (front)  and  9×17-rear  (rear)  BBS split-rims, Dunlop slicks, Bilstein motorsport dampers, air jacks, AP Racing six-pot (front) and four-pot (rear) brakes

9×18-inch BBS split-rims, Dunlop slicks,
Bilstein motorsport dampers, air jacks, AP Racing six-pot
(front) and four-pot (rear) brakes

8x18inch BBS centre-locks, Hoosier slicks, JRZ
three-way adjustable dampers, AP Racing six-pot (front)
and four-pot (rear) brakes

EXTERIOR:

BMW Motorsport Group A shell (980kg net), Auto Trader livery

BMW Motorsport Group A shell (980kg net),
Warsteiner livery

BMW Motorsport shell (1100kg net),
Omega livery

INTERIOR: Stripped for competition, Recaro seat, Stack gauges, stock doorcards

Stripped for competition, Recaro seat, Momo
steering wheel, Stack gauges, stock doorcards

Stripped for competition, Cobra seat, Momo
steering wheel, digi dash and Racelogic box

CLUB

BMW E30 Drive-MY Club

BMW E36 3-Series and M3 Club

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