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    SIZE MATTERS

    A period-styled early-’90s E30 is a very desirable thing these days. So what happens if you exaggerate all of the details just a little bit? Ernie Hofstetter is the man to ask… Words: Daniel Bevis. Photos: Anna Taylor.

    / #BMW-E30-M50-swapped / #BMW-E30-Cab / #M50-swapped

    Exaggeration, despite what your teachers at school told you, is nothing to be ashamed of. Indeed, it can be helpful in getting ahead in life to artfully embellish and subtly big up the finer points of your character and achievements, to massage the salient facts into something more colourful. Doesn’t hurt anybody, does it?

    Ernie Hofstetter is a man who appreciates the nuances of this sort of behaviour. We’re not saying he’s a show off, of course – not by any means. But he’s reached the stage in his life when he’s seen a few automotive scenes come and go, ebb and flow, and he’s been taking notes all the way through. And here, with this E30, we find his meisterwerk; the physical manifestation of his years of careful observation, made real in glorious style. He’s taken the archetypal retro #BMW convertible, made it look sort of like a spec’d-up period example, but cunningly exaggerated the details. Thanks to this carefully thoughtthrough approach, the car’s almost like a cartoon – it looks like it would have done rolling through his hometown of Howell, New Jersey back in 1991, but something’s different… it’s lower, broader, meaner, more aggressive. Those subtle small details have added up to a mighty whole.

    “Back when I was 18, I thought these E30s were the coolest thing,” Ernie remembers. “When the time came around decades later that I wanted a fun car, that model immediately came to mind. Throughout the years my cars have always been modified – one of my favourites was my 2006 Lincoln Mark LT pick-up truck – but this a bit different. I’ve always been interested in BMWs, it’s a quality European driving machine, so it was the clear choice this time.”

    Ernie happily admits that he didn’t have a distinct plan for the car when he first got hold of it, and was willing to let inspiration be his guide. The cabriolet was found for sale in Philadelphia, and was in reasonable condition – not amazing and certainly not up to Ernie’s high standard but, of course, it was never the intention to buy someone else’s project. He wanted to create something unique of his very own: “Let the modding begin,” he mischievously grins.

    The first area that was primed for exaggeration was the big oily bit under the bonnet. While M20 motors have their merits, Ernie wanted to go harder, better, faster, stronger, and the way to achieve this was to swap the thing out for the rather mightier choice of the M50. Specifically, an #M50B25 : the 2.5-litre #straight-six that you’d normally find powering an E36 325i. “The M20 was boring and ugly,” he says, somewhat mercilessly, “and the M50 is much cleaner and sleeker. Any non-essential parts were removed from the engine bay, along with any unnecessary brackets and so on, to make it all look as clean as possible; the battery was relocated to the boot to help with this too. I uprated the cooling system with a Mishimoto radiator and a Spal fan, and the exhaust system consists of ceramic-coated exhaust manifolds with heat wrap, a Borla mid-section and a Vibrant muffler – all custom, of course!

    The car also started off as an automatic, but we couldn’t have that so it’s been swapped to a manual Getrag 260 five-speed transmission, with a Z3 shifter and aluminium shift carrier.”

    A pretty comprehensive transformation, you’ll surely agree, but Ernie was just getting started. Having substantially beefed up the muscularity of the old drop-top, neatly morphing it from cruiser to bruiser, it was time to address the question of altitude.

    Now, Ernie’s seen a thing or two, as we said, so he’s observed the stance scene evolving from grass roots to comparative mainstream. However, while air-ride has been around since World War II, its presence at the forefront of custom car culture is a relatively recent thing; back when our man was a teenager, the way to get your ride hopping was to slam in some hydros. So is that what Ernie’s opted for here? Not quite… you see, that exaggeration factor has come into play again. “I’ve always had the need to go lower,” he explains (note that he uses the word ‘need’ – that’ll no doubt be familiar to a number of you. This isn’t just playing, it’s a lifestyle). “The only thing that could satisfy me with this project was air suspension. So now the car has a full Air Lift system, with 3P management, rolling sleeves up front and Slamit Industries bags in the rear with Bilstein shocks. I custom-painted the airtank in the trunk, which gives a good supply of air at all times!” Well, that’s good to hear.

    The next logical step was to put some thought into the wheels. No good slamming the thing over a set of weedy stock steels, right? So Ernie bolted on some 17” rims from iForged… but then he quickly changed his mind. The period style of the early Nineties was calling, and he found himself drawn toward the timeless charms of the BBS RS, knocking the diameter down an inch but beefing up the girth to amusing degrees: these things are 7.5” wide at the front, 8.5” out back, and the way it sits is so aggressively juicy that it almost makes your eyes water. Imagine an automotive cartoonist in the early 1990s sketching up a BBS-shod E30, slamming it to the ground with improbable lows – that’s the look Ernie’s achieved in real life. Once again, it’s a masterstroke of considered exaggeration. “Whatever happened to the car, I wanted it to be as clean as possible,” he assures us.

    “The small details count to me. So this car was a real labour of love! The bulk of it was actually built by Michael Hockman, who is a legend in the E30 community, and has now become a great friend of mine. But all the fine finishing work was done by me, with great pride, as well as some talented people: Levent from Guten Parts, Andrew from Open Road Tuning, Rich from County Line Auto Body, and of course my fantastic wife Michelle who has the patience of a saint!”

    What’s clear as Ernie talks us through the detail points of the car is that this sits somewhere on the mid-point of the scale between evolution and revolution; some of the changes he’s made are pretty extreme, and yet the whole ethos of the thing is to consider a period build and artistically amp it up for a 21st century audience. Take the treatment of the interior: “I wanted the insides to be as stock as possible, but I still wanted the modern amenities,” he says. “So that meant an AV audio receiver, iPod interface, reversing camera, satellite radio, navigation – all of the things that make it more comfortable.” And that’s exactly what we find in there, all subtly and tastefully integrated into the old-skool vibe. It certainly helps that work like this is his bread-and-butter, being a salesman of stereo and security systems for cars as well as all manner of bolt-on performance gizmos, and this E30 ’vert is a solid manifestation of his skills as well as his aspirations.

    “It took a good six months to get the car to a quality I was happy with,” Ernie explains. “But there’s always fine-tuning going on – they’re never really finished, are they?” Well, no, he’s hit the nail on the head there. We always find new things to fiddle with. And when you’ve been observing the scene for as long as Ernie has, your mind can’t help but be constantly swimming with fresh ideas and new things to try. So this E30 is bound to change in the near future – possibly unrecognisably – but in this cheery little snapshot of the here-and-now, it’s pretty much perfect. An early-Nineties style convertible, with all the details cleverly exaggerated to turn it into a thoroughly modern creation.

    TECHNICAL DATA FILE #BMW-E30-M50 / #BMW-E30 / #BMW-325i-E30 / #BMW-325i-E30-M50 / #BMW-E30-Cabriolet / #BMW-3-Series / #BMW-3-Series-E30 / #BMW-3-Series-Cabrio / #BMW-325i-Cabriolet / #BMW-325i-Cabriolet-E30 / #Getrag / #Viair / #BMW-E30-Air-Lift

    ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 2.5-litre straight-six #M50B25TU / #M50 / #BMW-M50 / #M50B25 from E36 325i, #Mishimoto radiator, Spal 16” fan, battery relocated to boot, #Raceskids skid plate, 318i harness cover, ceramic-coated headers with heat wrap, custom Y-pipe, #Borla mid-pipe and #Vibrant rear box with 2.5” piping, shaved and wire-tucked bay, #Getrag-260 five-speed conversion, custom transmission brace, Z3 shifter, aluminium shift carrier, 3.73 LSD

    CHASSIS 7.5x16” (front) and 8.5x16” (rear) ET14 #BBS-RS / #BBS , 180 slant lip (front) and 247 slant lip (rear), with 195/45 (front) and 215/40 (rear) Yokohama S-Drive tyres, full #Air-Lift suspension system with front rolling sleeves and Slamit Industries rear bags, Autopilot 3P management, dual #Viair-444C compressors

    EXTERIOR Smoked projector headlights with integrated indicators, 6k low- and 3k high-beam HID lights, Euro grilles, rear impact strip fitted to front bumper, smoked tails and corner lights, front and rear valances with Ryan G splitter

    INTERIOR #M-Tech-II suede steering wheel, suede gaiters, chrome gauge rings with Alpina tach strip and painted needles, #ZHP illuminated gear knob, #BMW pedal set including foot rest, Alpine AV receiver with navigation and reversing camera, JL Audio speakers, subwoofer and amplifier

    Gorgeous 16” #BBS RSs boast impressive width and have serious dish going on.

    Air Lift 3P #Air-ride setup lets Ernie go as low as he wants to while custom boot build shows off both air components and upgraded audio elements, which include JL Audio speakers, subwoofer and amp.

    “The small details count to me. So this car was a real labour of love!”
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    HULA-FLUSH

    A stunning #S52-swapped E30 from Hawaii. Hawaii’s Wil Snyder may have started his E30 build whilst at high school, but now he’s doing nothing but schooling others with an S52 swap and a stance to die for – did someone say Hellaflush? Words: Ben Koflach /// Photos: Sam Dobbins

    Hawaii. It’s not a big place, but there’s a lot more to it than pineapples and hula skirts. Take Wil Syder’s E30 for example; since buying it at high school, he’s built it up bit-by-bit to create what is – I’d be willing to bet – Hawaii’s finest.

    Things began with Wil’s first car, which was also an E30. It gave him the bug that no doubt resulted in the car you see before you, but his first car wasn’t to be… It was working fine until, in 2005, a pair of 80- something-year-olds didn’t spot it and crashed into it head on. So it was time for Wil to look for another car, and that same day he spotted what was, in his eyes, the perfect replacement. “It was like it was meant to be, though the car was pretty bad,” he says, “the bodywork was oxidised and the clutch was seized, but I knew I had to have it.”

    Fitting working on the car around high school, it was always Wil’s plan to build his new E30 into a race car, “then stance really came out, and I got into it. I loved it,” he laughs. So with that in mind, Wil set about preparing the car for paint. With budget a particular key factor, he decided to complete the work himself, and after getting the exterior prim and proper – as well as removing the aerial, washer jets and rear spoiler whilst binning the chunky chrome bumpers and fitting slicker plastic items from the later E30s – it was almost time for the paint.

    As with any stance-pursuing build, it was going to be essential to run the tyres as close to the arches as possible, and therefore some arch rolling was in order. “Out of everything I’ve done on the car, getting the arches rolled nicely was really difficult. The rear arch fold is really thick on E30s – in the end it was easier to cut it out.” With that completed and the car freshly painted, it was time to really take the gloves off…

    “I found the wheels in a junkyard next door to where I used to work,” explains Wil, “they were the wrong PCD but the guy selling them didn’t have a clue what they were so I picked them up cheap and set about rebuilding them myself.” Wil started with the centres, which were sent to Rotiform for redrilling, taking them from 114x4 to an E30-friendly 4x100. At the same time, they were powdercoated in silver for a fresher appearance when compared to the shabby state they’d been in. Next up, Wil placed an order for gold bolts and monstrous 3” stepped lips, which he used to rebuild the wheels himself. The result? Going from a 6.5x15” ET36 to a 9x15” ET4 with deeper dishes than I think I’ve ever seen on a set of RS’.

    You might expect the decision of what to shoe the BBS’ in to be a simple one – the skinniest tyre that can be stretched on it, right? Well, wrong. Harking back to his original intention of building a race car, chunky 225/50 Falkens grace each corner.

    It’s certainly controversial, but it really works and spells out a bit of menacing intention. For keeping the tyres nicely snug with the arches, Wil has used Ground Control coilovers, comprising Koni struts which have been shortened 2” at the front, with 525lb springs at the front and 750lb items at the rear. Combine those with Treehouse Racing front control arm bushes, as well as the other bushes, which have been swapped out for superior polyurethane items, Ground Control camber plates and Suspension Techniques anti-roll bars, and you’ve got a rather promising looking chassis. Wil hasn’t been shy with the stance either – with front camber set to the maximum and the tyres practically skimming the arches, it sure as hell looks effective.

    The next area to catch Wil’s attention was under the bonnet. S52 swaps are becoming more and more popular over the Pond, and with it being a relatively simple conversion, he decided it was time he got involved. Being on a tight budget, Wil decided that the best way to achieve the swap was by going along to a car auction which was selling insurance write-offs. As it turned out, he managed to bag himself an accident damaged ’98 Z3 M for just $1400. And once it was home, it wasn’t long before Wil had stripped it of its S52 engine and running gear to put into the E30. “The motor swap was straight forward – four days after picking up the first spanner, it was in and running,” smiles Wil.

    Some guys have all the luck, eh? And skill. With 3.2 litres of straight-six now nestled under the bonnet, a Z3M gearbox, propshaft and a 3.23 final drive ratio limited-slip differential, Wil really had the performance he’d always sought after. But for him, it wasn’t quite enough.


    As well as having been converted to OBD1 for the engine swap, Wil fitted a 3” custom exhaust to make everything fit properly, and to give it some extra shout. This was linked to free-flowing Euro-replica exhaust manifolds, and to match air and fuel flow at the other end, Wil’s utilised a 3.5” air mass meter (from Euro-spec E36 M3s and E39 5 Series V8s) and 21.5lb/hr injectors. A Turner Motorsport chip and underdrive pulleys finish it off. Wil also fitted an E34 M5 master cylinder, brake servo and custom remote reservoir – making more room under the bonnet – and saving the sump from certain death is a RaceSkids 24v-specific skid plate, which sits 1.25” off the floor.

    During a recent dyno session, the results Wil’s E30 achieved were very respectable – despite only being relatively mildly tuned, the S52 managed to peak at 219.98bhp and 211.52lb ft of torque at the wheels – certainly enough to propel the E30 along the Hawaiian roads at quite a speed.

    Finishing the car off, and sticking to the race car dreams that he’d always had, Wil decided to strip out all of the carpet, sound deadening and quite a few chunks of interior trim. He then installed a few gauges and a dished Sparco steering wheel – a quirky contrast with the black leathers. Wil’s debating whether to install a roll-cage in the future, but whatever he does, I’m sure it’ll only enhance this rather cool E30.

    Still think Hawaii hasn’t got much to offer the #BMW scene? Think again. Wil’s shown that loving a trend doesn’t mean you have to build the same as everyone else. Love it or loathe it, you can’t deny that this E30 has impact. Built not bought, DIY… however you want to describe it, Wil’s done it all himself, and the results are as slick-as-you-like. Who says cars built on a budget can’t rule?

    An S52 swap with some mild tuning sees Wil’s E30 performing like the race car he’s always dreamed of, while camber plates are set at maximum negative camber for a killer stance!

    Chunky 225/50 Falkens grace each corner. It’s certainly controversial, but it really works and spells out a bit of menacing intention.

    DATA FILE #BMW-E30 / #BMW / #BMW-E30-S52 / #BMW-E30-Coupe / #Turner-Motorsport / #BMW-3-Series-E30 / #BMW-3-Series

    ENGINE & TRANSMISSION: 3.2-litre straight-six #S52 / #BMW-S52 , converted to OBD1, 3.5” #MAF sensor, 21.5lb/hr injectors, #Turner-Motorsport underdrive pullies, #Euroreplica exhaust manifolds, 3” custom exhaust, Turner chip, #Raceskids 24V skid plate, Z3 M Roadster gearbox and diff (3.23 LSD)

    CHASSIS: 9x15” #ET4 #BBS-RS three-piece split-rims, 3” lips and gold bolts, centres powdercoated and redrilled for 4x100 PCD, shod in 225/50 Falken tyres. #Ground-Control coilovers using front adjustable Koni shocks and rear #Koni yellow shocks, front strut housings cut 2”, 525lb front springs, 750lb rear springs, Ground Control camber plates, Suspension Techniques front and rear anti-roll bars, Treehouse racing front control arm bushings and fully polybushed elsewhere, new ball joints, Z3 M Roadster steering rack and pinion. Standard brakes with E34 M5 master cylinder and servo with custom remote reservoir

    EXTERIOR: Full respray in #Misano red, plastic bumpers, washer jets and aerial removed, iS splitter

    INTERIOR: #Sparco dished steering wheel, carpets and sound deadening removed, various gauges added

    THANKS: My girlfriend for supporting me and putting up with the long nights and money spent on the car, Rotiform for sorting the wheels, everyone else who has got involved with the car, Sam Dobbins for the shoot
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