• OUR CARS MARK B’S E30 M3

    / #BMW-E30 / #BMW-M3 / #BMW-M3-E30 / #BMW-3-Series / #BMW-3-Series-E30 / #BMW / #BMW-S14 / #resto-mod /

    As I write this, last week was the first Retro Rides Gathering at Goodwood and a date I had marked in my diary a good few months back. The chaps at Retro Rides always put on a good show, with their August events at Shelsey Walsh being just about my favourite of the year. Goodwood was a first, though, and with a combination of static show and track action it was also going to be popular. There was also bound to be a good selection of classic BMWs, with many having a resto-mod flavour.

    Personally though, I was looking forward to getting my E30 M3 out on track and enjoying all the hard work done over the past year or so. Living in Cornwall is lovely but the only real downside is everywhere being so far away. I could have camped at Goodwood but opted to use Airbnb and find myself a place to stay close by instead. Before leaving, though, I figured I would get local valeters iShine to come work their magic and get the M3 looking its best. Much as I love my car, detailing just isn’t my thing! I also did a thorough spanner and fluid check to make certain all was as it should be, before loading my suitcase and crash helmet, then heading off towards Goodwood. In fact, it was Chichester I was staying at and the journey up couldn’t have been better. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and the M3 was in its element on the twisting A roads of Cornwall, Devon and Dorset. Being so warm, as I headed through the New Forest I opened the windows and enjoyed the induction noise, with pops and bangs from the exhaust on overrun. It had to rank as one of the best journeys I’ve done in the M3. I arrived at the #B&B in good time and was up early on Saturday, getting petrol en route to the circuit, with the sun still shining.

    Goodwood is a fantastic circuit. It’s fast and flowing, with some double-apex right-handers that really suit the E30 M3. The warm ambient temperature also meant the Nankang AR-1 tyres were at their best and I was looking forward to putting them through their paces. I knew they were good from using them on the street but that simply doesn’t compare to lapping a circuit. On a track day I would have dropped cold air pressures to around 20 psi but this was a sprint format that consisted of a standing start from the pit lane and two flying laps. There was also a second chicane that had been added to the back straight, in an effort to slow things down a little. There were morning and afternoon sessions, with 40 cars in each that were divided into groups of five. Cars were released one at a time, with about 15 seconds between them, so as to spread the cars out on track. Overtaking was also forbidden. The track action was always going to be about fun rather than competition with such an eclectic group of cars anyway. I had a Studebaker ahead of me and a ’60s Ford Galaxy behind, so you see what I mean.

    My first two laps were more about remembering the corners than pushing the limits of the car. Even so, it wasn’t long before I found myself riding the rear of the Studebaker. I backed off, enjoyed the views and once the gap had grown again, nailed the accelerator, enjoying the sound of the S14 revving up toward its redline. I know I’m biased but it sounded glorious. In the past I have always tried to short-shift the gears and get the M3 settled into the corners, carrying as much speed as I can.

    I must say I was incredibly happy with the performance of the #Nankang-AR-1 tyres. The levels of grip were excellent right from the off and they were certainly consistent. My first introduction to Nankang was of a cheap tyre most often used by drifters and, if honest, there was a bit of a stigma attached to the name. It is pretty clear that Nankang have done some serious development and, as a control tyre for the #M3 cup, the general consensus was it’s a very good tyre indeed. It will be interesting to see how well they last, when compared to the likes of the Toyo R888R, but their performance is certainly next level. Yes, they’re not exactly ideal in wet weather but they were never meant to be. It’s hard to see how you could get a better track day tyre for the money, though. The only negative being there isn’t quite the choice in sizes I would like, but hopefully that may change in the future? Anyway, big thanks to Ben Lawson at Nankang UK.

    The M3 runs KW Competition suspension and it felt so planted, really giving me the confidence to carry so much speed through the corners. My previous experience had been with my old #BMW-325i-Coupe-E30 race car but the M3 is in a whole other league. As I passed the chequered flag I was able to scroll through the various readings on the Stack dash display and everything was well within the limits so we rolled around to the paddock and awaited our next laps.

    Whilst sat in the paddock we shuffled our group of five cars around, with the M3 going first as it was the fastest. Now I could really push on without catching slower traffic, although I was also mindful of this being fun and not competitive. As we had a few minutes I was able to take a look at some of the other cars and especially the other BMWs. How about a 1970 1600-2? I love ’02s anyway, but this one belonged to James of JFi Classics in Brecon. James and I have been friends for a few years now and he has put together some terrific cars. This ’02 has a real sting in the tail, with a supercharged #M42 under the bonnet. The registration plate FLY is pretty apt and the whine of the supercharger is phenomenal. There was also another E30 M3, but rather than being powered by an S14 it has what was the first #LS1-V8 conversion. Power is around 450hp so it was always going to be quick. My personal favourite is a car I have known since I first discovered BMWs 30 plus years ago! It’s a 2002 Touring but with M30 3.5 power and triple Weber carbs. It has to be said, this is just about my perfect ’02 specification and a credit to Ian Elliott who has built and developed it over many years.

    As time came around for my next laps, James from JFi’s son jumped in as a passenger, having never ridden in an E30 M3 before. Obviously with such a valuable cargo I wasn’t going to go 10/10ths but after the first lap we were both enjoying the performance of the M3 and all those clichés that have been written for the past 30+ years. The second lap was certainly my quickest of the day, carrying more speed through Woodcote and braking hard for the right, left of Chicane as we entered the pit straight and crossed the finishing line. It was as we passed that line the dash warning light flashed and the Stack display showed ‘Low Oil Pressure!’ accompanied by the unmistakable sound of bearing knocking. I immediately killed the engine and coasted to a halt. My weekend had just taken a nosedive.

    The next half hour was mainly spent staring in disbelief. I had done everything I could to guard against this scenario yet here I was, looking at yet another incredibly expensive engine rebuild. What I just couldn’t understand, though, was why? The reason I had installed the digital dash display from Stack Ltd, was that it allowed me to keep a close eye on exactly what goes on with the engine. The custom rad, larger oil cooler and baffled sump were also fitted to allow the S14 to be used as it was designed to be, on track. I’ve been almost obsessive in keeping watch over fluid levels and temperatures yet here I was with another engine failure. As you can imagine, my enthusiasm for the rest of the weekend took quite a knock so I opted to get the M3 transported back home so that ARM could get the engine out and back to the builder.


    A could of days later Joe at ARM took off the sump and it was soon clear that cylinder number one’s big end shell had spun. Added to that, the rest of the bearings look to have worn prematurely and you’d never believe this was an engine that had run for just 300 hours. What we couldn’t see though, was a reason to explain the failure and without that I couldn’t rebuild and gamble that it could happen again.

    The next couple of days saw me calling and emailing anyone with experience of using BMWs S14 in competition. They all agreed that I appeared to have taken pretty much every precaution and both the ECU and Stack memories confirmed that there were no excessive coolant or oil temperatures, the engine had never been over-revved and the only thing that was shown was a momentary (and pretty catastrophic) loss of oil pressure. It was then that I mentioned that the crank had been subjected to a +0.75 regrind and it is this that seems most likely to have been behind the failure, due to its removing the nitriding that gives the crank strength. In fact a few people have since told me that they just wouldn’t regrind an S14 crankshaft at all, let alone as much as +0.75 and that I need a new crankshaft before I rebuild my engine once again. I also need to replace at least one of the Arrow con rods as the end cap has blued from the heat generated by the spun shell. Thankfully Russ, at JC Racing in Thirsk, has come to the rescue. So there we go. As it stands today (and things may well change between now and your reading this) I have a pretty expensive parts list to fill. I had no idea that the S14 crank couldn’t be reground but as they say, every day is a school day and this was an expensive lesson!

    BIG THANKS TO Joe at ARM BMW, Kirby at C3 BMW Russ at JC Racing, James at JFi Classics Nigel at Moseley Motorsport I also owe a huge amount to my long-suffering partner Claire. I think it’s fair to say she hates the M3 and would rather I sold it and took up knitting instead

    Nankang AR-1s impressed on track. The M3 was treated to a detailing session. Compbrake #BBK great on track. #BMW-E30-LS1 #V8-swapped-BMW-M3-E30 was also on track.