M3 Fun!

Aaron Smith was the first reader to answer our call for guest writers, with his story of becoming a gearhead, falling in love with an E30 BMW. Today he follows up, discussing his experiences with finding a legendary E30 M3!

The Call

At home over holiday break, a local college buddy called me on a Saturday afternoon.  “I think there is an E30 M3 under a tarp over in Ironton.  You should check it out.”

I’m not the type to traipse over people’s private property but I figured that if I drove by, I might be able to see the vehicle and more importantly, see if anyone was outside to talk to.  As a general rule in the automotive world, cars under tarps don’t get driven much.

Well, as luck would have it, there really was an Alpine White E30 M3 under a tarp in the driveway of a double wide trailer in Ironton, PA.  I hastily scribbled a note indicating interest in the vehicle and left it on the doorstep .  I received a friendly phone call 30 minutes after I got back home, so I drove back out with my Dad to look at the car.

The Car

With the tarp was removed, the paint looked worse for the wear but those glorious muscular fenders and aggressive rear wing instantly won me over.  It turns out that the M3 was a friend’s car and the property owner basically wanted it out of his driveway.  The clutch was slipping badly so the car couldn’t move but it started up fine and seemed to be free of rust.  It had an aftermarket stereo system and the trunk had been turned into a collection of pyramidal plywood bass speaker enclosures. After borrowing some cash from the First National Bank of Dad and the removal of the aftermarket stereo ($1,000 off the asking price!), I purchased a 1988 E30 M3 with 76K miles for $3,500.


Fast forward to December, 2017.  The value of the E30 M3 has skyrocketed due to its racing heritage and that it happens to be the first iteration in the queue of a very respectable line of performance sedans offered up by the Bavarian powerhouse known as BMW Motorsport.  As the E30 M3 continues to appreciate, so do the price of parts.  Many items are simply no longer available (NLA) and collectors have been hoarding bits and pieces in the event their own cars may need them in the future.

My particular M3 is a bit of a basket case in its own right and will need a major restoration due to the many “upgrades” that the previous owner(s) saw fit to bless the car with.  I had mentioned that my M3 is Alpine White with the fairly rare OEM “Cardinal” leather interior.  Unfortunately, the car was originally painted in the 1987 year only, “Hennarot” or “Hen House Red” (only 300 in the US) and had a factory black leather interior (only 181 cars in this combination.)  The prior Alpine repaint was so incredibly bad that I had the exterior repainted Alpine white in the early 2000s.  The cars were not really appreciating at the time, and I personally like the white more than the orangey-red Hennarot. There was a reason the color was only available for one year.

In addition to the abysmal paint job, the sunroof drain channels were clogged with debris and water had been draining onto the passenger side floor pan, rusting out a section of the floor.  In fact, I remember driving to a car show in the pouring rain with water steadily dripping off my rearview mirror. The left front brake had seized up so instead of replacing the factory calipers for OEM units, I opted for a flashy red Brembo setup for my car to compliment my 17-inch aftermarket OZ “Ultraleggera” wheels. The car was purchased with aftermarket Bilstein shocks and Eibach springs and will eventually need all the suspension components replaced.

The car is currently suffering from a short somewhere in the passenger side engine bay wiring.  I replaced and rewired a driver’s side turn signal indicator fixing one problem, but creating additional problems in the process.  The car needs a professional to go over my wiring issue and the interior has been ripped out to make way for an “OEM plus” custom black leather interior after the floor pan rust issue is resolved. The rare cardinal interior carpet is ripped and dirty, long destroyed before I was ever involved.

I don’t plan on selling the car so I’m not too concerned about the Hennarot debacle. My desire is to be able to drive it (legally) and take my kids to “Cars and Coffee” events in it.   Most of the problems could have been sorted out 15 years ago but I’ve had too many other automotive projects going on at once.  More on that at a later time…

Advice and Action

When I was a slightly younger man, my father warned me in not so many words that it would be prudent to stop dumping money into coil-over suspensions, light weight tubular subframes and upgraded turbos.  He reasoned that a practical daily driver was all that I really needed and that I should spend my money on real estate and retirement planning.  Well, after a decade of marriage and two kids later, I’m beginning to believe he was right.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to look up prices for “extreme performance” summer tires and brake pad upgrades for my daily driver, “Dad Mobile” in the latest issue of “Grassroots Motorsports” magazine.

Aaron Smith lives in New Tripoli, Pennsylvania with his wife and two children.  He enjoys long walks on the beach and the sound of wide open headers.

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