She Hates Cone Marks on Her Car

In his last article Can You Make a Beast Dance, Gary Horneck of Huntsville, Alabama walked us through the amusing and delightful process of building a track car from a 2009 Mercury Grand Marquis. His quest for speed didn’t end there, and we are pleased to present the next step!

A Dedicated Build

A car she can drive during the week, and I can race on weekends… Sounds like practical solution, I’m brilliant! But, now she hates the cone marks on her Grand Marquis.

Traffic cones are designed to deform, and generally pose no threat to a vehicle, but when you smack them at 60 mph on a cold January morning, the hit can break body panels or leave lasting abrasions on the car. “Go get your own plaything!”

What’s Next?

There are not many choices for a BMW gearhead when it comes to a car that can do it all, it has to be the E30. I was looking for something specific, a 325e sedan. Craigslist to the rescue!

The grey 1987 sedan had been sitting for years, but it only took a few minutes to fire it up. It ran horribly, with enough vacuum leaks to sound like a carnival calliope as you increased engine speed.

Somehow I managed to drive it home, 8 miles, through traffic, with brakes that were just backing plates grinding on rotors, shifter bushings that made gear changes an educated guess, and an alignment that somehow enabled the car to make right hand turns by letting go of the wheel.

Building Fun!

My plan for the M20 engine was an old race recipe, with some modern tuning on the Motronic ECU. The “e” version of the M20 was a lower revving version of the engine used in the more sporting versions. The stroke of the engine was longer, and all its torque was available at only 1,800 rpms. The 2.7L “e” engine makes a perfect lower end for a performance build. The head from the European 323i bolts right up to the block (as does the 325i head) and gives a final compression ratio of 10:1.  I added a 282/282 cam, heavier valve springs, many hours of porting with a Dremel, some long tube headers, the AFM (air fuel meter) from the big M50 six, a high pressure race fuel pump, and a Alpina tweaked tune from the famous Sqquid. A 9lb flywheel and racing clutch finished off an outstanding power train.

For the suspension I used all M3 components in the front. Bilstein B6 shocks, H&R Springs, Dinan camber plates, Dinan adjustable sway bar, X-brace, strut tower brace, and the ultra quick steering rack from a Z3. For the rear Bilstein B6’s, Dinan adjustable sway bar, Poly bushings everywhere, a 3.73 LSD with a 60% lock, shock tower brace and shock mounts that were practically unbreakable. The brake system was upgraded with rebuilt calipers, all new stainless steel lines. Performance rotors and Hawk pads finished it off.

The Payoff

It’s March, let’s go racing! Waiting for the season to start was agonizing. But as soon as I got the car out on course for the first event, it was worth it. The car was amazing! Lightning quick responses, and instantaneous power. I could get on the power very early with the LSD lock at 60%. On a well prepped BMW this causes a front tire to lift off the ground, and lots of cheers and thumbs up from the corner workers. I had a great first season with the E30 taking home 1st place trophies almost every run. Both the car and its driver started to get a reputation.

Trying Something Different

Why don’t we do it in the dirt? Sure! Second season I added SCCA Rallycross to the schedule. The car was excellent in the dirt as on asphalt. Racing seats and 5-point harnesses were now required, as Rallycross can be extremely violent.

Photo by John Schellenberg

Wins here were as regular as Autocross, the E30s were ruling the RWD Rallycross scene countrywide, and times were good.

The End

After five years of fun, having met or exceeded all of my goals for the e30, I was at the top of my game, but starting to ponder the next step.

About this time, Miatas started to race against the top dog e30s, and we just couldn’t compete . Like annoying little bugs, they started showing up in large numbers and us top dogs were getting spanked.

Time to move on to something else. Check back soon to see what happened next!

Photo by John Schellenberg

Gary has always enjoyed extreme activities but had to slow down several years ago due to a combination of a catastrophic surfing injury and diagnosis of fibromyalgia. Still works on his own vehicles, competes in Autocross and enjoys frequent track days!  Read his story here.

This story is published in partnership with our DriveTribe channel, join AlphaGearhead on Drivetribe here!

Photographs by John Schellenberg, used with permission, find him at

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