PACS. 527s. Special Interest Groups. Bane of our politics, but a major boon to those of us with specific interests. With everything from a beater, multi-primered autocrosser (that's welcome in my garage anytime) to a near perfect, all-the-correct-parts recreation of M3 nirvana-the Sport Evolution, the recent fifth annual E30 M3 SIGFest East had something for everyone-as long as their BMW heart beat with a four-cylinder, multi-valve rhythm.
Born of FIA Group A homologation rules requiring a minimum production run of 5,000 units, BMW's E30 M3 answered the challenge laid down by the Mercedes 190 16V in the German and European Touring Car Championships. Raced around the world, the M3 eventually became the winningest car in BMW history. Based on the E30 coupe but sharing only the doors and bonnet, the mostly hand-assembled M3s required 20 new body panels. Aerodynamic and other bodywork changes were not allowed under the rules and the M3 grew fenders wide enough to cover 10-in. racing wheels, a taller trunk lid and different rear window rake to improve airflow over the new rear spoiler and a front splitter.
The E30's smooth but sedate six was replaced with the S14, a raucous dohc 16-valve, 2.3-liter four based on the 1983 M10 F1-winning BMW engine block with a shortened M88 four-valve head. The S14 put out the highest normally aspirated horsepower per liter for any production car in 1988-195 bhp in catalyzed street trim. Race versions eventually made 320 bhp at 8500 rpm. When the displacement was increased to 2.5-liters in 1990, race power jumped to 370 bhp at 9500 rpm (238 bhp in street trim)! The dog-leg Getrag five-speed placed first down and to the left to facilitate racing gear changes. Production started in September 1986 and ended in December 1990 after 17,970 units were built. With FIA rules requiring 500 units to homologate any running changes there were several variations, including 786 cabriolets and the ultra-desirable Sport Evolutions.
Though not for everyone, this first, race-bred M3 is now generally acknowledged to be the finest driver's BMW ever and has a fanatical following. "The predictability of this car is just unbelievable, it makes you a great driver," says Filippo Morelli. "You can get them all squirrely and loose and the amount of feed back is unreal. There is a lot of opportunity to get out of a bad situation."
In 1997, Morelli founded www.bimmers.com, home of the E30 M3 Special Interest Group. Starting with just 20 members, the SIG now has nearly 1,000 worldwide. New members originally had to be referred by an existing member, now members are charged a small yearly fee and can join through the BMW CCA. (Also, be sure to check out Dave Albert's free-and ad-free-site, www.S14.net.)
Bimmers.com sponsors the SIGFests (there is a West meet as well) and this year's East meet had nearly 120 members register from as far away as Nova Scotia and Arizona. Things got started with a tech session at S14 guru Don Field's Farmingdale, N.J., Mr///M Car shop (973/919-2299). Saturday, 54 E30 M3s including two of the three M3 Cabrios in the country, gathered in Lincroft ,N.J., for a picnic and Concours.
SIGFest prides itself on unique awards and for 2004 organizer Tony Rausch made up trophies from used S14 racing pistons. Charley Terhune finished installing his new suspension just in time to drive in from somewhere past Cincinnati and was awarded the Longest Distance trophy. The SIGmeisters Choice award went to Willy Lutz's pristine 1991 M3, Chris Faust's 88's odo was showing more than 184,000 miles to claim the Highest Mileage award, and Todd Crossley's Turbo S14 conversion, a 1990 with just 25k miles, was awarded Best in Show. Sunday, the SIGFest participants were invited to join the New Jersey chapter of the BMW Car Club of America for an autocross, a most appropriate venue for the only true BMW homologation special to ever come Stateside.