We've said it before, but one of the best things about our job is meeting die-hard enthusiasts. And we've found these guys are often attracted to certain types of cars - usually older models, often quirky and always difficult to find parts. Yet the struggle to keep the car on the road endears it more.
One such car is the E30 M3. Limited production, a lack of parts and climbing used prices mean they're for the dedicated few.
The original M3 is capable of stirring deep emotions. Its concoction of boxy good looks, pure performance and rich motorsport heritage place it in a small group with exotics like the Ur Audi quattro, Lancia Integrale, Ford RS Cosworth, etc.
The owners of both M3s here were smitten at first sight. Both cut their teeth on the E30 325i while hankering and saving for the M3. In the case of Mariano Garcia, who owns the Diamond black M3, his BMW infatuation was inculcated by his father from an early age. In fact, his first car was an '86 325i he got when he was 15. His father bought it new and Mariano has since installed an M50 2.5 liter engine. "I used to neglect it," he admitted, "but I've done so much to it I could never let it go. It's become my baby hauler.
"I'm fanatical about BMW thanks to my father," Mariano continued. "I always wanted an M3 but never thought I'd ever own one. I imagined robbing something to get one. I don't dream about Italian supercars. The E30 M3 is all I wanted my entire life."
The Lachs silver M3 belongs to Barry Robinson, who has a similar story. "I was introduced to E30s by my mother and wanted an M3 from the moment I saw my first one in a magazine. It was red and made a real impression on me," he said.
Unable to afford the car of his dreams, Barry got the next best thing - an '85 325i. When that was totaled, he used the insurance to finally buy an M3. "I got it for under $10k, but a similar car is now going for $20k. And low-mileage cars with good modifications are up to $40k. I couldn't afford to do this now, but I've owned it 10 years and won't be selling it," he said.
The friends met at a BMWCCA concourse event and continued to talk on various forums. They're part of a dedicated group of young SoCal E30 owners with a true love for the cars. "We used to meet on dtmpower," said Barry, "but now we tend to use the s14 forum."
"It's like a family," Mariano continued. "I haven't met all the guys, but we'll offer rooms to people who come down for shows. Everybody helps out, it's great."
A lack of space means we've neglected the usual Tech Spec boxes in favor of more photos of the cars, but most of the relevant information is included, and each owner wanted to particularly thank his family and fellow enthusiasts.
Once Mariano was in a position to buy an M3, it took him two weeks to find the right car. "I was looking for a white one but found this Diamond black car and bought it immediately," he said.
The car had a 2.5 engine conversion, roll-bar and suspension when he bought it. "Nothing was how I wanted it," he revealed, "so I re-did everything."
Starting with the engine, it suffered piston slap from its previous build. Converting the stock 192hp 2.3 liter 16v engine to the later M3 Sport Evolution's (Evo 3) 2.5 liter spec involved an increase in bore and stroke from 93.4x84mm to 95x87mm. Apparently, the previous work was below Mariano's expectations, so E30 specialists TNG Automotive in La Crescenta, CA were asked to rebuild it.
In addition, the motor has a two-piece M3 Evo header attached to a Supersprint exhaust and MagnaFlow muffler. Along with its carbon Group A racing intake manifold, the M3 sounds decidedly throaty when the Schnitzer pedal is pressed hard.
Unsure of the full engine spec because the previous owner fitted many of the parts, other mods include Evo cams and a Maxx Alpha N piggyback ECU. The result is a dyno-verified 245.2whp.
The M3's chassis is possibly more important than its engine, since it's what makes it so memorable. The 28 year-old audio engineer from Glendale, CA chose to use TC Kline's suspension, bushings and mounts on his car. He also has Vorshlag Motorsport camber plates front and rear, as well as Zen Engineering strut braces and even an Auto Power roll-bar in the rear cabin.
The front brakes were upgraded with Wilwood six-piston calipers and 300mm rotors behind glorious 17" BBS RS wheels. Measuring 8.5" wide in the front and 9.5" rear with a generous ET13 offset, they sport stretched Goodyear rubber - 215/40 front, 245/35 rear. And since rolling the fenders, Mariano reports no more rubbing.
With BMW producing three Evolution models of the original M3, there are plenty of factory tuning parts to choose from. One of the most popular is the last-generation Evolution Sport rear wing. Only in Mariano's case he got a carbon replica, complete with adjustable Gurney flap.
The carbon also extends to the front splitter, VIS hood and DTM-style mirrors. There's even a carbon sunroof panel from VIS, "Only a handful were built and I had to wait three years for it," Mariano explained.
The interior was originally in Barry's M3. "I busted his balls for three years to get it, and he finally relented when swapping his out again," Mariano said. The front seats are similar to a Recaro SRD and were trimmed in grey alcantara with center panels in European M cloth. The rears were upholstered to match.
Other highlights include a genuine Evo 3 suede steering wheel and M-style boots for both the shifter and e-brake.
In love with the car, his modifications are the "icing on the cake," he said. "I might fit rear brakes and a dog-leg Euro tranny in the future, but the car's running so well I don't want to mess with it!"
Proudly owned by 32 year-old longshoreman, Barry Robinson from San Pedro, CA, this '88 M3 is also the culmination of childhood dreams. He bought it bone stock and has slowly modified it to suit his taste and budget.
One of the first mods were the black 17x8" Epsilon wheels with 235/40 Falken FK-452 tires, followed by the Evo 3 rear wing and Evo 2 front splitter - both are adjustable for downforce. He also has a VIS carbon hood, DTM mirrors and tinted lighting all around.
The suspension is a combination of H&R race springs over Bilstein shocks, with Ground Control rear mounts for height adjustment. Then there are Vorshlag camber plates, 22mm/19mm Suspension Techniques sway bars with reinforced mounts and the M Coupe's finned diff cover for better heat dissipation.
The engine retains its stock 2.3 liter capacity but has two-piece Evo 2 headers, the Evo 3's 48mm individual throttle bodies and the Group A carbon airbox. Then there are Camko's 284/276 cams and Maxx Alpha N piggyback ECU. Currently, the exhaust is stock but a custom system is planned.
A set of 28 lb injectors is also in the pipeline, along with a re-tune of the engine management. "I've got 209whp from the original 140,000 mile engine at present, which is pretty good for basic mods," Barry said. "I wanted to see how far I could push the stock motor before going 2.5 or turbo, and I'm pretty happy with the results."
The interior is again pretty special. North American M3s didn't receive the same luxury appointments as their European counterparts; where the Euro cars were kitted out with unique equipment, the US cars were closer to the regular 325i. Therefore, many owners chose to upgrade with authentic Euro parts. However, Barry was on a budget and used his head to create something similar and perhaps more distinctive.
As seen in Mariano's car and also his own, Barry sourced a seat similar in style to those fitted in the M3 Evo Sport. He than had the outer sections trimmed in black alcantara, while the centers were covered in a BMW cloth used on Motorsport-spec cars in Europe. Equipped with harnesses for track days, and with the rear seats trimmed to match, Barry's interior looks stunning. And it certainly doesn't stop there.
Other interior mods include an M-Tech 2 steering wheel from the facelifted 325i, as well as a Rob Knob 2 shift knob and quick-shift kit from UUC Motorwerks. The console houses a BMP Design gauge panel with VDO dials for volts, oil pressure and temp. There's also a Haltech AFR gauge.
In keeping with the 20 year-old car, it features an old-school Kenwood 930 pull-out radio/cassette head unit, with an eleven-band Kenwood equalizer grafted into the dash above it. A couple of amps in the trunk fire the Kenwood cabin speakers and a 12" Kicker sub to keep the good times rolling.