Today, the BMW E30 M3 is just one of those cars you're supposed to keep bone stock. It's the first generation of M3, born from DTM homologation; however, the boxy, rear-wheel-drive coupe would become so much more than that, described by many journalists as one of the greatest driver's cars of all-time. Now three decades old, they're extremely hard to come by, especially in good condition. A quick search through the online classifieds and you'll find most examples ranging from $40,000 to $60,000. I even came across a 8,000-mile garage queen that sold for $250,000 this past July on BringATrailer.com! They are undoubtedly a beloved icon in the sports car world and therefore you probably shouldn't go off and modify one anymore, right?
Well, today's story is of a particular 1988 M3 and owner Stan Chen has taken into consideration just how valuable the first-gen M3 is, but he also demonstrates what's possible when one of these vehicles falls into the hands of a seasoned car builder. What you get is something that's been restored and updated with elements of modern style and restomod qualities, which ultimately resulted in a SEMA build that garnered the respect and recognition from all types of car enthusiasts, whether you were a BMW fan or not.
Stan has developed quite the portfolio of industry achievements, having started DTM Autohaus 20 years ago and crafting modified standout show/street cars since magazines have been around (bonus points to those who remember his Audi TT published in eurotuner). Over the last decade and then some, he's helped lead the Toyo Tires brand to new heights as the man in charge of events, sponsorships and motorsports. He's a diehard enthusiast that pushes car culture forward, plus he's also a pretty cool guy to talk shop with, just so long as you're not bugging him for free tires.
This E30 is his latest project to create a buzz in the aftermarket scene. It's simple and clean like his previous 2014 BMW 328i xDrive featured in european car magazine six years ago; yet, he's had to go above and beyond to get the E30 up to today's tough standards. Just take a look at the reworked leather and suede interior along with details such as the carbon aero, gold pinstriping and turbofan-inspired Rotiform wheels. Sure, it's been modified here and there, but it also keeps the factory four-cylinder engine, original Diamond Black Metallic paint and timeless Evolution styling. A build that blends heritage with innovation doesn't come easy and certainly takes a trained eye, which is why we're very excited to give you the exclusive final reveal of Stan Chen's "Crazy 88" M3.
1-on-1 interview with Stan Chen of Toyo Tires
We profiled your wagon after SEMA 2014, then 3 years later you drop this E30 M3 at SEMA 2017... What was your motivation for building the M3 after the wagon?
It was honestly by chance. I was talking to Brian Henderson (of Rotiform back then) about cars, and he mentioned he had an E30 M3 that he wasn't going to build. Figured I had just sold my BMW wagon and the M3 would be a nice project/investment. Also, I started modifying my E36 M3 back in the '90s so I've always been a BMW guy. Figured the time was right.
Can you explain in a little more detail the overall theme of the E30 build?
I'm definitely not the type of person to leave cars stock, and the E30 M3 is pretty great as-is, but that's also assuming the car is in great condition. I can honestly say, jokingly, I know why Brian was quick to sell it... Haha! The car was a DISASTER! It was missing windows, interior and exterior pieces and a slew of other hard-to-get parts. I think it turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it gave me a reason to do some modifications.
The exterior and interior were done at SEMA as I recall. What are some of the highlights of both?
I definitely didn't want to mess with the iconic exterior, so I stuck with the Evolution 2 aero with a mix of carbon fiber like the DTM cup mirrors. Igor Polishchuk from CATuned was the source for all the other European-spec parts like the "smiley" Euro lights, rare Startec taillights, front grille, rubber strips, etc.
The interior on the other hand was fair game. I love car interiors and why not? You spend all your time inside the car, not admiring the body from outside, right? I've always been a fan of interiors and seeing how companies like Singer can transform a super clean 911 interior into detailed art, I wanted to bring that into this build. The team at RMD Garage did a phenomenal job transforming a non-existent interior to my vision of capturing classic German and Italian cues of contrasting leather with clean stitching, seat vents and suede.
Did you run into any major challenges?
Main challenge was finishing the interior in record time to make it to SEMA. Also, sourcing NLA parts that I only found out were missing a few days before SEMA.
Nothing like the good 'ol SEMA crunch... Anyway, the engine bay was just recently finished. What makes it so special?
The engine was the only piece not really touched when it debuted at SEMA three years ago. I did have plans to do some modifications until I discovered an issue with the motor. I worked with Le Tran from 2002 Garagewerks to try and troubleshoot the issue, which of course led to other issues and potential issues down the road. I was now left with the decision of either doing a full rebuild of the S14 motor or swap it for an S54 E46 M3 motor. I decided to do the rebuild based on the fact that the S14 motors are very hard to find and that it would retain more value being original.
What do you like about the S14 engine?
It's definitely a pig by today's standards, but with a pretty low curb weight of around 2,500lbs and the high revving motor, it's still a pretty fun car to drive.
210hp felt like enough?
With the special Borla exhaust system bumping the power up a tad and adding a little more rasp, I think it suited the car just fine.
You've also changed from full-on air suspension to static setup. Any reasoning behind that?
Though I like the way bagged cars can look, I really didn't feel that was the direction I wanted this car to go. Plus, I've had some bad experiences with airbags... Haha!
Does it handle a lot better now?
I haven't really had a chance to drive around much but can definitely say the AST Suspension 12-way adjustable 4100 series dampeners and Crafted Suspension Company rear shocks with AST coils really bring a smile to my face when I take the turns.
Not just a show car... I like it! Now, this is your second set of wheels... Can you elaborate on its design?
Though I loved the Rotiform ROC's classic five-spoke look which you don't really see much on E30 M3s, I've always wanted something different. A little over a year ago, I was chatting with my long-time buddy Jon Sibal about wheels and how I wanted to change it up. The next thing you know, text messages are flying back and forth in the middle of the night with design ideas until the final concept was done. I had a chat with Brian and Jason Whipple from Rotiform about the possibility of cutting the design. At first, it was met with a little apprehension, but Jason was able to work with their designer to make it work. After several, sometimes contentious, back and forth texts between Jason, Jon and myself, we were able to combine their LHR into our design to which the wheel is now available as the Rotiform LHR-F.
And that's how shit gets done. Which do you like better?
I absolutely LOVE how the wheel turned out! It has the look and feel of a turbo fan with the protruding face and the back vanes for cooling. Since it's not a bolt-on turbo fan face, we were able to cut out the windows in the center to allow the 13" Brembo brakes to be visible.
Quite crafty. Any more plans for the E30, or can we expect another BMW project car to drop a few years from now?
No other plans for this build aside from enjoying her. Take the family out for a nice spirited drive or something. As for any other BMW builds? I told myself I wasn't going to modify cars anymore before the wagon and here we are. Guess that makes me a politician.
You've got my vote, Stan!