It took a Manhattan thrill ride in the ’90s to forge David Pan’s lifelong love of the BMW E30 M3, which has evolved into this race car.
There are few race series more contentious, polarising and downright cheeky than Touring Car racing. Look at the history of the British Touring Car Championship – the amount of rule-bending, double-dealing and other kinds of mischief that have gone on over the years beggars belief, and the over-arching ethos that ‘rubbing is racing’ ensures a certain devil-may-care, kamikaze outlook for the drivers. While the development of modern BTCC cars isn’t quite spiralling out of control as it did in the late 1990s, they still represent the pinnacle of saloon car racing, and it’s exactly this kind of misbehaviour and crashy-crashy potential that keeps the fans watching in droves. The premise is simple: the cars look fundamentally the same as the ones you see on the motorway or in the supermarket car park, but they go like stink and sound apocalyptic. What’s not to like?
The barely-harnessed mayhem of Touring Car racing is, ultimately, what we have to thank for the existence of BMW’s iconic E30 M3. You’re probably well-versed in the nature of homologation, but, for those out of the loop, it’s basically this: when a manufacturer wants to take a car racing, they often have to build a certain number of road-legal versions of the car to sell to the public, to legitimise any changes they’ve made – the rules of a given race series may state that you can’t run a new design of spoiler unless you’ve sold a couple of hundred road cars with the same spoiler, or what-have-you. And when BMW decided to throw their hat in the ring of Group A Touring Car racing, they changed pretty much everything on the E30 to create the first M3.
To try to make mincemeat of the Mercedes-Benz 190E 2.3-16 they went all out with the 3 Series’ aerodynamics. New bumpers, wings, bonnet and boot, re-angled rear screen… the windows were bonded, the arches were brutally boxy, it was a proper road-racer. And in many ways, the DTM, Germany’s Touring Car series, is like the BTCC turned up to 11. Whereas the Brits were broadly split between the Class A Sierra Cosworth RS500s and the Class B M3s – classes of such different power levels that they were effectively two simultaneous races that just happened to be on the same track at the same time – the Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft was more about the home-grown heroes. Sure, there were Sierras racing, but the fans were really screaming out for the BMW vs. Mercedes battles.
The world was watching too, you could be sure of that. The BMW E30 M3 race car you see here was built in Canada sometime after these cars’ contemporary heyday but clearly informed by the inherent drama of the formula. And for its current owner, David Pan (@davidpan1983), it represents the culmination of a lifetime of enthusiasm for hard-revving E30s.
“Back in 1991, an acquaintance gave me a very spirited ride around Manhattan in his E30 M3,” he recalls. “The drive was done in first and second gears only while taking full advantage of the entire rev range. Let’s just say that linear power delivery all the way to redline, and the nimble handling took my breath away. I knew that I had to own one of these cars!” It wasn’t too long afterwards that this ambition was realised, with David picking up his very own ’91 E30 M3 in 1992. “I caught the DTM fever,” he continues, “as the M3 had left a lifelong and indelible impression on me. The E30 is the epitome of what a driver’s car should be: nimble and balanced, which can be steered with both the steering wheel and right foot.”
It’s fair to say that this heady fusion of Bavarian muscle and race track hijinks has been living rent-free in David’s subconscious ever since. Fast-forward to the 21st century, and we find him living his best life in the BMW club racing circuit, the self-styled entrepreneur wringing the neck of his E46 330Ci race car whenever the opportunities present themselves. And it’s moving within these rarefied and high-octane arenas that he was able to make the connections that led him full circle in his long-held affections for the original M3. “I have known the previous owner of this car through the BMW club racing world, who’s had a very strong reputation as a driver and car builder,” David explains.
“The car was made available for sale in very good ‘racing’ condition; it was constructed and campaigned by a well-known Canadian BMW racer between 1999 and 2013. Built to a very high specification level, in his hands, this BMW E30 M3 accumulated over 30 overall wins in the Canadian Automobile Sport Clubs (CASC) and BMW Club Racing. When he switched to racing a Radical SR3 in 2014, I jumped at the opportunity to own this very special machine.”
Interestingly, David’s initial plan wasn’t to immediately start racing the E30, but instead, simply enjoy it as a fun track car, and so that’s precisely what he did. With such an incredibly high specification, it was certainly more than capable of being chucked around a circuit or two, and the engine, in particular, is an intriguing bit of kit. Stroked to 2.7-litres, the S14 was hand-built in Germany before being shipped to North America and features all manner of DTM tricks including the cylinder head and intake specs, lubrication system and much more besides. It’s an angry little buzzbox, revving to 8500rpm and sounding like a jar full of angry wasps, putting out a robust 292hp at the rear wheels. The transmission is equally brawny, sporting a Drenth DG400 heavy-duty six-speed sequential gearbox that’s eager to flat-shift.
“The M3 came with a very strong bone structure, however I wanted to further the development in a couple of major areas,” David explains. “Namely the aerodynamics and braking. The car was developed with some very clever aerodynamic pieces by the original owner, although he wasn’t able to complete a fully flat floor for the car due to the overriding complexity and tricky implementations. Together with the engineers from Dyson Racing, we have now engineered a full carbon fibre flat-bottom floor. The braking system was completely overhauled using the latest AP Racing components, as well as a bespoke Teves-Continental ABS system. And an electro-hydraulic power steering pump has also been added which greatly enhances the steering feel.”
It takes some chutzpah to tear into a proven thoroughbred with the idea of making it better, but – with the help of the right specialists – that’s precisely what David has done. And it’s evident throughout the build that this was a comprehensive reimagining from the off. Just check out the specs of the superleggera bodywork: the doors are lightweight composite facsimiles, as are the vented bonnet and the wings, while the front bumper is a custom carbon-Kevlar construct, and the front and rear spoilers are artfully crafted from carbon fibre.
The beauty goes way more than skin-deep too. Augmenting David’s cunningly uprated braking system is a suspension setup guaranteed to provide the requisite fancy footwork. It helps immeasurably that all the pick-up points are tied into the roll-cage, and the Moton coilovers and triple-adjustable race dampers work hand-in-hand with damper potentiometers at each corner – and, naturally, there’s more of a DTM flavour under here, with Tourenwagen-spec front control arms and subframe plus DTM-inspired custom rear control arms that allow for camber adjustment without affecting the roll centre. Special mention has to go to the wheels as well; the Volk TE37 is a popular choice on the show scene, but these haven’t been picked for their looks – they were simply the strongest and lightest wheels available in this size and fitment.
“The engine, sequential gearbox, brake system and aerodynamics really work well together as a package, helping to extract the most from one another,” David enthuses. “I would be tempted to redo the MoTeC system which is a bit outdated by today’s standards; however, since everything functions perfectly well, the incentive to do it isn’t overwhelmingly strong!” You see, he’s having too much fun with the car to radically alter anything – it was made to such an outstanding standard for the CASC GT series that, now David’s made his own improvements, he’s keen to keep giving it hell whenever possible. Indeed, that initial aspiration to simply use it as a plaything may be ebbing away by the day. “Depending on my available time, I may consider racing the car in vintage events,” he smirks. And we all know what that means. If there’s any doubt, there is no doubt – very soon, we can surely expect to see this uncompromising BMW E30 M3 race car living out its full potential once more.
Feature from Performance BMW magazine. Words: Dan Bevis. Photos: Josh Brown.
Tech Spec: BMW E30 M3 Race Car
Engine & Transmission:
2.7-litre four-cylinder S14, DTM carbon fibre airbox, 49.5mm slide throttle, BMW MS 324 intake/304 exhaust cams, DTM cylinder head specifications, BMW MS 4-into-1 Inconel exhaust manifold, EVO III block/oil squirters, DTM oil pump, DTM oil filter head, DTM sump, custom oil cooler, custom Ron Davis radiator with built-in gearbox cooler, electric water pump, MoTeC M4 ECU – all options activated, PRS professional ECU harness, 8500rpm redline. Drenth DG400 heavy-duty six-speed sequential gearbox with built-in cooler pump, strain gauge shifter for flat-shift, Tilton 5.5” ultra-light clutch/flywheel assembly, MS 4:44 ramped differential with external oil cooler (controlled by MoTeC M4)
9×18” Volk Racing TE37 wheels, Michelin slicks, Moton coilovers and triple-adjustable race dampers, suspension damper potentiometers at each corner, DTM front control arms and subframe, custom rear control arms (similar to DTM; camber adjustment without affecting roll centre), solid-mounted rear subframe, chassis fully stripped and seams stitch-welded, six-piston AP Racing front calipers with 355x32mm discs, four-piston AP Racing rear calipers with 320x28mm discs, Teves-Continental racing ABS, Tilton firewall-mounted brake and clutch pedals with brake bias adjustment, electro-hydraulic power steering pump
Custom carbon-Kevlar front bumper with Kevlar rebar, custom carbon splitter with built-in diffuser, composite vented bonnet, composite wings with side air vents, composite lightweight doors, VLN-spec tri-level carbon wing, composite rear bumper cover, carbon rear diffuser with full carbon flat floor, polycarbonate front and rear screens and side windows
Sparco seat, Schroth harness, Sparco multi-function steering wheel, 12-point Chromoly roll-cage tying into front frame rails and differential, MoTeC ADL dash with Pro Logging, 52 inputs, full memory features enabled, custom carbon dash, carbon switch/relay control box