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BMW E30 TRACK CAR: ACCIDENTAL HERO

Posted by Matt Bell on 27th September 2021

Built to be driven hard and thoroughly enjoyed, this S50-swapped BMW E30 track car was something of an unexpected project for its owner but it’s turned out unsurprisingly superb.

Feature from Performance BMW. Words & Photos: Patrick McGrath

We hate to open a feature by quoting a famous song, but we’re going to do it anyway: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, well you might find, you get what you need.” While we don’t think Mick Jagger and co. quite had the idea of an S50B30-swapped E30 in mind when they wrote ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Need’ in 1969, when you discover the story of Josh Greene’s BMW E30 track car you would swear that The Rolling Stones must have had some sort of time machine. It might also explain how Keith Richards is still alive…

Over the years we’ve seen so many people get so far in over their heads with a project that it stops being a source of joy for them. Instead, it becomes an exercise in attrition and endurance. More often than not, these hugely ambitious projects never get finished and it seems to have a lasting effect on the people who tried to create something, but ultimately fall short. Even sometimes those who do make it over the finish line, often don’t get anywhere near the amount of enjoyment relative to the amount of hardship previously endured as their reward. The amount of suffering seems to raise expectations to a level which can never be met. If it’s this hard, it surely must be worth it in the end, right? Well, not always.

“I don’t even like two-doors, I prefer saloons,” Josh begins and it’s not the opening line we were expecting. “I took it as a trade against my old shell and some parts,” he adds and to uncover more of this story we need to go back in time to Josh’s previous car, an E36 325i Saloon, just as a point of reference. This had long been his favourite car, the one he was known for driving mostly sideways at every opportunity before he decided to rebuild it into his ultimate Gatebil-style M50 turbo and fully caged track car. He was on the cusp of going deep down that particular rabbit hole, but just before he reached the point of no return with the project, with the E36 already caged, the front and rear tube-framed and the M50 mocked up, he realised he was going too far with it. While the idea of a big-power E36 is a great one, the reality of owning and maintaining a hardcore track car is very much a different one. More power requires more upgrades, more fuel, more tyres, stronger parts, more maintenance and certainly more chance of sending a piston or two into the outer atmosphere. The financial commitment is something a lot of people probably don’t realise until it’s too late, and they never even get to the end of the project. There’s also the issue that when it’s broken (and it will break), and you’re saving for the repairs, it’s more time spent not driving it.

We reckon it was that last part in particular that forced Josh’s hand – the idea of missing out on events and track days or even just a Sunday drive didn’t sit well with him. He loves to drive as much as possible, so he had to make a new plan. Funnily enough, despite accepting the E30 as a trade for his E36, it didn’t really factor into what he had in mind. It was only three days after making that deal, and before he had even collected the E30, when an S50B30 came up for sale that the proverbial light bulb went off in his head. Even still, it wasn’t intended as anything but a fun, temporary kind of deal. “We swapped the engine and gearbox in over a couple of weekends, it was really straightforward. The car has never really been torn down completely, just small upgrades otherwise,” he says. The engine has only been lightly modified, and more so for long-term reliability. There are ARP con rod bolts and ACL Race Series bearings at the bottom end and he’s added velocity stacks to the engine’s individual throttle bodies, along with a custom tray underneath them. There’s an Alpha N chip, while cooling is taken care of with a Driftworks radiator and a Mishimoto oil cooler and adapter plates and as heat is a big killer of engines these are all simple but effective ways of prolonging its life. The end result is a healthy 315hp with a similar torque figure and that is more than enough to make this lightweight BMW E30 track car into a seriously rapid track machine.

After the engine and the E36 M3’s ZF five-speed were installed, Josh set about making the car more distinctive, more his. When a friend of his pointed out that he could order a brand new set of Work Equip 40s, in the exact widths and offsets he desired, he knew it was the path he wanted to take. Both his previous E36 and this E30 have clear Japanese influence, something which goes much further than just a set of Japanese wheels. It’s about a certain style, how everything is put together and how it’s used. It’s hardly surprising to discover that he’s surrounded by Japanese car-owning friends, who have just a little influence on him. Another distinct change is the Taifun headlight conversion, one which seems to divide opinion, but doesn’t phase Josh, as he likes it. Combined with an M Tech 2 front lip and M Tech 1-style rear spoiler, the exterior of the car is about as subtle
as it can be otherwise, including the sunroof delete.

For a road-legal track car, the interior is as you might expect. The driver’s seat is a Bride Zeta II, while the passenger can get comfortable in a Bride Brix MK I. Both occupants are secured into the car with TRS four-point harnesses, with the added protection of a custom bolt-in six-point roll cage. Josh’s other points of contact with the car are a 340mm Nardi steering wheel, a custom shift knob and a Chase Bays hydraulic handbrake, which is connected to a dedicated pair of additional rear calipers courtesy of a Born2Drift dual rear caliper adapter. All the brakes on the car run Carbone Lorraine pads with HEL Performance braided lines. The motor’s vitals are monitored with a trio of GReddy gauges on top of the dash, along with a large Auto Gauge tachometer which sits front and centre in the instrument cluster. Further JDM touches include the wide-view Broadway mirror and the twin Mitsuba horns.

So far, so straightforward, with everything focused on enhancing and prolonging the driving experience, and it won’t come as much surprise that the car is every bit as considered underneath, too. BC Coilovers with 10kg and 12kg springs suspend the car, while there’s a host of poly bushes added including the modified rear subframe, the differential mounts and the trailing arms, which reduce deflection, improve handling and maintain more consistent suspension geometry. As a car which is more often than not sideways the use of a Z3 quick-rack and steering rack spacers, which provide extra steering lock, are sensible ones.

Despite how quickly and well-considered this car came together, it’s still amusing to hear Josh describe it as an “accidental build.” It was really never meant to be anything but a stop-gap while he figured out what to do after selling his E36, but he has clearly warmed to it. That doesn’t mean that he’s afraid of using it, far from it. The car wears its scars with pride, and Josh isn’t afraid of adding new ones. Just the night before this photoshoot took place, the car was having its offside door replaced following a coming together with a tyre bale at Anglesey Circuit late last year. If it breaks or gets bent, he’s just going to fix it and drive on. That’s probably the beauty of it all. By building a car he had no intentions or desire to originally build, he’s not all that precious about it. He can get in, drive it as hard as he likes and knows that if the worst happens, he can either repair it or walk away without any real regrets. It’s why it’s so simple.

For Josh, it’s all about those moments driving that really matter. Those experiences mean more to him than having a flawless, show car that’s never really used as it should be. We respect someone who knows what they want from a car, and this is no different. When we asked him at the end of the day, what does he think of the car now after everything that’s gone into it in such a short period, he just looked up, smiled and said, only half-jokingly, “It’s probably the best thing ever.” We guess he finally got what he needs.

Tech Spec: BMW E30 track car

Engine & Transmission

3.0-litre straight-six S50B30, solid engine mounts, ARP con rod bolts, ACL Race Series bearings, velocity stacks, custom tray beneath intake, Driftworks radiator, Mishimoto oil cooler and adapter plate, custom exhaust manifold and exhaust with shotgun-style tips, custom sump guard, Alpha N chip. ZF Type C E36 M3 five-speed manual gearbox, 3.90 limited-slip differential

Chassis:

9×15” ET-3 (front) and ET7 (rear) Work Equip 40 wheels with 195/50 Nankang NS-2R (front) and 195/50 Accelera 651 (rear) tyres, BC Coilovers with 10kg and 12kg springs, modified rear subframe with poly bushes, Condor Speed Shop poly bushed rear trailing arms, poly bushed differential mounts, Z3 steering rack, rack spacers, E36 M3 Evo front lollipop bushes, Carbone Lorraine pads (front and rear), dual caliper setup with drilled discs (rear), Chase Bays hydraulic handbrake, HEL braided brake lines

Exterior:

Taifun headlight conversion, M Tech 2 front lip, DTM mirrors, M Tech 1-style rear spoiler, fibreglass sunroof delete

Interior:

Custom six-point bolt-in roll-cage, Bride Zeta II driver’s seat, Bride Brix MK I passenger seat, TRS four-point harnesses, 340mm Nardi steering wheel, custom gear knob, GReddy oil pressure, temperature and water temperature gauges, Auto Gauge tachometer, Broadway rear-view mirror, Mitsuba horns