With the physical SEMA show being cancelled for the first time in the event’s history in 2020, this felt like the perfect time to revisit one of show’s most spectacular builds, Rebellion Forge Racing’s outrageous LS-swapped BMW E30.
Feature from Performance BMW. Words: Elizabeth de Latour. Photos: Larry Chen
When it comes to insane builds, SEMA always delivers and each event brings us some incredible modded cars to drool over. Sadly, even the seemingly unstoppable SEMA show couldn’t stand against Covid and so, for the first time in its history, the event was cancelled for 2020. It was replaced by the online-only SEMA360 and while some awesome builds were unveiled, it just wasn’t the same and so we decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to look back at one of the most spectacular BMW builds from SEMA 2019, Rebellion Forge Racing’s (@rebellionforgeracing) wild LS-swapped BMW E30.
RFR was started by Ross Gredys, and he and colleague Kyle Ray have exactly the sort of qualifications someone planning to create custom builds as this requires. The pair are very much old-school modders and have applied themselves to everything from custom exhausts for customers to full-on Porsche Cup race car builds. “I have a heavy background in welding, fabrication and design,” says Ross, “while Kyle has extensive knowledge and experience in body, paint and electrical. It’s allowed us to be very well-rounded, and accomplish anything we set out to do,” and this E30 is living (or at least rolling) proof of that. As amazing as the car turned out, its beginnings were rather more humble as it started out life as an $800 325is purchased nine years ago; “I initially bought the car as a cheap commuter for work,” says Ross. “With the blown head gasket, I set out on the forums to see what it took for the repair… and after seeing all the aftermarket stuff on the chassis I was hooked! I went out and bought another commuter the next day, and ripped the E30 apart. It’s been an off-and-on project over the years, working around businesses and school, and we had initially been building it as a full track car. However, since my time is limited, I wanted something we could drive on the street as well – so we toned down the full cage and installed the setup you see here. Every other aspect of the car is fully track-prepped,” he says and the end result is one extreme machine.
“For a long time the E30 was really a test subject for new things we wanted to try,” Ross explains. “We stood back and looked at it, and decided it really had everything we wanted in a build so we set out to finish it! We both like engine swaps and we like big power in little chassis, so it just fit the bill. We’re very happy with the results! The sounds and power this thing produces are nothing but smiles from ear to ear,” he grins and that’s all thanks to the monster V8 sitting up front. Their engine of choice was the 6.0-litre LS3 and of course, it’s not stock, because how could it be? The already impressive powerplant has been enhanced with the addition of LS6 cathedral-port heads, a custom mid-rise intake manifold with 92mm FAST throttle body, TSP Stage 3 cams, Davies Craig remote-pump cooling system, those insane custom RFR 8-into-1 exhaust manifolds and it’s all topped off with Haltech Elite 2500 management. That adds up to an estimated 500hp and 500lb ft of torque, which is an awful lot to be getting on with in any E30, let alone a lightweight one such as this. The engine bay on this build is just mind-blowing and it’s dominated by the otherworldly forward-facing 8-into-1 exhaust manifold setup which has the actual exhaust bending around and down from the front of the car to head back past the engine, leading to a pair of tips that exit from the centre of the rear bumper.
Of course, none of making this vision a reality came easy and there was a hell of a lot of work involved here; “We had to push the entire engine and drivetrain back 8”, and that required a new firewall, transmission tunnel, new seat locations, shifter, steering, and the list goes on. All worth it though!” grins Ross. As for RFR’s chosen method of transmitting power from that LS3 to the rear wheels, it’s done via a Nissan 350Z six-speed manual gearbox and the RFR duo has added a Tilton lightweight flywheel, 7.25” triple-plate clutch and a hydraulic throw-out bearing.
While what’s happening under the bonnet is wild, every part of this build is no less jaw-dropping and the same goes for the bodywork, and it gives this E30 presence and muscle like nothing else out there. “Back in 2018, Live To Offend released its prototype body kit for the E30, and I immediately reached out to Kyza and Eric and asked what the future plans were,” Ross says. “The kit we have on our car is much wider than the original; it adds roughly 8” of track width in the back and around 6.5” up front. Everything under the kit was done correctly as well – the factory arches were cut and welded shut and sealed, and the moulding recesses were filled, welded and smoothed. The carbon roof was moulded from a factory slicktop, we cut the original roof off our car leaving roughly a 2” parameter to adhere to,” he says and every part of that combo is just epic. The LTO kit itself is just unreal; the sheer width of the arches is hard to get your head around and it looks insanely aggressive. In addition to the massive arches, there’s that equally huge front lip complete with carbon splitter, the bonnet has been modified with those two massive cutouts, there are drilled door handles and that ultra-aggressive rear diffuser. One thing we love about this car is the lack of any sort of boot spoiler – viewed in profile it gives it a strange appearance as you can see the shape of the arches, those lightweight windows and that diffuser but if you were to trace the top half of the car you’d come away with the cleanest and purest E30 silhouette imaginable.
Wide arches require suitably spectacular wheels and for this E30 build, RFR collaborated with Rotiform and Rosko Racing to create something unique. Rosko was tasked with creating a custom centrelock setup to go with RFR’s desired period racer aesthetic with the hex nuts but to update the design and use a reverse-thread centre retaining nut. Once that was done, Rotiform created a set of WGR-M splits and mated them to the centrelocks, and the end result is nothing short of stunning, more than up to the task of matching the visual drama doled out by the body kit and perfectly suited to the whole look of the car. The WGR-M is such a distinctive-looking wheel and it’s really perfect for this E30, with those chunky, angled five-spokes and the aero disc-style edges while the centrelocks are the perfect finishing touch, and these 18s measure a meaty 10” up front and 12”-wide at the rear, allowing them to fill out those vast arches effortlessly. The car has been brought down super-low over the fat R888R rubber and there’s been a bit of work involved in achieving that drop.
“The suspension consists of Fortune Auto two-way Dreadnought coilovers,” says Ross, “using its air-cup system in the front to help with clearance. The front control arm assembly was designed and built by MRT, while the back tubular trailing arms were designed and built in-house by us. We also raised the rear shock towers 3” to allow the car to sit lower without impeding suspension travel,” and that means that not only does this E30 look awesome as a result, but the way it drives also isn’t compromised. Finally, with this being a car that’s been built with both road and track in mind, not to mention one that’s pushing around 500hp, a set of uprated brakes was most definitely on the menu and this E30 has been equipped with a BBK developed in-house by RFR. It consists of a complete set of Porsche Cayenne Brembo calipers – six-pots up front and four-pots at the rear that have been painted orange – mounted on custom brackets that were designed by RFR and machined by Rosko Racing, mated to Corvette C6 Z06 and E36 M3 discs respectively and that combo delivers all the stopping power this E30 needs.
The final part of this build we have left to admire is the interior and, as you would expect from a car with a track theme, it is suitably hardcore in here while also being beautifully finished at every turn, as you would also expect from a build of this calibre. “We partnered with Sabelt, and have its Titan seats, Enduro harnesses and flat-bottom steering wheel in the car,” Ross says. “The rear roll-cage was built by us, and due to the firewall being pushed back we’re using a Woodward column and quick-release. We wanted to keep the stock dash, although it’s been completely stripped; it’s also modular in that all the ECU, power distribution, coils, air box and wiring harness are connected to the firewall itself. Just four bolts and the entire dash comes out for ease of serviceability!” and that’s an impressive arrangement. The flocked dash looks fantastic and replacing the instruments is a custom-mounted Haltech IQ3 digital dash with a carbon surround while there’s also a custom dash blank panel and lightweight door cards, and it drives the point home that this build is as much about performance as it as about looks.
It’s fitting that a build of this scale was unveiled at the last physical SEMA show we’ll have for (touch wood) two years and the perfect car to look back on in its absence this year as it’s the sort of build that you don’t forget and there are countless reasons why. Every aspect of it is nothing less than awesome, from the engine bay to the wide-body, from the custom wheel setup to that stripped-out interior, the whole package is a true show-stopper. “The reactions at SEMA were insane,” Ross enthuses. “We still can’t believe it. We put everything into this car, but we had no idea how much people would enjoy it! That really makes us happy,” he smiles and we totally get that. We always say that you build a car for two people – yourself and everyone else, so to get that kind of reaction with this build let the RFR guys know that they really knocked it out of the park with this one. Despite the level to which this E30 has already been built, RFR is far from finished with it; “Phase two of the exterior will consist of functional aero with a larger splitter and canards out front, and a large chassis-mounted wing out back in preparation for the track,” says Ross and then there’s his promise of building something even bigger and better. Whatever RFR creates in the future, it’s this LS-swapped BMW E30 that put it on the map, it’s this E30 that rocked SEMA and it’s this E30 that will be remembered as one of 2019’s best BMW builds and that’s one hell of a legacy to have to your name.
Tech Spec: LS-swapped BMW E30
Engine & Transmission:
6.0-litre V8 Chevrolet LS3, LS6 cathedral-port heads, custom mid-rise intake manifold with 92mm FAST throttle body, TSP Stage 3 cams, custom RFR 8-into-1 exhaust manifold, Davies Craig remote-pump cooling system, AN fittings and hoses throughout by Improved Racing, Radium Engineering fuel system, Haltech Elite 2500 management. CD009 Nissan 350Z six-speed manual gearbox, Tilton lightweight flywheel, 7.25” triple-plate clutch and hydraulic throw-out bearing
10×18” (front) and 12×18” (rear) custom Rotiform WGR-M/RFR wheels with Rosko Racing centrelocks, 275/35 (front) and 315/30 (rear) Toyo R888R tyres, Fortune Auto Dreadnought PRO two-way coilovers with air-cup system, MRT front control arm assembly, custom RFR rear tubular trailing arms, rear shock towers raised 3”, RFR big brake kit comprising Porsche Cayenne six-pot calipers and C6 Corvette Z06 discs (front) and four-pot calipers and E36 M3 discs (rear)
Full respray in Spies Hecker Oliv Grün, custom Live To Offend wide-body kit, vented bonnet, carbon fibre roof, drilled door handles, custom rear diffuser, lightweight windows
Sabelt Titan seats, Enduro harnesses and flat-bottom steering wheel with quick-release on Woodward column, Tilton pedals, custom roll-cage, stock dash gutted and customised, custom-mounted Haltech IQ3 digital display, lightweight door panels
ESCORT RS COSWORTH TRACK CAR: REBORN IDENTITY