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V10 E30 M3: PERFECT 10

Posted by Matt Bell on 11th January 2021

Some people reckon you can have too much of a good thing but we disagree because a 5.0-litre V10 is a lot of engine and stuffing it into an E30 M3 might seem like a bit too much, but the end result is just the right amount of everything.

Feature taken from Performance BMW. Words: Elizabeth de Latour. Photos: Chris Frosin

E30s and engine swaps go together like strawberries and cream; of course, we’re all for originality but, when it comes to adding a bit more go to the classic Three, an engine swap is always a good option and we love to see something bit more muscular stuffed into the engine bay. Over the years we’ve seen a huge variety of different engines inserted into the retro 3 Series and the sky really is the limit but, even so, seeing a V10 barely contained by an E30 engine bay will never fail to blow absolutely everyone away and Keith Waterhouse gets to play with a V10-swapped E30 M3 every single day. Yeah, we’re a bit jealous…

Let’s begin by saying that Keith is not your typical PBMW feature car owner; there’s definitely a general sort of age range that most of the owners of cars that we feature fall into and, at “55 years young,” it’s fair to say that Keith is a little north of the average and we love that. It’s always great to see people still loving cars and modding them no matter their age, and Keith’s the kind of guy we want to be when we grow up. We have some serious catching up to do in terms of cars though, as he reckons he’s owned about 60(!) BMWs over the years. These have included six Alpinas, among those an E39 B10 V8 and an E30 C2 2.7, an E93 M3 and a 1M, so it’s fair to say that he’s a pretty hardcore BMW enthusiast, but he just loves cars in general, having also owned two Ferraris and two 911 Turbos.

“My first car was a 1967 Mini Cooper S with a 1380cc engine which I wrote off and then re-shelled,” Keith tells us, “and my first BMW was a fully specced E30 323i with a dog-leg gearbox back when E30s were current; the build quality was streets ahead of the fast Fords I was used to,” he says and it’s clear that the E30 made an impact on him. “I have had four E30 Alpinas,” he grins, “and I fancied another one to do as a project. While searching I came across the E30 Zone forum and I found Glenn Baker’s M3 V10 build thread and the car which was to become mine. I contacted Glenn and went to have a look at the car; initially, we couldn’t agree on a price but I went back with a better offer and bought the car despite the fact he had only driven it for a few hundred miles. Apparently, on the day of collection he managed to nearly get the speedo needle to make a second sweep of the clock!” he chuckles. “The car was roadworthy and looked lovely in its fresh paint but it was a bit of a culture shock driving a modified 30-year-old car after driving modern cars. I didn’t really have a plan for it but I have basically put my own stamp on it by changing things to how I wanted them and Glenn has been a great help, I’m still phoning him up now asking for info!” he chuckles. Keith may not have been looking for a V10 E30 M3, but when an opportunity like this presents itself and you’re fortunate enough to be able to jump on it then there’s only one option. And, great as the car was, Keith has spent five years and 100s of hours working on it to tweak and refine it and the results speak for themselves.

Obviously, the core and heart of this build is that engine. The S85 V10 – all 5.0-litres of it – makes 507hp and 384lb ft of torque and those are big numbers, really big numbers that were enough to make the E60 M5 one of the fastest super saloons of its day. Back in 2005, the idea of putting a V10 into a family saloon, regardless of it being an M5, was frankly insane, which makes the idea of putting one into an E30 completely unhinged. When the E60 M5 came along, super saloons were all running V8s – aside from some wild tuner specials – and the V10 was – and actually still is – one of the rarest road car engine configurations. Aside from making an appearance in a handful of notable machines, the V10 has never been a mainstream engine choice and, judging by the direction in which things are heading, it never will be and BMW was the first car company to fit what is essentially an incredibly exotic supercar engine into a ‘normal’ car. While we’ve seen a few V10 E30 over the years, they never lose any of their impact and are never anything less than completely awesome.

In Keith’s car, the S85 has been mated to a ZF Type G six-speed manual gearbox from an E9x M3, and while the engine itself is standard Keith has made some changes to the setup in the time that he’s owned the car. “Last winter I changed the rod bearings to ACL ones with ARP bolts, the internal Vanos line and the Vanos pump chain and tensioners. At the same time I cut the front sump bowl and remade the crossmember to give a better location for the steering rack,” he explains. “I also changed the engine management to SCS Delta, which involved rewiring the engine and parts of the car. I had some annoying glitches with the modified OEM engine ECU so I decided to rip it out and the car definitely feels quicker with the SCS ECU, particularly in the 5000-8250rpm range,” he grins. The car’s fuel system comprises the original E60 M5 pumps grafted into the E30 fuel tank with a 5 bar fuel pressure regulator and a filter hidden behind the rear doorcard, while the drivetrain features a modified E60 M5 propshaft with an uprated flange and a secondary diff mount, the 188mm 3.15 final drive diff has been rebuilt with 40% lock, which Keith says has greatly improved traction, and finally, there are new GKN driveshafts. Of course, the stock E60 M5 exhaust would never fit an E30 M3 and so there is a custom de-catted exhaust and, needless to say, it’s absolutely awesome and really lets that V10 sing, making this M3 sound like an exotic supercar.

The chassis has obviously undergone some serious upgrades to ensure that it can cope with all the power and torque from that mighty V10, both ensuring that the car can effectively deploy it all to the tarmac as well being fun to drive. “The front suspension has been rebuilt last winter with rebuilt coilovers, poly bushes, engine mounts and a front subframe fabricated by me,” says Keith and this little lot has combined to deliver sharp and precise handling that makes this M3 even more of a blast to drive than the stock car, and it ensures the chassis is tight and more than capable of dealing with that monster power output. Big power also demands big brakes because, light as the E30 may be, with over 500hp on tap you’re going to be arriving at corners that much faster and so they’re absolutely an essential part of the package, and this M3 boasts some serious stopping power. “The brakes have been through a few changes,” Keith tells us, “last year I ripped out my previous efforts and installed a Tilton pedal box, E46 M3 325mm front discs with refurbished E31 front four-pot Brembos, while the rear has 296mm vented discs with Porsche four-pot Brembos. I’ve also added a bias adjuster and it’s fitted where the headlight adjuster switch would normally sit,” he says and that is an impressively comprehensive and suitably substantial setup. The four-pot calipers front and rear deliver serious stopping power whenever Keith requires it, and they also happen to look seriously sexy and the red calipers match the paintwork perfectly.

In terms of styling, this build is very much an exercise in restraint in almost every single area, with only a few subtle additions that help to accentuate the car’s natural muscularity. It feels like we’ve definitely been enjoying some more OEM+ builds in the mag recently, but when they’re based on classic beauties like this it’s only ever a good thing. On the outside, you’ve got that dazzling Imola red bodywork and the very subtle additions of an Evo 2 front spoiler and a Sport Evo rear item, and they combine to just give the car that little more presence and aggression. The wheels, however, make a big statement and while they may be period-perfect for this car, that doesn’t make them any less dazzling. “Initially the car had Style 5 two-piece split rims,” Keith tells us, “I repainted and polished them and ran those for a few years. I fancied a wheel change, so I bought a set of BBS Le Mans splits and then, while waiting for a pair of 9” barrels to come up, these Hartge rims appeared and I bought them. I had them repainted in two-pack paint and polished them myself, which was a very time-consuming task,” he says but the end result was most definitely worth it. The wheels are 17” Hartge Type C three-piece splits, one of the most perfect wheel choices for a classic BM, and they look so good on this car with their polished stepped lips and just suit the whole aesthetic perfectly.

The interior, meanwhile, has a little bit more going on but it too is very much in keeping with the whole style and look of the car and it all works together so well. “The interior has been through a few changes,” Keith tells us, “initially it had black leather Recaro SRDs with a black leather rear seat and I then fitted some Corsa VXR front seats. Ata Khan from the E30 Zone then sold me his retrimmed, unused interior out of his S62-powered E30 M3 after he decided to go down the track car route. I have Recaro SRD seats up front and the whole interior is trimmed in black leather with Alcantara centres, including the door trims, and an Alcantara rear shelf,” he says and it looks stunning. The SRDs look so good in the E30’s cabin and the leather and Alcantara combo is a stunning one, with the M tricolour logo details on the front and rear seats adding that little special touch, and the doorcards are no less beautiful. There’s also a Nardi Blackline steering wheel and no less than five additional gauges – in the centre console sit three for the fuel pressure, oil pressure and voltage, while ahead of the gear lever are two for the gearbox and diff oil temperature. Aside from that nothing else has been added but what’s here is enough to make the interior feel special and nothing else was needed, this is perfect.

This magnificent V10-swapped E30 M3 is truly a masterpiece and a masterclass in minimalist modding in some areas, but absolute maximalism in others and the two work together in perfect harmony. Every aspect of the car looks right, every mod is perfect, there’s just the right amount of everything to make this M3 stand out from the crowd without drawing too much attention to itself, and it’s only the engine itself that causes any sort of a ruckus here, but when it shouts about its presence everyone pays attention.

Owning an E30 M3 is without a doubt a huge goal for a lot of BM enthusiasts out there and, maybe for some of them, the idea of stuffing a V10 into what is widely regarded as BMW’s purest driver’s car might seem something akin to sacrilege, but for the rest of us, it’s an epic engine swap and makes for a simply awesome build. Keith said he wanted to put his own stamp on the car and he’s most definitely done that, and over the past five years it has evolved significantly and it is a truly exceptional machine in every respect. “Modified cars are never complete but I have done most of the things I wanted to do and I’ve got no real plans for the car, apart from enjoying it!” grins Keith and that’s the best thing you can do with a V10 E30 M3. There are so many different ways to modify an E30 that it’s impossible to call any one car truly perfect but, in our eyes at least, this E30 M3 has got to be about as close as you can get.

Tech Spec: V10 E30 M3

Engine & Transmission:

5.0-litre V10 S85B50, custom-fabricated engine mounts, ACL rod bearings, ARP bolts, custom fuel pump system comprising original E60 M5 fuel pumps built into the E30 fuel tank, 5 bar pressure regulator and filter hidden behind the rear doorcard, custom de-cat exhaust, SCS Delta ECU. ZF Type G six-speed manual gearbox from E9x M3, custom propshaft from E60 M5 with uprated diff flange and secondary diff mount, 3.15 differential with 40% lock, GKN driveshafts

Chassis:

8×17” (front) and 9×17” (rear) Hartge Type C three-piece wheels with 215/40 (front) and 235/40 (rear) Yokohama Advan Neova AD08R tyres, coilovers, custom-fabricated front subframe, refurbished E31 8 Series Brembo four-piston calipers and 325mm E46 M3 discs (front), Porsche four-piston Brembo calipers and 296mm vented discs (rear)

Exterior:

Imola red, Evo 2 front and Sport Evo rear spoilers

Interior:

Recaro SRD seats, seats, parcel shelf and doorcards finished in leather and Alcantara, Nardi Blackline steering wheel, VDO oil pressure, voltage, fuel pressure, gearbox and diff temperature gauges