Nick Beier is an amusing fellow and you see, Nick does very odd things sometimes. For example, he sold a perfectly good Evo-X and decided that he’d find a bucket E30 to tear into, and turn it into a fantastic little autocross car, stacking up multiple trophies at BMWCCA and holding his own in a “Street Unlimited” class in San Diego’s SCCA Region. Why does he do this? He’s Nick and that’s what he does. Does it always make sense? No, but we love him anyway. But this isn’t a story about Nick. This is the story of Nick’s rescued E30, so let’s get on with that for this month’s Euro Feature.
What type of car do you have (mod list later on in the questionnaire)?
The car is a 1986 BMW 325e, with roughly 300,000 miles on the odometer. The ‘e’ in 325e stands for “eta”, the Greek word for “efficiency” – this is the gas saver model. Its straight-six M20B27 engine produces 122 HP at the crank (at least it did 30 years ago), and boasts a redline of 4800 RPM. The car was purchased from a kid who had it as his first car. When we bought it, the brake pedal constantly fell to the floor, the temp gauge indicated the engine was overheating at all times, and the owner warned us to “keep it under 2000 rpm if you can.” We paid $1200 for the thing, which might have been too much, but with the token amp and subwoofer setup in the trunk, we went for it. After a couple years of wrenching, about $4k in parts, and a strict weight loss diet, it’s turned into a capable autocross car. It now competes in SU (Street Unlimited) at local San Diego Region SCCA events, and Legacy Class at BMWCCA events.
A lot of people give their cars nicknames/actual names. Do you have one for your e30?
I’ve decided it’s better to avoid affectionate names and female pronouns. It’s called “the E30” in conversation. The car was meant to be thrown around. The driver/mechanic should keep a cold-hearted, adversarial relationship with the machine.
Is this car your daily driver? If not what is your everyday commute vehicle?
Nope, the car isn’t practical (or legal) for the street anymore. I drive a 2000 Toyota Echo to get around town.
Mod List! Let’s have it!
- H&R Race springs
- Bilstein Sport shocks
- Adjustable Ireland Engineering sway bars (22mm front and 19mm rear)
- Static Ireland Engineering camber plates
- To reduce ride height a bit further, drop hats in the front, and rubber spring pads were removed all around. This is pretty close to a standard NASA Spec E30 suspension setup.
- 15×7 Team Dynamics wheels
- 205/15 Bridgestone RE71-R tires.
- Replaced the rear diff (originally an open 2.93 ratio) with a 3.25 LSD, from an E28 535i
- Removed 400-450 pounds from the car, now weighing in at 2270lbs (half tank, no driver).
Main areas of weight reduction were: fiberglass hood, removed bumpers, stripped interior, aftermarket seats, gutted roof and sunroof mechanism, removed power steering, AC, tons of sound deadening tar.
- Stock, other than a cheap “Racing Pros” eBay chip to futz with timing and increase the redline to 5200 RPM.
- Replaced stock brake master cylinder (19mm) with a larger, 25mm one from an e32 735i to improve pedal firmness.
- Stoptech semi-metallic pads
- SS braided lines
- ATE Blue fluid equivalent.
What was the biggest “surprise” obstacle you faced when you worked on the car (as in what was maybe supposed to have been an easy task but ended up being a pretty huge undertaking)?
I’d say the initial stages of getting the car running properly were the toughest. That’s when I really discovered the personality of the car – stubborn, full of dirt, grease, and rust, chock-full of problems due to failing components and neglected maintenance. Getting the engine to idle properly was the first battle. With a car this old, it’s never one thing that needs fixing, it’s a whole chain of issues, one unfolding after another. I ended up having to replace/overhaul the fuel pump, fuel filter, FPR (fuel pressure regulator), ICV (intake control valve), and hunt down a few vacuum leaks to get the idle right.
Have you always wanted to build an E30? If not what other cars have you built/modified?
I drove an Evo X for a couple years, but this is my first car project where I really got my hands dirty. It’s been great to witness the transformation of a useless/dying car into a surprisingly effective autocross car. Nearly every system on the automobile needed work or replacement. It’s good to know nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it, bug your mechanic friends, and spend countless hours reading online forums. The weird part of me wants to go find the previous owner and show him what potential was lying under the surface of that struggling E30 he sold us.
If you had to give to boil it down to a single word or phrase, how would you describe this build?
I like to say it’s a “best effort car.” When building the project I referenced the 80/20 rule at every choice moment. The result? With a total budget of about $5-6k, its outpacing cars worth 10x as much. I love the idea of getting results on the cheap, it’s like getting away with murder!
Let’s talk suspension. Given the geometry what do you think is one thing the car could do better (i.e. sweepers, hairpins, transients)?
For the amount spent, I think the suspension is pretty well sorted. The car stays pretty flat with the sway bars, and I have a good feeling for inducing rotation on braking when I need to. The biggest issue with the car setup right now is the steering rack. E30s came with a ridiculously slow steering rack (executive car, I guess?). I can’t help but shuffle steer through almost every turn and cross elbows through most slaloms. It makes driver inputs sloppy and lost precision.
What would you say the car’s primary strength is?
The car feels like it has a good amount of wheel torque with the shortened ratios. And with the weight reduction, 2nd gear pulls pretty hard! The engine is responsive and has torque available in the low end. The problem is, with the 5k redline and short gears, 2nd gear runs out pretty darn soon. The car is great on short/tight courses where I can stay in 2nd gear and rocket out of slow turns. On anything resembling a national level course, with higher speeds, I have to go back and forth to 3rd gear. The synchros are going out on 2nd gear, so I have to double clutch to get it back in. And I’ll be honest, 3rd gear is a strange place, there’s much less torque, the car doesn’t feel the same, and executing that down shift perfectly is never a given. Driving the faster courses with the current gear ratios is a challenge, something I can definitely improve upon.
The e30 has generally been known amongst the enthusiast community as a German Hoon Car. Having driven a few, both in stock configuration, Spec E30 prep, and one with a stroked motor, I find this to be fairly true, but had a hard time finding the proper balance of tail-out and grip. Coming from a nicely sorted Lancer Evolution, what was it like to adapt?
I love driving the thing. It’s not overpowered, so you won’t see me hooning it up or drifting around a course too much. The car is very light, responsive, has a ton of grip, and feels pretty balanced. I can easily bring the tail out by lifting or braking carefully on entry, and mashing the gas sets the car straight again. Let’s be honest, if I had more power in there, I’d probably be getting into trouble.
How reliable is the car given the abuse that you put it through?
Initially it was terrible! With various cooling issues and faulty sensors, I never knew if the engine was overheating or leaking coolant. The car would fuel starve around corners with less than half a tank. The idle would change its personality every few days. I signed up for a track day at Laguna Seca in July of last year, committing to the 1000 mile round trip, too. It was a great motivation to shake out all the issues with the car and build some confidence in it. The road trip and track day brought out no issues from the car, and it’s been stable ever since.
Did any car serve as inspiration to your build?
The project started with the search for a fun/cheap/light RWD car to throw around at autocross. I’m too big for the NA/NB Miatas; the e30 was the slightly larger German alternative. As the project progressed, Ian Allegoren’s car became a direct inspiration. He’s got the same chassis, more grip, more power, and always beats me by a good margin each event. It’s great to pick his brain about wrenching and driving.
Are there any sponsors you would like to acknowledge for their assistance in getting your car to the way that it is?
I have to thank Scott Sandowski for initiating the project in the first place. A couple years ago, Scott and I bought this car together, with the intention of splitting costs and co-driving at San Diego autocross. Unfortunately, when Scott moved to New York, the car was just getting through its growing pains. He only got to see the “oh god everything is falling apart” phase of the project. When Scott visits San Diego he always gets an update on things and a co-drive in the e30.
As most of raced cars undergo continuous changes, what are the next plans for the car?
The car is just about saturated when it comes to effort/money vs. performance. There’s a whole list of things I could do (wider wheels with more rubber, engine swap to the 325i motor, maybe boost, maybe LS swap, more weight reduction, try different gear ratios), but they’d all incur a sizable cost which I’m trying to avoid at the moment. Diminishing returns, you know? I think the only obvious change in the near future would be a steering rack swap (to the Z3 rack).