Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda: The Longest Spec3 Build

I bounced through quite a few cars in my early twenties. A wandering eye and lack of funds saw me in a few older BMWs that had some promise, but weren’t nice enough to keep for long. About this time in 2012, I was fed up with my 1991 535i’s lack of heat, and had already made one rusty misstep with a Montreal Blue 1996 328i sedan. After eight days of ownership, the 328i was re-flipped to a new Craigslist buyer and I set my sights on the nicest non-M E36 BMW I could find.

“Green Hell” (lovingly named after a certain racetrack in Germany) came from a couple in Maryland. It was the wife’s car, and they had finally purchased a new Lexus for her to drive. I paid some reasonable sum for the 146k mile Oxford Green BMW, and finally had an example with good paint, no rust, a very nice interior, and functional heat and air conditioning.

I kept the 325i for about a year and 12k miles, and really loved everything about it. So, why did it get sold and why am I writing about it six years later?

As 2013 loomed, I was faced with a Mazda Miata track car in need of an engine replacement. The 325i had been nothing but reliable, but I got nervous. When the Miata ran, I always had a backup street car, which meant daily-driving an older BMW was not much of an issue. But, with the Miata down for a while, I didn’t trust the 325i. Had I known then what I know now about the E36 chassis’ fairly-rock-solid bones, I would have kept it. But, I didn’t.

The Miata got rebuilt and I sold the 325i to a friend from the racetrack, Paul. He daily-drove it for a year or so and sold it to our friend Rob. Rob daily-drove it for a year or so and sold it to our friend Simon. Simon daily-drove it for a year or so and let it sit in his garage. Last week, our friend Taylor bought it, with a plan to earn his NASA competition license.

Rob, Simon, and Paul all race in NASA’s Spec3 class, which is built around the 1993 through 1995 BMW 325i. It’s fairly inexpensive to build a car, they are cheap to run, and provide a lot of fun for the dollar.

In hindsight, I should have sold my Miata with the broken engine, kept the 325i, and eventually built it as a Spec3 racecar while daily-driving a pickup or SUV. But, I went down the “fix the Miata” rabbit hole and daily drove a Focus ST and BMW 128i before settling on the 1997 M3 that became my GTS2 racecar.

Taylor is picking up where I left off. He has been driving his 2018 VW GTI on track and moving through the HPDE ranks, but wants a car with dedicated safety gear, so he can feel comfortable pushing himself even more. Additionally, he’d like to build the car with a greater vision. And what better class to build a 325i toward than Spec3?

He’s already installed a rollbar and two used racing seats with six-point harnesses, and has a smattering of balljoints, bushings, shocks, springs, and so on coming in the mail. He is using the “spec parts” that will keep the car legal for Spec3, so that when the time comes to get his competition license, the car will be largely ready to go with few modifications needed.

I was one of Taylor’s first instructors in his GTI, and it has been fun to not only see him progress in the last year, but also discuss the potential for this Spec3 build. I drove the car on New Years’ Day and was transported back to my time with it in 2012.

The nicest street cars tend to make the best racecars. This 325i is relatively pristine, given the age and mileage (now at 180k). It’s had a really great life on the street since 1995, and I’m excited to see it flying down the front straight of Virginia International Raceway in March with some big vinyl numbers stuck to the doors.

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