They say long lasting relationships start with a good story. I ended up buying 1991 E30 BMW 325i back in 2012 after selling off my last E30. I was fully intending to move on to a different chassis and grow my experience as a car enthusiast. I’ve tried to do this twice now, and each time I’ve ended up circling back to the E30 chassis in some form or another.
A friend and I had gone on a 4 hour excursion to look at an E28 BMW 535i up in New York with every intention of buying it. Upon arrival, it was clear the owner had been less than honest about its shape. While it drove well, the car had been bounced off a few too many things for my liking, and so I passed and left pretty pissed off. My sub-1,800 dollar budget was making things hard enough, on top of a lack of E28 5-series for sale at any given time, and I was ready to just keep the $800 Chevrolet S10 that had replaced my ’87 BMW 325.
On the ride home my cohort gave me a mood booster, “it’s a long drive back, let’s check out Craigslist and see if anything shows up along the way.” Lo and behold, literally on our route back was a beige 1991 E30 BMW 325i coupe with headers, exhaust, tune, a great stance, and some awful wheels.
So of course, we had to go and at least see it. I still had my heart set on the bigger 5-series, but a rust free E30 325i coupe with sport seats and a manual transmission was quite enticing. I took the car for a spin around the parking lot, noted that the owner had no idea if the timing belt was any good and that the temperature gauge danced like a hula girl on the dash of a Baja truck.
While the asking price was more than I had in general, much less on me at the time, I tossed out an offer of $1,500 – and couldn’t believe it when the guy accepted. Even then, clean E30 coupe pricing had been on the rise, but the seller wanted it gone today. We did the deal there and I had some cash left over to fill the tank, so we were homeward bound. Two hours and a few back road adventures later and I was home with what appeared to be a pretty solid car.
Flash forward to today, and my little beige E30 BMW 325i has seen some changes. I yanked the 2.5 liter ‘M20’ inline-six and (with the help of my friends, some beers, and more friends) swapped in a 3.2-liter ‘S52’ inline-six from a ’98 BMW M3, bumping power from the pretty decent 170hp to a damn fine 250hp. A little fine tuning of the suspension from the guys over at H&R and Bilstein and it’s impossible not to smile driving this car.
My worst days at work have melted away in a shriek of intake and exhaust notes singing a 7,000 rpm symphony. This E30 is a car that encourages being a hooligan. It’s plenty of fun to just cruise around, doesn’t punish you for bumps or the impossible-to-dodge potholes of Pennsylvania. But when you start to push it, it challenges you to push harder. Faster. “Drop another gear, there’s room on the tach,” it says. And you agree. Heel-toe rapidly becomes foot-to-the-floor and the 2,700 pound coupe leaps forward. Dive on the brakes and throw it into a turn. The tires stick, the sport seats hold you tight, and the car remains composed even when you suddenly hop on the throttle again, rotating the rear around a hairpin and blasting towards the next turn. Come back into town and throw it in fourth, just another old BMW rumbling along towards its destination, nothing special here.
Nowadays the car does stick out more. I finally got around to having it painted (yes, I kept it beige) and I get a few more thumbs up or comments at gas stations. I treat it much better now. Back when it was my only car, I filled the trunk with firewood on numerous occasions and, with a set of aggressive snow tires, blasted through many Pennsylvania winters pushing snow with the air dam.
Now that it’s got a fresh new look, it’s only a three-season car. No more soaking in salt. I still keep those winter tires around for cold-but-clear days in the winter when I get the itch. Like any real project car I doubt it’ll ever be ‘finished,’ but as it sits the smile brought to my face with just a blip of the throttle or flick of the wrist couldn’t be removed with a crow bar. That’s a connection I’ll never try and leave behind again, and only look forward to where it will take me.