Photography by Dan Wagener & Kielan Prince
We asked Justin to tell us a little about the history of his car for this feature, so he did, but after writing everything he realized that he actually wrote a lot. We were so moved by the story exactly how it was and felt that we wouldn’t be able to tell it better. So here it is in his own words. – U.K.
The story of this car technically begins in 1984, when my step-aunt’s father ordered it brand new from BMW. I bought the car from her in 2000, when I was 15 years old and along with it came every documented receipt since the purchase date all the way up to the last headlight replacement in the year I took ownership. The car was in mint condition, but the Beige on Beige, automatic configuration wasn’t exactly desirable; however it was a BMW and it was mine.
I slowly modified it, swapping in a black leather sport interior, 5 speed transmission, suspension, wheels and exterior parts. I was later t-boned, which took out my entire rear quarter panel and effectively totaled the car. I couldn’t let my baby die or be re-titled, so I didn’t report it to insurance, and asked the guy who hit me to give me whatever he could… which was $700. The damage was in the ballpark of $3-$4k at the time. In hindsight this was not the best decision especially considering I knew nothing about body work. My uncle knew a bit, so we tore into it and replaced the damaged panels. We painted the car in his garage, but the paint didn’t match at all and eventually the body work that we had done failed and rust swelled through. We made the most of what we could with that $700 and the car was back on the road, looking decent.
In 2008, I went with an M50 swap. At this point in time, I had the car pretty well sorted for a couple of years. It was in 2011, with the chassis at 295k miles, I found something catastrophically wrong with the car. When I pulled the front suspension to replace a few bushings, I had discovered some rust on the front wheel well. With some further poking, I found that the whole shock tower was falling apart and that the car was barely being held together in the front end. It was at that point that I realized the car was no longer road worthy, and basically either needed scrapped or a very extensive and expensive restoration that I didn’t think I was capable of at the time. So I figured my journey with the car was over. I don’t admit this to many people, but that crushed me so badly I could have probably cried. This car, over the past 10 years and 200k miles, has led me to meet so many great people, people that I consider my best friends. Most people don’t understand this kind of connection with a pile of metal and plastic, but this E30 is family to me.
October of 2011, I decided to tear the car apart and try to fix it, knowing very well that I’d spend enough time and money to probably buy three good condition E30′s. I ended up buying a whole new shock tower from BMW, and tore the car down to a bare shell. I started this project without even knowing how to weld. I went out and bought all the tools that I needed and went to work. Realizing the car would need to be repainted with the work that I was doing, I figured that I might as well fix that rear quarter panel too. There was absolutely no reason to go with the same beige color again, so I started my search for a metallic root beer color, and landed on BMW’s rare Marrakesh Brown Metallic, from the new X1′s.
While doing this repair work, I met a local guy named Garey who was building an insane E30 M3 replica with an M60 in it. I took one look at the engine in the bay and immediately knew I needed to do that swap. So I picked up an engine and began to work on that on top of correcting the E30’s body. He helped me so much through my engine swap, I can’t thank him enough.
My good friend Walt helped me with the body work, as he had some experience, and he is a perfectionist. I had to tell him 100 times to stop making the car perfect; I wanted to daily drive it, not have it sit at a car show with ropes around it. Nevertheless, it turned out damn near perfect. He did all of the work, teaching me as we went, and allowing me to do a bit of it too. I can’t thank him enough either, he has as much blood, sweat, and tears into it as I do.
We built a paint booth in my garage: a framed out 20×10 area with plastic sheeting, fans and filters – totally sealed. It was awesome, and worked amazingly. He laid down the paint, and did a pretty damn good job. It was better than some professional body shop paint jobs I’ve seen.
I finished up the V8 swap, and got the car running in June of 2012. For the nine months of Oct ’11 to June ’12, I did nothing but work on the car, go to work, and sometimes sleep; I literally did nothing else. I was drained by the end of it, but the first time I drove it, I had the biggest smile on my face ever. Tearing up and down the street in an E30 missing the bumpers, glass and lights, with the E32 V8 and open headers. As drained as I was, I was so excited it kept me up at night.
I’ve been working on it ever since then on and off, trying to tidy things up, make improvements here and there, just minor things. It’s 99.9% ”complete”, but as with any car project, there are constantly things to work on, and it will never truly be finished. I’m sure in a few months or years I’ll be doing something else to the car. I drive this car about 20k a year, so it will probably need re-rebuilt, eventually…