Photography by Neil Prasad
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a fan of cars. As a kid, I remember spending countless hours watching Top Gear, or building my embarrassing collection of die-cast cars and Hot Wheels. It all started with watching Tomorrow Never Dies and that 750iL controlled by Bond’s cell phone, from that moment I was hooked.
My first car, a BMW E46, was bone stock but has come a long way. It’s truly a special car and it introduced me to the religion that is BMW. However, the E46 always lacked something. Something you can’t really put your finger on. It’s not something tangible, it’s not something rational, and it’s not something you can write down. You have to feel it. The feeling of the road beneath your seat, through the steering wheel. That raw driving experience.
Years into owning the E46, I met a friend who owned a well maintained old 3 series. It had some Borbet wheels, the interior was in great shape and man, that old school styling just looked great. However, I didn’t quite understand the allure until I drove it. It was instant attraction, I had to get one of my own.
As soon as I could, I bought my first E30. On a college student budget it wasn’t anything special. It was a beaten, not cared for 1990 3 series that was screaming 'make me a project car!' And so I did. I bought that car for $400 and I never looked back. For two years I poured a lot into that E30, and it introduced me to an addictive culture, from track days to car shows. I like to think I made something special out of that car, but all good things must come to an end.
What an amazing adventure the Chalkboard E30 was. Driving out to Pasadena for Bimmerfest 2012, meeting all of the people I’d been talking with for years. The photos, the experiences and the friends will definitely remain some of the most important in my life. However, the Chalkboard was a stepping stone to something greater.
At the time, E30's were being snatched up like crazy and clean shells were becoming harder and harder to find so I started searching. After a few months I found an all original, 10/10, bone stock '89 325i in Plano Texas. I couldn't drive down there fast enough! One day and a tank of gas later, she was mine. The foundation for my next build.
I drove the new E30 home and the next few days were a frenzy to swap parts. Over the two years I owned the Chalkboard E30, I put some neat things on it including fully shortened Ground Control coilovers, a perfect black interior, and the classic E38 Style 5 wheels. There were big plans for this car's future. A few days later, I sold the Chalkboard E30. It was a sad day, but I had to move on.
During all of this, I had to move for work and it was decided that the Alpine E30 was to stay behind. And so she sat, for a while. After a few months, I flew back and picked her up. Upon returning home, I decided that it was finally time to begin the next chapter of the project. The swap I had been piecing together parts for.
After searching for a few weeks, I found the perfect motor. An S52B32 + ZF 320Z transmission out of a 1997 M3 w/ 126k miles, and it came with everything. I had helped friends with their 24v swaps in the past so I had a fair understanding of what was necessary to do the swap. However, this would be my first motor swap and I wanted to do it right.
Over the course of a few weeks, chipping away at the swap after work, I did the entire swap myself, replacing every part I could think of. Hoses, fasteners, seals, sensors, you name it, I replaced it including re-pinning the 24v harness in favor of bulky wiring adapters. I took my time, attempting to make the swap as OEM as possible. It has working cruise control, A/C, Power Steering and everything else you could imagine (windshield washer, check panel, etc, etc). While a lot of people choose to shave their engine bays during 24v swaps, I wanted to retain all the functions of an original E30.
And no, she didn’t fire up on the first start. But man, when she did it was glorious. It is quite satisfying when you finally finish a project and everything works. After the swap, I started thinking “turbo! turbo!” but ultimately I decided that’s not the direction I want to go. I think I have finally found the perfect recipe. No, it doesn’t have to have ridiculous dyno numbers. No you don’t have to cut out the fenders to fit massive tires. And no, you don’t have to strip the interior to go just that little bit faster. I could, but right now she’s everything I need and then some.
The swap was nearly a year ago. Since then I’ve just been enjoying the E30. Am I done with the car? Probably not. There is always something to replace, always something to fix. It's an E30. Future plans? Like all projects, there is always something in the pipeline. Who knows what the future holds.
I want to say thanks to Grant, Mason, Richard, and others. I couldn’t have done it without you guys.