Gregory Smith's E30 325i

Photography by Gábor Lengyel

When Gregory was younger he had a dream that he would one day own an E30. It all started when his brother bought an E30 when he was 10 years old and would take him for a quick drive occasionally. He fell in love with that classic Bavarian machine and knew he had to get one for himself.

In 2011 it finally became a reality. After searching a year and a half for a well cared for E30 he found one, or so he thought. It was originally a white 316i with an M20B20 engine swap already done. The seller said the car was in good condition but Gregory later discovered that it needed a complete restoration to the bodywork. 

Although he bought it for fun after a few days of ownership he realized that he wanted more than just having fun with it outside the city. Gregory ended up purchasing 4 doors, a trunk, a hood, 2 front fenders, and 2 rocker panels. He had to restore every part of the car to its original condition or simply replace it; suspension parts, engine, cables, electronics. Since the car was white he thought about repainting it to something more unique. When he was browsing through possible color options, it was OEM BMW Avusblau that immediately caught his attention to where he fell in love with it. He couldn't even consider any other color after that.

After the paint job he decided to upgrade some interior accessories i.e. OEM M-Tech seats, M-Tech 2 steering wheel, and check panel. He also bought a JVC car radio with Alpine sub-woofer and Pioneer speakers.

At that time coilovers were on the car with adjustable rear control arms; an E36 steering rack, Sperr diff, and rear disc brake system. About a year later Gregory was feeling that the engine was a bit weak, so he swapped an M50B25 (192hp) engine in. A half year passed and he got the idea to clean the engine bay. When he had succeeded, another idea came and he swapped the suspension to 5x120 with M3 control arms and Mercedes disc brakes with E36 calipers.

It was time for new wheels and he decided to go with 17" BBS RF's (17x8" et10) with wheel spacers but he knew that he had to do some customizing to his style. He let the front wheels the original size but the rear wheels received new 3” lips. The car at that point was almost done but he felt it still needed something more... and the air ride was the last thing that it needed to satisfy Gregory. He went with a Viair compressor, gauges, and stainless tank. And just in case a cop happened to take a look into the car, there was a custom control panel made to look like OEM BMW buttons.

After 4 years Gregory took his dream car to a whole new level that his 10 year old self would have never even imagined possible.


Neil Prasad's E30

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.


Justin Good's E30 340i

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… 

Justin's Build Thread