Words & Photos by Henry Phull
I might be a little late to the party, but shooting this particular E30 M3 has been on my wish list for quite some time. For me, featuring this car has been unlike any other. I’ve been lucky enough to experience it first hand and witness the many stages it has been through over the past year, travelling in and alongside it to and from numerous shows and events around the country. I guess this is the ultimate way to feature a car, right? However, my feelings towards this M3 haven’t always been the same. I’m not going to lie, but when it was first unveiled a couple of years ago at Ultimate Dubs (yes, the M3 was launched at a VAG show!), I wasn’t overly keen on it. Maybe it was my lack of experience with air suspension that put me off or the wrong M3 engine under the hood (an E46 S54)… All these things were just plain wrong in the minds of hardcore BMW enthusiasts. It wasn’t just me, but there seemed to be a general 50/50 split of opinions. However, over time I started to fall in love with it. And I mean completely. In hindsight, I now completely understand why Nick modified an already incredible car in such a way. If you’re in the position to make a great car even better, then why not give it your best shot?
With the aid of a handful of professionals and a crazy concept, Nick’s dream was brought to life and as a result has become one of the most popular cars in the UK, albeit the world today. It’s easily the most photogenic car I’ve ever shot – social media is constantly bombarded with images of it and Nick has gained thousands of fans and followers because of this car, who seem to be wholeheartedly obsessed with the orange E30. Although with a build this gorgeous, it’s hardly surprising.
Nick was brought up around 80s and 90s BMWs, even though his first ever car was a Vauxhall Astra 1.4! From an early age he started working for his family’s property business which began to grow rapidly. This meant that Nick could finally build his dream BMW, along with a long list of other cars which he has become well known for across social media and the car community. His infamous garage includes two E30’s that have been M60 V8 swapped, a newly acquired E30 320i for a new project, three E34’s including an Alpina B10, M5 3.8 and 540i manual, an E39 M5, Porsche 911 (soon to be engine-swapped), a race-spec Ford RS500 Cosworth, Aston Martin V8 Vantage, supercharged Kahn Range Rover LWB and an diesel BMW X5 which he drives every day. ‘Dream garage’ comes to mind, but the E30 M3 still shines over them all.
There’s no doubt that Nick was strongly influenced by the 80’s Jaegermeister-liveried DTM M3’s, but he wanted a similar fast car that was usable and more comfortable for road use in the UK. The project began with a 1986 E30 M3 in black which had been imported from Germany – a mostly standard and usable example, although it did require some small rust repairs. Contrary to what the real M-enthusiasts feel towards the original S14 engine in the E30 M3, Nick decided he wanted to replace it with an S54B32 lump from a 2003 E46 M3. Ergen Motorsport in Southampton took on the engine conversion, pairing it to an E36 M3 5-speed manual gearbox.
In late 2015, the engine was finally finished up, courtesy of Evolve Automotive, who added an Eventuri carbon air intake (not pictured) to the S54 and properly remapped the car – the transformation was phenomenal. The S54 conversion is now quite a popular engine choice for E30’s and even E36’s as they seem to work flawlessly in powering the older chassis’. Of course with a much more powerful engine, the brakes had to be uprated. Nick opted for a WP Pro EX6 pot 360mm / R4 pot 336mm brake kit with sawblade rotors for much improved stopping power.
Following on, it was time to do something about the paint and bodywork. Nick opted for Stylehaus to take on a full respray in Inka Orange – this was originally a paint option on the BMW 2002 although, more appropriately, it was also the colour used on the Jaegermeister DTM M3’s. In addition to completely restoring the shell and bodywork during the respray, Stylehaus also rolled the arches to allow for the all-important stance that Nick had in mind.
To finish off the exterior and carry off the motorsport feel, Nick added a Sport Evo front lip and brake ducts, genuine smoked Hella headlights, Startec smoked rear lights, Evolution DTM rear gurney flap and mirrors, Sport Evo bumper strips and bonnet rubbers and a set of gorgeous metal BMW Motorsport door handles. As if that wasn’t enough, he even had all the rubbers and plastics replaced with brand new genuine BMW items for a factory fresh sensation!
With the paint sorted, Nick handed the car to Shakey and the guys at Studio Incar to work their magic on the suspension and interior upgrades. They decided to put the car on air ride, which would’ve made it the first bagged E30 M3 in the world at the time! With nothing available on the shelf for the E30, Studio Incar utilised universal Air Lift Performance parts, including double bellow bags, damper adjustable threaded body struts and camber adjustable top mounts, along with all new uprated steering links and bushes to get the M3 sitting right and riding properly. Air Lift V2 management was installed to take control of the air ride, which has worked flawlessly ever since.
I suppose this is one of the areas which some people can’t seem to understand (myself included when I first saw the car) – why bag an E30 M3? Well, after riding in the car many times on all sorts of road surfaces at low and high speeds, I can now say that it handles just as well as a car on coilovers. You’ve got to remember that this isn’t a track car, it was built to be driven on public roads, albeit at high speed most of the time! Nick does actually drive it like he stole it and the Air Lift suspension has been incredible every step of the way. At the same time, he can park it up and air out for the required low DTM look, whilst it can also handle some of the UK’s crappiest roads with ease. It’s usable, that’s why it’s on air.
The inside of this car is just as much a piece of art as the exterior. Whilst at Studio Incar, they had the complete interior (including seats, dash, doorcards, steering wheel, and everything you can possibly imagine) retrimmed in charcoal alcantara with contrasting orange stitching to match the outer paint. It really is gorgeous. They then went to town on the audio upgrades. Firstly, sound deadening was fitted throughout the car before the interior was re-installed. They opted for an Audison based system, including the pricey Audison Thesis HV Venti and two Thesis TH Quattro’s which were installed into the boot along with twin air tanks for the air ride system which were trimmed in orange alcantara.
In the rear of the car you’ll also find two 10″ Audison Thesis subwoofers, visible through the clear window in the boot installation. The sound system was finalised with a 3-way front end setup including mid range drivers in the a-pillars, tweeters which were custom built into the door cards and mid bass drivers placed into the front footwells. Controlling everything is an Audison Bit 1 processor along with a Pioneer P99 headunit. Everything has been trimmed to the highest standards, which makes it all look right at home in the E30’s cockpit.
Nick’s M3 was first unveiled on a set of black 17″ Compomotive TH wheels, but he has recently swapped these over in favour of a set of centre-lock 18×9 BBS Bugatti EB110 SS’s, which I have to say look incredible on the car. Not only are they totally different to anything put on an E30 M3 before, they still seem to work flawlessly with the DTM Motorsport look that the car has adopted. They are paired with Toyo Proxy T1R 215/40 tyres up front and 235/35 at the rear allowing for optimal fitment.
The M3 has been through a couple of changes since I photographed it in August 2015, including a slimmer boot install to shed the excess weight that the huge subwoofers and Audison items were causing – this changed the handling dramatically and is definitely more suited now to its fast road car status. You’ve also probably seen the car with its new Jaegermeister livery which Nick finally decided to have produced, imitating the original DTM cars that inspired the build. That’s the beauty of this project, he can constantly change elements to keep the car fresh. I think I got lucky shooting the car when I did, because for me it was the best look. I think it’s going to be very hard to beat, but I’ll continue to watch the future transformations Nick has pondering in the back of his mind come to life, along with the rest of his stunning collection of motors.