The BMW E30 M3 has enjoyed legendary status for some time now. NASA Northeast member David Pan not only remembers the cars when they were new, and was such a fan of the cars and the DTM series where they raced, but he also has owned a few of them, including the one you see here.
When Pan had bought his first E30 M3, he started doing track days at, Bridgehampton the old raceway on the eastern end of Long Island. Bridgehampton opened in 1957 and closed in 1999. The site where it was located is now a golf course surrounded by luxury homes. The racing bug bit hard enough that Pan bought another car and converted it for racing in the BMW Car Club of America.
“You can say that the E30 M3 has always been my blood,” Pan said. “It’s a car that, I think, even today, is very unique due to many factors. You know, there’s a lot to talk about why the car is so unique. I always loved the car.”
Even though Pan has had at least three BMW E30 M3s, there weren’t that many built worldwide. According to Bimmertips.com, the North American market got the biggest allotment of the 17,970 E30 M3 cars built, but over the four years they were available in the United States and Canada, there were still only 5,300 total sold here. For comparison, BMW sold more than 350,000 325i cars and 152,000 325e cars during the same period.
That rarity is reflected in the prices the cars are currently fetching. According to Classic.com, the average price for an E30 M3 is upward of $76,000 and examples selling for more than $100,000 is not uncommon.
During a break from racing and track driving from 2008 to 2015, Pan sold the E30 M3 that he had built. When he decided to get back into the sport in 2015, it should be no secret he’d be looking for another E30 M3, and he found one in Canada. It was built by and belonged to someone he knew and had raced with previously. He was getting out of the M3 and looking to race a Radical sports racer.
“I knew him very well. He has very good reputation, not only as a really talented racer, but also very talented and very capable at building cars,” Pan said. “What he did is quite impressive speaking as someone who is not a professional. So, when I knew about the car, I quickly contacted him and bought the car from him. I knew what the car was capable of doing in the hands of a good driver, so I wanted to continue to own one of these cars — and there was no better car than that.”
One look at the photos should tell you the caliber of the build quality on the car. Since Pan bought the car in 2014, he has upgraded it by completing the aerodynamic modifications the previous owner had begun. Not only did Pan get an E30 M3 with bespoke composite fenders, front and rear fascias and rear diffuser, but he also got the molds for them. The car now has a flat floor underneath that joins the splitter with the diffuser at the rear. Pan knows people on the Dyson Racing Team, which has helped him over the last few years with modifications and setup.
“When they looked at what he did, they just, you know, shook their heads,” Pan said. “They’re like, wow, we can’t believe, somebody as a hobbyist was able to do something like that. So it was quite impressive. He did a lot of the aerodynamic stuff on the car.”
The car also has lots of other upgrades, including Moton three-way adjustable shocks with DTM-spec lower control arms up front and DTM-spec trailing arms in the rear. Brakes have been uprated to AP Racing six-piston calipers up front and four-pots out back.
Under the hood, the S14 engine was a marvel in its day, squeezing 192 brake horsepower from its 2.3-liter displacement. Weighing roughly 2,500 pounds in production trim, that’s a pretty fun recipe. Of course, Pan has seen fit to upgrade the engine, too. The engine now measures 2.7 liters’ worth of bore and stroke, and makes 292 horsepower at the rear wheels. Through generous use of composites, the car now weighs 2,200 pounds without a driver.
The car has Motec engine controls and is backed by a Drenth sequential gearbox. Pan also has added a racing ABS system and electro-hydraulic power steering.
“You get the benefit of hydraulic power steering, which is great for feedback. The downside of a true electric power steering is that it’s very vague, right? It’s very light,” Pan said. “A lot of these new cars today have electric power steering, but it’s not great because it doesn’t give you the feedback. This gives you the benefits of both worlds, because it’s still hydraulic fluid that is pressurizing into the steering rack. You get that good positive steering feedback, but at the same time, there’s less parasitic loss on the engine.”
Fully cognizant of the value of a car like this, Pan doesn’t race it. He races in Spec E46 so he can just drive the E30 M3 for track days. Buying a collectible car and letting it gather dust in a garage somewhere doesn’t appeal to Pan. He drives it on track because he enjoys the experience. In fact, when it was raining at New Jersey Motorsports Park where we photographed the car, Pan left it in the garage rather than get it wet and dirty.
“If it pleases you to spend $150,000 on a car and put it in the garage and put it under a cover, that’s great,” he said. “But to me, look, we pursue what’s valuable to us, right? To me, this is what’s valuable, my driving experience, what I get out of it.”
Pan has taken a lot of the lessons he has learned in Spec E46 and applied them to driving the M3, which is still a momentum car. You have to hustle it, slide it around a bit to get the most out of it. But that’s part of the attraction, right? Learning to drive quickly in a chassis we know and love is one of the greatest things we can do with our time, even if — or maybe especially if — that time is measured as much by a calendar as it is by a stopwatch.
“So that’s why after all these years, I’m still learning how to drive the car. I mean, it’s hard to believe, but I’m still learning how to get the most out of the car because I think the car technically has so much more than my ability,” he said with a laugh. “It’s the driver that’s always the one that’s lacking, right? The car has got the capability, and I’m just learning to utilize the features and also learning how to set it up.”
|2,200 lbs. without driver
|BMW S14 four-cylinder/292 hp at wheels
|Moton three-way adjustable, with McPherson struts, DTM-spec control arms
|Moton three-way adjustable, with modified semi trailing arm, DTM spec
|370 mm rotors, six-piston AP Racing caliper
|310 mm rotors, four-piston AP Racing caliper
|Motec M4 for engine, Motec dash, AiM data logging
|Westpac Wealth Partners