This 1988 BMW E30 M3 Is Here to Haunt Your Touring Car Dreams

In the ‘80s, Mercedes was the top dog of DTM, with their modest 190E turned into an absolute monster. Seeing that, BMW CEO, Eberhard Keuenheim, said NEIN!, and decided to crush Mercedes using the 3 Series, thus giving birth to one of the most successful race cars to ever touch tarmac.
1988 BMW M3 13 photos
Photo: 1600veloce/Bring a Trailer
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The M3 story begins in 1972, when BMW’s motorsport division, ingeniously called M, came to life. At first, they only worked on the racecars, not venturing on to the roadgoing models. Fast forward to the ‘80s, and the Bavarians were getting dominated by the Mercs in racing.

The problem was that DTM and Group A had pretty strict homologation rules. You see, in some other racing series, the number of road-going models needed was so low, that manufacturers had a free hand to build whatever monstrous car they wanted. But in DTM and Group A, the number of street cars that needed to be sold to the public was 5,000.

That meant that manufacturers had to use a car that was already in their lineup. For BMW, that meant using the 635CSI with some sticky rubbers slapped on to it. Surprisingly, they won their first DTM championship. But things would change the following year, as the 6 Series was a big, heavy car that stood no chance against the light and nimble competitors.

1988 BMW M3
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Even more so, by 1986, Mercedes put their full weight behind the 190E, and it started to dominate. BMW needed an answer, a car to put them on top. Now, it’s time to circle back to mister Keuenheim. He had a burning, pride-filled passion for winning. He wanted BMW to trample everyone who dared cross their path.

He brought in the M division and gave them a straight-forward task - win. That’s easier said than done, so they got to work. They needed a new platform for their monster, and the best BMW had in their roster at that time was the timid little E30 3 Series - but it had potential.

First of all, one of the biggest challenges was the E30s body. It was nowhere near wide enough to fit fat racing rubber. So, they set out to rebuild it with a singular purpose in mind - weight saving. The M division tore apart a 3 Series and completely reworked it. The only things it shared with a normal E30 were the hood, roof panel, sunroof, and door panels. Everything else was special to the M3 and created with lightness and aerodynamics in mind.

This weight saving and focus on speed was really taken to the next level. Gone were the steel bumpers, making way for lightweight plastic ones. The windshield was more tilted for aerodynamics, the C-pillar flattened and widened to direct turbulent air to a rear spoiler, wider arches, making room for bigger wheels - as I said, the list is long, and BMW spared no expense in their quest to win.

1988 BMW M3
Photo: 1600veloce/Bring a Trailer
But this came at a risky time for the Bavarians. Visions of bankruptcy and layoffs popped into every accountant’s head. They thought no one would want to buy a raw and harsh race car and use it on the road. But, they were wrong, and thankfully, Eberhard didn’t care, and the M3 project didn’t stop.

And thanks to this ambition in the name of victory, we can bask in the glory of the M3 nowadays, and, to celebrate it, we have a beautiful, tastefully modified example from 1988.

This particular E30 M3 left the factory in Salmon Silver Metallic, but it was repainted in its current glossy silver under previous ownership. To complement the already mean-looking stance, it received AC-Schnitzer style mirrors and aftermarket, carbon-fiber front lip spoiler, kidney grills, brake lines,f and trunk lid lip spoiler.

The list of modifications on the outside goes on, though, with 17-inch three-piece BBS wheels with polished lips. Behind them, you will find a suspension setup to die for. It has Ground Control coilovers, adjustable Koni shocks, and Ground Control camber kit, giving it the perfect stance.

1988 BMW M3
Photo: 1600veloce/Bring a Trailer
Step inside and you will find a classic, late ‘80s, early ‘90s BMW interior. The seating surfaces were reupholstered in black leather under previous ownership. Upon seating in the front sport seats, you will find a few comfort amenities, like air-conditioning, power windows, and cruise control. The M-Tech 1 steering wheel fronts a 160 mph (260 kph) speedometer and an 8,000 rpm tachometer, alongside a few additional gauges.

Now, it’s time we get to the power plant of this beast. Circling back to what I said earlier, the E30’s size was a big problem. A big straight-six was out of the question taking into account its short hood. The task of finding what to power the thing with fell on Paul Rosche - the guy who made the engine for the McLaren F1, maybe you’ve heard of him.

He chose the good ol’ M10 engine as the starting point for the M3’s power unit. The M10 proved itself to be reliable with huge power potential. It cut its teeth in Formula 1, serving as the basis of the most powerful F1 car in history, which churned out 1,500 hp (1,520 ps).

1988 BMW M3
Photo: 1600veloce/Bring a Trailer
Prior to the E30, mister Rosche had his greasy hands on the M1’s M88 engine. He took the head from that straight six, sliced off two cylinder banks and plopped it on top of the M10. Like the M88, it also got ITBs and beefed-up internals. The result was a lightweight, 2.3-liter (140 ci) beast of an engine - the S14. It wasn’t exhilarating in its horsepower rating, churning out only 200 hp (202 ps) in the road cars and around 300 hp (304 ps) in race form. But, it was light and rock-solid reliable.

Power is sent to the rear wheels via a five-speed Getrag manual and a limited slip differential. For this particular M3, the clutch was recently replaced and it also has an aftermarket exhaust fitted, letting the S14 scream freely.

This particular E30 M3 is up at auction in North Salem, New York, and it currently sits at 60,000 dollars with three days left on the auction. It has 81,000 miles (130,000 km) on the clock and comes with partial service records, a clean Carfax report, and a clean Massachusetts title.

The E30 M3 went on to be the most successful touring car of all time, with over 1,500 wins in its class, a true motorsport icon.
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About the author: Călin Iosif
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Călin’s origin story is being exposed to Top Gear when he was very young. Watching too much of Clarkson, Hammond and May argue on TV turned him into Petrolhead (an automotive journalist with a soft spot for old pieces of... cars, old cars).
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