Is this the best BMW E30 M3 in America? It's not the fastest, it doesn't have the lowest mileage, it doesn't have extensive racing history, and it may not be the most original, but it is perfect in every sense of the word. Immaculate. Flawless. Whatever adjective that comes to mind when you're looking at Josh King's masterpiece M3, it doesn't begin to scratch the surface of the work that has gone into its creation. Because despite its current state of excellence, it certainly didn't start out this way.
Josh purchased the car as a long-term project car at the urging of his wife, after she had seen him trying to button up one too many modifications-gone-long, late on Sunday night just so he could drive his BMW 335i into work on Monday morning. As a European car fan who began his journey behind the wheel of an S70 Volvo at around the time that the E46 M3 arrived on the scene, Josh knew an E30 M3 is exactly what he wanted, but it was becoming hard to find an example for sale that he could afford.
"This was early 2014, and E30 M3 prices had started to accelerate. I thought they were out of my budget, so I was looking at 2002s," Josh explains. "I had just lost an eBay auction on a nice '69 2002 when I saw a 30-minute old listing for a 1989 M3 with a really low 'buy it now' price. The listing was sketchy—minimal info, and one picture from the E30 M3 Wikipedia page. My thinking was, 'I'll just hit buy it now, then investigate it, and if it's a scam, I won't pay.' I checked the seller out, got some good references, and a couple weeks later, it was in my driveway."
Once the M3 was in hand, Josh set about rebuilding the 179,222 mile, Zinnoberrot on black, California-car, to a condition worthy of the E30 M3 legend. But this was not to be some overnight transformation. Josh was planning on doing everything just the right way, which took not only lots of planning but also plenty of patience.
"I was drawn to the car by its significance as Genesis for the M3 line, distinction of being a true race car, and old school looks and performance," he explains. "The car was built to win races and not much else. This single-minded approach gives a tangible sense of integrity and unifying purpose to the car. As a project car, the E30 is far simpler to work on than newer models and holds its value extremely well, so I didn't feel bad putting money and time into it."
The process started with the homologation-special BMW being torn down and disassembled, piece by piece until nothing but a bare shell was left. All of the hardware was meticulously organized and cataloged, while every factory BMW sticker, label, and tag was measured down the millimeter and documented for future recreation. The shell itself was fully stripped, and every imperfection repaired and smoothed.
A fresh-coat of the original Vermillion red paint has been laid over the corrected panels, while a new Genuine BMW hood replaces the factory item. A brand-new Genuine E30 M3 windshield was purchased early on in the restoration and sat for four entire years before being called into action. The front bumper is also new, a Genuine BMW Euro-spec item, and has been paired with a Genuine E30 M3 Evo front splitter, underfloor, and brake cooling ducts.
Every exterior gasket has been replaced when possible, every trim piece replaced and repainted, and then the exterior was professionally paint-corrected before being sealed in a protective layer of Xpel self-healing film. Inside, the engine bay and trunk area have both been ceramic-coated to provide shine and protection to the paint in those areas. Finally, an aftermarket carbon-fiber Evo 3 rear spoiler finishes off the rear. Josh has the Genuine BMW version as well, but the increased lightness and rigidity of the carbon-fiber version is significant enough to receive the nod over the Genuine piece.
It is worth noting that very often, just because a certain part was still available from BMW, if it didn't measure up to the factory-original pieces, Josh chose to go the longer, more difficult route and sourced the proper parts. The BMW roundels are one of these items. The newer versions are plastic, and the older are metal, so he purchased every decent-looking new-old-stock metal BMW roundel he could find on eBay for about a year before calling it good.
While he was in the process of restoring the car's body, Josh had the original S14 engine shipped off to Korman Autoworks in Greensboro, North Carolina, for a full rebuild. Josh was keen on keeping his M3 as pure and true to the original car as he could.
"The S14 is rare and not very powerful in street configuration, so many were ripped out for more common, more powerful motors. Is it faster swapped? Yes. Is it better? No. An E30 M3 is a lot like driving an air-cooled 911. A '60s or '70s 911 would be many times faster with a modern engine, but this would ruin the overall experience," Josh said. "I chose this car because I wanted to experience driving an E30 M3 that I knew down to each bolt and which I had brought as close to perfection as I could. Removing the heart of the car to safely collect cobwebs in a corner makes no sense in that context. A ship in a harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for."
While he may have kept the S14 as the proper motive power for his M3, that didn't mean Josh left things unimproved. When the engine was at Korman Autoworks, the original engine block was over-bored one size, while new Mahle pistons and Genuine BMW rods connect to the original crankshaft. The original head was rebuilt with a full array of BMW Evo parts, comprised of camshafts and valve springs. More Genuine BMW Evo parts were added as well, including the flywheel, lower intake, intake trumpets, and an Evo 3 rear muffler. The fuel injectors were rebuilt, and a Korman ECU tune is in command of fuel, spark, and timing to maximize power from the 2.3 L engine.
The engine is not fully broken in yet, and with the addition of the motorsport-derived Evo parts, output is expected to be somewhere in the 220hp range, but as Josh says, "Horsepower is way down the list of reasons to own one of these, and I'm probably the only person in the world with an S14 that has a lifetime warranty on most of the internals, thanks to you guys."
The transmission was rebuilt, of course, as were the CV axles, and all the shifter bushings and components have been replaced with new as well. The suspension is OEM+, with aftermarket Bilstein B6 dampers and H&R OE Sport springs matched to reconditioned and powder coated subframes, sway bars, and control arms, with new bushings throughout.
All of the braking components received a full inspection as well. Some components, such as the hard brake lines and ABS unit were still in excellent shape, so remained untouched. The brake calipers have been fully torn down and re-plated, and then rebuilt with new seals and gaskets. ABS sensors have been replaced with new units, while Textar brake pads are matched to Zimmerman Z-coat rotors for sure stopping and an OE-like feel.
The original E30 M3 BBS' basketweave' wheels have been fully reconditioned and ceramic-coated, and are currently wrapped in 205/55r15 Kumo Ecsta tires. This is one of the few areas where Josh isn't thrilled with the outcome, lamenting the lack of decent tires available in the appropriate size. A change to larger wheels is imminent to open up better options when it comes to rubber.
As the M3 began to be reassembled, Josh focused a lot of time and effort on getting all the details right, whether that was something as small as a nut, bolt, or clip, or something more substantial, like the entire vehicle wiring harness.
"I spent about six months on that," Josh mentions. "The cloth tape on the harness had dried out and left its adhesive all over the wiring. It was a mess and was giving off a musty old car smell, so I removed the wiring harness as one piece, bought a lot of OEM TESA tape, and proceeded to remove all of the old tape, clean every inch of wire with a mild citrus adhesive remover. Then I used an all-purpose cleaner to remove residual degreaser and re-taped every inch of the wiring harness in the same OEM pattern."
Any terminals or connections that were suspect in any way were removed, repaired, or replaced before the entire thing was pin-tested before being re-installed. Josh essentially had a brand new wiring harness for his restoration, and as he said, "When I put the car back together, everything just plugged up and worked right away. No electrical gremlins to chase."
Like the wiring harness, Josh was keen to make sure the hardware would also be up to the mechanical and aesthetic quality of the rest of the build. No clip, washer, nut, or bolt was left untouched.
"I did not like the idea of putting grimy old hardware back on a newly painted car with new parts, so I decided to learn how to zinc plate and proceeded to plate almost all of the hardware myself. It took some trial and error, but I finally got to where my plating was indistinguishable from the yellow zinc parts I was getting from BMW," he says. "At some point, BMW switched over to a silver aluminized plating, and many pieces with old part numbers came in this new finish. I stripped the new plating off with acid and re-plated them to yellow zinc so that everything matched."
If it sounds like it started getting out of hand, you may not be too far off. "At one point, I had this big chemical bath/electroplating set up in my garage along with a station where I was using a bleach solution and a blacklight to re-whiten plastic parts that had yellowed. It looked very suspicious, like something out of Breaking Bad!" Josh laughed.
Thankfully the Feds never showed up, and Josh didn't burn down the garage, so he was able to finish up with the last few bits of the exterior and interior on the M3. One ongoing roadblock was constantly running into parts that are no longer available, otherwise known in the industry as "NLA" (hence the vanity tag).
"I was fortunate to meet some great people through the E30 M3 community, including some in Germany. BMW sells certain parts only through BMW Europe, so if I hadn't had friends in Germany who had new old stock parts or could get Euro dealer parts for me, this would have been much harder," he mentions. "I easily spent as much time researching and locating parts as I did wrenching on the car."
The final pieces of the puzzle included new old stock Hella 'Smiley' Ellipsoid Euro projector headlights, new reflectors, and crack-free tail lights, all thanks to his new friends in Germany.
The front seats have been rebuilt with new Genuine BMW foam inserts and recovered with a new OEM GAHH leather kit, both front, and rear. An Mtech2 steering wheel with tri-color stitching, new Genuine BMW shift knob, and a used, but crack-free, dash round out the major interior components welcoming the driver on board. All of the major AC components were reconditioned or replaced, and an OE-look head unit, from Volkswagen, has been installed in place of the original radio.
"I didn't want a spaceship-looking aftermarket head unit," Josh explains. "This one has a factory feel, because it is, and it has Bluetooth and hands-free capabilities. This was years before Blaupunkt's new Bremmen setup. The install involved a lot of manual pinout work and a bypass of the factory amps, but it was worth it."
With all of this extensive work, you could argue that Josh's E30 M3 is possibly even better than it was when delivered from the BMW factory over 30 years ago. After all of this, what's it like to get behind the wheel of one of the greatest cars ever produced, you might ask?
"People expect the car to be powerful. It isn't. It has the same quarter-mile time as a 2019 Honda Odyssey. Technology has come a long way since the 80s, making new cars vastly superior on paper. What paper fails to capture, though, is the sensory experience of driving stripped down to its essence. This is what older cars provide and what great older cars like E30 M3 provide exceptionally," Josh adds.
You would be forgiven for assuming that with all this work, driving isn't the first thing that Josh has in mind when it comes to his E30. Are E30s too valuable to drive? With an 8,000 mile all-original example, also finished in Zinnoberrot, selling for a massive $250,000 on Bring A Trailer recently, it's a thought that would naturally come to mind, but not one he fixates on.
"The rarity and condition rule out daily driver duty, but any hesitation I have about driving it would be more about losing the work and effort that I have put into it," he explains." I went so crazy on the build that it came close to being 'too nice to drive.' I still don't drive it in the rain and stay well back from other cars to avoid rock chips, but the goal of building a car like this is to enjoy it. My approach is to protect it and take care of it, but drive it. If you can't drive a car, you may as well sell it."
And that, dear readers, is why this is why we think this is one of the best E30 M3s in America. You can still drive it. And if you can't drive an amazing car like the E30 M3, what's the point in owning one of the best driver's cars ever made?
For more from Josh and a peek at the complete restoration process, go check out his new Instagram account, Wrench.Therapy.
BMW E30 M3 Build Sheet
- Original 2.3 L BMW S14 (Block, head, manifolds), fully rebuilt by Korman Autoworks (Greensboro, NC)
- Genuine M3 EVO cams, springs, flywheel, ignition coils, lower intake/inlet trumpet
- +1 overbore w/ new Mahle pistons and Genuine BMW rods
- All new gaskets, fuel pump, water pump, oil pump, ignition coil, spark plugs, plug wires, etc
- New Genuine BMW radiator, coolant and radiator hoses, coolant overflow tank, washer fluid tank
- Rebuilt original BMW steering rack, new Genuine BMW power steering reservoir, and hoses
- Ceramic coated (inside and out) header, VSR midsection, OEM M3 EVO 3 muffler
- Rebuilt original OEM fuel injection
- Korman ECU tune
- Fuel tank cleaned, hot tanked, and repainted
- All new fuel lines, sender pump, fuel pressure regulator
- Original in-tank pump
- Original E30 M3 transmission and differential rebuilt by Korman Autoworks
- New Genuine BMW shift linkage and bushings
- Original CV axles rebuilt with GKN joints inner and outer
- Textar brake pads front/rear
- Zimmerman Z-Coat brake rotors
- Rebuilt original calipers with new seals and pistons.
- Yellow zinc coated brake calipers w/ ceramic coating
- Rebuilt original brake booster (including new fluid reservoir and seals)
- Original ABS unit, original brake lines (great condition, no rust)
- New ABS sensors
- Original 15x7" BMW M3 BBS basketweave wheels, refinished and ceramic coated
- New Genuine BMW center caps
- Full-size Genuine BMW M3 spare in tire tote bag in the trunk
- Kumho Ecsta 205/55r15 tires (limited selection in OEM size)
- Bilstein B6 shocks
- H&R OE Sport springs
- All new bushings/mounts front and rear
- New wheel bearings, new front wheel hubs
- Cleaned and powder-coated original E30 M3 sway bars, strut tubes, control arms, front/rear subframes
Electronics & Hardware:
- Full vehicle wiring harness removed, cleaned, repaired, pin-tested, re-taped in Genuine BMW TESA tape in original wrap pattern
- All vehicle hardware replaced with period-correct Genuine BMW, new Genuine BMW (stripped and DIY zinc-coated to match period-correct hardware), or original hardware restored and DIY zinc-coated to color match
- New OEM leather kit from GAHH for front and rear seats, new Genuine foam inserts front and rear, new seat shocks (always bad on E30s),
- Crack-free dash, transferred M3-specific insulation and AC vents
- Original gauge cluster fully restored, reset to show post-restoration mileage only
- Pre-restoration mileage disclosure sticker created with OEM typeface and installed on driver-side door jamb
- Mtech 2 leather steering wheel with tri-color stitching
- New Genuine BMW shift knob
- Original parking brake assembly w/ Genuine E36 M3 leather handle
- Genuine BMW M3 door sills
- Custom headliner and pillar covers (close match to OEM)
- New old stock Genuine BMW anthracite floor mats
- New Genuine BMW M3 front windshield, original rear windshield
- New weather stripping and door seals
- New Genuine BMW seatbelt buckles
- Volkswagen RMT200 single-DIN head unit w/ Bluetooth, hands-free calls, powering original speakers w/ bypassed factory amplifier.
- Full restored climate control system converted from R12 to R134a
- New heater core, evaporator, AC lines (less one NLA line), parallel flow condenser w/ new fan, expansion valve, blower motor
- Rebuilt/converted Original AC compressor
- Complete vehicle re-key, including all new locks and cylinders
- New custom master keys built from three different Genuine BMW part numbers for white/blue BMW Roundel on one side, tri-color BMW M logo on the other
- Complete disassembly w/ full body correction and restoration
- Full respray in BMW Zinnoberrot on chassis dolly
- New Genuine BMW E30 hood
- New Genuine BMW Euro M3 front bumper
- Professional paint correction and 100% coverage in Xpel Self-healing paint protection film
- Genuine BMW Evo 3 front bumper brake ducts and components
- Genuine BMW Evo 3 front undertray, Evo 3 front splitter, one-piece bumper gaskets
- Aftermarket Carbon Fiber Evo 3 rear wing and gurney flap
- New Genuine BMW windshield wiper arms, all rubber trim/gaskets replaced(except one piece that is NLA), new radio antenna, new M3 badges, new kidney grilles including Genuine BMW Euro front grilles
- Repainted all remaining original trim
- New old stock Hella' Smiley' Ellipsoid Euro projector headlights, new reflectors and sourced crack-free tail lights
- New old stock Genuine BMW period-correct metal BMW roundels
- Fully documented and perfectly recreated all factory BMW decals, labels, and VIN tags
- Paint correction and ceramic coating on the trunk and engine bay before reassembly
- Repainted side view mirrors in two pieces, thanks to custom replacement rivet and tool from S14.net member
My wife for suggesting I get a project car, Korman Autoworks (specifically Ray Korman and Carl Bennett), European Collision Repair (specifically Steve Pettit, Adam Griffith), My German buddies, FCP Euro, Global Imports BMW, Ebay sellers all over the world, S14.net, r3vlimited, Jay Stratton (AC Compressor Rebuild), Markert Motorworks/True Automotive, Belmetric, Flyin Wrench, Custom Coaters Atlanta (powder coating), Bavarian Restoration, Pukar Designs, Butler Tire, GlassLife Atlanta, OnSite Shine, Obsessed Garage, and my Harbor Freight jack stands for not breaking during the job.
FCP Euro's Event Director by day, writer and contributor by night, and wanna-be race car driver on the weekends. Nathan has been working in the VW and Audi performance aftermarket for nearly two decades, and dabbled with Porsche and BMW. He also used to write under the pen-name of Alex Rogan for magazines like Eurotuner, Performance VW, Total 911, and European Car. He has a Cornflower Blue Rabbit Edition GTI daily driver which is surprisingly still mostly stock, and a Mk5 GTI track car which is mostly not. ••• Instagram: @njbrown55