From beat to hell to looking swell, this BMW E30 built by CAtuned made an incredible transformation, and just in time to debut at the SEMA Show in Las Vegas.
We’re very serious when we say this E30 was a complete transformation. Igor Polishchuk, who is the founder of famed BMW shop CAtuned, had a customer in Southern California who wanted to let go of this 1987 BMW 325is. Even with wanting to sell it, that customer also wanted to see it done right. Igor agreed to purchase the car and have it shipped to his shop in Sacramento, California. “We build a lot of 2002s, E90s, and E30s,” said Igor after we asked him about doing another E30 project, “I have collected a lot of retro parts over the years just to build this car.”
When this E30 came in, the fenders and doors needed to go. They were far too damaged to fix with bodywork and Bondo. New fenders and doors were purchased from a local BMW dealer and were prepped for painting. The entire car was stripped down to nothing as the interior was ripped out and the chassis was brought down to a bare shell. Even the windows and their gaskets were stripped off and later replaced with new parts after the paint was laid. The subframes and old suspension remained in at the time; this was solely done so that the car could be rolled to 916 Fresh Cars to fix the body panels that couldn’t be replaced with new items. Once the bodywork and primer were done, it was painted in BMW’s Daytona Violet. This color also gave the car its name, “Grape.”
Once back from the body shop, Grape was put on a lift so that the front and rear subframes, as well as the suspension, could be removed. The rear semi-trailing arms were modified for extra strength by having a set of bars welded in. The subframes were then reinforced by welding up the mounting points for the control arms. The rear subframe also had a CAtuned adjustable camber and caster kit welded in for proper alignment at the final ride height.
Before the MTech parts were installed, the original sound deadening and insulation were replaced by Fatmat deadening material. Only a single thick layer was used because the heater ducting and body wiring were still going to live under the carpet. If more of it was used, none of that ducting and wiring would fit correctly under it. The carpet was also dyed black to match the BMW M Technic–often shortened to MTech–interior pieces. A set of new old stock (NOS) floor mats help protect that carpet, as well.
There are also new buttons, switches, seals, and much more that have replaced the well worn parts. Even the sunroof crank has been superseded by a brand new piece. It’s amazing to consider how much attention was paid towards restoration before installing any of the custom parts. Of the first you’ll notice is that custom, leather-wrapped E30 dashboard.
The seats are classic reclining-back Recaros, suede bolstered with purple MTech inserts. The seatbelts were even replaced by a set in purple fabric. The rear seats are also wrapped in the same purple MTech material as the front with matching belts. You can make out the MTech inserts in the door cards, too.
While the steering wheel looks like it’s a BMW piece that has a custom wooden rim, but it’s not. This is a classic Nardi wheel, with the center spokes wrapped in leather. The hub is wrapped in suede with a European BMW-style horn section.
The gauges were custom-made by Bavarian Restoration. They are original E30 VDO gauges but the surround inside the cluster is painted in silver. Along the edges of the clear plastic cover are dimmable LED lights to accent the entire gauge panel at night. The needles are colored in purple to match the Daytona Violet paint of the exterior.
The CAtuned logo on the tachometer isn’t the only custom touch there. Where the original fuel economy gauge sat is now a digital boost and air-fuel meter. They read out two-digit numbers via a quartet of seven-segment displays. The left side is larger and reads boost while the right side is just smaller and for the air-fuel ratio reading.
The wooden Auto Asthetik shift knob and leather boot matches the spokes and rim of the Nardi steering wheel. You can also see the Kooglewerks cup holders just above the shifter and that the full center console was wrapped in leather to match the dashboard.
The Auto Asthetik shift knob is flanked by a custom Kooglewerks wooden handbrake handle.
Next to the hand brake is a vintage and extraordinary BMW six cassette tape holder. It fully replaces the original E30 rear center console as the original pocket well beside the hand brake is replaced entirely by the holder.
You’re probably asking why it has that rare tape holder. Glad you asked, as this E30 has a vintage tape deck installed instead of the CD head unit. Blaupunkt was one of the biggest names during the 1980s and 1990s for radios and tape decks. It’s only fitting for an E30 such as Grape to use the Portland CM85 and retain some old school feel. What makes this an even greater deal is that this is a NOS piece, too. It was still new in box when Igor got it.
Just beside that tape deck is a custom, European-style clock. Its hands, much like the needles on the gauges, have been custom painted by Bavarian Restoration. The HVAC panel and blower fan and temperature dials are all new pieces, too. You can also see that the cigarette lighter has been replaced by a USB charging port.
The E28 5-series we featured previously had a set of louvers for some unique and vintage 1980s love. Here, on Igor’s E30, we see a different take on this type of rear window sun shading. Instead of mounting them outside, as many are done, Grape has its custom CAtuned wooden louvers mounted on the inside.
Mounting the louvers inside makes for a much cleaner silhouette on the outside. You also get much better rearward visibility over externally mounted louvers.
Igor has done simple M20 engines and technical S54 swaps in E30s in the past, but after doing an S50 swap with VF supercharger on a previous build, he decided to put an S52 in this car. The heart of this purple monster is a 3.2-liter six-cylinder found in the US M3. It was bored 0.50 over and the deck was machined flat. Then a set of JE 2618 forged pistons were installed inside it, along with the stock rotating assembly. The cylinder head was ported and polished before installation onto the block. Inside the head are a set of Supertech valves with Supertech dual valve springs, held in place by Supertech retainers. Their timing is adjusted with a three-stage BMW VANOS system over the single-stage system found in the S52.
The engine sits in the E30 subframe thanks to a set of Revshift Street Polyurethane swap mounts. These mounts allow the use of the S52 engine mounts without needing to modify the front subframe. They also provide less flex over rubber but aren’t so stiff that the engine will rattle your teeth out. An Active Autowerke centrifugal supercharger kit was then installed, bumping the stock 240 crank-horsepower up to 360 wheel-horsepower.
A custom header was made for the swap and allows for proper fitment in the engine bay. It also adds improved performance over the stock exhaust manifold. The exhaust header is secured to the head using a set of E90 exhaust studs and hardware.
The exhaust system is made up of a true dual piping setup using all Vibrant Performance parts. Just past the transmission is an H-pipe with a pair of resonators after that. It then exits out the rear bumper through a Vibrant Performance dual-inlet, dual-outlet oval muffler with round tips.
A custom CAtuned strut tower bar spans across the engine bay to tie both towers together. This helps reinforce the chassis from loads placed on them by the strut mounts. Speaking of which, these mounts are CAtuned parts that are included in their E30 air-suspension kit with the Airlift 3P management and controller. The mounts allow you to adjust the camber of the front wheels for the ride height you drive at. The lower bag mounts of the strut are also adjustable, much like a performance coilover strut. This allows you to further tune front ride height at full bag pressure or how low the front chassis sits to the ground when all of the air is out of the system.
The car also uses MRT outer tie rods, which are adjustable for bump steer correction. This helps keep the car steering straight during bumps and uneven roads. They attach to a Z3 steering rack – which is nearly a bolt-in part for the E30. You just need a new steering shaft joint and hoses, along with inner tie rods. The front subframe is also heavily reinforced at the sway bar mounts. This reinforcement was done before a new Suspension Techniques sway bar was installed. It attaches to the front control arms by a pair of CAtuned Chromoly end links. The control arms were also improved with a set of Condor Speed Shop solid rear control arm mounts and UHMW inserts.
A FLO Air Ride air tank supplies air to the bag suspension, which is then sent out through Tilson Innovations custom hardlines. The hardline design is a very retro-look from the 1990s custom air suspension setups. The tank is retained using a set of custom-made mounts from a CNC process, and it hangs at the top of the trunk.
To continue its 1990s theme, it’s fitting that there is also an old school bag cell phone in this E30. This Century Cellunet Motorola phone is as retro as you can get, as you won’t find these bag phones anymore. Yes, cell phones used to this big because the electronics were large. The transceiver wasn’t even a part of the handset and is to the right of it in the picture above.
Most Motorola bag phones used the cigarette lighter for power as it needed a 12-volt source to work. You could get a battery for portability, but it was a 12-volt lead-acid version. It also only worked for about two to three hours when you were using it. What a long way we’ve come, huh?
Those Startec taillights are not only a vintage part, but are very rare, even in Europe. What makes them different from regular E30 taillights are their clear lenses with colored reflectors inside. This also makes the black striping between the tail light divisions more pronounced. Further, the reverse lights take up a whole partition, rather than a typical small square with a red reflector flanking its top and bottom.
You can also see the Kamei rear spoiler on the trunk lid and the custom made rear bumper lip and skirt, which sits just under that European rear bumper. Unlike the US bumper for the 1984 to mid-1988 E30 – with their large protrusions from the body thanks to their bumper shocks – the European versions were much smaller. It’s a fairly straight forward install, provided you have all of the hardware. You’ll also need the conversion wiring for the turn signals in the front bumper since their connectors are different.
Grape certainly has some nice, retro DTM styling, too. Those carbon fiber DTM-style mirrors are much more aerodynamic over the stock E30 mirrors. That’s just due to the size difference between them and the OE mirrors.
The Kamei front fender fins are exceedingly rare, and give the car an E21 3.0 CSL-like feel. They compliment the MTech v1 front bumper and the custom-made front splitter along with the rest of the MTech v1 body kit.
However, what really sets that front end apart from every other E30 is that Typhoon headlight conversion. A foursome of square headlights reside where the round ones used to be. It makes for such a drastic departure from the original design of the E30 but it also makes for a rather good looking conversion.
Those Rotiform SAC wheels bring some vintage racing design to the mix as well. Their center caps give the looks of center-lock wheels, while their faces look straight out of the 1980s. They are custom sized at 16x8 in the front and 16x9.5 in the rear, with Toyo Tires sized in 205/40R16 front and 215/40R16 rear. The front brakes are part of the CAtuned Stage 3 kit with 12-inch rotors and four-piston calipers. The rear brakes are rebuilt E30 single-piston calipers but custom painted in red and the addition of a speed bleeder to remove air from the lines quickly.
Igor, being the founder of CAtuned, has had his hands on many of the most publicized E30 builds in California - possibly even in the entire United States. Even so, his shop works on more than just BMWs. While European cars are the heart of CAtuned and are Igor’s passion, he and the shop are also building off-road vehicles like the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter and many others. Despite that, Igor will always be tied in with BMWs thanks to builds like Grape.
If there is one thing about Grape, it’s that it has the right mix of modern performance, retro looks, and a well-thought-out restorative build. To know it came from a beaten beginning and built into what we see now is remarkable. There aren’t many E30 restorations that go as far as Igor and CAtuned did. It’s that attention to detail that separates Igor’s builds from other E30 project cars, and there are many lessons to learn from Grape. However, there is one lesson everyone really needs to learn - if you build it the right way from the beginning, you’ll always end up with an amazing result.
Story by Justin Banner
Photos by Antonio Alvendia
If you like this BMW E30, you can find additional BMW-related content at bmw.fcpeuro.com, as well as more build features like this one, here. If there's anything specific you would like to see, or if you have any questions/comments, leave them in the comments section below.
Antonio Alvendia is an aficionado of cameras, rare wheels, hip hop, and obscure aftermarket car accessories. He bought his first E39 Touring after seeing M5 Estates on photo trips to Europe, and now has sights set on restoring a classic Mercedes. Antonio was a principal photographer on the limited edition hardcover book on Singer Vehicle Design's Porsche 911 builds, entitled One More Than Ten. Future goals include returning to the Nurburgring to shoot the N24 race and driving the Nordschleife again. ••• Instagram : @MOTORMAVENS