Sometimes, you stumble into your next car, as Ryan Castro of Motorsport Hardware did with his 1989 BMW 325is. After all, it's hard to turn down a dual-purpose E30.
“I happened to be joking with my friends at JMP Auto about buying their 325is,” said Ryan Castro of Motorsport Hardware, “but I ended up purchasing the E30 later that day.” Regardless, Ryan is well known in Southern California's car community as a connoisseur of BMWs and happens to be a concierge of racing car parts. He knows a good track car when he sees it. He explained, “E30s are a joy to drive because they are small, nimble and feel fast. They respond and rotate well on track while being easy on consumables such as tires, brakes, and the like. They make for a fun track day cars.” However, don’t let its rather basic looks fool you, as this car is more than it appears from the outside.
This E30 is made to be driven and not done so lightly. It takes the abuse Ryan can throw at it while still being reliable enough to drive to and from the track. “It was meant to be an affordable track day car from the start and allow me to practice at the track,” he explained. You see, he already owns a crazy E36 M3 for time attack competition and didn’t really need another BMW track car. Ryan admits, “I’ve had a real difficult time controlling my want to go crazy with this 3-series.”
According to Ryan, his biggest achievement is that he has a car that doesn’t require a trailer to take to a track. “I can drive it to a race track, put in some decent lap times, and drive it home,” he says. This E30 really is the perfect dual-purpose car.
To facilitate this, the E30 needed to retain some street-legal parts that also help keep it mostly under the radar. Sure, the numbers on the doors are a bit of a giveaway, but it’s parts like the film-tinted headlights that allow Ryan to drive this car on the street without getting too much harassment.
Usually, the yellow tint film does reduce light output, but a pair of European ellipsoid low beam lights provide better downrange light than even H4 halogen bulbs. Just below the passenger side pair is the OE tow hook, ready to pull the E30 out of any situation.
The only aerodynamic treatments done to this E30 are the Circuit Sports front splitter and the Koogle Works decklid mounted spoiler. You can get some adjustment of rear downforce thanks to the adjustable struts mounted to the spoiler and trunk, too.
The Sssquid reproduction BMW Motorsport roundels replace the original, standard BMW roundel badges on the hood and trunk.
The footwear on this E30 is a set of Fifteen52 Super Touring wheels in 17x8 in the front and 17x9 in the rear. They are wrapped in a set of Yokohama S.drive tires sized 235/45R17 for the front and 245/40R17 for the rear.
When he's tracking the car, a set of Volk Racing SE37K wheels in 17x7.5 get mounted with Nankang Sportnex AR-1 tires in 235/40R17 front and 245/40R17 rear. Those Taiwanese-made Nankang tires are also track-spec, semi-slick DOTs with a 100 treadwear rating.
The front brakes are Mazda FC3S RX7 four-piston calipers that bite down on OE rotors while the rear set are the original E30 calipers. All the calipers use a set of Garagistic brake lines and Porterfield brake pads.
Just above that vintage MOMO Prototipo steering wheel, which is attached by a MOMO quick-disconnect hub, is an Auto Meter Auto Gauge shift light that also functions as a tachometer. This is needed as the OE tachometer doesn’t currently work accurately with the engine swap.
The shift light's bright light is also a bonus since the original BMW tachometer won’t have its original shift light warning at the correct RPM.
There are also a pair of Auto Meter gauges for the oil pressure and water temperature. Just to the right is a digital readout voltmeter that lets Ryan know how much power the battery has. The panel they mount to replaces the air vents while another panel below it replaces the radio and HVAC controls. Since this is a street car, Ryan mounted a Scosche magnetic phone mount to the dash right above the gauges so he can use his phone to navigate Southern California roads without having to look down and away from the road ahead.
This lower panel is used to mount the original hazard light switch – which allows the turn signals to work – and a pair of marine power outlets. One is a traditional 12-volt cigarette lighter outlet while the other is USB 3.0 to allow for quick charging of phones and other USB-powered devices.
You’ll also find that’s where the power window switches were relocated as the rest of the interior is stripped out to reduce weight. Just under the dash and mounted to the transmission tunnel is a simple electric heater just to add some warmth on the rare cold days around Huntington Beach, California. An IRP shifter has replaced the original BMW shifter unit, but it’s not attached to the original E30 transmission - more on this later.
To give this spartan interior a bit of class, an AC Schnitzer handbrake handle replaces the original BMW piece. Just to its right is an Element Fire Extinguisher that works in all fire classes while being compact. It also lasts longer, without the typical maintenance of a standard fire extinguisher. It doesn’t have moving parts and it doesn’t use compressed gas, which makes it perfect to use and store in a car.
The Sabelt GT-160 is the seat that Ryan uses in this E30. It’s a halo-style seat for maximum head movement reduction when in a crash. Driver restraint is done by using a Schroth six-point harness.
The passenger is held into place with a Sparco EVO FRP bucket seat with a matching blue Sparco six-point camlock harness.
Both seats mount to the E30 floor board using a set of Garagistic E30 racing seat floor mount adapters. The trick parts attached to these adapters are the VAC lap belt mounting brackets. These brackets allow you to use a pair of eyebolts to mount the clip-on belts while maintaining the 45- to 60-degree mounting angle.
Rollover protection for the classic E30 is done by this Autopower bolt-in roll bar hoop. It also provides a place to properly mount the shoulder harnesses at their 45-degree minimum angle. This angle is required to prevent spinal compression during a crash as the 3 inch harnesses can pull your shoulders down as you move forward during an impact. Ryan has also added a GoPro mount to the crossbar so he can capture his on-track moments.
Since Ryan’s E30 still sees street duty, the spare tire and its well haven’t been eliminated from the trunk. Instead, a full-size Volk Racing SE37K spare wheel and a Nankang Sportnex AR-1 tire replace the original BMW donut spare.
Standing proud above the rear shock tower are the AST 5100 adjustable shocks. These shocks are a monotube style with rebound adjustment via the top screw adjuster. “The AST 5100 suspension rides so much better than the other suspension I used,” said Ryan.
We mentioned earlier that the IRP shifter wasn’t made to work with the original E30 transmission, and that there was a swap done. Here is what we meant by those comments. The original 2.5-liter inline-six was removed and was replaced by the 3.2-liter S52. “The 24-valve S52 swap really woke up this E30,” says Ryan, “It’s a perfect combo of chassis and engine since it doesn’t produce a lot of power and the chassis isn’t heavy.” A 238-horsepower engine in a 2500-pound car certainly makes for a very fun drive.
Just above the engine and spanning to each strut tower is an adjustable strut tower bar to help put some rigidity into the front of the chassis.
Matching the rear shocks are a set of AST Suspension 5100 coilovers. Just like the rear, the fronts are rebound adjustable only but do feature strut mounts that allow for camber adjustments. The spring seats are also adjustable to reduce the clearance between the front end and the ground.
While the S52 swap is doable, it is a tight fit between the CSF radiator and the accessory drive.
The oil filter cap has been replaced by this Rally Road cap that allows the use of an aftermarket oil cooler. Another bonus is that it’s a much simpler part versus the Euro oil filter housing conversion. The -10 AN fittings and lines lead out to the cooler while the OE BMW filter cap bolt is reused. It also has an 1/8-inch port for the Auto Meter oil pressure gauge sender.
There is only one way to get maximum power externally from a naturally aspirated engine, besides just flashing the ECU or going ITB. That’s the use of long tube headers as these allow maximum exhaust flow out of the head.
A custom-made exhaust system was fabricated to work with the S52 and its long tube headers. It also produces an amazing sound that any BMW fanatic will enjoy.
Ryan has some plans to fit larger tires, but that will require the addition of fender flares from Kamotors in Reno, NV to make them fit properly. However, he does say, “the car feels perfect as it is. This is my third E30 and each one is more developed than the last one. This car gives me what I want out of this chassis.”
Keeping with the European heritage, a set of Bosch ICON wiper blades replace the conventional style wipers. While it doesn’t rain much in Southern California, having a good set of wiper blades are still a must.
The perfect car for most enthusiasts is the one you can drive on the street and on the track while having fun on both. The ability to drive a car rather than trailer it is an advantage for those who lack the space to store a large truck and trailer, or to those who just don't feel like loading up a trailer. While having a streetable track car is a lofty goal, the simplicity and ease of getting the car to and from the track is why it’s such a worthy idea to so many people.
Thanks to older cars like the E30, making a dual-purpose car doesn't need to be budget-busting, either. Many of the parts from newer BMWs work and drastically improve this classic 3-series. In some ways, parts upgrades can make the car safer to drive—especially important when driving at the limits of both the driver and vehicle. You'd think that age would be a disadvantage with a track car. However, in the case of the E30, age is exactly the opposite. With age comes a simplicity, which adds to its lightness, as well more development time in the aftermarket.
If there is anything that the story of Ryan and his E30 shows, it is that it's possible to build a dual-purpose—street and track car. You just need to know what you want out of it before you take it on.
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