The E30 Done Dirty

I want to tell you about my first car, it’s a joyful yet somber story. I was 16 at the time and my uncle had unfortunately passed. He was a good man, admirable, a doctor. I have only a few memories of him, two stand out. One being the time I went to his graduation event. Riding with my brother and him in his Jeep Wrangler with knobby tyres, bouncy suspension, and the canopy top off. It happened to be perfect weather and a great back country road. All a recipe for a good time and vivid memory. The other, being more a token of his memory, was an inheritance passed down to me. A primo, one owner, cherry, garage kept, mint, just amazing 1991 BMW E30 318is.

Being young and inexperienced at the time, I really didn’t know what I was getting, but I’ve always loved cars. I had all the toys, seen all the Top Gear episodes, and every-time my Mom would take me to the grocery store I’d sneak to the magazine aisle and flip through all the copies of anything car related. Anyways, all I knew is that I was getting a BMW, must be good right? Boy did I underestimate this car. I will always remember pulling up to that garage with my dad in his F-150, car trailer hitched up and ready to haul my first car home. Open the garage door and there it is, trickle charger still hooked up. It was beautiful. It wasn’t even the BMW I was expecting, “A newer 3 series or 5 series maybe?” I thought. Back then I had no idea what an E30 was, but I loved it the instant my eyes laid on its wonder. I walked around it, enjoying every second exploring it. “Dad, it’s a manual! Leather seats Dad! Hey Dad, it’s got a sunroof! Dad look at the wheels and it’s paint, it looks so cool!” I was in disbelief that this car was all mine, and I didn’t even know how truly amazing the E30 was yet.


Now let’s talk about the ’91 E30 318is, and what kind of car it was. To start of, we can think of it as a de-tuned M3 with no body kit. The “i” stands for fuel injection, the “s” stands for sport, and “318” stands for a 3 series with a 1.8 litre four banger. It sported the m42b18 engine, which produced 138hp and 129 neck breaking torques. It was made with a durable iron block and lightweight aluminum; heads, motor mount assembly, oil sump, chain cases, and pretty much everything else that was outside the motor.  Fun fact, there was a tuned version of this piston pushing powerhouse called the s42b20. It was the racing model M42 used in the 320 touring car, partaking in the German racing series called the Super Tourenwagen Cup. This titan pushed 300+ hp in its evolution. That was achieved by making the bore size bigger, adding sophisticated carbon fiber parts, and upgrading the fuel system to force more bang to happen. More=more dammit! Just think, with some engine mods you can make a 318is have upwards of 250hp pretty easily. Ah the things I would’ve done to that car.

Back to the 318is; there was no need to upgrade the suspension, it already used M-TECH spec springs and shocks, while adding stiffer anti-roll bars, struts and dampers. This definitely gave the car a leg up on the more common, heavier, 6 cylinder models like the 325 and four cylinder four door 318i. Now this car was and is kind of rare, only being available to the US in 1989 to 1991. On top of that it was ONLY offered in a manual transmission, the way a true sports car should be. Not to many bought them, and not to many were ultimately sold. All E30 318is’ came with auto windows, leather trim, and M-TECH steering wheel as standard, but mine in particular came with an option called an LSD, just to emphasize its enjoyment. This made the car even more rare and special to me, not to mention the metallic plum paint job that you never see. Take all this and put it in a car that weighs 2600lbs and only cost $22,000, you can call it a poor man’s M3.

I did everything with this car. This was my first car, and a sports car at that. I taught myself to drive manual in it, which was awesome.  I would sit there in the driveway and move back ‘n fourth from spot to spot until I got clutch engagement and gas input just perfect. I would spend hours out there playing around. This was the car that got me into working on cars (I’m no mechanic, but I can tinker). It was the reason I now am an avid forum lurker and have Haynes manuals. One day I started it up as normal and I noticed the battery light was staying lit. I tested the battery and it was checking out fine, so whats the next thing in line? The alternator. I headed to the nearest parts store, picked one up, bought a Haynes manual and set off to work. With simple tools, minimal knowledge and my buddy Rick by my side, we had the alternator swapped in less than an hour. Boy, what a good feeling it was to start it up and the battery light not stay lit. I had diagnosed and repaired the problem, at the early age of 16. I know that doesn’t sound to impressive to some, but I never had anybody to show me the ropes of car stuff. None of my family messed with anything like that or had the time to show me, I had to figure it out all on my own. Now I never got the chance to drive this car on public roads unfortunately, because I didn’t have my licence at the time. The nice thing was that I lived in a gated community with plenty of private roads I could cruise on.

One time I was taking my buddy and his girlfriend for a joy ride and I was feeling pretty confidant, or stupid, you can take your pick. So I got to the end of a street and wanted to show off. At a dead stop I brought the revs up to about four grand and just dumped the clutch. All was going well, tyres were spinning, smoke was starting to build, it was awesome. Up until I slammed it into second and the car decided to do a complete one eighty and send us into a ditch. I thought we were stuck, but somehow I managed to drive right out. I needed to get out of there quick because there were people outside looking at us with there mouths open in either amazement or disgust, I don’t know. I hurried home, happy that I didn’t hurt anyone or anything and as I stepped out of the car with relief, I hear a hissing noise. Yeah, I had popped both passenger side tyres. It sucked, but i don’t regret it because that was my first burnout and wreck. I had plenty of experiences like that in the BMW. Long story short I had so much fun with the E30 being rear wheel drive, 5-speed and classic boxy look.

After the crash, popped tyres
   Now comes the depressing part of the story, how she was taken away. The place we lived was nice, gated community, on the lake, and all the neighbors knew each other. My parents had bought a house in town and we moved.  We still had the lake house and no where to put the E30 at the new place, so she stayed at the lake. A few months went by and I thought nothing of it, I figured it was in safe storage with my old neighbors keeping an eye on it. I was about 18 at this time, working construction with my Dad, and we traveled a lot for work. I remember we were doing a remodel on a medical building and I got a call from my Mom. “Hey, I went to the lake house to check on things, did you move your BMW?”, “Uhh, no” I replied. “Well it’s not here…”. I sat there in the lobby of that building soaking in what she had just told me, and all of a sudden I just blurted out “F**k!”. I’ll always feel bad about that because I was at work and there were patients around. But this was serious, my car was stolen. So then we were assigned a detective and as you can guess, he was useless. Months went by and I’d lost all hope of getting my precious back. Then we got a call, “We found your car.”. My Mom talked to the detective and I just watched her in agonizing suspense. She hung up, I asked “So?”, “Well they found it in a scrapyard a state away”. I thought “Ok good, we know where its at, we can go get it back”. Nope, my parents and the detective had different ideas, they figured since it was at a scrapyard it was probably parted out or ripped apart by now so there was no worth in traveling 150+ miles to retrieve it. That was not a good feeling, I’ll tell you. Personally I didn’t care what condition it was in, I just wanted it back. I’ll always regret not pushing my parents harder to get it, but they didn’t really care, they had no idea what this car really was. Even in non running, bad condition an E30 like this one could pull anywhere from $2000-$5000, and a clean one can go for $15,000-$20,000.

It was such a horrible end for this car. It was perfect, it ran good, the body was mint, a scrap yard is not what this thing deserved. I didn’t even get any compensation for it because the guy who scraped it used a false I.D. so we couldn’t track him down. Just goes to show how good the safety policies at scrapyards are. But I digress. It was an awesome first car and I was lucky I had the time I did with the E30. It truly got me into real life car stuff. Since then I’ve owned a 5th gen Prelude, a 4×4 single cab Chevy, and now a GTI. I still think back on the E30 and wonder what could’ve been, but the other half of me is just happy to have all the memories that came with it.

I hope you enjoyed my article. It is the first of many. Feel free to tell us about any interesting first car stories you have. We are a community, so input and experiences are always appreciated.

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