Slow Progress: Building A DTM-Inspired BMW M3 For The Right Reasons
Photography by Daniel Piker
Yeah, yeah, yeah, an E30 M3 wearing a set of BBSes, everyone and their mother’s done it—but John Zuberek didn’t build one of those cars. It’s not something thought up on a whim and then sent off for someone else to do the work, it’s not part of a trend, it’s not full of replica parts, and it’s not going to have another name on the title if he can help it. Though a 16-year-old John didn’t exactly plan on this car back in 2005—he was searching for an M3 of the E36 variety at the time—he intends to hold onto it.
Today the majority of automotive forums are rife with oneupmanship, personal bickering, dubious information, or else simple idiocy. Surely a few oases still exist online, but back in the 2000s when message boards enjoyed their heyday one could actually call these communities communities. People discussed and shared rather than picking on each other’s cars, and there was a sense of excitement that surrounded this burgeoning way to connect enthusiasts who were previously scattered and walled-off by geography.
It was during this period that John was frequenting the boards dedicated to European sports cars, and for anyone hanging around Bimmerforums back in the day you’ll probably recall a certain E36 M3 with “DFTPUNK” on the license plate. That car was something of a pioneer in the “scene,” an inspiration for John and so many others. It belonged to Paul Nguyen but sadly it doesn’t belong to anyone anymore, seeing as it was rear-ended and totaled while innocently parked on the street.
That has to be one of the worst ways to lose something you’ve poured hundreds of hours into, and though that car was no more, John wanted to pay homage to Paul and his M3 when he eventually got his own. We’re not looking at an E36 right now so the plan obviously changed a bit along the way, but John did purchase the BBS RS212s from Paul after the accident, which you see here; an homage to one of his early inspirations that he restored bolt by bolt.
But it wasn’t just Paul, nor a single car that led to this brilliant block of Brilliantrot. The causal forces can be traced back much further. Like so many of us who’ve been into cars longer than we can recall, it was his father, Jan, who led by example and encouraged John’s interest in automobiles once it took hold. Moving to the States from Poland but keeping their transportation decidedly European, the Zuberek’s garage was always well-stocked with steel, and among the R129s and 911s that have moved in and out of it over the years, a W116 Mercedes-Benz has remained a staple, along with a Citroën DS, which keeps the garage from being an exclusively German one.
Like all good dads who like good cars, Jan has always been happy to help his son maintain and modify his own. And he’s been there since the very start of this long-term project; while his son was in school drawing silhouettes of the car in his notebook margins, Jan flew down from the family home in northern Seattle to pick up the Bay Area car with oversized wheels and purpling window tint, before driving it to its new home and its eager new owner.
This purchase was before the price-tripling that E30 M3s have sustained in recent history, but John was in high school and didn’t have anything serious to spend yet—his dream build would have to wait a while. John agrees that it’s better to take your time and do things correctly though, especially if you’re going to build an M3 to properly celebrate the car’s illustrious racing history.
Regarded as one of the most successful touring cars ever campaigned by anyone anywhere, the compact box-flared BMW returned a champion from just about every series it was sent off to, but its home turf exploits in the DTM are perched on top of its international legacy.
Keen eyes will have already spotted the numerous similarities between those cars and John’s, but his goal was never to build a clone or a track rat. Instead it’s a blend of aesthetic and mechanical nods to the factory team, and he’s done a great job of aping a body-in-white look even if his happens to be red. Touring cars look very similar to their road-going counterparts already, but he’s completed the look by adding German-made cup mirrors and a genuine Sport Evo adjustable front splitter, while also removing the in-bumper side markers and swapping in European “smiley” headlights.
It’s not gutted inside like its competitive cousins, but it is pretty spartan, and the most recent addition, the four-point bolt-in roll bar, had an X-bar configuration added to it to nail a DTM detail that many overlook. Then there’s the white delrin shift knob from Rennstall, the swapped-in black interior, and the period-correct Italvolanti Indianapolis Formel steering wheel that could be found in the works machines in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
While the real-deal DTM cars were equipped with a single Recaro SPG bucket for the driver, you’ll find a pair of them in here, with the co-pilot’s position often taken by John’s girlfriend Chloe on their frequent drives together. Whether it’s to meander around the city under the stereotypical Seattle drizzle or for a bout of no-destination road-tripping in 100° heat in fixed-back seats, there’s a reason for the second chair. John’s spent more time in the driver’s than anyone else who’s owned this M3 though, and under his care it’s racked up 70,000 miles.
No garage queen, the build was never intended to be looked at and not thoroughly enjoyed in motion. It might appear as such though, but don’t let the fresh paint fool you: John’s not afraid of a well-earned rock chip, and with so many excellent, and importantly, unpopulated, forest roads at his nearby disposal, this M3 is put through its paces often. “Used as intended,” you could say. In keeping with the touring car theme but without spending the crazy dollars on DTM rear-ends and control arms and such (if you think production E30 M3s are pricey, try poking around for a set of Motorsport-made trailing arms or center-lock hub splines…), it’s been well sharpened for the duties of spirited driving.
For instance, all the rubber bushings have been swapped for AKG polyurethane units, the modified control arm geometry comes courtesy of Treehouse Racing, and it has a set of Ground Control coilovers allowing plenty of tweakable freedom with damping and height settings to play with. If you know E30s you know they aren’t full of chassis-twisting power, but the S14 under the hood is managed via Dinan software for a bit more thrust and drivability, and to free up some decibels and perhaps a few extra horsepower, an Eisenmann rear box hides behind the geometric bumper out back.
It’s been a long time coming, and there’s a long ways for it to go yet. Even if the progress has been slow at times, it’s never been the consequence of laziness or disinterest but rather the will and patience to follow through on plans even if easier avenues exist. It’s a well-known car in some circles, but John never built it for internet validation, and indeed he started it long before the age of the Instafamous. That’s not to say his ownership hasn’t been a social experience though, for in John’s own words “This car changed my life. Through it I’ve been able to meet and surround myself with like-minded people that I’ll surely call my friends decades from now.”
John would like to thank Jeff and Sean of JMI Motoring for the factory-quality respray, his father, his family, his friends, and his girlfriend Chloe for making this car as enjoyable as it is.