Featured: The Spirit Of 1990s Touring Car Racing Lives On In This BMW M3 From Peru

The Spirit Of 1990s Touring Car Racing Lives On In This BMW M3 From Peru

By Robb Pritchard
December 17, 2018

Photography by Eduardo Flores

In an act of kindness, if not quite one of financial responsibility, Said Baba from Lima, Peru, did the honorable thing and saved an E30 M3. It was in a sorry state, all but ready to be dragged off to a scrapyard and crushed. Peru has some very strict rules about what can be imported and driven in the country, and some very expensive tariffs on what you can bring in and use, so the problem was that he couldn’t really afford to do a top-notch restoration after all else was done and paid for.

The engine was seized and needed a lot of work to get it right again, and there was also plenty wrong with the suspension and body, so in what might be a familiar story to many of you who have started a project a little beyond his or her capabilities and budget, Said’s M3 languished in the back of the workshop, gathering dust.

He already owned his dream E30 M3, one of only two late-model examples in Peru, so he still got his full fill of Bavarian momentum car as a daily driver, so to finally bring the other M3 project to life he decided to compromise. This took the form of buying another E30 that had a good engine, which he merged with the dusty shell in the workshop, using a hybrid of the best parts from both—a consolidation build you could say. Anyway, job done.

It wasn’t the most eye-catching restoration nor best showcase of craftsmen skills, but it was drivable and more importantly sellable, and so it left to a new home and opened up some space in the workshop in doing so. … This is where the story of the car pictured begins: from the bare shell that he’d stripped and harvested for parts.

He could have just scrapped it to make space for a new project, but instead it filled the role of its would-be replacement and he got to work. As just a shell, it held the potential for absolutely any build that Said cared to take on, but it was his cousin who suggested making an homage what is arguably the ultimate incarnation of the E30: the version that raced in the DTM. In Group A guise the car raced and won all over the planet, but it’s the iconic Motorsport livery and the fierce rivalries fought on the home turf that most think of when you talk about racing M3s. 

Of course, doing a full-on replica was dismissed as just a crazily expensive idea, but it still planted the seed in Said’s mind to do something similar, so he spent a few days mulling over what it would take to get the shell tearing around race tracks in a similar fashion to the way it would have in period. The answer of course would be a massive amount of time and money even if he wasn’t going to source a works four-cylinder motor, but he had been a weekend mechanic for years working on his and his friends’ cars, fabricating parts they couldn’t get into the country—perhaps he could use this as a project to practice on, turning it into a demo car of sorts to showcase his work.

More than a few evenings were spent online researching exactly what differences the DTM cars had compared to the roadgoing M3, and it became very clear, very quickly, that although he could probably build a car that looked and performed like an ex-works Schnitzer car of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, a true BMW aficionado would be able to tell the differences a mile off. But who wouldn’t want to make a car that would look and perform like of the ones he used to watch when he was a boy?

It wasn’t an easy decision to begin the build though. The only way to get the budget for it was to sell his decidedly mintier M3. It was such a nice car that he always had offers for it on the table, and so he didn’t need to post an advert to sell it. With a fresh wad of cash in his hand, the first thing to be done was fabricate and fit the roll cage, and this was made to the exact DTM specifications by El Gato, one of the well respected fabricators in Peru. “He said that it was unnecessary to fit a few of the bars for the Peruvian safety regulations—so they were going to serve no purpose apart from adding weight—but I wanted it to be a good replica, so I asked him to include them too.”

But the more research he did and the more photos and YouTube videos he saw of the M3s battling Mercedes-Benzes and Fords and the like, he realized that it would be missing the point to build a replica of a race car without racing it… The biggest event in Peru—one of the biggest in the whole of South America actually—is the 6 Hours of Peru. At 35 years old, it’s not only pretty prestigious by now, it also attracts entries of over 50 cars spread over many classes. This is the race that Said decided to build the M3 homage for. Without writing anything incriminating, let’s just say he had no prior experience of pushing a car to the limit in a regulated setting, but that didn’t deter him in the slightest, and so he promptly sent his race registration in for a car that was still in pieces.

With the timescale for the build drastically reduced now, all evenings and weekends were spent in the workshop and Said did a lot of it on his own, such as fitting an ATL cell tank, bigger brakes and rotors he machined himself, dual brake master cylinders, and some carbon fiber work like the DTM cup-style mirrors, along with the floors, and door panels. By far the biggest job though was making the suspension parts. In a perfect world there would have been CAD files he could just email to a fabricator, but every online search he made came up empty apart from photos from the homologation paperwork. He he did find a guy in New Zealand who had an original car, though, and Said explained that he was just a fan who wanted to fabricate his own setup, not someone looking to make a business out of producing replica parts to sell. Sadly, there was no reply, but then closer to home in Peru, he found someone who had an earlier Group A car who allowed him to unbolt some parts to make accurate measurements.

Armed with the correct-diameter chromoly steel tubing, he made a jig to situate them (welding often causes deformities), roughly tacked them together, mounted them in situ, then increased the welds until the whole subframe was complete. The same process was repeated for the trailing arms, and when it was all finished he finally got a reply from the New Zealand guy who sent a lot of photos and measurements. Go figure! Still, Said was pleased to find out that his own work was only out by a few millimeters off here and there, and that could be rectified by adjusting the setup via its built-in mechanisms. He also made a set of lightweight control arms for the front end.

Of course buying a full Schnitzer or M-tuned S14 engine from Europe was completely out of the question, both for cost and for importation issues let alone rarity, so for the heart of the car he bought a rather sickly S54 straight-six out of a scrapyard’d E46 M3, which was good for 333bhp when new.

But anyone who has ever built a car to race knows that there is never enough time to prepare everything before the green flag. Because the engine was over 3000cc, Said was placed in the open class… which had an Audi R8 GT3 and a Ferrari 458 in it. In other words, not exactly machinery the E30 was quite on par with. Still, the event has many different types of touring cars to race with, and he qualified around middle of the grid.

However, the lack of testing time in the newly-built M3 was evident from the start. As soon as it was pushed the engine started leaking oil through the cylinders which caused a lot of smoke as well as an obvious lack of power. The biggest problem though came from the self-made control arms. Bouncing over the curbs pushed them far beyond their tolerances, and they snapped. The spares were the same design though, so even after learning the lesson and keeping off the curbs, it meant that two and a half hours of the race was spent in the pits swapping them. Still he finished a not-all-that-disastrous-sounding 4th in class. He had a good looking car on his hands with potential, and though there were some mishaps he no knew what he had to do to get it properly sorted.

The engine was pulled out, stripped down, and re-built with competition-grade valves, springs, retainers, and solid lifters with under-head shims. With a few curses about the customs fees, the rods, pistons, crankshaft, and cams all came directly from BMW Motorsport, as did the cylinder head. A custom tune was done by a company called Tuning Tech, but the ECU was a standard one so it couldn’t be programmed too easily. Power was raised from a not shabby 333bhp to a more serious 370, which is roughly 30 more than the last E30 DTM cars had in the early ‘90s.

The weak control arms were reinforced, as was the rear subframe, which had also started to crack in the race. Weight was also taken out as more carbon fiber was added wherever steel was unnecessary. Delving ever deeper into the intricacies of high performance parts, Said even machined himself a set of hubs that worked with a pressed bearing just like the race cars had, as it’s much easier to change the bearing alone than the whole hub. Unlike Schnitzer, though, his starting point was a pair of standard BMW E39 hubs. All of this took a year to do, and he came back to enter the 6 Hours again with much higher hopes.

However, although the engine had a lot more power this time, Said found that once back on the circuit the ratios of the gearbox didn’t let it take advantage of the power. But that was a long way from being the biggest problem, unfortunately. Machining a bearing race into the E39 hubs caused a critical weakness, as he’d taken too much out of the metal to fit the bearing in. Again, hours were lost in the pits for repairs. Any chance of a good result was gone, and again he finished 4th.

To get the same result after a year of work really wasn’t a cause for celebration, so to be third-time lucky the car underwent another big rebuild from the point you see it pictured in here. And this time it’s really serious. Included in the upgrade was a five-speed gearbox made by Samsonas Motorsport in Lithuania, which with the pacer added is actually a six-speed. It’s a dog box too, with the ratios Said chose himself. It’s also shorter than the standard E30 gearbox so he managed to move the engine 5cm back toward the firewall to give a slightly better weight ratio. The exhaust needed to be redesigned to fit too, so now there is a duel 2.5” pipe which also has the advantage of making the car sound quite good too. The hubs have been redesigned, machined from scratch this time, which was a lot of work of course, and a full carbon fiber air intake system has been fitted as well.

The DTM cars were honed to perfection on the race track over their rather long racing career, and so too is Said’s gorgeous homage. I might have to check back in with him again to see what else is new.

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Reyes Mark
Reyes Mark
1 year ago

Very nostalgic. Awesome car and story.
Visit our website

Nick Biangel
Nick Biangel
4 years ago

A very inspiring story. Talking about enduring to the end. Hopefully there will be a continuation of this story.

4 years ago

Yep – me too. I have an e30, 318is, that’s been sitting too. Though it’s low on hp, it’s such a fun momentum car to drive and rev the heck out of it!

Kevin Reynolds
Kevin Reynolds
4 years ago

Wow what a journey! This is a true testimony to those who dream about building their dream car. This is true passion. I have to say that stories like these truly inspire me to get off my butt, stop making excuses, and get to work on my E30 that is just sitting. A job well done, my friend! Keep building and rebuilding and motivating those around you!