Featured: This M3-Swapped 2002 Is A Great Example Of Blending BMWs

This M3-Swapped 2002 Is A Great Example Of Blending BMWs

Alvaro Colombiano By Alvaro Colombiano
June 10, 2020
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Photography by Alvaro Pinzón

As anyone who’s been to the parking lot of their local auto parts store can attest, modifying a car doesn’t necessarily mean improving it. There are many routes to take on the way to personalization though, from well thought out, decades-long builds to teenagers spray painting their badges black and haphazardly slapping them back on the trunk. Between budgets, intents, and of course, time, there is a lot to explore in the world of non-stock autos, but to me this 2002 is a combination of taste and dedication to aspire to.

Before I sold it to fund my travels and storytelling for sites like this one, I had some similar plans for my old BMW E21; a set of nice Recaros with chunky bolsters, an engine swap, and some “dialed-in” suspension and chassis work. I still would like to take the car in my head and put on the street in front of me one day, but for the time being I am meeting people who share those ideals, like Alejandro, the owner of this S14-powered 2002.

An enthusiast of vintage cars and wristwatches, his passion for beautiful mechanical objects (AKA, not a particularly cheap pursuit) has done nothing to turn him into a snob, as he is about as friendly as they come. Better yet, he is happy to share with likeminded people like me, which was made evident when he offered some seat time in his almost laughably fun to drive BMW. 

I was lucky to meet Alejandro three years ago, when this car was a shell surrounded by boxes of parts and a less-tangible vision on how they would all come together. As it happened, three years ago my good friend Juan Felipe from Cali, Colombia introduced me to Alejandro, and I got the summary version of his lifelong interest in cars.

His father had collected American cars when Alejandro was growing up, and while he appreciated and overlapped with his father’s taste, Alejandro gravitated toward German and Italian cars. Years later, living and working in the United States, he fell in deep with Porsches, owning ten of them as proof. About five years ago however, Alejandro decided to slow down, spend more time with his family, and move back home, which resulted in selling the Porsches and a change of address back to Colombia. Having retired from his job as part of this shift in priorities, he also found himself with more time to drive and work on cars. Funny how that happens, isn’t it?

He first dipped back into the enthusiast euro car pool with a BMW E9 3.0CS, which, if you’ve ever driven a good one (or even admired the beauty of a bad one!), should go some way to explaining how he became so smitten with classic BMWs. The 3.0 prompted a few more Bimmers to come and go from his garage, but in the back of his mind lurked this project, a 2002 with the S14 four-cylinder from the first-generation M3. It’s a recipe that many have replicated for good reason, as the swap doesn’t take away from the character of either the car or the motor—it’s not so much of a juxtaposition than it is a complementary pair.

With the plan in place, Alejandro started the hunt for the pieces, but the actual car would be one of the last acquisitions. First and foremost, he needed to find a good S14. Although a lot of owners were swapping out the S14s from their E30 M3s in favor of bigger, less exotic motors in the past twenty years or so, in Colombia it is not easy to find an S14 on its own, nor a BMW E30 M3 for that matter. So, he started to hunt outside of the country in pretty short order, but a surprise came a few weeks later when a friend told Alejandro that he’d just found someone in Cali who had an S14 that’d been stored since 1988.

The story behind this engine is that it was bought in the United States back in 1988, and that it was nearly brand new still, with just a few miles logged. I’m not certain about when or why it was pulled from the car it started in, but it wouldn’t be the first time someone benefited from a fresh motor plucked out of a rolled-over M3! Whatever the circumstances, the Colombian who bought and imported the motor had planned to use it in car he was building for a racing series here, however, that project never came to fruition (as many projects are wont to do), and the engine was stored ever since—for more than 30 years.

Upon learning about this S14, Alejandro went to check it out in person, and though it had gathered some dust and could use an aesthetic sprucing, he was pleasantly surprised with the condition, and the overall completeness of the package that included the ECU, injection system, and the original gearbox.

With the main component acquired, Alejandro set about gathering the rest of the parts he would need, patiently trawling the internet and tapping his network of car friends. He got pretty much all of the important bits sorted before finding the car to install them in, and that too took some time. He wanted a solid car for a base, nothing too beat or too nice, and after two years and many fruitless trips to follow up on leads and classifieds, Alejandro found his car thanks to, again, a good friend.

Felipe Ucross advised Alejandro that his brother, Berny Ucross, had a 2002 that he’d restored once and had owned for 18 years. Berny wasn’t looking to sell, but he happened to be looking for a BMW E30 Cabrio, and, Alejandro happened to have one. Alejandro proposed to trade keys, and they made a deal, both traveling the long distance between Cali and Bogotá to meet in the middle and drive home in something new.

Alejandro finally had his 2002, and he enjoyed the car as it was for a few more months until he packed all his parts into a truck, put the car on a trailer, and hauled it right back to Berny. There was nothing wrong with the car, he just wanted Berny to work on the restoration with him, seeing as he knew the car well, had done it once before, and came well recommended.

I started to check in on the progress around this time, and the first order of business after stripping the car down was to fit the drivetrain. The S14 snuggled into the bay with only minor modifications, while the gearbox required a bit more metal massaging, namely a few more cubic centimeters of space to fit the bigger Getrag that wasn’t found in 2002s originally.  They wanted to keep the center console looking the same though, so they made sure not to just take the easiest path to fitment, and they showed the same level of care when they modified the oil pan but made sure to test it properly so as not to mess with the pickup.

For the visual element, Alejandro sourced a set of Southern Ways Epsilon mesh wheels from a Californian seller who had mounted them a 2002 Turbo. It is certainly a rare wheel to find in 2002 specs, but they fill the wide arches nicely, and 8-inch-wide rears and 7-inch-wide fronts are hiding some potent Wilwood calipers—four-piston fronts, and two-piston rears. For the suspension, Alejandro wanted something that could comply with daily driving, but also taut enough to bring it out for a track day or the various asphalt rallies in the area, so he went with a firm but not overly extreme setup from Bilstein.

Further additions in the look of the car were 2002 Turbo-style flares and a front bumper kit brought from the US, but the most beautiful piece, in my opinion, is the original 2002 Turbo rear spoiler, which he found still in its box, unopened, a true NOS find sourced by a good friend in California. The final touch was the Cibie third brake light.

Inside the car, there are some cool vintage touches borrowed from both the 2002’s and the E30 M3’s eras, like the Klippan seat belts with the original BMW looped clasp (quite rare to see nowadays), sporty touches like the rare period-correct door handles, which he also found in their original packaging unopened. Alejandro’s front seats are Recaros taken from a 1980s Maserati (a BiTurbo I would assume), and the back seats are from a BMW E9—lucky for him the material and colors are a good match, and both have their original upholstery. As I mentioned earlier, Alejandro is an avid wristwatch collector, and so it’s no surprise to see a set of timers in this car, in this case a set of vintage Heuers.

I was able to follow along and photograph this build in its various phases and in various regions of Colombia, from Bogotá to Medellin to Cali, thanks to my travels and to the fact that Alejandro isn’t afraid to use the car he spent so much time putting together. Last year he competed in a few rallies around Colombia in this car, performing well each time, and each time encouraged that this dream build was more than worth it. I was able to test the car myself in the mountain passes outside Medellin, which means I can easily understand his feelings for this car. It is the perfect nimble sports car in this setup, a go-kart-like agility paired with the feeling that you’re in something more substantial than one. It’s a nice balance that is struck here, one that I think is too easy to overshoot once you start swapping motors and chasing more and more power.

That doesn’t mean the chasing has stopped though, for Alejandro is working on restoring and building a handful of E9s, and he tells me he has some plans in place for another S14-powered car as well. Having spent time with him and this car, I am excited and hopeful for whatever’s next, though I have a hard time imagining this car will ever be the one to leave his garage to make room for anything else.

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