This Workshop Houses Some Of The World’s Coolest BMW Touring Cars
Photography by Robb Pritchard
Tucked away at the back of an Amsterdam industrial estate with rough body shells stacked up and rusting under the summer sun, the first impression of Vink Motorsports is that it’s a breaker’s yard. Step inside the workshop, though, and it’s a veritable wonderland for Bimmer lovers—with an interesting quirk or two amongst the highlights.
Impossible to miss and resplendent in its Jägermeister livery (looking as though it should be in a museum rather than tucked under the stairs), is Armin Hahne’s E36 from the 1993 DTM season. But despite its breath-taking looks, it wasn’t exactly the pinnacle of BMW’s motorsport success in touring car racing. After many years of contesting (and often winning) titles in Group A series around the world, the BMW works team pulled out of the preeminent DTM at the end of 1992 and retired the mighty E30, with the next year’s cars run by the now-privateer Linder Racing team, which had only ever been mid-fielders during the headiest years. In other words, though it was partially developed by BMW, the car was never going to be a match for the full works efforts led by Alfa Romeo, Mercedes-Benz, and Opel.
The DTM has always been a hotbed of serious motor racing technology sheathed in pedestrian bodywork, but with the new and more liberal ruleset introduced in 1993, the works team budgets led to some seriously sophisticated automobiles, and without continued BMW support, Linder had to run with the comparatively outdated straight-four S14 motor, more or less ported over from the old E30s but with more power. Still, to compound the issue of budgets, it was also about 20 ponies down on power compared to the frontrunners.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the season didn’t go too well for the orange E36. With the engine tuned to its absolute limit, reliability issues struck early in the season, which, when coupled with bad luck such as getting punted off by rivals, left them well down the list in the standings. When Mercedes-Benz updated their car (with the first C-Class replacing the venerable 190E) with active suspension and traction control and Opel re-entered the series with an all-new Calibra that was instantly quick, the BMW was rendered all but obsolete. Hahne pulled out at the end of the year, and the Jägermeister sponsorship went with him. Racing in plain white, the Linder team lasted another year of being hopelessly outclassed before giving up the unequal fight.
“It’s not a bad car at all,” Ton Vink himself insists, “Its poor results are because at that time in the DTM there were incredibly fast developments and it couldn’t compete against such huge budgets. On its own, it’s a really fantastic car to drive. The suspension for example, is absolutely wonderful and a really nice piece of engineering. And of course, it looks stunning.”
The blue and white roundel was absent from the and DTM until 2012, when BMW and the RBM Racing team brought the Bavarian marque back into the mix—but BMW and RBM combined are letters that already had a serious amount of motorsport history between them. In the 1970s, Julien Mampaey built a solid reputation for racing and winning in BMWs in European Touring Car and GT events, and in the late 1990s he handed the baton over to his son Bart (RBM stands for Racing Bart Mampaey). Back in 1998, in the very first race as the RBM team, they fielded this lovely and strikingly liveried 320i in the Spa 24 Hours for the FINA Bastos team. Turning up to one of the world’s most grueling races as a new outfit—even with drivers of the likes of Marc Duez, Alain Cudini, and former DTM champ Eric van de Poele at the wheel—they could only have been hoping for a good finish at best. But they won. With this car. All the success RBM has had in the years since with ETCC titles, a hat-trick of WTCC wins with Andy Priaulx, and the last few years running BMWs in the DTM—it all started with this humble little 3-Series.
“We found the car Belgium. The really nice thing about it is that it’s not an official BMW Motorsport car, yet it won the Spa 24 Hours, and for my friend that made it special. That’s why he bought it. It’s a very well documented car and we have many, many papers with it, even a letter from BMW Motorsport congratulating the team on winning the race.” It’s a Group N, or “showroom-spec” car, as for a few years in the late 1990s, the race was run for almost standard cars, not like the GT3-fest it is now. So it’s certainly not the most spectacular BMW of them all, and it would have a hard time keeping up with pretty much everything else in the workshop (even some cars in the car park), but it won the Spa 24 Hours and there are not many cars that can claim that. It’s cherished because of its history, not its performance capabilities.
Moving on, we come to another iconic Bimmer. If you are considering making a replica E30 M3 DTM car, the the Tic-Tac livery might not be the first choice, but for those that know… Ton Vink explains, “Everybody likes winning cars of course, but there are many, many real and replica Warsteiner cars with the blue, violet, and red M stripes in the classic racing scene today, but one of my customers wanted something different.” To me, it still looks pretty fresh in the sea of works liveries.
Ton continues: “When we were getting it ready for the paint, we did question if he was making the right choice, because the green paint in the interior looked quite outrageous. Even the painter sent me some photos halfway through asking me if I was absolutely sure we wanted him to carry on with it!
“When it came back with all the green on the inside, we saw what he meant and said ‘Oh my god what have we done!’ But the owner wanted something different, and actually it worked very well in the end, and we all love this car.” The original that this is based on, driven by Canadian Allen Berg in the 1991 DTM season, wasn’t the most successful BMW on the grid. With just three points earned from a season-best race finish of 8th place, the Tic-Tac car was seen for only one year.
Getting away from the Bimmers for a moment, my eyes find another glorious oddity in the form of this Mazda 929; it’s not exactly the most well known touring car, but nevertheless it has a neat story behind it. As it goes, a group of amateur racing friends had a connection with a Dutch Mazda dealer and managed to get a little funding towards making a race car out of the 929. It needed a lot of work to get it even remotely competitive, and as the model was never intended to be raced it didn’t have any homologated upgrades to get the ball rolling like the RX7 and 323. As you can see, it’s currently on its path back to proper racing spec.
The guys were clever though, and designed what they needed, such as trailing arms, uprights, and springs on their own, and they sent the technical drawings to Mazda… who then sent them to the FIA to get the parts homologated. That alone makes it a rather unique car. Raced almost exclusively at the Spa 24 Hours, it was powered by a rotary engine which apparently howled around the Ardenne forests and could be heard from any tribune around the course.
“A lot of people who saw the car back in its day think it’s fantastic that it will be on track again simply because they remember the noise it made. There were people sleeping in tents near the track at night and they could hear every lap if the Mazda was still running or not, and we’ve heard a lot of funny stories like that. And it even had its own nickname: the Hiroshima Taxi.”
It hasn’t been seen in public for over thirty years following a big hit at the Nürburgring that left it with severe damage in the front and the rear. It was more or less just pushed into a barn and forgotten about after that. Ton had known the owner, Hans van der Beek, for about 25 years, but no conversation had ever gotten around to what had actually happened to the car until last year, when he found out that it still existed. “I asked him what he was planning to do with it, but he didn’t have solid plans, so then we agreed to a co-operation effort for us to restore it again, because we feel that such a unique car should be appreciated.”
Hans is in his mid 60s now, and Ton’s goal is to have the car ready for 2020 so they can race it together in the Peter Auto Historic Touring Car series at Spa. “I think it will be a big moment for [Hans] to get back in his car after more than 30 years.”
The Mazda competed in just four races in period, three of them being the Spa 24 Hours, where it managed a best result of 23rd in 1988. Two years prior, it had its best result at the 1986 Silverstone Tourist Trophy where the team got a respectable 9th. One of the drivers in all of those races was Raymond Coronel, big brother to the Tom and Tim twins. I have a feeling that we’ll be seeing more of this car in historic events.
Petrolicious would like to thank Ton Vink for allowing us to see the marvels in his workshop. If there are any BMW fans out at a track who see the Vink Motorsports banner on a car, know that it is run by a true BMW racing enthusiast with the history to show for it.