Three-and-a-half years of work and no expense spared – one man’s ultimate BMW E30 M3 is almost completed.[Not a valid template]
What was your dream car as a kid? For Jon Simmonds, it was the original BMW E30 M3. An instant classic since the moment it was born from motorsport in 1986, it was the road going version of an iconic racing car and spawned a heritage of BMW M cars that continue to this day.
Jon – the owner of Motorsport Wheels in Dubai – was a teenager when they first appeared, and he lusted after one. Now, almost 30 years since the M3 was first released, Jon has his own. And he’s spent the last three-and-a-half years making it into the single finest E30 we’ve ever seen – a no-expense spared labour of love that’s produced a racing M3 of the finest calibre.
For Jon, this was a money-no-object exercise in making the best racing E30 M3 he could do. There was no set target on when it had to be finished by – each stage was done meticulously, time taken to ensure procurement of the best possible parts and the best solutions to any issues. When we meet, he’s sorting out the final little niggles in the fuel system before the car takes its first shakedown test.
The story of Jon’s M3 goes back to 1986, when it was part of the first production run of E30s. At some point in the car’s life it ended up in Japan, where it was bought and shipped to the UAE. And that’s when Jon found it. It was unmodified and uncrushed, and in pretty good shape, save for some rust in the footwells.
That was then, and this is now. After three-and-a-half years of work, the M3 sits before us, sparkling in white paint, with a bare wide-weave carbon roof and the cleanest of clean components. Jon has built the car with the expert help of his friend (and employee) Robert Kover, with virtually all the work taking place at MSW’s Dubai facility. Now it’s almost ready to turn a wheel for the first time, and Jon reflects on the journey so far.
“I wanted something to be proud of,” he says. “I had an idea of what I wanted it to look like. With Robert here, and the car, and my vision, I felt we would be foolish to cut corners and end up with something that I knew we could have bettered.”
Although many parts of Jon’s M3 are new, they were all fitted with the character of the original car in mind. The 2.3-litre S14 engine, for now at least, is largely stock, pushing out around 200bhp, but it sports a racing flywheel and is attached to a six-speed sequential Quaife gearbox with a Tilton two-plate racing clutch, Tilton race bearing mounted in the original BMW bell housing. The BMW prop shaft has been shortened to cope with the longer-than-standard transmission, and it leads to a Quaife limited-slip differential. The wheel hubs are original DTM items from the early 1990s, bought online, and upon them sit BBS centre-lock wheels and AP Racing brakes. The hub mountings are custom made, as are a large amount of other parts on the car, machined to Robert’s drawings.
“In terms of engineering jobs we’ve done about 50 different engineering jobs, maybe more,” Jon says. “The top mounts were changed, the bracket for the coil packs was machined and fabricated here. All the little bushes, the radiator, the catch tank; if we thought we could do something better than we could buy off the shelf, we’d make it. You could buy a swirl pot for a couple of hundred dollars, but we wanted ours to have a certain capacity and be mounted in a certain place, so this one has been fabricated by Robert.”
The suspension control arms and track rods have all been designed to Group A spec, but machined in-house, while the race-spec springs and dampers are custom-designed for this car by H&R – these were the only bits that Jon didn’t pay for, as he distributes H&R products in the Middle East and the firm donated them for free.
The engine might be relatively unchanged, but the engine management system is state of the art – a MoTeC M800 system that will eventually control a new engine, currently being built in Germany.
As far as the body goes, the roof is carbon fibre (made in the UAE), and the front arches have been modified to accept the wider track. All the components have been mounted as low as possible to keep the centre of gravity close to the tarmac. Close looks at the components show quality everywhere, and even aesthetic consideration.
“We always wanted it to be something special, even down to the fittings we use,” Jon explains. “We only use the best Atech fittings, the same as they use on Formula 1 cars. They’re the lightest, the strongest. The fuel hoses too are probably half the weight of normal hoses. All the fittings are black because we wanted it to fit in with the colour scheme. All of the air lines, fuel lines and brake lines are all black aluminium, both for the colour and to save weight. It’s probably 20 percent of the weight of the steel lines and super strong and holds great pressure.
“Using these components mans not only does it look more complete as a project but we’ve probably saved 40kg in hoses, fittings and so on. As a percentage of the vehicle weight, that’s a lot.”
The result, for now at least, is a car that’s pushing out 200bhp and 284lb ft and weighs just 980kg with liquids in it. Combined with the low centre of gravity and 235-wide slicks – and all the race components – the M3 should properly rip straight out of the box. But Jon’s not quite done yet.
“We have an engine in build at the moment in Germany that’s 300bhp and that will be with us in a couple of weeks. The next obvious upgrade would be a lightweight bonnet and boot lid and spoiler, front and rear bumpers. That will probably save another 40kg or so, so we’ll probably be around 940kg and 300bhp, so it’ll be a weapon.”
Once the car has been shaken down in its current form, the new engine will be installed. It too is a 2.3-litre S14 unit, but by the time it’s placed onto new, lower engine mounts, it will have been heavily breathed upon. Jon reels off the spec list:
“Race pistons, conrods, valve springs, fully ported, larger throttle bodies, a much higher rev limit. We’ve got an original DTM carbon airbox that we found online. Along with the MoTeC engine management we’ll have eight fuel injectors, running four cylinders. There’s sequential injection, so you get to a certain rev limit and then the second phase of injectors comes in.
“The engine management will allow us to liberate not only good peak horsepower and torque figures, but the ability to constantly vary the fuel and air going into the engine will also mean that the power figure is a lot more stable with fewer spikes, and the same with the torque. That will pay dividends with the race engines, with a lot more drivability. This car will be very nimble, and have a very flexible engine.”
The plan, once everything is completed, is to take the car to Europe and race in classic meetings, hopefully beginning with Silverstone Classic in June 2014.
“We want to race it against similar cars of the era,” Jon says. “People are still competitive but they’re a lot more relaxed about what they’re doing, they’re not trying to prove too much. I want to use the car as a basis for fun, because it should be fun to go and do those trips – rent a motorhome, barbecues in the evening, that kind of thing.”
Jon shudders to think what the car has cost him over the years, as he hasn’t been keeping track of it. “I’m in denial about what we’ve spent – when my wife asks me, I say ‘not very much’. I honestly don’t know what it is, but some of the parts have been very costly. Ignoring labour, it must be close to half million dirhams (c$135,000), which is a lot of money for anything. If you add in the man-hours it’s a hell of a lot of money – probably six months day and night, 24 hours a day if we were to condense it all together.
“But this isn’t a car I’m trying to sell – I’m keeping this one. I just love owning it. It was the car I aspired too, and now I have probably the best example I could have hoped for and I just want to enjoy owning it and seeing it. I don’t have to drive it all the time to get that enjoyment.
“Maybe it’s an age thing, but both Robert and I come in to the workshop, look at the car and just smile. It just looks so lovely.”