The retro E30 BMW M3 will have you celebrating life, not questioning it

Richard Aucock
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They say never meet your heroes, but I couldn’t go through life having never driven a 1980s E30 BMW M3. Apparently, Munich Legends is the place to go if you want one, and they were showing off a knee-quiveringly beautiful red E30 at the Goodwood Members’ Meeting earlier this year. I stalked it all weekend, I was so in love with it.

A visit had to be arranged. Risky stuff: a dream I’d been carrying since I was nine could either have come true (for a day) or been shattered. Such is the passion I’ve carried for this car over the past three decades and, like many of us, with a bit of creative accounting and man maths, I could theoretically now buy one. But how crushing would it be to discover that it’s aged terribly?

I decided to go for it. Munich Legends’ MD Dan Norris duly met me, showed me round, made me a nice cup of coffee and then got back to running his business, which is packed with blokes like me turning back into kids, pressing noses against windows and realising long-held dreams. This was promising. Also promising was the fact the black E30 M3 I was to drive looked beautiful: I’d have preferred red, because I’m so 1980s, but black was still fine.

Then the surprise: it was Dan’s own car. One that he’d bought, restored and cossets. But, such is the faith he has in both the car and his business, he still drives it gloriously hard. So, no need for me to pussy-foot around; he even warmed it up for me so I could drive it hard from the off.

Not that I was going to. A few things you need to know about the E30 M3, which was introduced in 1987, purely so BMW could go touring car racing (it’s your classic homologation special). One, it’s left-hand drive only. Two, it basically has a race-spec engine that is only happy when it’s being thrashed. Three, it has a dog-leg gearbox, which places first down and left, with the other four gears sitting in a conventional H-pattern.

Thus, not only do you change gear with your wrong hand, you do so in the wrong direction.

You (or, rather, I) will therefore make a right pig’s ear of things in the first few miles, taking all that race-bred engineering and trying to operate it with ham fists and lead-filled boots. The technician next to me was, inwardly, cringing.

But then I got it. Things made sense. So I could start to rev it harder, safe in the knowledge I wasn’t going to accidentally wreck Dan’s beloved car. And, wowzers, how it transformed. Whisper it, but until then, I’d been disappointed, by the lack of power, the relatively soft responses, the noise it made.

Driven properly though, it was as if it had gone through a spiritual awakening. It came alive, sung gloriously to me, overwhelmed me with sensations (yes, even smell, of a hard-worked four-cylinder engine) and had me praying to the gods above before I’d even arrived back at base to own one. Oh Lord, don’t bother buying me a Mercedes Benz, just get me one of these, won’t you?

Dan was on the phone when I got back. Probably a good thing; probably saved me £100,000. The itch isn’t now going to go away, though. I’m still going to yearn and yearn for one of these. It’s divine. Almost certainly, the people saying not to meet your heroes in this instance are my accountant and Mrs. A.

Richard Aucock works for

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