I STARTED driving and had my first car in the late 80s. At that time the two most iconic four-cylinder cars were the Mercedes-Benz 190 2.3-16 and the BMW E30 M3. These two were the main protagonists it the German DTM touring car races back then. Fast forward to 2012, I found myself working on a BMW E30 M3. This car is owned by a client of mine.
What we did was to modernize the electronics by installing a ViPEC engine management system together with some engine upgrades. From a 2.3 liter engine, a stroker kit was added, giving it a total displacement of 2.5 liters. A more aggressive camshaft was added. So from the stock 200 bhp, it’s now at 300 bhp—a cool 100 horsepower increase. We also uprated the suspension with KW coilovers and installed a quick-steer rack and pinion kit.
When the restoration was complete, it was time for a real test. The BMW E30 M3 was lent to me to be driven from Cebu to Bacolod.
The drive from the city to Toledo was nothing great. In the city, our roads are under repair. Talisay to Naga was traffic—that I was on first gear majority of the time. From Naga to Toledo, the Naga-Uling road was full of slow moving dump trucks and idiot motorcycle drivers on the wrong lane, who expected me in the correct lane to move over for them. Cebu is the worst province for driving in the country.
The drive from San Carlos to Bacolod, however, was a completely different story. The Don Salvador Benedicto mountain pass had zero traffic.
Raw, sensuous driving
As I go through the gears of the E30 M3, revving it all the way up to 8,000 rpm from first to fourth gear, the note of the four individual throttle bodies is absolutely pure music.
Everybody who hears it will know that the car is special and that it performs. It is how a performance car should sound like, unlike some new cars in which there is a device to make a high-performance sound artificially to mask the real sound of the engine that does not sound good.
There is a complete connection that I can feel from my body to the car and to the road. The E30 M3 is raw. There are no artificial electronic driving aids such as traction control. It does not have airbags, in-car entertainment and other non-driving related useless gadgets. The rawness of the car makes it light, the lightness making it nimble and agile. Throw it in a corner pedal to the metal on the exit until the next corner, and do it again.
After the mountain pass, there is the town of Murcia and its never ending straight roads that are a bit elevated and have a small downhill gradient—that you see everything. Just imagine what this old but upgraded classic can do on those roads.
This 1988 BMW E30 M3 definitely is one of the best cars I have ever driven. I would take this type of rawness over the luxury amenities in our newer cars that make it easier and more convenient to drive.
In the last few years, the value of this car has been steadily going up. I now completely understand why—this car has soul. It does not just take a person from A to B, but makes the travel a journey that pleasures your senses.