Gerardo Cammarata of Classic Car Hunter SA has restored nearly 50 classic cars over the years. The latest object of his desire is an E30 BMW M3. He takes us through his experiences of the first M3 in his latest column. Check out his YouTube channel here.

About a year ago was the first time that I slid behind the wheel of an E30 M3 and drove it. It was a car that I had bought unseen and untested. A car that I bought out of nostalgia and the love that I had for it as a kid. A car that I always admired and, to date, the production car with the highest number of race and championship wins across the globe. 

I snapped it up without thinking twice the moment it popped up on our market. It was a dream come true for me the day I took ownership. But would the E30 BMW M3 live up to its legendary status in this day and age?

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Fulfilling expectations

Let’s be honest, some classic cars are best left in our memories. As the development of the performance automobile has moved on, our expectations have shifted from what was on offer in the 1980s. More often than not, cars from that era, driven either for the first time, or driven again in modern times, have a tendency to disappoint and forever taint our expectations and dreams

The Classic Car Hunter believes that modern cars remove driving skill, as he outlines here.

Many critics

A lot tends to be said about the E30 BMW M3. Owners rave about them and those that don’t understand the concept and the purpose of these cars hate them. Common criticisms include:

“It should have had a six-cylinder engine. you know.” or “Why did they have to chop off two cylinders from the M88 engine? It’s underpowered.” BMW did so for a good reason. But more about this later.

Check out a beautiful BMW 2002 by clicking here.

First taste

My first ever drive in an M3 was in a 1994 E36. I liked it though it wasn’t a particularly good car to drive. The front-end felt heavy, it didn’t feel stable at speed, its wide tyres tramlined quite a bit and steering feedback wasn’t the best. I almost bought one in 2001 but the deal fell through and I moved on to other cars.

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Moving up

In 2005 I drove my first E46 M3, and I was immediately in love with it. The high revving naturally aspirated six-cylinder engine was smooth as silk. The gearbox was wonderful. It felt light and nimble. I bought a brand new E46 M3 off the showroom floor.

I loved that car. It remains one of the best cars I’ve owned. I always wondered: how could the E46 M3 be so good? What did it evolve from? Yes you could say the engine was related to the E36’s, but the rest couldn’t have been more different. The question remained… until I drove my E30 BMW M3 for the first time.

Click here to read about the most expensive BMW M3 ever sold.

Magical experience

It’s difficult to accurately describe just how good it is to drive an E30 BMW M3 on a good winding road at speed. I often find myself removing my shoes to drive it as I crave every little bit of sensory feedback to get from the car through my feet, my hands and the seat of my pants.

If there is something like a perfectly balanced car this has to be it. The short and lightweight engine is mounted as far back as possible to shift mass behind the front axle. The car weighs little more than a ton, which greatly helps in all aspects of its handling and performance. The rear aerodynamics keep it firmly planted at speeds which most cars from the 1980s are downright terrifying.

Click here to read why this author thinks some classics are painful.

Grip aplenty

There is so much grip, which shouldnt be the case with 225/16 tyres. I have taken sweeping bends in this car at high speeds, and let me tell you the only cars I’ve owned and driven that felt this planted at those speeds were the E46 CSL (another one of BMW’s M-division greats) and a more modern, race-prepped hillclimb-winning Nissan (R35) GT-R.

To put it into perspective. I owned a Porsche 911 3.2 Carrera of the same production year as my M3: 1989. Anything above 180 km/h it felt like I was going to meet my creator sooner rather than later. The M3 can do this all day without breaking a sweat.

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And then there’s the engine. My car has a later spec, 158 kW S14 engine fitted from the factory. It is considerably more powerful than the earlier spec 143 kW version and the even less powerful North American, catalytic converter-equipped cars.

The engine in my car has a couple of subtle modifications. A Schrick camshaft, higher capacity injectors, a carbon fibre intake from the DTM racer (that makes the individual throttle bodies sing), and an Eisenmann exhaust system to let the engine breathe more freely. These upgrades probably push this specific car’s engine to around 170 kW, less the altitude tax that we suffer from living at 1 600 metres above sea level.

Don’t Butcher the Classics is another opinion piece by this writer.

Performance is more than ample. It might not have the low down torque of its six-cylinder South African produced 333i and 325iS stablemates, but if you can keep the motor above 4 500 r/min it sings all the way to 7 500 r/min. I would hazard a guess that both the aforementioned stablemates will struggle to keep up at speed. As far as the sound goes, it can only sound as good as a four-cylinder can. But I think that, with the non-standard airbox, its induction noise is simply intoxicating. There is nothing that can beat a high-revving naturally aspirated engine.

Design done right

And then there’s the looks? Lets just say I believe that the E30 BMW M3 and the E46 CSL are two of the most beautifully designed cars ever produced. They are so pretty that I want to park them in my lounge to stare at all day. The interior design is also really good. It’s a comfortable place to spend a day even when compared to modern cars.

Room for improvement?

The brakes for one, leave a lot to be desired; it could really do with better brakes. The headlights are on par with other offerings of its era, which is somewhere around five lumens better than a birthday cake candle. The roof-mounted antenna is pretty daft and bound to eventually damage the roof. I have ended up unscrewing the aerial and storing it in the boot. The ride height could be a bit higher for our roads, but if that in any way would mess with the handling then it can stay as it is.

Close to perfect

I’ve owned more than 150 cars to date and driven many more and the E30 M3 is right up there in my top three. My top three includes an E46 M3 as well. The E46 just perfected what the E30 started and, I think, sadly it went downhill for BMW from there. I love this car. I love every moment driving it and even just looking at it.

There’s only one car that I recently drove that gave me a better driving experience, but since it’s not a classic, I’ll leave that story for another day…