If you’re looking for Mission: Incompetent I – Manufactured in West Berlin; don’t bother. The title was just a delivery device for the “Electric Bugaloo” gag. On the other hand, the mission of building this car has always existed and was inspired by the Grassroots Motorsports $2k-and-change Challenge. If we could, we’d try to mainly do two things: take whatever we had lying around and turn it into a repair or a performance modification and use pre-owned or cross-compatibility upgrades before we resorted to brand new tech. Mission objectives are to prove to the MacGuyver fans that we’re on the level and to show that we’re wise and humble purchasers to potential mates. In the process, we’d also try to be smart about durability and not doing any work twice.
We’re not so good at the former. In reading about the $2k Challenge Subaru Impreza Rally knock-off so many years ago, we were struck by the ingenuity of taking an antique refrigerator and re-purposing it as a fuel cell. If we’ll ever have the opportunity to effect something similar, we can only hope, but we’re proud of our handful of patch jobs nonetheless (see the stainless steel hack job in the featured picture). We’re hoping to step that game up over the winter with two large stainless steel panels we found, staged near some local dumpsters, that we plan to use for a few small projects like plugging the sunroof and forming blanks, switch panels, and an instrument cluster panel backing.
The latters, we’re not bad at. Our 4.10 limited-slip differential was a junkyard find from a ’90 318is. If you have an M42 and mostly autocross, stick with a quick ratio differential to squeeze power out of it. TRMotorsport C1s with 4-year old (at the time of purchase) Kumho Ecsta XSs from a friend’s brother. The rims are strong, but lighter than stock rims will be, and the tires were built for autocross with a quick warm-up and low treadwear rating. If you can find a never-used set, grab them, because it seems they’ve been discontinued. The master cylinder was a brand new replacement for an E32 series 750il. It will give you better pedal modulation but not more power. You’ll have to do hardier, more expensive upgrades to most of your brake components for that. We paid $40 for a set of stainless braided brake hoses from the owner of a lifted Miata and M40-powered E30 Estate, and when the time came to install them, were replaced in stride with the front lines. Lines that were rusting in more than a few places and we’re unlikely to survive any further re-positioning, especially after removing the ABS pump from the system. That was done with new nickle-copper line.
The main suspension components were done at hefty (but still heavily coupon’d) sums though. Costs that were unavoidable considering a side-quest for the car was to replicate the SpecE30 suspension since it was known to work well and we didn’t care much for guessing. If we can recall correctly, it was about $400 for the Bilstein B8 shocks, $250 for the ST anti-roll bars, $100 for used H&R Sport springs, and $200 for polyurethane bushings (which ultimately ended up being free because of unintended customer service related consequences). Because our hindsight vision was closer to Mr. Magoo than it was The Terminator in the beginning, things like making sure the adjustable endlinks on the anti-roll bars staying properly greased has yet to be rectified and now parts that would probably last a long time, won’t live to see their children graduate high school.
The pee-ass-day-resistance among all of these modifications however is the Z3 steering rack. If you do nothing else, apart from good tires, rip out the old steering rack (which, given the common mileage on old E30s, is probably ready for hospice care anyway), and put in a fresh Z3 rack. We chose to treat this modification like starting over from a messy divorce by dating someone 10 years younger with a refurbished steering rack from an M44 powered 1.9L Z3 (so non-M from 1996-2002). There’s talk online about different colored tags to help you identify the rack and whether you should get it from an E36 3-series, Z3M, or E46 3-series. We bypassed all of that arguing by simply asking the supplier to physically verify if the rack we were interested in was truly 2.7 turns lock-to-lock and once that was verified, had it shipped. Don’t forget that you’ll need E36 inner and outer tie-rods and. Compliment it with a used steering wheel hub and knock-off Momo steering wheel.
If you’re on a budget like we are, perpetually, follow our philosophy. After that, sell all of your belongings, and give us the money. By doing so, you’ll pledge your allegiance to us and the Cult of the Malfunctioning Dashboard Cluster. If you don’t have a budget, build the car with all brand new, lightweight, parts and use your imagination for boring things like how much money is in your hedge fund instead of ingenuitive ways to build a unique and well-sorted E30!
If you grew up on the internet at the same time we did, you’re probably a craigslist junkie too. Below is a list of sites to check regularly for deals. Don’t be afraid to check in on your favorite builds or find new ones on forums and in magazines for inspiration! And as always, go out and race your E30 already!
- For Sale> Free
- For Sale> Auto Parts
- For Sale> Barter
- You can use this site to search several craigslist.org regions all at once!
- A BMW forum with a heavy E30 community and an active classifieds section.
- A aggregator search site for junkyards that lets you search by year range for a specific model and set up alerts when participating junkyards get the model you’re looking for.
- Facebook’s classifieds sections are recently on-par or better than craigslist. We recommend using this as much as you would CL.
- We’re not really familiar with this site but we got a good deal on a PS4 to play GT Sport on so give it a shot.