Home » Why This 1990 BMW E30 For $17,000 On Bring-A-Trailer Was Actually The Deal Of The Century

Why This 1990 BMW E30 For $17,000 On Bring-A-Trailer Was Actually The Deal Of The Century

Bmw E30 Racecar Steal Ts
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Over the past couple of years, auction sites like Bring-A-Trailer and Cars & Bids have been the source of some wild transactions. The COVID-era boom has cooled off quite a bit over the past year or so, but these sites’ reputations still persist: If you want to overpay on seemingly anything, look no further.

Not everything, though. In fact, there are real deals to be had if you keep an eye out, which is exactly what SoCal track enthusiast Gianni Ferrara found out half a year ago when he picked up a four-door 1990 BMW 325i for a song at around $17,000.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

Wait, a song? you might be thinking, as this sounds like just another brutally inflated BaT transaction at first glance. Rest assured, it ain’t. Thanks to possessing an engine from an E46 BMW M3 under the hood, plus a laundry list of other top-notch (and expensive) modifications, it’s actually the deal of the century in BMW track cars. Here’s why.

S54 BMW E30 325i
Cali Photography

Keeping an Eye Out

“I didn’t know the owner beforehand, but I knew a local who would occasionally drive and represent the car,” the Long Beach-based enthusiast explained to me via email. Ferrara’s a Service Manager at EF1 Motorsports in Signal Hill, California, and has had a had a few cool BMWs over the years, including a blue E36 M3 sedan that he’s tracked regularly for some time now. He competes in Speed Ventures’ CSF Bimmer Challenge, by the way, a SoCal-based time attack series that yours truly competes in as well.

“About a year and half ago, he posted it for the owner listing it for $28,000, then $25,000. It interested me, but was way out of my budget.” Then, six months ago it dropped down to $22,000 which definitely piqued his interest, but was ultimately still a little too rich for his blood. Especially considering he had his E36 that he was having plenty of fun with.

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Not long after that price drop, while perusing BaT on Monday morning, “lo and behold: The S54 E30 had three hours left and was floating around $15,000. Those two hours of bidding were definitely quite exhilarating.” $15K was over 10 grand less than its original listing, and put the E30 squarely in the middle of Deal Territory due to the sum of its parts.

Ferrara won it, and after settling a few issues with the seller, he ended up paying closer to $16,500 after fees. Not bad at all.

S54-powered BMW E30 325i
Gianni Ferrara

The Build

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Image: Bring a Trailer

“It’s the perfect homologation of all the great drivers-era BMWs I love, and fills the void of not having a S54 in the stable,” Ferrara explains of why he digs his well-bought old 3er so much. “I love the raw nature of this E30, and it’s now become the super light track car, while the E36 is becoming a more comfortable street car for canyons and cruising.”

For those who aren’t familiar or get downright confused by BMW engine codes, the S54 is a legendary monster of an inline-six. Independent throttle bodies, a high compression ratio, and 3.2 liters of displacement combine to give it 333 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. There are plenty of ways to bump those figures a bit, too.

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Considering the four-door E30 325i weighed around 2,800 pounds when new, this thing’s got a very appealing power-to-weight ratio as well. Though, it definitely isn’t at stock weight. It sports a carbon fiber hood, aftermarket two-way adjustable AST/Moton coilovers with remote reservoirs, fixed back racing seats up front, less of an interior elsewhere (though he threw factory rear seats back in to look a little more sleeper sitting in the paddock), a racing exhaust system, and lightweight 17 inch wheels. For added tire clearance, the fenders have been cut and flares fitted.

The engine is largely stock besides the exhaust system and Fabspeed Motorsports headers, but that just ensures better longterm track reliability.

Screen Shot 2024 04 28 At 9.42.27 Am
Image: Bring a Trailer

“I definitely learned with my E36 that the best way to save money with race cars is buying one already built. While it is a gamble, this one definitely ended up in my favor with the chassis being solid and previously completely gone through by JMP Autowerks.”

Bmw E30 Gianni

“Most shops are charging $20,000+ to transplant an S54 into an E30, which is just to get it in and running,” Ferrara explained. “Not accounting for front and rear subframe reinforcements being welded in, which is almost a requirement with a swap of this nature.” The damper package is over $5,000 retail, it’s got a high-end OS Giken limited-slip differential out back, and every bushing’s been upgraded to stiffer fare from AKG Motorsports. All of that means big money in parts and additional labor. “Someone is easily going to spend $40-50,000, not including the price of the chassis, to build something similar to this.”

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S54-powered E30 BMW 325i on track
A dusty, dirt-filled off is a right of passage for any new platform. Cali Photography

Future Plans

Since picking up the sprightlier-than-stock E30, Ferrara’s been putting in hours getting the setup down and making it into a proper weapon. I’ve actually had a front seat to this, as him and I often run the same sessions on track. Let me tell you, it’s been quite entertaining following behind and watching him fight off some pretty gnarly corner-entry and -exit oversteer—a testament to his solid driving skills.

“I’m definitely excited, and look forward to doing more fine-tuning of all the aftermarket suspension. I am sure adjusting dampers and sway bars could greatly change the handling characteristics, as well as having the differential tuned for larger tracks.”

Gianni2
Gianni Ferrara

He’d also like to integrate more technology from the E46 M3: “The big modification I’d like to do is adding MK60 ABS from the E46 M3. It’s a motorsports-quality ABS system that can be finely tuned, but involves adding a ABS computer, wiring harness, speed sensors to all four corners, and a steering angle sensor.” This would be a tremendous undertaking and quite expensive—to the tune of several-thousand dollars in parts and labor, even for his employee pricing.

But in the meantime, the car’s run flawlessly over the course of four track days. Besides mounting up fresh 255/40/17 Falken RT660 tires and a comprehensive fluids service, it’s proving to be cheap to stay on top of maintenance.

It was really cool hearing more about this thing, and I look forward to seeing his lap times continue drop as he does more fine-tuning. I’d love to sit shotgun the next time we’re at Buttonwillow Raceway Park, too.

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Wagonsarethebestanswer
Wagonsarethebestanswer
23 days ago

E30’s will always be my favorite BMW’s. Such a great overall package, regardless of model. Don’t understand why anyone would go to the trouble + ex$pen$e to cram an S54 in one; just get an E36. I had a ’90 M3 from 1994-2005. Lightly modded w/a Korman ECU chip, Supersprint ‘secret’ cat-less header-back exhaust & a short shift kit, that car was utterly magical to drive: the faster, the better. And the way it could drift/slide/slither with a blip & a flick felt like a sort of levitation. Wish I still had it, but Life is cruel sometimes. Sold it to my buddy, a BMW mechanic/fanatic, for the same price I paid: $15k. Was a fair deal at the time, but makes me queasy now.. average prices = $75-80k. At least it’s in good hands, stored in Erich’s garage alongside its M5 & M6 brethren.

Noahwayout
Noahwayout
23 days ago

.

Last edited 23 days ago by Noahwayout
Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
23 days ago

I personally would only spend that much on an E30 if was a stock M3. I’ve observed that modded cars like this often seem to need frequent fixing and it has to be done at a custom car shop.

So paying that much for a heavily modded E30? Only worth it to a buyer who wants an E30 modded in the same way. If it’s what you want, it’s way cheaper to buy this than do it yourself.

If I personally wanted a vehicle with an S54, I’ll just buy an E46 M3.

Last edited 23 days ago by Manwich Sandwich
Noahwayout
Noahwayout
23 days ago

I probably haven’t seen a $17k stock e30 M3 for 10-15 years.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
23 days ago
Reply to  Noahwayout

Well I just checked the price of E30 M3s… and yeah, the prices have gone insane. Seems like the minimum price for a decent one is now $100K… An amount I would NEVER spend for one. Would rather have this 1995 M3 with more power for only $30K:
https://classics.autotrader.com/classic-cars/1995/bmw/m3/101825004

Or this 2004 example for only $24K
https://classics.autotrader.com/classic-cars/2004/bmw/m3/100778266

Noahwayout
Noahwayout
23 days ago

Those are all great cars but there’s something really special about an e30 of any spec. I’ve owned a few and they’re just a hoot. If I had $100k for a weekend car, I’d absolutely buy one.

TOSSABL
TOSSABL
23 days ago

An S54 in a lightened chassis should be twitchy-good fun!

Derek van Veen
Derek van Veen
24 days ago

All that work to shoehorn the S54 into the E30, but the builder didn’t:

a) Put in the 6-speed
b) Didn’t convert to 5×120 hubs / wheels
c) Didn’t put more appropriate brake calipers / rotors for the engine

Maybe that’s why it went down to $17k.

ADDvanced
ADDvanced
23 days ago
Reply to  Derek van Veen

4×100 is superior!!!!

Derek van Veen
Derek van Veen
21 days ago
Reply to  ADDvanced

Not if you’re putting down 330hp on the track it isn’t.

Last edited 21 days ago by Derek van Veen
ADDvanced
ADDvanced
21 days ago
Reply to  Derek van Veen

Boosted hondas do just fine

Noahwayout
Noahwayout
23 days ago
Reply to  Derek van Veen

a) Probably doesn’t need a 6 speed for track use.
b) Why, this isn’t a known failure point.
c) Stock brakes on these cares are strong. Good quality track pads are really the only needed upgrade.

Derek van Veen
Derek van Veen
21 days ago
Reply to  Noahwayout

a) Perhaps – depends on the track. For long straights, would be nice.
b) Not at the relatively mild 168hp of the M20B25, but with a 330hp / 260 ft/lbs. S54 on a track, would not be willing to risk it.
c) See above on 330hp – if you have a higher top speed (and you’ve added > 100lbs over the front axle), would be helpful to have bigger calipers / rotors to shed heat)

Last edited 21 days ago by Derek van Veen
Noahwayout
Noahwayout
20 days ago
Reply to  Derek van Veen

a) Getrag 260 is lighter, 150-ish MPH top speed not enough?
b) 4 stock e30 studs have ~18k lbs of clamping force at 80lb-ft. Drift bros do crazier things on 4 bolt 240SXs.
c) Solid discs + race pads + racing brake fluid + brake cooling ducts is fine. This car could benefit from braided brake lines but that’s cheap. Until this guy is turning laps as fast as the fastest Spec e30 folks do on stock brakes its a tough argument to make. Doubtful that this car weighs more than stock with no roll cage, partially stripped interior, smaller tank, etc. And when the time comes, a good BBK isn’t much money.

Derek van Veen
Derek van Veen
19 days ago
Reply to  Noahwayout

Agree to disagree – if you’re already in there doing suspension / subframe, might as well do hubs / brakes at the same time.

Last edited 19 days ago by Derek van Veen
Adam Moore
Adam Moore
24 days ago

I don’t disagree about the overpriced nature of the two big auction sites. Is there a better source for seeing sales or auctions for a variety of makes? Or is the alternative zero-ing in on a particular model and just googling?

Noahwayout
Noahwayout
16 days ago
Reply to  Adam Moore

I actually see a lot of more common cars sell for less on these sites than they are listed for on Marketplace or at dealerships. Everyone thinks their good daily driver e36 M3 is worth $35k on Marketplace and yet they trade hands regularly on Cars and Bids for well under $20k.

Last edited 16 days ago by Noahwayout
Mechjaz
Mechjaz
24 days ago

(Un?) Fortunately, this is what happens to prices when you modify vehicles. You don’t total your parts and labor receipts and tack that on top of the market price. You derive the value you intend from it, for as long as you’re solvent/intent on it, then you sell it for what you can get when you’re done.

It’s a great scoop for the buyer, and I hope the seller had their fun with it, but that $28k was into “no lowballers I know what I got” territory, the frightening and uncharted waters of the insecure chasing the dragons of sunk costs.

Last edited 24 days ago by Mechjaz
Vic Vinegar
Vic Vinegar
24 days ago

Isn’t “you couldn’t build it for that price” often the case for these fairly specialized builds? Especially a track build? They just aren’t that appealing to a lot of people, but very appealing to a few.

Bruce Smith
Bruce Smith
24 days ago

I love the components that make up this car. Too bad it has 2 extra doors. Plus, when you build a track car the first thing is a roll cage and chassis stiffening..

Freelivin2713
Freelivin2713
24 days ago

Wow, what an awesome car and great deal! I could stare at that engine all day

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