BMW E30 M3 by Redux 2022 review
What if BMW had developed a CSL version of the E30 M3 Evo – lighter, more powerful, even more effective? That’s the question that Redux set out to answer with its reimagined M3. We drive it
As he leaps from the balcony and grabs the rope, time slows down and you see the effortlessly graceful swing of a hand down to a sidearm. Time speeds up again and the arc of our hero’s fall positions him perfectly to fire the single shot required to do the job. An immaculate, feline landing on the ground and a cheeky wink at a stunned passer-by – or maybe at the audience, depending on how the director feels about breaking the fourth wall. The world has been saved from another megalomaniac/alien/dinosaur (delete as appropriate). Lights up, leave the cinema.
Months later you’re walking through Leicester Square in London and see that someone has unfurled the crimson Axminster outside the Odeon. You wander over and manage to look through the crowd just in time to see the flashes go off as the leaping, world-saving hero from the silver screen steps carefully out of the back of an Audi A8 and gives a little wave to those waiting. Oh.
He’s a lot shorter in real life. In fact he’s shorter than you are. Probably would have been fine with the standard rather than long-wheelbase A8. Could he really have floored that massive miscreant with a single punch? You’re about to walk away, disappointed at his reduced real-life physicality… but you don’t. You stay. Something keeps you standing and staring. An aura, a magnetism of personality and demeanour that demands your attention every bit as strongly as the superhero stature you were expecting.
And so it is with the E30 M3. You approach the iconic BMW for the first time with your mind’s eye full of Snijers sliding round switchbacks and Ravaglia bounding over kerbs. Black lines being painted by back wheels that are doing the steering as much as the front.
But then you drive the homologation special and within a few corners you realise that the road car is something rather different. A disappointment? Initially, maybe. But only measured against unrealistic expectations. Cast those presumptions aside and you find the surprisingly slow steering is still fabulous. The balance is beguiling but your focus is on the front. The car is magnificent… but not in the ways you were expecting.
Then there is the BMW E30 M3 by Redux, which is much more like watching a dinner jacket and bow-tie tuck-and-roll out of the back of the A8, thump a thief and then enter the cinema via the roof. Suspension fully loaded in the middle portion of Bedford Autodrome’s Beckham Esses, I can feel the inside front just hanging in the air, the whole car torqued up, rear tyres poised. A bit of throttle instigates a small slide just to tighten the radius, then it’s back the other way with the S14 straight-four barking and the rear slipping a little all the way through the long left. DTM dreaming.
BMW’s E30 feels like a natural candidate to join the restomod crew, but what makes this slightly different to all the Porsche ones is that this takes the best as its base. Where the most basic variant of a 964 can be transformed by Singer or Theon, the 30 cars that Redux wants to produce will all be modified M3s, not transformed 318s. I can sense the sharp intakes of breath, so here are a couple of things that might mollify. For a start, there were almost 18,000 E30 M3s built, and Redux only plans on remastering 30 of them, so it’s not going to draw the well dry. Then there is the fact that this really is a sympathetic enhancement of the M3 rather than a wholesale reinvention. It’s been done with huge knowledge of and respect for the history of the car, to the extent that you could easily mistake it for an original at first glance.
The main man behind the project is Simon Lord and he’s worked with Retropower (who you might recognise as the outfit entrusted to build Gordon Murray’s Escort Mk1 – see evo 267) to bring his ideas to life. Like several others in the restomod business, Lord has an almost obsessive eye for detail. Take the bootlid, for example; on the original it doesn’t really fit very well. It’s not a prop forward in a scrum half’s shirt, but once you’ve noticed the way it wraps round the tail with a wholly inconsistent gap to the body and then tapers to a slightly early stop, you can’t help thinking it looks like the mock-up made it to production. On the Redux version, that has been fixed.
Of course there are also wider arches, lower sills and a deeper chin, all manufactured from carbonfibre, just like the new bootlid, bonnet and, optionally, roof and doors. The ear-like mirrors look as though they might be from an E36, but are actually carbon copies of the ones fitted to the last of the early ’90s E30 DTM cars. Talking of which, the Cinel rims are a flat-faced interpretation of the BBS alloys on the DTM cars. At 18 inches in diameter, some might argue that they are an inch or two too big for an E30. A touch too mod perhaps. But the reason a Sport Evo had 10mm larger arches than earlier E30 M3s was specifically to allow room for the 18-inch rims allowed in DTM.
Other touches don’t have such historic significance. Put your hand on the rectangular flap of the door handle and you will feel three dots. These are mirrored on the inside, and in fact the more you look around the car the more you will see these trinities of Redux-wrought pimples and dimples. And if you add up the threes then you will soon start to make groups of thirty. Inspect the leather of the retrimmed seats and you will see perforations in the pattern of the Redux logo. Yes, thirty little holes for each logo. Three and thirty are all over this E30 M3. And now is probably a good time to mention the price for the conversion… £330k.
At this point you are probably expecting me to tell you that there is a 3-litre engine under the bonnet, but sense has prevailed and it’s a 2.5-litre version of the E30’s naturally aspirated S14 four-cylinder. It has a carbon airbox, Jenvey ITBs, a custom billet aluminium valve cover, a BMW Motorsport crank, a hand-crafted stainless steel exhaust from BTB and a MoTec ECU. As options you can have a full billet aluminium engine block and/or an Inconel exhaust system.
The end result is 300bhp, 205lb ft of torque and an 8000rpm red line. Those figures are 65bhp and 28lb ft up on the identical capacity engine in a Sport Evo. Redux has retained the dog-leg Getrag five-speed gearbox but with close-ratio gears, a lightweight flywheel and a single-plate clutch leading to a Gripper limited-slip diff. There is also an interesting addition to the top of the gearlever in the dimpled sphere of a BMW Motorsport gearknob. It’s nicely tactile to use, with a rubbery texture, but you will spend a lot of time telling people that you haven’t pinched it from a Golf GTI.
Talking of tactile, the rest of the interior looks fairly normal, but there are plenty of previously plastic parts that have been machined from billet aluminium. On a cold day it is fairly obvious which parts as soon as you touch them. There is also a nice little MoTec LCD display in the headlining where the original had a check control panel.
Twist the key and the engine comes to life with a metallic motorsport rattle. Across and back for first but with a noticeably tighter action than in a standard car. The new clutch and flywheel mean a little attention is required in order to pull away smoothly but you don’t give them a second thought once you’re rolling, you just revel in the glorious sound from the S14 engine. It has an almost feral growl low down that builds to a rasping top end as you pile on the revs. At times the induction noise feels like it is speaking the same slightly gargled dialect as a McLaren F1, which is perhaps not surprising when you consider they share a parent in Paul Rosche.
What’s lovely is that much as the exterior has stayed very faithful to its foundations, so the messages coming back through the steering and seat are familiar. There are new aluminium hub carriers, cross members, anti-roll bars, bump steer and roll centre spacers, rear trailing arms and bushes, yet as soon as you turn into the first corner you recognise the slight slowness of the initial response to the three-spoke wheel. This car has also been set up so that the springs and Bilstein Group A dampers have a road-friendly softness and that means there’s still a nice bit of roll. For all its modernisation it still feels like a classic, just as a restomod should.
The Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres provide an appropriate amount of grip too, especially given that the temperature of the tarmac today would have the balls of a brass monkey trembling. Incidentally, we’re not driving the car on road because it is due to be registered in another country upon delivery to its eventual owner. Driving it at Bedford also means we get to explore all of the handling…
Later M3s from the E46 onwards will oversteer for Bavaria, happily sitting into big angles and easily maintaining them until the canvas is revealed on the rear tyres. This one certainly has the power to indulge in such angled antics but it’s not where it’s happiest.
Brake, shift-blip and bleed off a touch more speed than usual. Turn into the open hairpin of Bank at the far end of the West Circuit, give the E30 a big slug of throttle and the rear swings round willingly. There is plenty of tenacity at the rear though, so you need to continue the aggressive work with the right-hand pedal. Keep piling on the power, keep overwhelming the inherent grip. From the outside, all looks well at this point: lots of lock, fabulous sound, smiles all round. You’ll be having some fun behind the wheel, too, but there is also a slight feeling of unease. A tenseness in the forearms and an awareness that the steering has gained a lot of weight; you’re not finessing the slip angle, you are bullying it. Recovering the slide cleanly requires plenty of timing and effort if you don’t want things to get very scrappy indeed as the rear regains grip rapidly and the lock needs unwinding quickly.
Far better to keep the slip angles small. The car still slides, but in a much more balanced way. It’s sublimely subtle, just like the original. But with more power and quicker reactions the whole car can be teased and tweaked with greater precision and alacrity than even a Sport Evo. In the original you tend to merely massage the grip through a corner, adjusting the line on a macro level. You dictate most of the attitude with the speed you chose to turn into a bend with. Get it right and you almost float up to and past an apex, playing with the throttle and steering minutely to keep everything on line. Little suggestions and inflections in the conversation. With this Redux version you have more options at your disposal mid-corner. There’s a more robust debate.
I love the fact that the sensation of the tail reacting on turn-in has been heightened, the whole car pivoting almost as a lively front-wheel-drive chassis would. Carry too much speed and you can obviously overwhelm the front tyres, but everything is so well telegraphed that you only tend to do that once. It’s easy to find and then work to the car’s limits of adhesion, tailoring your approach to the corner in question. You can throw it around or get into a flow of more nuanced movements.
Big AP Racing brakes and only 1150kg to bring to a halt mean that stopping power is never an issue. You can spec carbon-ceramics if you want, just as you could fit Cup 2s, but for some reason I think that might be taking things too far. The overall ethos behind this Redux restomod is for it to be a CSL version of the E30 M3. A creation that, for all its carbonfibre and billet aluminium, isn’t a million miles from what might have been done in period. So you don’t want to go over the top.
If you were curating a garage full of restomods, then I think this E30 M3 ‘enhanced and evolved’ by Redux would be very worthy of inclusion. I like that it’s a little bit more modern in style than most of the other restomods out there too. Its square edges would contrast nicely with the softer lines of a 911 or E-type.
However, once Simon Lord has sold all of the 30 that he plans to build, I hope he perhaps goes down the route of another company building restomods with four-cylinder engines – Alfaholics. I’m not suggesting he should turn his attention to Italian cars, merely that he should offer upgrades, just as the Somerset company does, so that lesser E30s could be enhanced and evolved by those of us with less in the way of funds. Take all that he has learned with this project and offer it more piecemeal. I like the idea of adding a little bit of M3 into something that isn’t. A restomod 318is or 325i, for example. After all, even if you’re definitely not the real deal, black tie always makes you feel a little bit like you can act the hero.
BMW E30 M3 by Redux specs
|Engine||In-line 4-cyl, 2.5 litres|
|Price||£330,000 (plus donor car)|
This story was first featured in evo issue 295.