The road’s surface channels straight through the Alcantara wheel as I attack a series of fast, off-camber corners. I’m doing my best Ravaglia-style wheelmanship in a stealthy black Japan Evolution M3 on Hong Kong’s Repulse Bay Road. This scenic highway overlooking the South China Sea is a curvaceous ribbon of pavement that winds up, down and along the southernmost peninsula of Hong Kong island—essentially the Chinese Rivera.
The bark of a proper motorsport soundtrack fills the cabin as I complete a full-throttle upshift from Third to Fourth gear, feeling the engine coming on cam twice, first at 4800 rpm, then bang! again at 6000 rpm, powering onward to the 6750-rpm redline. Still, the four-cylinder’s sound is overshadowed somewhat by the primal scream emanating from the gray E46 M3 CSL on my tail. The E46 is itself being chased by a red E36 M3 Evolution, and together they serve as my motivation to press on with conviction.
Peeling down a rock-lined pass, the E30 feels securely planted as I continue the attack, the chassis allowing me to gain confidence, and with it, speed. The ride is firm but perfectly acceptable—this go-kart can still slide when provoked but regains posture fluidly. Like all E30 M3s, it was designed to do one thing and one thing only: win races.
With a comparably small production of 19,576 units produced versus 85,440 units for the E46 M3 and a “projected” 100,000 for the E90 and E92, the original is revered within collector circles. Particularly the rare special editions. There were no less than eight “series” (more than one example produced), or special editions. Three were specific homologation models: Evolution I, Evolution II and Sport Evolution. These were joined by an additional five limited editions.
Among the rarest and most desirable are the elusive Japan Evolution cars—consisting of merely two cars, and the only ones produced in right-hand-drive. These were never officially announced or put into a catalog by BMW; they were supplied to preferred customers. Because both examples resided in private collections in Japan until early this year, very little was known about them.
The story of the Japan Evolution begins with being at the right place at the right time. By chance, Mr. M. Mori, a Japanese BMW customer, visited BMW M’s facility in Garching during the summer of 1988. Tucked away in a corner of the workshop among various competition cars, he spotted a bespoke yellow M3 convertible that featured bright-red leather upholstery and… right-hand drive.
The technicians explained that it was a one-off commissioned by the Brunei royal family. The car was experiencing production delays due to the fact that many of the bespoke materials (woods, leathers and options) specified were still undergoing M division’s rigorous testing regime.
Upon returning to Japan, Mori contacted a friend and fellow BMW enthusiast Mr. Y (who prefers to remain anonymous), who personally knew BMW M Managing Director Adolf Prommesberger, to inquire if it was possible to commission a small batch of RHD cars for “traditionalist” Japanese customers. (While it is legal to drive both LHD and RHD in Japan, traditionalists maintain a preference for RHD cars.)
The timing was perfect as Prommesberger was in the process of proposing a new bespoke car customization business concept to the BMW board. Prommesberger proposed two Japan Evolutions based on the then-current Evolution II. This would allow BMW management time to evaluate a business case of further developing the E30 into a factory RHD offering. Unable to manufacture such a small run at the main production line, BMW supplied them in conjunction with the M division.
The conversion from LHD to RHD was straightforward, as the principal mechanical work required the fitment of a modified right-hand-drive rack-and-pinion steering rack from the 325i, along with RHD pedals and dashboard—all easily sourced from the parts bins. Otherwise the cars retained standard M3 mechanisms, although bespoke sport exhausts were fitted to both.