Leith Wain's E30 M3 V10
In this business, the Frankenstein moniker gets more than its fair share of play. Anyone who's ever stitched metal from a long-dead car into their own project can't help but draw a parallel to the mad doctor and his creation. But when Mary Shelly published Frankenstein in 1818, the novel's monster wasn't created from Dr. Frankenstein's graveyard collection. Instead, the creature was more of a golem-painstakingly sculpted into existence from inanimate material out of love and a longing for what could have been. And that difference is exactly what makes Leith Wain's E30 M3 a fitting heir to the Frankenstein name.
Anyone can plop a huge motor into a little chassis, but you see, this car doesn't quite fit that bill. Far from some junkyard hack job, it's closer to what a V10 E30 M3 would look like if it had rolled out of BMW's factory today. The difference in craftsmanship is evident everywhere, and it's down to the staggering level of detail in each and every nook and cranny. For example, here's one you haven't heard before: The crew swiped the front and rear subframes from an E90 3 Series to take advantage of the current M3's suspension geometry. And as you might guess, it wasn't exactly a bolt-up affair. So now's as good a time as any to introduce the man behind the monster, Mitch Piper. He pioneers such crazy ideas as making E90 subframes talk to E30 chassis, and then-unlike the rest of us-actually makes them happen in his fabrication shop in Manassas, Va. For the record, the aforementioned subframe mating took the complete removal and reconstruction of the E30 frame rails, but peeking under the finished car on the lift is akin to automotive pornography.
Once the subframes were mocked up on chassis jig, the real work began. Piper had to completely cut away the rear of the car in order to build new shock towers, frame rails, spring mounts, and wheel tubs. An inspection of the many intricate welds necessary to put it all back together reveals precision to rival BMW's army of welder bots.
But the chassis itself was a small part of the big picture. Many hours went into fitting sheet metal around the car's new beating heart, a brand-new S85 V10 sourced straight from BMW. In stock form, the heavy breathing 5.0-liter kicks out 507 hp and 384 lb-ft of torque. That's nearly 300 horsepower and six cylinders more than the E30 M3's stock 2.3-liter provided. The team decided to bolt the M5's silky six-speed manual gearbox behind that lump of aluminum glory, but snugging that expanse of drivetrain into a space built for a four-cylinder involved significant fabrication.
The crew quickly realized their new front subframe wasn't willing to cooperate with the M5 mill. To fix the problem, Piper completely reconstructed the part, along with the firewall and transmission tunnel. After everything was mocked in place, the team constructed, fitted, and installed new sheet metal for all the missing pieces. They even constructed custom intake manifolds. How did everything fit together when they were done? According to Piper, the very tops of the cylinder heads now sit just below the top of the wheel line, and the weight distribution is an amazing 52/48. How's that for a center of gravity? Once everything was in place, Piper sewed in a custom stainless steel dual exhaust, which peeks menacingly out of carbon pockets in a custom rear valence.
With the tub stripped down to bare metal and in pieces, Piper Motorsport found itself in a unique position as far as the roll cage was concerned. Instead of leaving bare tube throughout the cabin, the team decided to integrate tubing into the car's chassis. No matter how close you look, it's nearly impossible to pick the cage out from the interior. The team cut and sectioned both the A and B pillars, inserted the cage tubing, and stitched it all back together. The same went for the rocker panels, though they swapped the tubing for substantial box steel, thereby tying the front and rear halves of the cage together. Instead of seeing a jungle gym of tube and welds inside, the only visible portions of the cage are the rear "X" bar and the harness bar. It's the perfect combination of functionality and safety for which so many street cars reach and so few achieve.
From here, Piper Motorsport worked closely with another guru-Neel Vasavada of Apex Speed Technology in California. Like Piper, Vasavada is the kind of guy you only call when you're really ready to get serious. And just like the rest of the car, the electronics go well beyond the bare minimum. AST decided to go with a Pectel SQ6M12 engine management system, and the result is a rash of technology you wouldn't expect to find anywhere near an E30 M3.
For starters, there's an advanced traction control system with four settings. The very bottom is Off, which Vasavada says "smokes the tires from first through fourth on dry pavement. Fun for burnouts." Things get more civil from that point. Setting Two limits slip to about 20 percent, and is great for drifting, allowing a greater level of fine control than no traction control at all. Map Three is designed for street driving. The goal is to optimize forward acceleration. If that sometimes means minute wheelspin, it's allowed. Finally, setting Four is for slippery conditions, and thus is the most conservative, reigning in any slip in a hurry.
Even if you're still sitting there thinking, "So what, my car has traction control," we'll quote Vasavada again: "The traction control system can factor in throttle position, speed, gear, rpm, lateral acceleration, steering angle, and even suspension travel. It is capable of limiting slip via cylinder cuts, ignition retard, closing the throttle, or any combination of the three. It's also fully integrated with the ABS system, so it does have stability control. However, it is much more sport oriented than you'll find in any street car, and I've designed it so you can partially override the system with a heavy enough right foot."
Perhaps even cooler, though, you can pair your traction control settings with engine mapping settings. Map One is designed for everyday driving. Throttle sensitivity is gentle, but as Vasavada puts it, "If you romp on it, it gets up and goes!" Good for traffic, and good gas mileage, too. Setting Two is designed for canyon carving and track work, with a more aggressive throttle and richer fuel mixtures. Map Three: linear throttle. Read: If e-throttles were never for you anyway. Last, map Four, what Vasavada jokingly calls the stock E30 mode, but you can call it valet mode. It's very easy to drive and is good for about 200 hp, with the throttle bodies never opening more than 30 percent.
Aside from traction control, AST also fitted the car with a number of engine controls, including variable cam adjustments for all four cams and full electronic throttle control for both sides of the mighty V10. Speaking of the throne of power, AST fitted the car with a Digital Pi OMEGA dashboard. This allows the driver to thumb through a number of pages with vital information on the car's performance and function.
So it's clear that the critical controls work incredibly effectively, but the devil is in the details. Some examples we found to be exceptionally cool:
-Turn signals turn themselves off if left on for a preset time.
-When you push the starter button, the lights, radio, blower motor, etc are turned off to maximize starting current.
-A "flash to pass" function on the headlights.
-If the battery voltage drops below 12V, the system progressively shuts down non-critical systems to maximize run time. Everything will run down to 10.5V, when all that's powered is the engine, ABS, headlights, and taillights.
-Courtesy lights stay on for 30 seconds when doors are closed but shut off immediately if you turn on the headlights, although there's a manual interior lights override.
-All circuit protection is self-resetting and there's a warning light to tell you if anything is wrong.
With the car's bones and vitals in place, it became clear the E30's new track wasn't going to fit beneath the old sheet metal. To fix the problem, Piper gently flared the car's front and rear fenders, and unless you see E30s in your sleep at night, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference from a stock M3. After the bodywork was finished, the crew shipped the car off for paint at Old School Enterprises.
When it was all done, we promptly flew to Piper Motorsports to take it for a spin. Open the door, swing into the bucket seat, and the first thing you notice is that the interior looks just like that of an O.E. car. There's little to give away that the E30 is anything other than a well-built factory special.
Vasavada sits with laptop in hand in the passenger seat, trying to make me understand the sheer capability of the gaggle of electronics under the dashboard as I buckle in. Lucky for me, it's all been condensed into the above two convenient dials, located in the center console. And we're playing with the most important one first, traction control. This is not important because I'm itching to be some kind of parking lot bad-ass, mind you. The truth is, I'm apprehensive-the car only weighs 2,958 pounds wet, and I don't want to accidentally slide someone's quarter-million-dollar childhood dream into a concrete barrier. To my utter shock, the car couldn't be easier to slip into gear and ease out of the parking space. The power steering (also E90, if you were curious) is light and communicative. No big biceps necessary here either.
The interesting-but-obvious realization you have when driving around town is that despite all of the media criticism that the M5 V10 received for being detrimentally high-revving is completely out of the window in a lighter car. You can start the M3 from a standstill as easily in fourth gear as in first, and it pulls like a freight train all the way to 8250 rpm. And when the quad exhaust sends the sounds of a ten-pipe organ into the cockpit through it all, it's impossible to maintain composure or avoid eliciting a madman cackle. There's a lot of power on tap, but the throttle is easy to modulate, and the chassis is so cable-tight that even if your foot does get heavy for a moment, it's a joke to recover.
Around the Piper Motorsport garage, the V10 E30 M3 is lovingly referred to as the Franken M3. We have to think the car is exactly what would have happened if Dr. Frankenstein had been successful in his quest for creation-something stronger, safer and more beautiful than the Bavarian car gods themselves could have built. A monster to be sure. An expletive-inducing heathen culled from the very best of BMW's past, but executed in such refined detail as to be an evolution of what the M3 could have been.
Note: Since we drove the car, it's received a Dinan 5.7-liter stroker kit, bumping horsepower to 628. Check out pipermotorsport.com for the details.
1989 BMW M3
Custom heater core and blower motor, custom tubbed rear - all new sheet metal, completely removed and reconstructed frame rails, integrated roll cage (bars inserted inside A and B pillars, and routed to four shock towers), reconstructed firewall, E90 throttle pedal in stock location, E90 steering rack, custom steering column
Peak Power: 628 hp @ 6800 rpm
Peak Torque: 517 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
5.7-liter V10, dohc, 40-valve.
Dinan 5.7-liter stroker kit, custom aluminum intake manifold and intakes, custom 2.5-inch exhaust, Pectel SQM-6 ECU, OBR power control unit
E90 BMW subframes and suspension arms, custom upper and Rogue Engineering lower links, E90 Moton Club Sport coilovers, Turner Motorsport anti-roll bars, E92 BMW Motorsport front bushings, custom relocated rear and raised front shock towers (2")
Brembo Gran Turismo six piston calipers with 355mm rotors (f), four-piston calipers with 330mm rotors (r), dual master cylinders
Wheels & Tires
Fikse alloys, 7.5x18 (f), 9.5x18 (r)
Yokohama Advan Sport, 225/40 (f), 265/35R18
SGI rear spoiler, OEM fenders flared 1.5 inches, custom sideskirts, custom hood