As the supply dwindles, I’ve been spending time looking at various clean, mostly original E30s. Today, however, we have a 1991 325i that has received the business under the hood, namely an S52 swap from an E36 M3 plus an Active Autowerk supercharger. That heady combination puts out 357 horsepower at the wheels and 411bhp at the crank, plenty to make this 2800-pound coupe punch well above its weight class. The mechanical build is too plentiful and thorough to fully recount here, but it has Raceland coilovers, Stoptech brakes, and just about all the bushings, mounts, and miscellaneous performance parts you can stuff under an E30 to help handle 250% of its original power. The interior looks ready to rumble too with black suede Recaros and NRG wheel and some other subtle racy bits, but this car is about go, not show. The exterior has a little clear coat peel and dents but the deeper front lip and M3-esque Zender spoiler should distract any passerby. It all adds up to a package that looks pretty standard-modded-E30 good but will smoke just about any non-exotic on the road.
Following in yesterday’s rough-but-affordable Vanagon Syncro footsteps, we have an interesting DIY-Syncro Camper with a no-reserve auction. It started as a tinop Vanagon GL Syncro but has experienced many surgeries – cosmetic, mechanical, electrical – to make it a much more versatile and reliable van. The Subaru 2.2 is good for speed, the hightop is nice for headroom (there’s no bed in this one) and the Westy kitchen is a huge camping bonus, but what really catches my eye is all of the little aftermarket touches the seller has installed to make this van much less of a headache down the road. GoWesty relays, circuit boards, stainless lines and coolant pipes… these are details that increase confidence that this is a solid Vanagon bet. There are also plenty of less-consequential but still cool pieces coming with it, like insulated curtains, van shower, bike racks, awning, and good-looking Audi 5000 wheels. It shows some exterior blemishes, but nothing bad; they’re like an old climber’s sunspots on his nose and cheeks. This thing was built for adventure and reconstructed for even bigger ones.
I’ve been daydreaming about the lightweight tossable treat known as the 318is a lot recently, fueled by a couple of nice examples that didn’t end up selling on eBay. While those were higher-mileage, driver-quality baby E30s that retained their M42 four-cylinder, this beautiful Brilliantrot example has the swap most E30 owners dream about with an E36 M3’s silky S52 3.2-liter inline-6 shoehorned into the earlier chassis. This one’s running gear has been tweaked all around to supplement the extra 110bhp with coilovers, 3.25 LSD, brakes from both the E36 and E30 M3s, etc. We don’t get any pictures of the inside, but it sounds nice with aggressive Recaros and other racy touches. Small OEM+ touches spice up the rare slicktop exterior, most notably some almost-too-big but always sexy 17″ Style 5s. The main flag is previous collision damage, but all panels were professionally replaced with OEM parts. All in all, it sounds like a well-sorted little rocket.
What constitutes an ///M car? That’s a pretty confusing question these days as an M760Li is announced, ready to pile on to with decidedly non-Motorsport badge bunnies like the X4 M40i to rake up premium profits. If those cars can be ///Mified, then this E30 would certainly qualify as an M318is. Or M330is rather, as it now sports the early E36 M3s’ S50B30. The only mileage listed is 140k, perhaps the engine and chassis covered similar distances before they were joined. Said original chassis, body, and interior look pretty decent, with some paint issues and a little wear on the seats. Those will be forgiven as the E30 relishes in its newfound 240hp glory in the hills. It would probably make a great cruiser too, if not for the low gearing that makes it do 4k RPM at 70mph. Overall it’s a pretty tidy E30 package as they experience never before seen levels of demand.
I don’t write up Porsches that much on the site, though not for a lack of admiration. I just don’t have the history of knowledge that I do with Audi/VW and BMW. Yet one of my weirder first car stories was when I tried to buy a $900 Porsche 914 off a message board in 1998 (craigslist didn’t even have that name at that point), when I was in 8th grade. My mom heard me on the phone and after I hung up was asking me what the hell was going on. It was innocent enough, a pipe dream that I could earn enough money to get a funky little German gokart and work on it myself.
The gokart idea still appeals to me, and daydreams of Elises, Superformance 818s, and 914s still dance around in my head every once in a while. This example is much more than the plaything I’m looking for; it’s the 914 for Porschephiles. No Subaru or LS upgrade here making it a silly toy, but a 3.6-liter flat-6 straight out of a 964. It started as a low-mileage, one-owner 914 that was pretty much rebuilt from the ground up to contain the improved power, resulting in a car that looks like a showroom-perfect beacon of the VW/Porsche gokart project but goes like a scalded cat that got surprised by a cucumber. They included a nice, brief, drone-shot video that gives a great sense of the sound and drama that this orange machine can produce. The build was essentially cost-is-no-object, and the price is accordingly many times more than a standard 914.
Here’s a delicious little E30 package. It looks perfectly stock right down to the 14-inch basketweaves, and the engine swap even shares the original displacement. Yet instead of the M20B25 it came with, it’s now the M50B25TU – the first update for the 2.5-liter inline-6s available in the E34 525i and E36 325i in the mid-90s. The addition of VANOS improved low-end torque, and even without a power bump it’s still producing E30 M3 levels of power. It may not be the racy swap we’re used to seeing in E30s, but in some ways that’s what makes it perfect. The car will maintain its standard composure, driving dynamics, and low-key appearance while providing plenty of power to keep up with modern cars and breed smiles like rabbits in the hills.
In the past, I’ve used the Friday Fail to examine some pretty awful ads and terrible aesthetic choices. With today’s column, however, I’d like to put it to our readers to decide if this is a full-on fail, or if there is some merit to this Jetta. I happen to really dig the 2-door Jettas as both Mk1s and Mk2s, cutting a similar cropped 3-box style to the E30 coupes (compare these to their four-door brethren and then try to wrap your field of vision around a 4-series… who’s failing now?) This one has some choice Dublover retrofits like a VR6, outstanding Porsche D90 wheels, and a clean Trophy interior. The body modifications, however, are where the fail starts to seep in. I don’t hate how the Mk2 Big Bumpers look on it, or rather how they could look on it if fully modified to fit, but their slight sag makes my linear-loving brain blow gaskets. The rear bumper is the worst, which brings us to the next fail: if you’re going to give such great detail about what you’ve added to the car, CAN’T YOU TAKE MORE THAN TWO PICTURES?! At least SHOW us how that saggy butt really looks so we can start to picture how to fix it.
$6,500 isn’t bad for a mostly cool-looking Jetta Coupe with a VR6 and Porsche wheels. But having two pictures is the domain of $850 OBO “NEDS WRK AC BROKN” eBay specials. So, is it a big Fail this Friday, or just in need of a serious in-person investigation?
I’m typically more of an OEM+ swap fan rather than getting near the fiery debate of what constitutes blasphemy. Carter’s documented some great V8 to M3 swaps and noted that it’s a pretty outstanding dollar-to-horsepower option. Even after the seller here spent $60k on parts, a lot of that was on tertiary bits – it’d take more money and a lot more effort than that to get an S52 pushing these nutso numbers. What really draws me to this car is how clean and serious it looks, with subtle modifications on the exterior that create one of the best looking E36s out there. The E46 fender flares look absolutely perfect, and the massive Apex knock-off BBS RCs look great in black and complement the space gray perfectly. And no wing! I want every E36 to look like this, and a sedan would be even better, but who really cares? Unless it’s parked, no one’s going to see this thing for more than a second as it rips by leaving scared children, heated women, and confused Bimmer fans in its wake.
Here’s one of the best deals on a Syncro camper we’ve seen in a while (if not ever!) and it comes with a well-done Subaru boxer swap. These High Top campers are much more rare than their pop-top brethren, but it’s a pretty awesome look with more 4-season capability. Though listed with 290k miles, the engine was put in 20k miles ago and had a decent refresh at the time along with a rebuilt transmission. Clearly owned by a well-informed and diligent Vanagon enthusiast, this Syncro camper is going for about half of where most start. It’s caveat emptor with any swap, high-mileage car, or 80s Volkswagen in general, but anyone looking at this van should have a healthy level of project-excitement and an appreciation of getting this much Vanagon for a reasonable price.
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