An E30tional experience

Thinking back to the day i first drove the E30, i get buried into a heap of memories sprinkled with regular services and the occasional cock-up lining my road back to the past. It’s sometimes hard to remember which part of the car has undergone a form of replacement or repair, and where such work was actually carried out. Perhaps it’s due to my lack of a proper memory or maybe there sometimes seems to be so many little things going wrong at all the wrong times clouding my mind.

I’ve been thinking of penning down my thoughts about the semi-classic car ownership experience but have always stopped short of actually doing so. Totally due to my laziness i suspect. But i have finally decided, enough is enough, it’s time to stop procrastinating. Here’s is a writeup based on the experiences of an E30 driver.

Chapter One
Truth be told, the E30 was never on the shopping list of cars that was meant to replace the household runabout. Right after i got my license, i was doodling around in a 1st generation Kia Sportage, that failure of a car was heavier then a tank and you’d imagine every trip to the petrol station had a buffet spread for the car to devour. That car drank a lot, and handled like a bus.

It was time for a change, a shortlist of cars came up and top of the list was the Mercedes W201 190E, it was a small car, searching through the international forums, it became clear that this car had a strong following. Dreaming of a full WALD styling kit, the search for the right car was on. Weeks went by and not a proper car could be found, most examples had iffy engines or something else that was irritatingly bothersome.

A warm evening whilst surfing through a certain German marque’s forum, i stumbled upon the image of an E30. A beautiful grey 4-door 320i with an M-tech II styling kit with cool deep-dish rims. It looked fantastic. A quick question was posted to pit the 190E up and against the E30. Though answers came in quick, i myself could never make a proper decision. Images of a fully VIP styled 190E still lingered in my head. Have a look though WALD’s Mercedes’ catalogue to have an idea of the cars they create.

Bad impressions of BMWs didn’t help either, my father had an E24 628cs which had the wonderful habit of totally failing in the middle of the road, electronics going haywire at every opportunity. A personal friend of mine also lacked kind words for his E46, with the car inside the workshop more often then on the road, i never really appreciated BMWs much back then. So much so, that i converted that said friend over to the Alfa Romeo marque.

Though, somehow, i kept returning to the forum to look at the grey E30. With the car’s image still fresh in my mind, the search for the next car broadened to include BMW’s box-shaped executive sedan. A show of support from my father’s mechanic with regards to the E30 helped elevate my feelings of disdain with the marque. I guess we can always give the car a chance.

Searching for the right car though, was not easy. Scanning though the papers everyday sometimes proved fruitless as these cars don’t turn up in the papers very often. IF you though the 190Es were hard to find, try looking for a proper E30!

One a lazy sunday morning, my father and i decided to take a short walk at Ubi carmart, just to have a short browse around the dealerships. Nothing really tuned up, so we headed home, couple of minutes later, whilst surfing though the local car-ads online, i chanced upon a light blue 316i. Sure looked okay, car was stock, with 14” original bottlecap rims, looked straight as an arrow in the photographs and had a clean interior. It was located where we were that very morning, how did we ever miss it? Car keys out, got into the driver’s seat and soon enough, we were back at the dealership taking a look at this rather straight example of an E30.

The car was light metallic blue, with original everything. Interior was extremely clean and the back seats looked as if no one had ever sat on them. Steering wheel was a little scratched up along the rim, but for a 15 year old car, she looked mighty fine. There were some small niggles which we’d have to sort out but nothing big.

There was no deal on the car yet though, we took a day to ponder about it, but the next day, we were back at the dealership. The result? I’m sure you all already know.

Initial D’lights

Collecting the vehicle was as fun as it can be, the car felt lively and nippy. The steering wheel had a bit more free-play than i’d like but overall, it was a great car to pot around in. The 1.6 though being a small engine, was more then up to the task of hauling slightly more than 1000kgs worth of car around.

As with cars this age, there will be some thieving problems to settle. The speedometer was faulty, so a replacement one was supplied and installed at the dealer’s expense. Driving the car for the next few days, the air conditioning failed, the dealer again helped us fix it at their own expense. Lucky for us since a brand new compressor would hit our wallets quite significantly.

With lots of time spent polishing and waxing the car during the weekends, the car looked a whole lot better as well. The engine bay in particular received plenty of attention with a full can of engine cleaner being used up in the process. After plenty of persistent washing, polishing and waxing, the car looked spanking.

Shocked and awed
Deciding that the stock car’s suspension system was probably too old and needed replacing, after doing some personal research, i placed an order for brand new Bilstein HD shock-absorbers and Eibach Pro-kit springs. Bilsteins were ordered though Eng-Soon and the Eibachs were coming in from ***********. Total damage for the suspension components? Bilsteins, SGD$630, Eibachs, SGD$451.50, grand total, SGD$1081.50

Waiting for these parts sure took a toll on myself, and i found myself itching for something new to hold onto, a simple number “3” keychain from BMW did the trick.

Soon enough, the parts for the suspension finally arrived and an appointment with *********** was made to install the said parts. Total installation cost came to about SGD$593.25. Though not all of it was just to slot in the new shocks and springs, the worn out front brake pads were changed with pads from Ferodo, shock mountings both front and rear were replaced and all 4 wheels went though computerised alignment. The steering coupling was also changed, drastically reducing the ‘free-play’ steering feel i mentioned earlier.

With the new suspension components in place, the car sure felt different, with the proper lowered stance to match. Because the previous suspension parts were never replaced during their entire lifespan, the addition of new shocks and springs made the car a whole lot livelier to drive and chuck about. It was light, nimble and darted through traffic with ease.

Though decidedly underpowered with it’s puny 1.6litre engine thrown in front, the car’s lightness and even weight distribution kept the smile on my face every time i drove it.

A new lip-job and some skirts
Having been driving the car for a few months now, the time came to slightly give the car a little face lift and to freshen up it’s appearance. Fiberglass bodykits were totally out for me since i hate the sight of any unsightly cracks or scratchlines. The OEM M-Tech II bodykit would have also cost me way too much money for a brand new set and finding a used one in good condition (especially for a 4-door) was impossible. With much research online, the OEM “i.s” front lip and sideskirts were the new additions i decided to put onto the car. With just a slightly deeper front lip and discreet sideskirts, it wouldn’t break the simple lines of the old car.

Going for a proper OEM look, i made an order for the front lip and sideskirts from our friendly parts supplier, Eng Soon. Total cost for those parts came to about SGD$663. Shipping wil be via a slow boat from Germany to save on costs. It would take almost 3 months for the parts to arrive, and what a long slow wait it turned out to be.

Of shoes n dishes

The rims seen on this car was not product of fancy wheel shopping, rather, it was the result of a small accident with the car that accelerated the need for new rims.

A wet, slippery and unfamiliar road coupled with a driver in a hurry driving an oversteer prone E30 can only mean disaster. It was a damp cold night and the road was wet, on an exit off the expressway, a right hand turn onto the main road proved to be my undoing. Due to the rain, slight dips in the road surface were invisible, with the throttle mashed, upon landing onto the broken tarmac, the rear slipped out and the car went into a slide, too much opposite lock too fast caught the first slide but sent it into another slide the opposite direction. Upon another set of correction, the car swung out again the other side, this time, the momentum gained from the first two slides swung the car a full 180 degrees with the rear wheel contacting the kerb. It was a sickening crunch.

Pushing the door open to inspect the damage, the original front lip had literally popped out and the rear, right rim suffered severe dents. The engine was still running though, so i threw the lip into the boot and went off onto a smaller road to inspect the damage. Amazingly, no other parts of the car was dinged and the front lip was easily popped back onto the front bumper. Not really worried about the front lip since i already had my “i.s” lip on order. The rims on the other hand, had no choice but to go. Bye bye 14” wheels.

A call to a local BMW club member who used to drive an E30 (ninja07) was my salvation as he had a stonking set of 17” ROH multipiece rims with stepped dish stored away. One of the most accommodating fellows around. I managed to get a set of rims to replace those broken ones. The ROHs even came with tyres!

The car was promptly sent to *********** the very next day for checks to the undercarriage and drivetrain. After a few hours of checks, a clean bill of health was given and there was absolutely no damage at all the the car. I decided to send the car for another alignment check just to be sure and soon after, it was back on the road.

Driving around after that incident, a slight noise was detected and another appointment was setup with *********** to have the car checked again with us suspecting the rear wheel bearings took a small brunt of the damage during the bump. These parts were already on the way to being replaced due to their old age, but the small incident accelerated the process.

With the car sent in, a multitude of items that needed replacement or fixing came to surface, the rear brakes were due for replacement along with the bearings. Total amount of work amounted to the rear wheel brake cylinder pumps being replaced, the rear brake shoes, the rear brake drums, the rear wheel bearings, putting in new brake fluid and we also requested for the rear boot lid rubber seal to be replaced since it was old and torn. Total damage this time? Close to SGD$890.

Months passed and finally the bodystyling parts arrived! I was ecstatic, i had them sent to the garage for storage and spray painting before finally getting them fitted, though at a significant cost. Paintwork-wise was not as good as i’d hope for the amount of money i paid, but it’ll have to do. I do not have the actual numbers with me for this job though.

Overall, the car looked great, with the fitment of the front lip and sideskirts, the E30 had a more aggressive and purposeful stance, especially when shod with those 17” dished wheels.

Loose change

I share the car with my father on numerous occasions and there was once, whilst he was driving along, the fan belt snapped! Sensing something amiss, the car was driven onto a nearby Shell autoserv garage and lifted up onto a hoist. With the car up, the fan belt was found to be the main cause of the problem and was promptly replaced. An easy SGD$70 worth of parts and work. Nothing to complain about.

As my father used to be a mechanic, whenever the car gets lifted, he does his own personal checks of the car. Scrutinizing the undercarriage turned out something horribly wrong. The bolts that were keeping the rear drive shafts together were never tightened up! With just a few screws hanging loose off their mounting points, it was an accident waiting to happen. The car was sent back to the offending workshop and work was done again. Was i pleased with such an oversight on a mechanic’s part? Definitely not. It was dangerously careless and as a result, i hardly patronize that workshop anymore. No explanation or compensation was given for such shoddy work practice.


A friend on the local forums selling a Sony Ericsson carkit got my attention, and soon after, i was the proud owner of the said product. Installation was done at Stamford Tyres and i still use it up till today. With voice recognition and a nifty LCD screen to place on the dashboard, it added some measure of modern technology to an otherwise 80’s interior.

Driving along around at night in a BMW is something which feels really nice the first time you ever try it. The orange glow from the instruments is something that’s truly distinctive about this marque’s vehicles. When the bulbs on mine gave up, i took the opportunity to visit BVO for the first time ever. I tried finding it before but always gave up since i never have the exact address with me, but a kind friend offered to lead me in and pop my BVO cherry.

The staff present were busy but took the time to ask me about my problem. It was a rather quick fix and i managed to catch up with the local forummers at the garage. It has and always will be a haunt for a number of local BMW owners, with the fantastic location of a coffee shop just opposite, owners can sit and drink coffee whilst their cars get serviced. Noodles there are nice and cheap too. Fabulous.

Objects in the rear view mirror

When we first bought the car, the interior rear view mirror was really old and dirty with strange pieces of yellow goo stuck to the sides of it’s glass. Searching for a replacement unit, i chanced upon a used unit from the fabled E30 M3. The M3s rear view mirrors were particularly unique in that they incorporated maplights under the mirror. Since E30s do not have any form of internal lighting for the front, i decided to buy it. Bought off Ebay, the price came to USD$51.

With the mirror shipped over, installation was carried out at *********** (BVO was full), installation came to about SGD$63. It was to take only half a day, so i dropped the car off in the morning and took a taxi to work, thinking of collecting it back during my lunch break. Imagine my disappointment when i arrived in the afternoon, sure enough the map lights were working, but just before i drove out of the garage, i found out that every other electric device in the car failed. She was sent back and i had to take subsequent taxi trips to and fro my office just because no one else bothered to check. It was frustrating to say the least.

Collecting the car in the evening after work, the electrical fault was pinpointed at the previous technician whom installed my bluetooth device. Draw your own conclusions from that. But i was still sore that no one bothered to check the car properly before having me take costly trips to and fro my office for nothing, using up precious time as well.

Some show and a little gold

With the side skirts and front lip giving a meaner appearance, i decided to add a little bit of bling to the front grille. Online research often shows up cars from that era sporting a badge on the grille, so a cheap enamel badge was sourced from ebay and promptly stuck onto the front of the car. +1 bling factor!

The steering wheel was also replaced with an original (although used) Alpina steering wheel shipped over from the States. Am i possibly the only local E30 with such a steering wheel? I sure hope so.

Service with a smile
The E30 was now due to be serviced, an appointment was made for the servicing to be done at BVO. It was a simple job but during the service, the front caster arm bushes were found to be in need of replacing. The parts were unfortunately not available on site and an order had to be made from Eng Soon. E30 M3 units were sort out and fitted onto the car, giving the car a bit more offset and a better handling feel overall. She’s coming along nicely.

All this time, the steering wheel had a slight knocking sound everytime the car went over the bump and a quick check over at BVO found nothing seriously amiss. More due to the car’s old age then anything else. A slight tightening of a wire lessened the sound to a more bearable level.

Soon after, the car’s lower P/STG shaft was replaced as well. With the parts again coming from Eng Soon. Brakes were again worn out and were replaced with another set of Ferodo pads at ***********.

It was relatively fuss free motoring for a period of time from now on, with the arrival of road tax coming to about SGD$1450 a year. Did i mentioned i bought a brand new key off Ebay? It was an OEM unit brand new from BMW, with the lights inserted into the keyfob. Had it shipped over and cut in Singapore. Looks great with the 3 series keychain i bought earlier. Interior-wise, the transmission covering with the “brush effect” was replaced with a brand new unit as well. All bought relatively cheap.

License plates were swapped to “Euro” looking plates to complete the look.

Electric company
Having had a trouble-free motoring experience for a while now, the car started to behave rather strangely, the radio would go soft as will the lights, getting dimmer and dimmer until a frim shove of the throttle brought them back to life.

A brand new battery was bought and installed from a friendly battery shop in Eunos. (Lau Battery & Electicals). Installation was quick and easy with the technicians working in the rain under the cover of a large umbrella to get things done. Cost of a brand new Mareg Battery? Just short of SGD$200.

Another pair of shoes
As with all things that get used on a daily basis, wear and tear sets in, this time, a brand new set of tyres were on the agenda. Enquires amongst friends and local BMW forummers pointed me in the direction of a set of Federal SS595 tyres. Representing great value for money, these tyres sure looked the part with an aggressive thread pattern and superb dry grip.

An alarming noise suddenly turned up at this point in time and with initial worries being a busted driveshaft. Checks with multiple garages tuned up nothing, *********** mentioned a broken shock absorber but i was adamant that was not the cause of it. A second opinion over at M&Q, a nearby BMW specialist, turned up an old drive shaft that made a noise about 60km/h. This was shown right before me. I was depressed, the cost of replacing the drive shaft will run me up to about SGD$500 on parts alone. So, i tried over with the boys at BVO to determine if it was the offending drive shaft.

Due to the nature of old cars, small noises can be heard from all small corners if you are attentive enough, but unfortunately, the mechanic tasked to my car could not replicated the noise i experienced when i drive. Instead, replacing a gear lever bush which was also making a slight noise. No complaints here really. In the evening, i arrived back at the shop to have the car tested with me driving to replicate the noise to he mechanic. We were both left pondering the origins of the noise when the mechanic came to the very very simple conclusion of the rear tire rubbing against the inner wheel arch. Bernard from BVO had the same suspicions.

The car had to have it’s fender’s rolled. Sending the car down to Lye designs, the inner wheel arches were rolled back and true enough, the sickening noise that was bothering me so much had left for good.

Cool runnings
Other than a broken and missing throttle housing cover to house the throttle cable, a cheap SGD$15 part from Eng Soon. All was well again with the car.

But have i spoken too soon? It seems almost every month something just has to go wrong, and this month, the aircon unit just gave up the ghost and stopped running. It would run for a while sometimes and give up the next.

M&Q suspected a compressor failure, that would cost me way too much money, so an aircon specialist was sought. Tomika managed to repair the broken aircon unit and we were back on the road in cool comfort. With a slight hiccup along the way, just one week after the repairs, the aircon gave up again. Bringing the car back to Tomika, the problem was simply a fuse that had gone bad. With the fuse replaced, the aircon was back up and running smoothly.


After a trip up North in the car, a first for myself and the car, the steering wheel displayed a distinct vibration at high speed and on high speed bends. With careful research, the cause was pinpointed to a worn out ball joint at the front. Replacement units were again ordered from our friendly neighbourhood parts store and were promptly fitted at M&Q.

The wheels were sent for balancing and the car went through a round of computerised alignment before i took it back on the road. The vibration from the steering was gone and in general, the steering feel felt a whole lot better. Back to having some fun driving around i guess!

Let there be light
With the car running smoothly and again trouble-free, i set aside a small amount of money to get the fog lights repaired and have the main bulbs replaced with brighter bulbs from Phillips, the work was carried out at Stamford Tyres with superb workmanship by their mechanics.

Again, it was time for the car to be serviced, this time by M&Q. With the honest reason being that M&Q is a lot nearer to my home then any other garage. Though, the work done by the M&Q team during the servicing was superb. With attention to detail all round but taking a rather longer then expected time. But hey, it was the weekend and i’d rather the mechanics take longer to do something right then to cut corners with shoddy work. I’d say for the record now that the work done at M&Q is mighty fine with great value for money.

Wash Wash Wash
One thing i never mentioned was that ever since the purchase of the car, the wiper washer never worked. No water ever came out from those wiper wash outlet jets. This was something i have always put on the backburner since i thought it a rather unimportant issue to fix. But perfection is key and it was time to get it done. A phone call to Eng Soon brought up the part at a low SGD$27, with fitment being done personally shortly after leaving the parts shop. It’s a very simple job, plug and play.

Strutting her stuff

With most niggles of the car sorted, it was time to set about another modification after extensive research through the months. A rare Sparco strut bar was being offered on Ebay, i missed out on previous chances to purchase one and i was not going to lose another opportunity. I placed my bid and hoped for the best. Sadly, it was not to be, i was outbid at the very last minute.

Interestingly though, the seller had another one for sale and was willing to sell it to me at my bidding price, although it was a little bit more then i planned to spend, i bit the bullet and bought it. Exact cost i do not have on hand right now though. It was roughly SGD$300 inclusive of shipping.

Since i have my strut bar on the way now, i decided i might as well follow through with my plan to get some proper anti-roll bars fitted. Brand new OEM M-Tech units were ordered through Eng Soon and were shipped over fast enough. The price for the anti-roll bars came to about SGD$570.

Installation was done at M&Q and the boys there did a great job putting everything together. Great work at a great price. With these parts fitted, the car felt a lot more planted especially through high speed bends. Superb control and great adjustability. Anti-roll bars really do make a world of difference in regards to handling and the Sparco bar, well, it sure looked good in the engine bay.

Brief runs up twisty roads gave a different feel from before, more agile and surefooted, the car can now corner faster then i’ll ever dare to drive. (For now at least)

As a little addition to the car, i bought a small little placard whilst on holiday in Bangkok, and placed it the rear side windows.

White out wiped out

The current color scheme of the car was something i had always dreamed about for many many months. I’d always keep telling myself that one day, it shall be done, the car shall be white. White being my preferred choice of car color for pretty much every car out there on the road!

The high cost of respraying an entire car though kept putting me off and i never got to having the car done up with brand new paint. All that was about to change. In a very very fast instant.

It was a wet sunday afternoon, with the car extremely low of fuel, i decided to feather the throttle to get myself home using the expressway. Upon hitting the exit ramp, i lifted off and got the car to settle into a nice glide off. Alas, it was not to be. With the exit ramp curving out into a blind right hand corner, my vision of the road conditions was cut short by quite an amount. A sudden road surface change (broken asphalt again) coupled with rain sent the front wide, a correction with more steering input got the car moving in the right direction again, but once the rear wheels hit that same section of the road, all hell broke loose, the rear end stepped out fast and with the sudden increase in grip up front, the rear gained momentum and spun the car round, the front right wing hitting against the wall, spinning the car round with the rear right corner knocking against another wall.

It’s never like in the movies where everything happens in slow motion, no way, this happened in real time. Ended pretty quick too. I got out and tried to inspect the damage, the exact location where i got out of the car seemed to have quite an amount of debris, indicating a recent accident in the very same spot. It was another sickening feeling in my gut. That horrible crunch sound when the car hit the walls will remain etched in my memory for a long time to come.

The front bumpers were cracked, as were the rear. Front right-corner wing was dented and crumpled slightly inwards and the rear right panel had a dent with a broken tail light to boot. It was a horrible sight for me to look at. But the reality was that the car was smashed and i had to get it fixed up right. No compromises.

Remembering a friend’s recent sale of old used E30 parts (including bumpers), a phone call was made and thank heavens, another set of bumpers were found. They were in the wrong color but that didn’t matter. A set of rear tail lights were also bought from him. Such a great guy!

The next day, the car was sent to M&Q to access the damage, luckily no structural damage was found and the car was left there for the day to be repaired. Spray painting of the bumpers were kept on hold for the moment as i pondered the costs of doing so, maybe i should just bite the bullet and get the car fully resprayed? It was something i’ve always been dreaming of right? The current blue paint on the car was also not entirely smoother and perfect, a shoddy quick respray by the previous owner left crude overspray marks on certain parts of the car, the paint under the mirrors were also starting to bubble from underneath. If there was a time to get the car resprayed, now would be it i figured.

Collecting the car was a mixed bag of emotions, happiness with the car’s return, but a small tinge of disappointment when i saw the workmanship of the body panel repairs. It was still wrong, it’s still not perfect enough. It has to be perfect.

Another friend from the local BMW club, Norbert (Blitzer) introduced his preferred paintshop, ADSM. These guys worked on his previous E30, turning it from a steely grey car to a magnificent white knight. A decision was finally made, i will get the entire car resprayed. Though not before i get my front panel sorted out, honestly, the previous shop handling the body repairs turned out some shoddy work, the dents can still be seen and the lines just don’t match up. Taking a trip out to the scrapyard, i bought a reconditioned body panel to replace the dinged panel on my car. (Also managed to get some good condition door handle plastic surrounds to replace the broken ones i have.)

The weekend came soon enough and it was time to send my blue dolphin into the paint shop. It was to take at least 10days. 10 days without a car, not an easy thing to do. Convinced with having the car white with black inserts, i also requested for the rim centers to be painted black, leaving the outer dish in fancy chrome. A proper 80’s sportscar look for a proper car from that era.

The entire process took 2 weeks from start to end, it was a long and arduous wait, but the end result was nothing short of amazing. My first glance at the new car had me smiling for entire time i was at the shop. She is a beauty, paintwork was great with great workmanship showing through the details of the car. The rear 316i badging was also removed to enhance the clean lines of the car. For an almost 17 year old car, she looked fabulous. All shiny and slick, with the black rims and trim details punching through and creating a strong visual statement. Cool as ice baby… cool as ice…

The blue dolphin has now been christened with a new name by my wonderfully supportive girlfriend. The car is now referred to as, Snoopy. Sure looks the part. I’m still very happy with the work done by ADSM on the car, sure it took a while, and sure it cost quite an amount, but, i’m overjoyed at having part of my dream fulfilled with this brand new paintjob. After a cleanup of the car a few days later, Snoopy still looks wonderful and spanking new. She’s ready to rule the roads once again…

White is now in vogue people. Now… about that Chanel themed interior…

To be continued…

With the E30 still up and running up till today, my journey through this path of E30 ownership has only just begun (only about 1 1/2 years++ worth), there’s still a long way ahead of me and if you’ve read it up till now, i hope what i’ve written has been informative or at the very least, insightful into the World of E30 ownership.

The aircon has started to act funny again though… gonna have to get that checked out soon… (Ah, the wonderful joys of old-skool car ownership)


Managed to take some photos of the car today. It was a rather cloudy day sadly, so could not get proper lighting for photographs. At least, the car was still clean. So that helps abit. hehe…

Beautiful badge shiny again

the badge’s plastic coating fell off due to old age and probably after being baked under the hot sun (and in the paintshop’s oven), thinking of spraying on some primer before coating it matt black.

Still chugging after 17years…

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One comment

  1. Love this write up

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