Readers’ Rides: Brian’s BMW E30 Drift Beater


The birth of an obsession is often moulded by our surroundings. For Brian, his future drifting in this BMW E30 grew from a youth spent around construction equipment, which gave him an early glimpse into the world of machinery. As a teenager, the winding roads of Napa Valley would prove the perfect playground to explore his love of cars and mechanics: “I could leave the house and drive the ‘Napa Nurburgring’ for hours.”


Brian would spend hours cruising the vineyards in his 2002 Mini Cooper S, and it was that car that kickstarted his love for modifying. “I threw on a 15 per cent supercharger pulley, cold air intake, anti-roll bar, heavy duty driving lights, the works.” After a while though, the desire for a dedicated project car became too much, so Brian traded the Mini in for a 2009 BMW 128i daily driver and picked up a cheap E30 with ‘issues’.

With two of Germany’s finest on the drive, work quickly began on the 120bhp 325i (the M20B27-engined) E30.


The first few mods were simple and cheap and included a chip and new diff off of eBay. Brian also cut off the stock muffler “because it sounded like a diesel.” His first few drift events were run on blown suspension, but after he “disintegrated the LSD with a mismatched rear tyre combo”, Brian welded the original diff and refitted it to the car, along with a set of Ground Control coilovers, which fixed the wrecked suspension.

Everything unnecessary was then ripped out and stock mechanical parts replaced with aftermarket items after hard drifting tore them to shreds.


Despite budget restrictions and because of the E30′s poor steering angle, Brian enlisted the help of a fellow E30 drifter and an E36 steering rack was fitted. To get more angle, Brian “scoured the interwebs until I found a forum selling tie-rod spacers. They showed several pictures with dimensions so I rummaged around my pile of stuff until I stumbled across a bicycle seat-post that had the correct diameters. I cut two to length and installed them.” The car was now fit for service.

After stepping up into Formula Drift Pro-Am, however, Brian soon realised that the E30′s wheezy engine wouldn’t cut it. Rather than turbocharging the standard motor, Brian went for a 5.0-litre V8 engine from Ford, completing the swap himself in the month between rounds. At the first competition, power steering fluid leaked everywhere and it overheated, and with summer over and school starting there just wasn’t time to fix it up.


Next round, the engine started spewing thick yellow smoke. Trying to sort his engine issues, “it got to the point where I was throwing one of everything at it; new coil, new plugs, new distributor – nothing fixed the engine issues. No one had a clue why the engine was running so terribly.” On the dyno, the car made just 40whp…

Bizarrely, it runs fine up until half throttle, so with this in mind Brian competed once more. Naturally, drifting with only 50 per cent of your throttle is pretty tricky, and after a few more parts were thrown at the car (and after a few spectacular fires), the problem was narrowed down to “one of the weirdest head-gasket issues in existence.”

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Between scratching his head over the engine issues, Brian worked on the driving ergonomics. He removed the brake booster and fitted a hydraulic clutch, but the gearshifter is the most interesting mod. He replaced the unit with a lower control arm he’d found lying around the ‘shop: ” I hacked and drilled at it until it fit. I wanted a shift knob because the circular end was a bit small, a skateboard wheel was the right size, so that went there.” Finally, he covered everything he handled with hockey tape, to provide grip for when things get crazy.


Interestingly, though perhaps unsurprisingly given his head gasket issues, Brian’s dream plan involves ditching the internal combustion engine altogether. “I’m really curious how competitive an electric setup would be in Formula D. Electric motors have tonnes of torque and don’t need head gaskets!” So if you see a battered, electric-powered E30 sliding with the best of them, you know it’s going to be Brian.

If you want your car featured on Readers’ Rides, email with a pic and a few words explaining why you love it so much. If we like it, we’ll feature it!

Written by Lewis Shaw

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