The Costs of a Rebuild: Basketcase E30 M3

Similar to the aircooled Porsche 911, E30-chassis BMW M3s have enjoyed a rapid rise in price. Owners who bought them as weekend cars or track beaters in the late 90s and early 2000s likely netted themselves a tidy profit if they sold in the past year or two. Even rough examples like this one here on craigslist in Chicago are worth restoring, except this seller only wants to part with the rare and desirable S14 motor – the original mill that made these cars so special in the first place.

Why, you may ask? Because rebuild costs are freakishly high. $10K is a good starting point, but for a car that has sat for 10 years like this one, there are all sorts of other factors that can easily drive the final price tag past that water mark. The trouble is, for younger owners or less experienced ones, it seems to make sense to chuck the matching-numbers S14 and drop in a more powerful (and far cheaper) motor from a later-chassis M3, like an E36 car.

If you’re on a budget, fine – I get it, very few of us reading here today can write a blank check for a restoration. But for a vehicle as special and symbolic as an E30 M3, just sell it to someone else if you can’t foot the bill to keep it original. There are plenty of enthusiasts out there who would pay over the $10,500 asking price for the drivetrain in order to keep this car intact. So much has already clearly gone wrong with this M3, right down to the wiper arms being removed (why?)

The M3-specific bucket seats are missing (those have horizontal stitching versus vertical), but the original mushroom-style shift knob remains, as does the M3-specific gauge cluster with red needles. By showing pictures of the whole car, we are hoping the seller is some sort of marketing genius who actually hopes someone will show up to buy the whole car in order to preserve it, an outcome that would be better for everyone involved in any potential transaction.


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  1. Will
  2. Adam T45 Staff

    It isn’t the whole car that’s for sale. The ad says that it’s only the engine, transmission, ECU and harness, which says to me that the owner of this is either not a bright spark, or fails to understand the historical significance of these little cars.

    These were a giant-killing little car, and retain enormous popularity across Europe and the Asia/Pacific region. They were built as an homolgation special by BMW for International Group A Touring Car racing in 1987. Although only designed as a class contender in the under 2.5 litre category, they achieved outright success against the larger and more powerful Ford Sierra Cosworth, the Nissan Skyline DR30 Turbo and the Holden Commodore Group A SS (amongst others). The first World Touring Car Championship conducted in 1987 was won by one of these.

    • Jeff Lavery Staff

      I know (that clarification is made in the post); I’m making the point that this is a seller who clearly cannot afford the rebuild costs of an S14. Otherwise, given the rapid rise in values, why separate the car from its original motor?

      • Adam T45 Staff

        Jeff, you and I are on the same page here. I did realise from you post what the seller was doing, and that’s why I made the point that they’re not being very bright about it. If they succeed then I believe that they will regret this in years to come.

  3. JP in WI

    The poorly written nature of the CL ad is amazing.. I’m going to try and see if the fine English student will allow me to see the car tomorrow..

  4. JamestownMike

    Looks like they started parting out the car then stopped. ONE abused non M3 driver seat remains (sold originals??), wipers missing and exhaust tail pipe/exhaust missing?? They don’t mention if the original drivetrain runs/drives. Wonder why they parked it 10 years ago? I’m guessing they blew up the engine and thought about turning it into a track car. I’d love to buy the car if it could be had reasonably. Wonder how much an original set of M3 seats would cost?

    • Jeff Lavery Staff

      A lot, but you can reupholster non-M3 factory sport seats in the correct pattern and have pretty close to the real thing.

      • JamestownMike

        Besides the upholstery, what makes the M3 seats different than the regular 3 series seats?

      • UK Paul

        Its for sale on ebay at the moment if anyone spots this. (The original material)
        Might be or .de but definitely there … spotted it last week.
        I am collecting the odd E30 M3 part so keep an eye out.

  5. Steve

    I remember when you could buy a mint one for the same price this person is asking.

  6. PAW

    @ barnfinds you have a bug in your site sw. Did not even get the 5min edit window.

  7. Dolphin Member

    People do crazy things to E30s, and even to E30 M3s, like this seller seems to want to do. There have been 7-series BMW V8s transplanted into them, altho I haven’t seen a SBC transplant yet.

    Too bad. A lot of the value of this car will likely be destroyed. The drivetrain will be separated from the rest of the car, and I could be wrong, but I have no confidence that this seller will be able to perform a useful implant of another drivetrain into this chassis.

    Very few such transplants ever get done right or even completed. It’s a massive amount of work if what you want to end up with is a properly engineered, reliable, safe car.

  8. bog

    I know Highland Park, IL, where this person resides…and it’s a quite wealthy suburb of Chicago. From the looks of the rest of the garage, there’s already a subframe on the floor and a transmission on the bench, among other items. As mentioned by others, this car was beat likely to heck during it’s life…although perhaps NOT the body. Nothing in the ad says that the drive-train nor ECU were actually functional when put away 10 years ago. And NO, I’m not driving out there to try and convince him or her of the error of their ways….

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