Valuable Basketcase: 1988 BMW M3


In the BMW world, no single car has enjoyed a more rapid increase in value than the first generation M3, also known by its chassis designation as an E30 M3. Now, low mileage survivors are trading anywhere from $50K to $75K, and the price of entry is more often than not around $20K-$30K. That’s why I fully expect this engine-less 1988 example here on eBay and located in the Dominican Republic to sell for a fairly ridiculous price despite clearly being the victim of a failed hot rod conversion and cheap accident repair.  


The early M3 was considered a homologation model, due to requirements enforced by Group A racing requirements which featured production-grade models going wheel to wheel on the track. The core mechanical components had to be shared with the road-going car, of which at least 5,000 examples had to be produced. The street version of the M3 also added luxuries like leather-trimmed interiors with BMW’s version of a Recaro seat, along with a three-spoke steering wheel and red needles on the gauges. They were also all manual transmissions – and this photo gives you some hint as to what’s gone wrong.


The M3’s high-strung S14 engine is considered the heart and soul of the car, churning out 200 b.h.p. and 176 lb. ft. of torque from a 2.3L four cylinder. It’s also incredibly pricey to rebuild and finding spare parts is akin to discovering a hidden treasure room inside an pyramid. Although English is clearly not the seller’s first language, you can piece together what’s happened here: front-end collision, S14 engine removed and a V8/automatic combination swapped into its place (and also since removed). A cheap, quick fix, likely not done well and significantly diminishing the value of the car.


While things look better out back, the beauty is only skin deep. On the front end, there’s significant alignment issues with the nose panel. Everything has been painted over, from the grommets for the rear license plate to the VIN stickers in the door jambs. Someone cut a hole through the steel parcel shelf for a large speaker. However, the M3-specific body work is still in place and perhaps the bumper alignment is due to a cheap aftermarket cover rather than tweaked frame rails. Either way, it will require a lot of work to set right but the M3s with the “WBS” VIN tags are following a similar trajectory to our favorite bubble car, the 911.


  1. Van

    Neet car

    I have a challenge
    The best car show I ever saw had Robert Hardy host. The show was similar to victory by design. As I remember the show was filmed on lord Anthony Bamfords estate. Word class driver like Sterling Moss, Jackie Icks, and Jackie Stewart drove GTOs, Testarossa, C-type, mazaratti, Bugatti T-35.
    It’s been maybe 20 years I want to see it again!!! You would love it.

  2. RickG

    my favorite youtube video

    isle of man patrick snijers e30 m3

    • Jeff Staff

      Oh, that’s a classic, Rick. Local guy just painted his E30 rally car in those colors. Looks pretty sweet, but it’s nothing like the Isle of Mann M3.

      • RickG

        whoops. I spelled Mann wrong. What dope I am :)

    • sir mike

      thanks for the my heart started

    • Bobsmyuncle

      Great video!

      • jim s

        great video. anyone want to be his navigator?

  3. rdc

    That car requires an on-site inspection before a purchase. I suspect there are more issues than meets the eye. The electrical system might need a total replacement. Hate to think what is under that paint. Could end up just being a parts car??

    One thought is to replace the drive train/electrical system with the standard e30 parts and turbo charge the engine. Might be fun and keep the M3 body on the road. Not cheap though.

    • Jeff Staff

      Personally, I’m dying to find a ratty E30 and build a 2.7 stroker with the 2.7 bottom end and “I” head. Heard one at an autocross a few years ago and the sound never left my head!

    • Bobsmyuncle

      Why would you assume the “electrical system” needs to be replaced?

      Likely the engine loom does or needs effort if it was altered for an engine swap. But why anything else?

      • rdc

        Just a guess and assuming a worst case scenario suggesting all the BMW e-box electronics was possibly ripped out as they are not needed with an American V-8 swap.

      • Bobsmyuncle

        So the engine loom.

  4. rustylink

    Dominican Republic! – that is scam central for Ebay. I don’t see it – no motor, accident history – no thanks. Lots of stolen cars end up in the DR.

  5. Dolphin Member

    I think the comments about a possible scam or stolen car, and also needing an on-site inspection of the car are right on. The seller is in Miami but the car in the DR, so it will probably be a complicated purchase at best. The seller sells some rare BMW parts and has 100% positive FB, so at least that’s positive.

    And the VIN checks out as a real 1987 (not 1988) US market M3. It left the factory in black (schwartz), so it’s had a color change.

    If the car checks out as basically OK, even if it has some sheet metal butchering and localized rust, and might need attention of a frame machine (it should be put on a frame machine anyway to confirm that it’s straight), it should be worth buying even if it makes it to $12K or a bit more. Good M3s are now going for $50K and up, and a perfect one sold at auction for $100K recently, so with the continued upward trend in prices it should be worth buying. The sunroof delete will help the value.

    Good original engines and transmissions are pricey but they exist. And lots of people have put E36 M3 6-cylinder engines in these E30 bodies, so at worst you might end up with a marque hot rod. And you could have some fun while you search for the right drivetrain since the car will run faster and a lot smoother with the straight-six.

    • Jeff Staff

      All excellent points. I am still trying to discern whether he is saying the sunroof was welded shut (common rust point) or if this is a desirable sunroof delete model. And yes, the S50 or S52 motors are popular swap choices, but if the sale price hammers home low enough, my purist heart would want to spring for the extra dough a genuine S14 would require.

    • Dolphin Member

      Jeff, one of the photos shows the headliner, and it looks intact, altho it might have been redone.

      The VIN decoder didn’t give any info about a sunroof option. After checking the VIN decoder again, I saw that I misread the color information, which actually gives the factory paint color as ‘Zinnoberrot’, or cinnabar red. So there wasn’t a color change when it was repainted after all.

      The factory color of the interior is given as ‘Schwarz Leder’, which seems to be the color of the headliner also, so maybe the headliner is intact, perhaps making it a sunroof delete car. There’s probably a way to find out from the factory.

  6. Nemo

    Is it all the drift guys buying them that’s drove the price up?

    • Jeff Staff

      For the lower spec E30s, yes. The E30 M3 is going straight into a temperature-controlled garage these days. Not many of them being converted for track use unless they were that way years ago.

      By the same token, though, the drift scene is making it harder to find a clean, non-M E30 – hence why I will be holding onto mine for a long time to come.

    • Bobsmyuncle

      No. It’s regular car guys, and, yes a lot of boy racers.

      The M3 and arguably especially the E30 have been extolled as remarkable handling cars for decades. Together with their legitimate racing heritage they are a no brainer.

      While drifting has gained a lot of interest, it is hardly big enough to have been the sole driving force in the cars values. Proof is in the values of the far more popular makes/models being used. Most Japanese by the way.

  7. sofakingfast

    the car has an auto trans center console plate? that can’t be original

  8. Dolphin Member

    Sold for $15,100

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