Spec E46 – An unexpected change of direction!

Up until this winter, I was, and still am, a diehard BMW E30 fan. I described my PRO3 E30 the other day in an informal interview as “a great friend” as its provided me with some of the best entertainment, thrills and fun that anyone could ask for over the past three years. In all honesty, I don’t expect this to change this year and with the new race season upon us, I’m looking forward to plenty of fun with my PRO3 friend.

The E30 platform does, however, have its negatives. Some - the E30 purists especially - would argue that the following points are a racing car's strengths and while I agree it really teaches you to drive, the development gap for a racer is growing wider between club and pro race car. Today’s race cars, using the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge (CTSCC) as an example, require drivers to have an understanding of certain driver aids. ABS and power steering being two of the most obvious. The E30 doesn’t utilize these, well mine doesn’t anyway. Add to this the fact that parts and donor cars are becoming scarce (and expensive) and it was time to look for a cost effective next step. Not that I was looking for a next step until this winter!

Enter Spec E46, introduced to me during a conversation I was having with a good friend, Dan Rogers. We talked about the fact that the cost of the donor car was less than an E30 325i. We discussed race part availability and how it was plentiful (and on eBay!) and after dialogue with others it was estimated a soup to nuts ‘premium’ build would cost less than a mid-pack PRO3 race car. Financially it made sense to explore it.

Spec E46, however, was an unfounded platform. We were (and are) close to being in the first 3 to 5 Spec E46 cars built to a very well-crafted rule book looking to eliminate loopholes from previous spec series. Spec E46 isn’t a recognized class just yet by any licensing authority (be it SCCA, NASA or ICSCC) which means for the first year we’re finding the most logical home for our car(s), however, with all this being said we both (Dan Rogers) and I said let’s be part of this possible PRO3 successor and we commissioned BimmerWorld to build our co-owned car. With at least 5 in construction in the Pacific Northwest alone (and double figures nationally) it is highly likely that 2014 will be the year of sanctioning nationally.

James Clay (principal at BimmerWorld) with the help of Jason Tower (co-founder of Spec E46) sourced us a donor car almost immediately. We were looking for a low cost, white (least neutral color to work with) 4 door (4 doors are stiffer by default, apparently) BMW 330i and within a day or two, amazingly, they’d found one for $2,300. James drove it back to BimmerWorld and his team immediately went to work with our goal of getting it to Shelton WA by April 6th for the 6 hour endurance race there.

The 'donor' 2001 BMW 330i

We’ve gone through many question and answers with James as the car has been built. What to do with a 230,000 mile engine? We ended up removing it and getting a <100k mile engine from a salvage company. Do we use an AiM dash or go with an AiM Solo DL? We went MXL as the Solo couldn’t read the ECU on the E46 330i (will only work with the E46 M3). Then some ‘additional’ items appeared that Dan and I kept saying yes to. I’m glad we did, the car looks great, but it adds up financially. European lights vs. American light fittings? M3 style bumper or broken old original (the previous owner had cracked the unit)? Black or chrome finish around the windows? Despite these parts added up but we’re still within a comfortable percentage of the original build estimate and WELL below what an equivalent E30 would cost.

Today, March 19th, the car is all but done. It needs a few things still, like an engine, but with those sourced and the final parts still being fabricated and or developed (e.g. the very strict ECU chip) this car is looking fantastic.

The BimmerWorld Spec E46 race car.

I’ll be posting more about the car and will update the website with more information over the coming weeks. The only thing that is weighing on my mind now is whether the transport firm (who promised pick-up today) will actually get the car to Washington state in time for the race.

If you want to see more information, the specs and the build from start to finish, visit this page (link) on my website to learn more.