Ex-BTCC 1992 BMW 318iS Coupe E36/2
Few race cars are quite as loved as Tim Harvey’s 1992 BTCC 318iS E36/2. Today, the car lives on as a period-perfect racer in New Zealand…
Words: Dan Bevis
Photography: Richard Opie
ICONIC EXBTCC RACER LIVES ON
The British Touring Car Championship is arguably one of the most adrenaline-fuelled and exciting series on the UK motorsport calendar. It certainly provides as much bumper-to-bumper theatre and ramming-each-other-off-the-track drama as you’re likely to see outside of banger racing. The mantra of the BTCC from time immemorial has been ‘rubbing is racing’, and if you see Colin Turkington giving Dan Cammish a gentle shove in order to cut a cleaner line through Clearways, you can be damn sure that the favour will be returned on the next lap. They jostle, they bump, they smash into their rev limiters like there’s no tomorrow, and any driver who’s seen crossing the finish line with his bumpers intact gets unceremoniously debagged in the pits afterwards. (Possibly.)
BMW has long been inextricably linked with the hedonistic action, brutal sparring and vaporised slicks of the BTCC, back to the monstrous 635CSi E24 racers that thundered around the UK’s circuits in the early eighties. And for many, the glory days of the BTCC were the late eighties, when the titles were effectively contested by two key groups; E30 M3s and Ford Sierra Cosworth RS500s. Frank Sytner’s Prodrive M3 made some interesting things happen in ’1987, but it was 1988 when the BMW invasion began in force, with no fewer than six M3s running in Class B. This was countered by fifteen RS500s in Class A – not direct rivals due to the class system (and massive power gulf between them) but still, among the Corollas and Golfs, it was the showboating Cosworths and tenacious M3s that really captured the buzz of the era.
In 1990, everything changed. The introduction of the Supertouring rules heralded a sea change in how the series was run; 1990 was a transitional year in which Supertouring cars were entered alongside Group A cars, which were now detuned for closer competition with new racers such as the Vauxhall Cavalier and the BMW 318is. In 1991 the series shifted to just one class, ensuring parity (to a degree), as well as much lower entry and running costs than the highly- developed, highly-strung Group A racers. And now we reach the crux of the matter.
Thirty years ago, BTCC fans witnessed what is regarded by many to be the greatest motor race of all time; not just in Touring Car racing, but of any motorsport. We’re talking, of course, about the 1992 season finale at Silverstone. It was a race of such dramatic stagecraft that it could have been penned by Tarantino; as the Championship zeroed in on its final round at Silverstone’s Grand Prix circuit, the title could have been taken by any one of three drivers – John Cleland in the Vauxhall Cavalier, Will Hoy in the Toyota Carina, or Tim Harvey in the BMW 318is. There was still all to play for, and the blood was up for the title-fight contenders.
To throw a little extra drama into the mix – as if it were needed – the qualifying was dominated by drivers that sat further down the points table; pole was taken by the indomitable Andy Rouse in his Carina, Jeff Allam was second in his Cavalier, the sister car to Cleland’s. In third place on the grid was Julian Bailey in another Carina, while the fourth spot was occupied by Steve Soper in his Listerine-liveried 318iS E36, stablemate to Tim Harvey’s steed. Steve Soper figures in bold in the dramatis personae of this race, thrice underlined in red; we’ll ruin the surprise now and say that he didn’t take his BMW to victory, although you shall discover shortly why his drive was so pivotal…
So where were our Championship contenders, Cleland, Hoy and Harvey?
They’d qualified in seventh, ninth and twelfth respectively, so the crowds knew that they were in for a frisky fight. Harvey and Hoy both had a strong start, with the latter passing Cleland on the first lap. Steve Soper, way up ahead, made a move on David Leslie’s Ecurie Ecosse Cavalier, but in his furious scrabble to pass, the two made contact and the BMW span out, unfortunately to be collected on the way past by Rob Gravett’s Peugeot 405 Mi16. As the pack streamed past, Soper found himself dead last with heavy rear damage to his car, the bumper hanging off at a jaunty angle. In-car footage of his charge to catch up is little short of breath-taking, applying full-lock and screaming sideways back into contention, then punching at the gearstick as if he was trying to send it through the bulkhead and straight into hell. You may well have heard the phrase ‘driving out of his skin’ applied to any number of racing drivers past and present, but you haven’t seen the full fury of a bitter comeback charge until you’ve seen Soper’s angered blitz on that grey October day in 1992.
Nearer the front of the field there was all sorts of banging and clattering going on, the three Championship hopefuls eagerly tearing after the taste of champagne, while the rest of the field – all at an approximate level of parity in terms of power and performance, remember – were forcing every ounce of effort towards grabbing one last podium place. In what seemed like no time, Hoy, Harvey and Cleland were sitting in fourth, fifth and sixth, each more determined than the last to fie out an extra iota of thrust, to cut a closer line through Becketts, to brake later at Bridge, to show everybody else on the track that they were the dominant force for the British Touring Car Championship. Soper, driving like a man possessed, much to the near-apoplectic gobsmackery of commentator Murray Walker, had managed to shove his way up to seventh place, his gearbox screaming in an agony as raw as that suffered by the 318iS’ hind quarters.
Two laps from the chequered flag Harvey attempted to pass Hoy through Copse, the pair running doorhandle-to-doorhandle; Harvey, with the inside line, drifted wide at the exit and forced Hoy off the track, and in the furious mêlée Cleland and Soper screamed past. Cleland was now in fourth position which, given the number of points he’d accrued through the season, would have gifted him the championship. Soper was hot on his tail, an unstoppable force of pure retribution, and in sixth and seventh sat Harvey and Hoy. On the entry to Club, Soper powered past the Vauxhall; the on-board footage clearly showed Cleland giving him the finger. ‘I’m going for first!’, yelled the ever-diplomatic Murray. Exiting Abbey, Harvey used the BMW’s superior rear-drive traction to get alongside Cleland, passing him through Bridge. Soper, ever the team player, dived out of the way to allow Harvey to pass into fourth, then ran defence b›ind him to block Cleland. As they shot through Priory they were nose-to-tail, then the Cavalier scythed under Soper into Brooklands; Soper blocked the manoeuvre and the two collided, the Cavalier rounding the curve on two wheels. Cleland was half a car-length ahead as they approached the right-hander, so the intrepid (and clearly slightly unhinged) Soper dove across the grass on the inside of the corner, smashing into Cleland at the apex and spinning them both out of the race.
With just a lap to go, Tim Harvey eased toward the finish line in fourth place, picking up enough points to win him the championship. Hoy finished three seconds behind him. The podium spots went to Andy Rouse, Jeff Allam and David Leslie, but none of that really matters to the history books. What we witnessed that day – the Listerine BMW taking the controversial win, the angry Scotsman in his totalled Vauxhall, the gladiatorial might of a spurned racer on a kamikaze drive – will resonate through the annals of motorsport lore forever. You can be sure that Cleland’s still fuming about it. Following such other-worldly drama, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Harvey’s battle-scarred 318iS was swiftly retired and allowed to rest upon its laurels. But of course, race cars are tools, a means to an end, and – as you can see from its box- fresh condition in these photos – the car is living its best life today. How so? Well, after 1992 the car was sold to the French Oreca team; BTCC regs outlawed the E36 coupé as it mandated all racers should be based on four-door bodies, so in 1994 the car was run for Arnaud Duprey in the 1994 Championnat de France de Supertourisme. The E36 then experienced a fuzzy period akin to Walter White’s fugue state, migrating up to Denmark and Norway and being reimagined as a sort of hot- rod racer with a 2.7-litre engine and Xtrac transmission, before finding its way back to the UK and being acquired by noted enthusiast Rick Michels. Rick shipped it to his native New Zealand, where it was then sold to Warren Good, a self-confessed BMW obsessive with a keen eye for correctness and a penchant for perfection.
Good’s plan was to restore the car to the specs it sported when Harvey was b›ind the wheel at that iconic Silverstone showdown, and thankfully the bones of the car were strong. The structure was sound, and the biggest hurdle was to return the body back to its slender factory-style shape, as it had been adorned with flared arches and aggressive aero addenda over the years. Commencing in 2013, the resto was a thorough and fastidious effort, but there were plenty of reference materials to work with and helpfully a lot of the interior appointments – rollcage, dash, doorcards and so on – were still in place. The perfected shell was treated to a new coat of that legendary teal paint (and, of course, Listerine’s mascot, Clifford the Dragon), and then the fun part came: sorting out the engine. You see, BMW never actually produced a 2.0-litre version of the S14 engine (except for the super-obscure 320iS that only sold in Portugal and Italy), and there were various different methods that teams in period reworked the 2.3-litre motor to suit the regs. A short-stroke 2.0-litre S14 was duly constructed for Warren, mated to a correct-spec six-speed Holinger transmission, and he’s been back and forth with the car’s original engineer, Glen Jarret – who also happens to be a Kiwi – which has proved an invaluable resource when it comes to specification and setup.
The finished product is a magnificent period piece, and it’s fair to say it’s Good’s car more than it could ever be considered to be Harvey’s; sure, 1992 was where the die was cast and the legend was written, but Warren has been competing in this E36 in classic Touring Car series from 2015 right up to the present day, and is showing no signs of slowing down. He even brought it back to the UK in 2016 to race at Brands Hatch and Silverstone, and these days he’s taking names and winning hearts at Teretonga Park, Timaru and Ruapuna. This legendary BMW may be a little less ‘rubbing is racing’ in 2022, but it’s no less adrenalized. See, it’s true what they say – race cars never die, they just get faster.
BMW has long been inextricably linked with the hedonistic action, brutal sparring and vaporised slicks of the BTCC...
TECHNICAL DATA Ex-BTCC 1992 BMW 318iS Coupe E36/2
- ENGINE & TRANSMISSION: 2.0-litre S14/7-2 DOHC 16v, dry sump, Bosch ignition, Bosch fuelling, oil cooler, Holinger 6-speed transmission, AP triple-plate hydraulic clutch
- CHASSIS: 8x18” Dymag centre-lock wheels, 210/650 tyres, adjustable coilovers, adjustable anti-roll bars, 6-pot (front) and 4-pot (rear) AP Racing brakes
- EXTERIOR: Restored to original 1990s teal/Listerine spec
- INTERIOR: Original appointments inc. doorcards, dash and rollcage