200bhp M50 engined BMW 325i Saloon E30

200bhp M50 engined BMW 325i Saloon E30

This retro-fabulous custom four-door is built upon a philosophy that’s truly out of this world.


GAS GIANT

This gorgeous air-ride E30 Saloon has been fitted with an M50 and modded to perfection.


Words: Daniel Bevis

Photos: Nelson Santos, Alexandre Cavrois


200bhp M50 engined BMW 325i Saloon E30


What do you know about the planet Saturn? What’s the first thing you think of? Some people may point out that it’s the sixth planet from the sun, or that it’s a gas giant, or that it’s the second-largest planet in the solar system; for most folks, however, the go-to will be those iconic rings. It’s a classic sci-fi trope, the image of rings around a far-off planet, and what’s particularly interesting about those twinkly skirts is that they’re not solid circles like a hula hoop. No, they’re actually made of billions of particles of ice mixed in with a load of dust and rocks to really make the sparkles pop. Some scientists hypothesise that the origins of the rings lie in the remnants of a destroyed moon, which is either very bleak or strangely beautiful, depending on which way you look at it. But there’s a further dimension to Saturn, something that’s much more relatable to humans of a more creative disposition: it’s a diverse and complex fusion of different ingredients. The planet has a rocky core, enrobed in a thick blanket of metallic hydrogen, on top of which float layers of liquid hydrogen and helium. It looks yellow because the outer atmosphere is full of ammonia. There are 146 known moons orbiting it. This, in essence, is a strange and super-freaky celestial body.


200bhp M50 engined BMW 325i Saloon E30

It’s eminently appropriate, then, that the supremely stylish E30 you see before you should be painted in a shade known as Saturn blue (or Saturnblau, for the linguistic geographical purists). This is actually a genuine BMW colour; in fact, it was this car’s original colour from the factory – it’s since been repainted in the same hue to keep it looking fresh – and it’s a very rare choice. BMW only offered Saturn blue between 1984 and ’86, and only on the E30 3 Series and the E24 6 Series. In marque history, this colour exists as a brief moment in time, much like the scatterings of light across Saturn’s northern hemisphere that, every once in a while, make the planet appear dramatically blue.

The inherent rarity of this spec is what drew French enthusiast Johann Pasquier (@e30_jxhn) to it – although it’s fair to say that he was pretty interested in BMWs in the first place. “I’ve only ever owned BMWs,” he tells us. “Back when I was 18 years old and looking for my first car, I knew I wanted something cool with four round headlights, which led me to a choice between the E30 or the Mk2 Golf. And I think I made the right choice in buying a 316i because RWD is more cool and a real driving experience,” he grins.


200bhp M50 engined BMW 325i Saloon E30

Since that impressively strong start, Johann has gone on to own more Beemers than you can shake the proverbial stick at; he’s had E30s, E28s, E34s, E36s, E38s, E39s… he’s still got that E30 he had as a first car, keeping this Saturn blue example company on the driveway.

This project is by far the most in-depth of any he’s built to date, and it’s not just a hobby for Johann, it’s a vocation and a lifestyle; “I’ve just always loved BMWs, right back to those early days watching the DTM and Procar races,” he explains. “And now I own a classic car parts business, Classique Autowerks.”

The blue E30 was sourced from a friend, just 15 minutes from home, serendipity ensuring that all of this was simply meant to be. “It was in good condition throughout,” says Johann. “I had a plan for it from the start – I really wanted to build a show car project with an E30. This was a good challenge for me, and I think it was successful.”

Yes, we can probably all agree that the end result has turned out rather well. The key to Johann’s success here was to ensure a good mix of diverse and surprising ingredients, all stirred into this unassuming base, to turn something arguably lessloved into an entity of superlative envy on the showground. Job one was to fit a set of coilovers to get things closer to terra firma, although as you’d probably deduced from the way it’s hardparked for this shoot, it’s now on air – specifically, an Air Lift Performance setup with 3P management. And once those arches were pleasingly tarmacadjacent, they had to have something suitably awesome to fill them. “I wanted a cool set of wheels from the ’90s, and the AC Schnitzer wheels by OZ Racing were the goal. It’s different from the eternal BBS RS…” It certainly is, and that retro race aesthetic feeds neatly into those age-old motorsport enthusiasms of Johann’s youth. The full repaint was the next job on the list, followed by the engine swap. Because, oh yes, this guy was far from done with the offbeat ingredients.


200bhp M50 engined BMW 325i Saloon E30

Painstakingly shaving the bay to create a perfectly smooth cradle in which the new powerplant could nestle, the engine of choice was the M50B25NV – the 2.5-litre straight-six pinched from the E30’s contemporary bigger brother, the E34 525i. “I chose this engine because it is very strong, and the sound is amazing,” Johann enthuses. “I fully refurbished it with all OEM BMW parts before installing, and with the custom exhaust, this engine makes 200hp.” More than enough for fun and games in this old-school lightweight and the brawny motor has been mated to the tough gearbox from an E36 325tds, running back to the 3.91 differential from an E36 323ti. And it’s with this E36 connection that things start to get really far off the beaten track. Under the skin, it’s essentially a full E36 Compact chassis setup. “I made these modifications to be able to fit 5x120 wheels and to generally have a better driving experience,” he grins. “It’s got E36 328i brakes, which are further upgraded with race pads, and it’s poly-bushed throughout.”

The Air Lift setup, then, was one designed for the E36 Compact because those were the dimensions Johann was working with after making his adjustments. While it’s all radical and melon-twisting under the bonnet and throughout the chassis, the interior is an entirely different story. Once again, harnessing the concept of infusing a piquant melange of disparate ideas into the formula, Johann opted to leave everything in there pretty much as it was. The interior was all in good condition as the car had been well looked after throughout its life, and the factory Houndstooth cloth trim is an ineffably stylish choice that’s a real credit to the original owner’s option box-ticking. “I fell in love with the Houndstooth,” he says. “I’d never change it for leather, it’s too cool. So the only real difference I made to the interior was to fit a Renown USA steering wheel.”


This gorgeous air-ride E30 Saloon has been fitted with an M50 and modded to perfection.

This lightness of touch is similarly evident with the car’s exterior, Johann opting for a subtle and perfectly judged selection of aesthetic upgrades. The impact of the fresh Saturn blue paint is further amplified by the presence of a late-model front valance with 318is lip and splitter, plus a set of SRS side skirts, while the tail end is a magnificent slice of retro-futurism thanks to the all-red lights and period-perfect heckblende acting as a vivid smear of scarlet lipstick across the celestial blue.

All-in-all, it took around two years for Johann to realise his vision and the care and attention to detail are plainly visible in every inch and with every second spent. Indeed, as he gazes with justified pride at his wonderfully unusual and splendidly alluring creation, it’s hard to pick a favourite part. It all just coalesces so well. “The engine bay is amazing, and it’s the only one like it in France,” he muses, and we have to agree that it is highly impressive. And so is the colour, the stance, the comprehensive chassis swap… hell, it’s all amazing. Inspired by the essence of the sixth planet, this project takes an unlikely four-door base and turns it into something uniquely desirable, maximising the potential of its various diverse components to take the whole concept in strange new directions. A shimmering Cronian entity to run rings around the show scene.

The impact of the fresh Saturn blue paint is further amplified by the presence of a late-model front valance with 318is lip and splitter, plus a set of SRS side skirts, while the tail end is a magnificent slice of retro-futurism


DATA TECH M50 E30 Saloon

  • ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION: 2.5-litre straight-six M50B25NV, fully rebuilt, custom exhaust system. E36 325tds five-speed manual gearbox, E36 323ti 3.91 differential
  • MAX POWER: 200hp
  • CHASSIS: 9x17” (front) and 10x17” (rear) AC Schnitzer Type 1 wheels, 195/40 (front) and 205/40 (rear) Hankook tyres, full E36 Compact chassis setup, poly bushed throughout, E36 Compact Air Lift suspension with 3P management, E36 328i brakes with race pads
  • EXTERIOR: Full repaint in original Saturn blue, late-model front valance with 318is lip and splitter, SRS side skirts, all-red rear lights, heckblende
  • INTERIOR: OEM Houndstooth cloth trim, Renown USA steering wheel
  • THANKS Thanks to my friend Dion from DK Automobiles for helping me with the swap, and all the team from AR Lustracar for the paint and engine bay, and huge thanks to all my team from my brand Classique Autowerks

Renown steering wheel suits the cabin perfectly. I’ve only ever owned BMWs. Back when I was 18 years old and looking for my first car, I knew I wanted something cool with four round headlights, which led me to a choice between the E30 or the Mk2 Golf. And I think I made the right choice. 17” ACS Type 1 Racing wheels look stunning.

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