I raced a BMW 325iS back in the early 1990s. And no, this is not about to degenerate into one of those ‘the older I get the faster I was’ stories but I did race what was then the quickest and most desirable production 3 Series this side of an E30 M3.
To give the full story, I only raced it once and hardly with distinction but I didn’t get in anyone’s way, crash it, or break it. At the end of a memorable Saturday I was able to give it back to BMW Motorsport in one piece and drive off into the sunset in whatever road car I happened to be testing at the time, girlfriend at my side. One of my mates clearly wasn’t impressed with my performance that chilly late winter day – he said I drove like a ‘balloon-foot’ – though it may have contributed to said girlfriend accepting my marriage proposal.
The race meeting was also memorable because it marked the second round of Satcar, the fledgling touring car series which would be a full championship for 1994. With Deon Joubert and Tony Viana in the E36 touring cars, it was left to Shaun van der Linde and Grant van Schalkwyk to represent the factory in Stannic Group N against a gaggle of privateer Beemers and a horde of Superboss Kadetts. The two rising stars crashed famously on the first lap of the first heat and for a few heady laps I was the leading works car, albeit at the back of the field, before they recovered sufficiently to pass me before the finish. I can still hear the sound of Van der Linde’s engine at full chat as he slithered past me in a barely-controlled fury. I drove with real trepidation that day, as the touring car field included virtually all the tin-top stars of the age in brand new and very expensive equipment competing alongside the class A cars.
Robby Smith went on to win the top class of production cars that year, his victory in the Castrol Nine Hour with Geoff Goddard rounding off a perfect 1993 season for the resourceful JSN/Kaye-Eddie BMW team.
Of course, all the race cars mentioned above are 325iS Evolution II versions. If you accept – and not everyone does – that the original ‘S’ (Shadowline) was the three-door car with the high-compression 2.5 litre engine, then the car in these pictures is an Evolution I, the earlier hot Beemer designed to stay ahead of the Kadetts of Roddy Turner and Mike Briggs in the top class of production car racing in 1990.
The first evolution of the Shadowline was launched at the beginning of that year and with 145kW from a 2.7 litre engine it was very quick. Making it quicker still was the fact that the bonnet, front fenders and door skins were aluminium, saving about 25 kilograms. Only later, in the face of warranty and logistics headaches, would the Rosslyn plant revert to steel. Still, a magnet is a handy way of confirming whether a car is a real Evo I, though not foolproof if a car has been in an accident.
A far easier way is to look at the wheels: all Evos wore imported 15 inchers identical to the M3 (which was never built in right-hooker form) and therefore had five studs rather than the four of other E30s. In fact the hubs, brakes and front and rear suspension and ride height of the Evo One was identical to that of the M3, though the spring rates in front differed slightly because of the mass of our six-cylinder engine.
The higher engine capacity was achieved by using the crankshaft from a 325 turbodiesel, the increased stroke bumping capacity to 2 693cc. The unique engines were built on a separate production line at the Munich engine plant and then crated here where a local exhaust system was added. Like most fast Beemers, the battery was in the boot and a revised airbox contributed to its bigger numbers. Details like using glass at the lower limit of the thickness tolerance and a close-ratio gearbox all helped to endow it with performance characteristics that made the car the darling of the times. There were few more dramatic ways to go backwards off the road, but at least it didn’t suffer from understeer …