THE MASTERPIECE / #BMW-E21
This E21 wows with its Euro-look styling, race-inspired interior and E30 M3 Evo 2 S14 under the bonnet. It is a very rare occasion when a modified BMW comes up that simply excels in every area. This German E21 is one such car. Sublime Euro-look, race-style interior, custom boot install and the inspired choice of dropping an S14 E30 M3 Evo 2 engine into the immaculate bay. A masterpiece indeed. Words: Iain Curry. Photos: Max Earey.
I’m in love. I never thought it would happen this way, but it has. Yet I regret I’m cheating on another. At home I have my E21: a stylish, attractive and reasonably reliable partner. Yes, she’s let me down a few times, and is a bit ropey around the edges, but she deserves better than this. One short business trip on the continent, one sunny afternoon in the country, and I’ve fallen for a 24-year-old German beauty. A quick look at the automotive pornography on these pages is my only defence. How can this car not be adored by all?
For a start, no BMW from 1982 has a right to look this good. When I say it is immaculate, I mean immaculate. There is not a flaw anywhere on the body, inside the cabin, in the boot or under the bonnet. Even the fuse box is spotlessly clean. You could almost accept a concours original E21 that’s kept in a heated museum 365 days a year to be of this incredible standard, but not one that’s been so brilliantly modified with around treble the power over its factory figure.
Forced induction for this staggering fact? Not in this instance. This car started life as a 1982 BMW 315, a car sold in Germany with the dizzying performance figure of 73bhp. When 35-year-old Michael Pietsch bought the gutless white classic in 1990 – his first car no less – no one could have envisaged the remarkable transformation that would take place over the years. At the heart of the whole operation is the inspired choice of installing an E30 M3 Evo 2’s 2.3-litre S14 engine. The performance difference doesn’t even bare thinking about.
The standard Evo 2 engine is good for 215bhp, and with Michael adding a Hartge engine management chip, Eisenmann E36 M3 exhaust parts and a K&N air filter, he can expect a few more ponies on top of that as well. With around 150 extra horsepower over a standard 315’s output thanks to the engine transplant and upgrades, the little E21 has been transformed into a true road racer. A conservative estimate of 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds ensures it would embarrass many more exotic machines at a traffic light grand prix, and could even shame a few modern so-called performance BMWs with a four-cylinder powerplant (that means you, E90 320si owners).
When modifiers complete engine swaps, it’s usually a good plan to fit the corresponding gearbox at the same time. Michael has obliged by adding the E30 M3’s race-style dogleg ’box (with first gear usually where second gear is, and second gear where third normally is and so on). To make the gear changes even quicker, there’s also a shorter gear throw thanks to an M3 short-shift kit. While this was going on, an Alpina LSD was also fitted to increase traction and improve handling.
As impressive as the engine and drivetrain set up is, this is just one part of a quite phenomenal customising job. As is de rigueur with Euro-look cars, Michael has dropped the body perfectly on deep-dish alloys to give that unbeatably squat, menacing stance. KW Variant 1 coilovers lower the body 80mm at the front and 60mm out back, enveloping the impossibly clean 8.5x16” and 9.5x16” Chevlon Racing Mesh split rims.
Behind these delightful polished rollers sits a brake upgrade suitable for the three-fold increase in power over a standard E21 315. TarOx 307mm discs are squeezed by six-pot calipers at the front, while E30 325i discs with Ferodo pads grace the back. To round off the impressive chassis upgrades to go with the coilovers and bigger anchors, Michael has fitted front and rear strut braces and an E21 323i antiroll bar. As you’d expect, this little E21 is one hell of a good laugh to be piloting along twisty German roads.
Looking as good as it does, it’s no surprise to find Michael doesn’t go into battle with it at the Nürburgring every weekend. A shame considering its performance, but it ensures the exterior remains looking this good. The body itself has had very little done to it: the E21 is such an attractive retro car as standard it simply doesn’t need tacky add-ons.
Instead, Michael has ensured the body has been resprayed to the highest level in its vivid red hue, while he’s had the arches subtly pulled out 10mm at the front and 15mm at the rear to accommodate the wide wheels and lowered body. What more needs doing? A quick bit of de-badging, white indicators and a black kidney grille combined with the slightly fatter body and the look is perfect. Simplicity at its finest.
As for the interior, well, what can you say? 34-year-old cars should smell old, be thoroughly worn through and have all the bells and whistles that came as standard back in the early Eighties (ie none). This is the case with my musty, tatty old E21 but Michael’s is an altogether different animal.
He has managed to retain the period feel of the E21’s standard inside and combine it with delightful modern touches to make all E21 fans go weak at the knees. There is simply no other word for it: perfection.
From the König sport seats with Schroth harnesses to the black Porsche carpets, everything has been chosen to ensure this cabin is an exceptional place to be. A Raid 320mm steering wheel is a vast improvement over the standard E21’s bussized offering, the speedo dials are Alpina items, while #VDO
gauges have been tastefully mounted in the centre console with a custom aluminium surround.
Thanks to Michael’s skills learnt in his job, he has been able to fabricate plenty of these custom aluminium parts that give the unique feel to the interior. The craftsmanship of the window winders, gear stick and surround (very Ferrari-esque), handbrake handle, door sills and door pins is exceptional, complemented with the likes of metal pedals and plenty of M badges dotted around paying homage to the improved lump under the bonnet.
You’ll notice the Brax MultiController embedded in the dashboard, and this keeps a close eye on the highly professional ICE install in the boot. Michael was keen to show off his E21’s impressive sound quality, treating us to a selection of his German death metal hits. Well, it was certainly an improvement on the usual Euro-pop that gets blared out at German shows.
Have you ever seen a tidier boot install? There’s still space for a few bags after embedding the Kicker Punch 1000W amp in the spare wheel well (covered by Perspex) and the 400W amp in the side pod, while two 12” Kicker Freeair subs have been neatly placed at the boot’s rear, mounted on tasteful chequer plating. There’s also a Strike LCB1200 battery on show, and a Resolution two-way crossover, while the finish is, once again, in quality Porsche black carpeting. For a bit of extra show, there are also three blue neons illuminating the boot come sundown.
As with the rest of this E21, the boot is impossibly clean. But no matter where you look throughout Michael’s 1982 classic, there is nowhere it can be faulted. From top to toe it is nothing short of flawless, and how a car that is nearly a quarter of a century old looks in such fantastic condition is a miracle. The rebuilding job performed by Michael is the work of a genius. The engine could be from an S14 museum, the custom aluminium detailing is desirably fresh, and the body looks as though it has just left the finest paint shop in Germany. Is it any wonder he’s walked away with 56 show trophies since 1999?
It may look as though it is trailered to every show it enters, but Michael hasn’t had all the performance upgrades done for no reason. He told me the former 315’s top speed is now 150mph, and he knows this because he’s done it on the autobahn. Must be a strange feeling in an E21! But with the incredible chassis setup and well over 200bhp on tap, how could you not enjoy exploring its potential? Best of all, when playtime is over, give it a quick polish and it’s ready to be a show-winner once again. There’s no way you can not love this quite brilliant little car.
An inspired modification for the humble E21: transplanting an E30 M3 Evo 2’s 2.3-litre, 215bhp engine. Even though the bay is 34 years old and the engine 25, everything you see is immaculate.
…no BMW from 1982 has a right to look this good. When I say it is immaculate, I mean immaculate. There is not a flaw anywhere on the body, inside the cabin, in the boot or under the bonnet.
As with the rest of the car, the E21’s ICE install is perfection. Kicker subs and amps mounted delightfully with chequer plating and black Porsche carpets.
E30 M3 Evo 2 engine swap means the gearbox comes with it. Racing dogleg it is then.
Custom aluminium parts include window winders, door sills, gear stick, handbrake and gauge surrounds.
Interior is still classically E21, but custom aluminium goodies and the Raid steering wheel modernise the flawless cabin.
Above: Alpina speedo adds a custom flavour. Below: As close to an E21 M3 as there’s been.
Michael has managed to retain the period feel of the E21’s standard inside and combine it with delightful modern touches to make all E21 fans go weak at the knees. There is simply no other word for it: perfection.
Black BMW badges offer a finishing touch.
Michael said the former 315’s top speed is now 150mph, and he knows this because he’s done it on the autobahn. Must be a strange feeling in an E21!
DATA FILE #BMW-E21
ENGINE: 2.3-litre four-cylinder #S14
with custom stainless steel exhaust system using #Eisenmann
E36 M3 parts, #K&N
air filter, #Hartge
engine management chip, braided hoses throughout. E30 M3 five-speed dogleg transmission with short-shift from M3, #Alpina-LSD
with 40% diff lock
PERFORMANCE: 215bhp with top speed of 150mph and 0-62mph in 6.5 seconds
CHASSIS: 8.5x16” ET7 (front) and 9.5x16” ET7 (rear) #Chevlon-Racing-Mesh
split-rim alloys shod in 215/40 (front) and 225/40 (rear) Dunlop SP9000 tyres. #KW-Variant-1
coilovers lowering 80mm front and 60mm rear, front strut brace with custom aluminium strut covers, rear strut brace, E21 323i anti-roll bar. TarOx 307mm brake discs with 6-pot #TarOx
calipers up front, E30 325i discs with Ferodo S 2000 pads at rear
EXTERIOR: Arches pulled out 10mm front and 15mm rear, de-badged boot, M3 badge on front grille, black BMW roundels, custom white indicators front and rear
INTERIOR: Black and red König sports seats, Schroth harnesses, Raid 320mm steering wheel with black BMW logo and M emblem, metal pedals with M logos, black Porsche carpets, Alpina dials, custom aluminium door sills, window winders, gear stick, gear stick housing, handbrake handle, door pins and gauge surround, VDO gauges, custom chrome screws throughout (over 100 in total)
ICE: Clarion DRZ 960Z head unit with 12-disc CD changer, Brax MultiController in dashboard, two 12” Kicker Freeair subs, Kicker Punch 1000W amp, Kicker Punch 400W amp, Resolution two-way crossover, Rockford Fosgate 1 Farad capacitor, Strike LCB1200 battery, custom boot floor with Perspex covering, chequer plate detailing, three blue neon lights
THANKS: Roger Hiller (painting), Armin Betzelberger (electrics)