Building My BMW E36 M3 Rally Car Is a Race Itself

Image: Aaron Brown/Jalopnik

My first rally race with my newish-to-me 1995 BMW M3 is coming up on me faster than the trees I hope to be near-missing at the event next week. I still have a whole spreadsheet of service items to get done. I keep wondering this to myself: “Am I screwed?”

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To briefly recap, I recently bought a stripped-out, 124,000-mile, half roll cage-equipped E36 M3 with the goal of turning into a race car for the dirt and gravel.

Since then, I spent most of June scavenging parts and anxiously blowing up my cage builder’s phone as I waited for the rally-legal roll caging and log booking process to be completed on my M3. In-car scaffolding aside, I spent thousands of dollars on suspension, tires, wheels, and general rally car prep that I knew I would have to hustle and install. And no, next month’s credit card statement will not be a pleasant one.

My STI is now a rally support vehicle.
Photo: Aaron Brown/Jalopnik

Since the cage took a little bit longer than expected, I now have even less time to prepare the car for its competition debut at New England Forest Rally at the end of next week. Oh, and as a reminder, I have a full-time job. And I definitely can’t afford to pay anyone to do the majority of this work for me.

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(Yes, this is the part where you jump to the comments and tell me off for being a broke fool.)

Who needs visibility? (Just kidding, I thought I was going to die).
Photo: Aaron Brown/Jalopnik
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My pre-race to-do list.
Graphic: Aaron Brown

After a hellish drive back from the cage builder in southern Massachusetts on Saturday—it was torrentially pouring, I lost a wiper, the car and its terrible all-seasons were all over the place, and I couldn’t find the defroster or see through my windshield, yet somehow I didn’t die—myself and my friends (emphasis on friends) went to work Sunday to put the car together.

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With my friend Ethan, a lifted Jeep Wrangler driver, doing most of the heavy lifting, we were able to get through a healthy amount of my pre-race to-do list.

Ethan graciously helped replace two very-stuck engine mounts, install racing hood pins, a spare tire strap, and the Bilstein HDs and new springs I bought for the rear suspension. Friend, Road & Track Social Media Editor, and my co-driver Brian Silvestro removed one of my Sparco seats, installed some racing lugs, and mounted my front plate on the car. Mathias, my personal BMW guru and reoccurring cast member in the sitcom I call “My Life” helped here and there while he was manual-swapping one of his two E30s. I went in on some fluid flushing, general tidying, and prepping and spray painting the roll cage.

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Ethan torquing those Bilsteins to spec.
Photo: Aaron Brown/Jalopnik
Mathias under his formerly automatic E30.
Photo: Aaron Brown/Jalopnik
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Of course, I still have a few big hurdles left. I need to do a rear, non-M brake swap so that we can fit 15-inch wheels on the car. From what I’ve read, this will require getting trailing arms, rotors, axles, calipers, and the whole shebang.

In addition to installing those bits, I actually need to go out and find them. Luckily, I’ve tracked down someone who apparently has most of those parts, and I’m hoping to take the hour-and-a-half drive to go get them later today.

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My $50 roll cage paint job featuring high-heat spray paint from Home Depot.
Photo: Aaron Brown/Jalopnik

On top of that, I need to figure out a skid plate and some other underbody protection for the fuel system, which I may outsource to local rally king Bill Petrow of Broken Motorsports. Well, if either of us has the time to make one before the rally.

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Oh, also, my car still has an issue where it will occasionally stall when the clutch is put in. And no, I haven’t found the vacuum leak that is probably causing it, yet.

The almost-rally car at the end of the day. Yes, those are 15s on the front and 17s on the rear.
Photo: Aaron Brown/Jalopnik
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Then there’s the restrictor plate and front suspension parts I’m still waiting for and that have to go in, and the minor exhaust work that has to be done. It’s all fine! Everything’s fine.

Now excuse me while I bug my boss for some additional, last-minute off days and continue to spend even more money I shouldn’t be spending.

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About the author

Aaron Brown

ex Jalopnik car boy, former social media editor.