There are a few ways to get into road racing. Most commonly, people try their hand first with karts, and if they are bitten by the single-seater bug, then the Formula Fords and Formula Vees are the next logical step. Failing that, or assuming they’re too tall to squeeze into the confines of a formula car, there are a few sedans which can be had for relatively little.
The most obvious of the entry-level, fendered racers is the Spec Miata. Light, plentiful, cheap and nimble, these cars teach one what they need to learn about racing, but it isn’t all hunky-dory. Spec Miata can get very expensive, and there seems to be an accepted level of aggression that has earned the series the moniker “Spec Piñata.” There is a similarly-priced alternative for those who prefer a little less agility, a little more torque and, in all honesty, a much better exhaust note.
That alternate route takes one to the Spec E30. For those who aren’t in-the-know, a Spec E30 is basically a caged, gutted and mildly modified 1987-1991 3-series BMW, excluding the M cars. Extra emphasis is placed on the word “mildly,” because this category hasn’t reached the same level of competition or recognition as Spec Miata, and the clever boys with the big budgets tucked away in inconspicuous packages haven’t arrived to the party yet. That isn’t to say the category isn’t competitive though, and this video should show that.
Fundamentally, the E30 is never going to be as nimble as the Miata — it’s proportions don’t allow it. It’s a little top heavy, and the rear suspension has a funny habit of drastically changing toe under compression. However, this isn’t necessarily a hindrance, because it makes them lively, and this sort of racing is all about budget thrills. More importantly, they’ve got torque — something the Miata lacks entirely — and this means that drafting is easier, and throttle oversteer is only a prod away!
Seeing these two change position, drift in unison and give one another congratulatory hand gestures illustrates what this is all about. Despite being fiercely competitive, these two have such parity between their machines that the determining factor is talent. Whether that pass is due to a better drive out of the preceding corner, a little gutsier application of the brakes, or a bit of luck, it certainly is not due to superior equipment.
While they may have some torque from their six-cylinder engines, they aren’t particularly powerful, which is a great thing. Lacking power forces a driver to be exceptionally smooth and delicate with the controls, so as not to get into a time-sapping slide which cannot be recovered from (time-wise) with pure grunt. Instead, careful control and clever racecraft are at a premium here, and those fundamental skills one needs to become an excellent driver are all taught in this category.
One other, less obvious strength these machines have is their innate resilience. The Miata is a flimsy car, whereas these BMWs are built with a sturdiness that belies their size. Bashing doors and scraping paint is a part of club racing, but at least these 3-series can take a beating like an all-star masochist. For less than ten grand, one can obtain a prepped E30 that runs on 87 gas and will deliver smiles all day long. If you’re looking to get into road racing and lack the sort of fortune it’ll take to get into a prototype, try one of these. They might not seem like it, but this video will show that they’re anything but boring.