By Matt McCarron
Aponte-Rios' E30 M3 makes its way down pit lane following a successful BMW CCA club race on Oct. 22 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Color. This word can be described as many different things, such as vividness of visual appearance resulting from the presence of brightly colored things. In the case of BMW enthusiast and BMW CCA racer Miguel Aponte-Rios’ 1989 E30 M3 race car it describes an over-the-top artistic individual expression of automotive art and represents one man’s long-term love affair with a car from his youth.
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
“The love for the E30 started back when I was in high school,” said Aponte-Rios.
Although he had always been a follower of all things fast and four-wheeled Aponte-Rios lacked the means to purchase the cars he wanted in his native Puerto Rico.
“I was into cars in Puerto Rico as much as I could. I could never afford anything. I had a Chevrolet Z24 Cavalier convertible,” he said, chuckling to himself. “That was my first ‘sort of’ fast car.”
Luckily, his time in the Z24 would be forgotten. Everything changed when his older brother received the very first E30 M3 to arrive on the island.
“As soon as it came in I just fell in love with it,” he said. “I was always drawing it, you know. As a teenager you’re always drawing stuff in class, it was all E30 M3s.”
His older brother might have owned one of the most desirable cars in the entire country, but it didn’t mean Aponte-Rios could take part in the driving pleasure or experience what the car was all about, as his brother refused to let him drive the car.
This problem went away when his brother had a change of heart during Aponte-Rios’ first week of college, letting him take the iconic M3 for the weekend. After getting a proper dose of BMW newest 4-cylinder creation he vowed to get one of his own.
FROM Z3 TO E36 WIDE BODY
As the years passed and Aponte-Rios moved from Puerto Rico to the United States his dreams of owning an E30 M3 took a back seat to other priorities. It wasn’t until a fateful move to Boston, Mass., from the Pacific Northwest in 1999 that would reignite his enthusiasm and uncover a newfound passion for autocross and racing. While living in the area his roommate encouraged Aponte-Rios to take his 1998 Z3 with a 2.8-liter, inline six cylinder to autocross events in the area. After taking his roommate up on the offer and attending a meeting at HMS Motorsport in Danvers, Mass., Aponte-Rios decided to give autocross and other performance driving events a shot. It didn’t take long for him to become hooked.
“I went to my first autocross with the Z3 as it was, and it was just completely awesome,” he recounted. “Within six months I had the HMS roll bar, two racing seats in the car, HMS harness, I started looking at suspension, all this stuff.”
After autocrossing for a few years Aponte-Rios started to get drawn to the racetrack, eventually becoming a certified high-performance driving instructor. During this time, while he was spending more and more time on the track, he moved from the Z3 to an M Roadster. After the M Roadster Aponte-Rios bought a 1995 3-series wide body, replacing the original race engine with a more powerful S54 sourced from a ’01-’06 E46 M3. The E36, with a strong power-to-weight ratio, was a perennial contender at BMW CCA club races and other sponsored races at such racetracks as New Hampshire Motor Speedway (NHMS), Watkins Glen, New Jersey Motorsports Park (NJMP) and the Monticello Motor Club.
Colorful, geometric lines originate from the left front wheel and conclude at the right rear bumper.
CHANGE OF FORTUNE
Regardless of his success with the wide body, Aponte-Rios was consistently faced with being overly quick compared to other cars he was racing against. Longing for a return to hard-nosed, fierce competition with fellow enthusiasts Aponte-Rios looked for something “challenging,” something other than simply mashing the throttle and pulling away from his competitors.
“With the wide body, in some ways, it was easier because the car was so fast,” he said. “A lot of times it got sort of boring.”
For years the Founder and President of Turner Motorsport, Will Turner, owned his own personal Alpine White E30 M3 track car. Aponte-Rios had urged Turner to sell him the vehicle, which sat unused for approximately four years, but to no avail. Even with the prospect of acquiring the car in doubt, Aponte-Rios told Turner he wanted to be the first one to know if the car was to come up for sale.
“I told him (Turner) when you decide to do it, I don’t care what happens, I want it,” he said.
Then, as Aponte-Rios debated what to do to improve and progress with his overall driving skills an Internet ad appeared that changed everything. It just so happened that during this time Turner had decided to post his E30 M3 track car for sale online.
During the same time Aponte-Rios contacted a fellow driving instructor in New Jersey who had been “obsessed” with the wide body every time the car visited NJMP. Then, poof, as if by magic, just 24 hours after the phone call Aponte-Rios’ E36 wide body was gone to a new owner, leaving him with only one thing left to do, buy Will Turner’s E30 M3.
“It was hard seeing the wide body gone,” he said.
But his disappointment was short-lived as 36 hours after seeing the E36 leave on a trailer for the last time he was sitting in Will Turner’s office completing the paperwork for the purchase of the car he had wanted for more than 20 years.
“It was, sort of, meant to be I guess,” he said. “It just felt right, and it’s something I’ve always wanted since I was young.”
The E30 M3 before it underwent its technicolor transformation.
NEARLY STOCK, J-STOCK
The car he had drawn endlessly during high school was now sitting in his garage, but Aponte-Rios had to decide what he wanted to do with the car. When purchased the M3 was in its original BMWCCA J-Stock racing configuration, meaning the vehicle was largely unchanged in many respects, especially the motor. The 2.3-liter, 4-cylinder S14 engine was completely untouched, except for a performance chip, while the rest of the car was outfitted with relatively minor modifications needed for track use and to operate within class guidelines. These included J-Stock suspension, Borla Cat-Back Exhaust, reinforcements to the front and rear sway bars and subframe, beefier differential mounts, carbon fiber brake duct system, stainless steel brake lines and a full roll cage. The exterior of the vehicle had recently been treated to a brand-new paint job in the original color. Alpine White has been a classic and popular paint color on BMWs for decades, with many factory-sponsored race cars donning the snowy white shade. Regardless of the shiny new paint, Aponte-Rios was again drawn to his childhood and the BMWs of yesteryear for inspiration.
CREATING AUTOMOTIVE ART
Whether it was roll bars and racing seats on his Z3 or an extreme wide body kit on his E36, Aponte-Rios has always pushed for individuality in his cars.
“Throughout the history of the cars that I’ve had I’ve always tried to be unique in one way or another,” he said. “With the E30, it was the past of BMWs that was calling.”
With that thought in mind and a literal “blank canvas” standing before him Aponte-Rios decided to create his own interpretation of BMW art.
“I still remember during those early years when all the art cars started coming out. I figured to do something unique with the car, do something related to BMW Art Cars,” he said.
To put his plan into action Aponte-Rios contacted Image 4, a graphic design firm based in Manchester, N.H. The company owners, Jeff and Liz Baker, were more than willing to take on the project, especially considering their background as Spec Miata racers. As Aponte-Rios began to explain his visions about what he wanted the car to look like, designer Amanda Christensen started to draw potential designs for the vinyl wrap that would eventually cover the car. The final design for the car had two different symbolic meanings. The first had to do with Aponte-Rios’ appreciation for BMW Motorsport and the history of the brand.
“It has some meanings hidden in there. One of them is if you really look at the colors that are in it, it evokes the original, very early BMW Motorsport colors,” he said.
Second, and more importantly, the design and where the colors originate from on the car reinforced Aponte-Rios’ belief that good, fast driving on the racetrack all starts with the front driver’s side wheel and tire.
“To me the most important tire and wheel on the car is the driver’s front side. I feel like that’s the one that dictates everything. How close you get into a turn, how fast you go through a turn,” he said.
Work on the E30 M3 commenced on Tuesday, Oct. 18, at Image 4’s headquarters with the laying and application of the vinyl graphic and continued for two full days. When Aponte-Rios brought the car to New Hampshire Motor Speedway the following weekend to take part in the BMW Autumn Festival and to race in various BMWCCA club races, a significant amount of fans and fellow racers stopped by the garage to inquire about the newly redesigned M3. And they did so with good reason. Aponte-Rios’ artistic rendition of BMW art is truly something to behold.
“I don’t want something that you go around the car and it’s all the same. I wanted something that looked different every corner you looked at it,” he said.
And that is exactly what Image 4 created. The sheer amount of color that emanates from the front driver’s side wheel arc looks like an explosion of color not seen since Jackson Pollock last picked up a paintbrush. As the design moves outward from the point of origin the geometric shapes and lines become wider and more pronounced in size, ending on the passenger side rear bumper. The characteristic flared fenders, front bumper and legendary round headlights give the E30 an aggressive appearance that compliments its otherwise outgoing and colorful personality.
A RETURN TO RACING
With the artistic transformation and other upgrades complete Aponte-Rios was finally ready to realize the original mission he had set forth before buying the E30 M3, to return to competitive and fulfilling racing with BMWs, particularly other E30 M3s. Prior to racing the car at New Hampshire Aponte-Rios expressed his excitement in having to fight for position and face greater obstacles in overcoming his competitors on the track.
“With the E30 I feel like it’s definitely going to be more challenging,” he said. “It’s a totally different car. It’s not a ‘put your foot down and go’ car, it’s a momentum car, so the braking going into a turn, exiting a turn, driving through the turn is completely different.”
Before the series of club races at NHMS Aponte-Rios’ M3 had been moved from its former J-Stock class designation to M3T (M3 Touring), a higher class allowing drivers to make substantial changes and modifications to the vehicle’s engine, suspension and to reduce the overall weight. However, as the race began on the afternoon of Oct. 22, Aponte-Rios’ M3 was only placed in M3T due to a carbon fiber rear spoiler added following the purchase. In spite of the lack of modifications, Aponte-Rios and his E30 M3 claimed top honors for the M3T class in the three races he participated throughout the weekend, posting at best lap time of 1 minute 14.8 seconds.
Aponte-Rios' E30 M3 exits Turn 6 (The Bowl) at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
A FUTURE IN M3T
With the 2011 race season at an end for Miguel and his artsy M3, the car has begun to be prepared for the next round of appearances in the spring.
The first modification was to drastically drop the curb weight. All non-essential items from the interior and engine bay, such as the AC compressor, AC lines, power steering and heaps of plastic will be removed. Following the reduction of clutter on the interior the S14 power plant will also be removed and will undergo a large overhaul, increasing the output and making the car more suitable for M3T competition. It will include the addition of race cams, reprogramming of the electronic control unit (ECU) and other modifications allowed in the class. The E30 M3 will also be fitted with a host of improved and original OEM components to make the vehicle handle, stop and accelerate properly including coilover suspension, Eibach springs, stock brake rotors with racing pads on all four corners, fully-built 4.45 racing differential and a lightweight clutch and flywheel.
Despite the vibrant exterior design, under the hood and in the cockpit the car will retain its original color with a fresh coat of Alpine White paint. Ironically, it’s a straightforward switch that gives some contrast to this otherwise outrageous, one-off M3. The valve cover will be painted Alpine White.
Although BMW produced over 18,204 units worldwide, 5,300 in North America Aponte-Rios’ E30 M3 is special. It has an unequaled combination of provenance as a racing car, historical significance as a road car and one-off artistic styling; it’s truly one-of-a-kind.
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