Hop on the Bandwagon

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Written by Tom Suddard

From the Nov. 2015 issue

Posted in Features

Jason Cammisa is your average not-quite-middleaged-looking guy. He wears a collar to work. He lives in California. He hates traffic. He owns a BMW. Nine out of 10 people don’t even notice when he drives by.

The 10th person? He runs after Jason. Screaming. Tripping. Flailing. He ignores Paganis and supermodels while desperately fumbling for his camera app. No, Jason isn’t a politician or a celebrity–just the owner of an E30 Touring.

What? You say there's no such thing?

That isn’t a misprint. BMW actually did crank out longroof variants of their GRM-friendly E30-chassis 3 Series. Of course, they were never available in the U.S., but they were sold overseas starting in 1987. Today, thanks to Uncle Sam’s rolling 25-year-old rule, the first three years of E30 Touring are finally legal to import.

That’s where Jason’s 1990 BMW 325i Touring comes into play. His is one of the first wave of legal Tourings to enter the country, and to those who know what they’re looking at, it’s amazing. Not only is it a wagon, but it’s a 325i, meaning it originally came with a 2.5- liter six-cylinder.

That engine choice may not sound special in the States, but in Germany a 2.5-liter engine is huge–and expensive come tax time. Most E30 wagons were of the 318i or 320i variety, meaning smaller or four-cylinder engines and less fun.

Looking for a wagon with the big engine? Of course you are, and you should be. Due to German tax laws, they’re actually less desirable there, so you’ll pay less to buy one of these from Germany than you would for one with the smaller engine.

“The original owner of this car ordered every single performance-enhancing part for the car, including the M-Tech body kit–rear spoiler, side skirts and the lower front spoiler–the big motor, the big wheels, a limited-slip and nothing else. No a/c, no power sunroof, no power windows,” Jason explains. “It weighs 2862 pounds with a full tank of gas. He’s my hero.”

Wagons Ho!

Of course, Jason couldn’t leave well enough alone. He’s a car guy, and his garage is full of fast European cars. After spending some quality time with his wagon in stock form, he put it under the knife. What rolled out of the garage afterward can only be described as wagon-nerd perfection.

Jason started off with the engine, swapping the block for the 2.7-liter unit from a 325e and adding the light flywheel from an E21-chassis 323i. Sprinkle some Dinan software on top, and the result is just over 180 horsepower and more torque just off idle than the original engine’s peak output.

But anybody can make a wagon go fast in a straight line. Jason didn’t want to just own a Caprice with funny badges, so he turned his attention to the suspension. The E30’s stock steering rack was tossed in favor of a quicker-ratio unit from an E36, while Ireland Engineering camber plates and a Spec E30 suspension kit were bolted on underneath. Instead of the race springs, though, Jason used H&R Sport springs to give it a little more ride height than your average track car. This setup gives the Touring an aggressive stance while keeping it civil on the street.

At the end of the day, Jason’s wagon is awesome. It will stick with a Spec E30 around a track, carry a week’s worth of camping gear, and be the strangest car in attendance–all at once.

Want an E30 Wagon of Your Own?

There are few things cooler than a fast wagon. Why? Because they embody every European-only fantasy that car nerds drool over. Not too many exist here, but overseas it’s a different story. Lots of fast cars have wagon variants, and people buy them–lots of them. Add in foreign languages and license plates, and the result is car-nerd nirvana.

“No problem,” you’re surely thinking, “I’ll just buy one, then ship it over for a few grand.”

That’s a great idea, but you’ll end up with no money and even less wagon. Unless you’re a Koch brother or a car company, you won’t have any luck legally importing a latemodel wagon–even if it shares most of its DNA with a U.S. model. Yes, there are ways around this, and yes, there’s an official process to do this, but don’t try it.

Luckily, there’s a loophole: There aren’t many people desperate enough to buy and import a 25-year-old car, so the government lets them in automatically–no crazy hoops or excessive paperwork. Owning your own E30 Touring is as easy as buying one, arranging to have it shipped, declaring it at the port, and patting yourself on the back for a job well done.

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Reader comments:

xflowgolf
Jan. 21, 2016 2:46 p.m.

weren't E30 wagons sold in Canada too?

Not sure if 325 variety was sold there, but it would seem alot less costly to drive across the border than to ship from overseas.

Neat cars!

Jay
Jay UltraDork
Jan. 21, 2016 2:56 p.m.

There's a REALLY nice one in town here on Ronal Turbos. A more perfect match of car & wheel has never been made.

It looks just like this one, only a bit lower & shinier. It has a roof rack too.

jere
jere HalfDork
Jan. 21, 2016 8:06 p.m.

Lacking availability of wagons I have never given these things much of a chance. This is pretty eye opening. Whats the ball park buy in prices?

Vigo
Vigo PowerDork
Jan. 21, 2016 8:24 p.m.

I enjoyed the Motor Trend video he put up about it.

GTwannaB
GTwannaB HalfDork
Jan. 21, 2016 11:13 p.m.

Can someone explain the process of importing a 25 year old European car that was built after 1975 into CA? So the Federal govt is OK with any 25 year old car? But how do you get it past CA smog? I could understand importing a 1974 BMW, but how do you import a 1990 and register it in CA like this guy?

BTW I would be more interested in importing an Opel Manta, Peugeot 205 gti or maybe a manual Mercedes SLC.

BoxheadTim
BoxheadTim UltimaDork
Jan. 21, 2016 11:24 p.m.

In reply to GTwannaB:

You make it pass CA emissions. Probably going to cost you cubic dollars, which is why most of those grey imports end up outside CA.

Stefan (Not Bruce)
Jan. 21, 2016 11:27 p.m.
BoxheadTim wrote: In reply to GTwannaB: You make it pass CA emissions. Probably going to cost you cubic dollars, which is why most of those grey imports end up outside CA.

Or outside smog tested areas of California.

BoxheadTim
BoxheadTim UltimaDork
Jan. 21, 2016 11:29 p.m.

In reply to Stefan (Not Bruce):

IIRC you have to get a car smogged at least once when registering it in CA. You might not have to re-smog it if you live in a rural county, but you have to smog it at least once...

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