Looking at the BMW E30 touring car basking in the June sunshine I canít help thinking it looks more like a museum piece than a fully-functioning race car. It doesnít seem that long ago when these M3s were battling with Sierra Cosworths and Cavalier GSis, but in fact they disappeared in 1991, seventeen years ago.
To find out PistonHeads has travelled to Wales where BMW has arranged for the two cars to get a good thrashing around this 1.456 mile circuit. Before we make any predictions itís worth remembering that the E30 has more power Ė approximately 320bhp compared to the E90ís quoted 280bhp Ė and at around 950kg it is some 250kgs lighter.
So all we need now is a driver that can squeeze every last bit of performance out of these two cars and give us a solid understanding of how they differ on the track. Enter Mr Priaulx, who has just stepped out of a rented Vauxhall Vectra.
You may think that after winning the championship three times in a row, and currently in the midst of another season, he would be slightly blasť about getting into that familiar driversí seat. But Priaulx looks enthusiastic and eager to show what the car can do, chatting with the on-site technician about the current set-up.
Priaulx sagely suggests warming the car up before any hot laps, before starting the ignition and wheel-spinning the 320si out of the paddock. As the car screams around the back of the circuit you can hear the sound of a shrieking four-pot bouncing off the trees behind it, before he changes up a gear and gives the engine a momentís respite.
Priaulx drops the clutch and the E90 fires out onto the circuit so fast that he is using an armful of opposite lock and the car is half on the grass before we reach the Esses. Brooklands Hairpin is taken far faster than I thought possible and now we are hammering along Speedway Straight into Woodlands.
He seems to be fighting with the car and by the time we reach the Esses again he is almost drifting it. Despite, or perhaps because of, the obvious lack of grip, Priaulx is displaying awesome driving talent. Every bend is taken fully committed, with armfuls of lock to stop the car spinning, often with the rear skimming the grass.
ĎI reckon weíre 15 or 20 seconds off what the car could do around here Ė there was no grip on the back,í he says disappointedly. Despite this set-back it is time to wheel out the E30. Priaulx tells me that he has always wanted to have a drive in an M3 touring car ever since seeing Steve Soper racing them back in the day.
ĎIím really looking forward to driving it,í he says. ĎI grew up watching the likes of Soper and I can remember all the names. Itís an absolute honour to be able to drive the car.í
After a lap it looks like heís been driving it all his life and he looks like heís enjoying himself. The M3 is an amazing sight and still looks incredibly quick around Pembrey. After a few laps he comes back in. ĎItís not as twitchy on the limit,í he tells me, taking a sip from another tea. It feels like a historic car, but a very nicely balanced car though. Itís a totally different feel to the E90, thatís a lot twitchier Ė the E30 is really easy to drive.í
ĎIt definitely smells like a historic car, there were fumes inside,í he says. ĎItís got a nice balance though, a nice feeling, but you certainly carry less speed into a bend. I was trying pretty hard but I was losing time when changing gear. Itís a nice handling car but it feels less pointy than mine and the steering is much heavier.
With decent tyres Priaulx guesses the E90 could take at least 10 seconds a lap out of the E30, maybe more, which is a lot considering a minute lap around Pembrey is fast. Before he leaves Priaulx sums it perfectly: ĎIt wouldnít be quick enough to get anywhere near the back of the WTCC grid today.í
As I leave Pembrey I wonder if in another fifth of a century the E90 wonít know which direction a new touring car went. Iíll let you know in 2028Ö