Driven: Gama E30 V8-S
We try an old 3-series with a V8 shoehorned in. And fall in lust...
What look fleetingly like black steel wheels reveal themselves to be shiny black alloys coupled with distinctly racy (and wide) Toyo 888s, while at the back is a workmanlike exhaust.
But it's evident that this is no chavved-up shed; it's all too subtle, clean, and well put together. That's because, of course, this particular E30 BMW is not some tarted-up Max Power refugee, but a serious (and also utterly silly, if that makes sense) performance car proposition.
It's called the Gama V8-S, and it's called that because beneath the bonnet (of this particular example, at least) is a 4.0-litre M60 BMW V8.
The E30 V8-S demo car started out life as Gama boss Gregg Alvarez's 318i daily driver until Gregg decided that it would be a good idea to stick a V8 in it. Now the white E-reg E30 is number one of a planned run of 50, all of which will have a V8 of some description slotted into their engine bays.
But we have to say it doesn't look thrown together at all. The 4.0-litre V8 - poached from an E39 5-series - nestles snugly beneath the nose-hinged bonnet with all the 'proper' plastic covers. It's all very neat. Where possible, ancillaries are BMW-sourced and the whole thing looks genuinely professional.
Inside, apart from a knob to adjust the brake bias, and the (slightly) more modern gearknob, the Gama E30 looks like any other 22-year-old 3-series. It's tidy, but it's clearly had 'a life'. "The standard interior is all part of the charm" says Gregg, "it makes it all the more fun when you realise just how fast it is."
I begin to understand what Gregg means by 'thrown together' when we hop into the car to get started. There's a miserable November drizzle in the air, so I switch the wipers on, which work, but only fitfully. "It was like that when it was a 318i - I always meant to fix 'em," grins Gregg. "Then I put a V8 in the engine bay - and I still need to do it." It's a question of priorities really - and from a PH point of view Mr Alvarez clearly has his priorities in the right place.
But if the slowing down aspect of the Gama V8-S (well this particular one) isn't all that brilliant, the way it goes down the road more than makes up for it. In its first life, the 4.0-litre V8 was artificially restricted to fit in with German tax regulations; with a bit of a freer-breathing intake and exhaust it gives an estimated 315bhp. Couple that with 310lb ft of torque in a car that weighs around 1000kg, and you've got one heck of a fast BMW.
Wind the V8 beyond 3000rpm, however, and the car is transformed. The engine note hardens into a metallic gargle and you're thrust down the road with TVR-alike ferocity. In a 22-year-old four-door 3-series that is a hilarious feeling. Gama's estimation of 0-60mph in 4.7secs and 0-100mph in 10.2secs feels perfectly achievable.
It's all surprisingly well mannered, too. This is a car that will spin its wheels in third gear on dry Tarmac (I can certainly confirm that it does so with gusto in the wet when you give it a proper prod), and yet you can feed the power in as gently as you like. Likewise, the light - if long-throw - six-speed gearbox feels satisfying yet approachable.
It's easy to think of more glamorous ways of getting some rear-drive V8 fun - a secondhand AMG Mercedes, a TVR Chimaera or a Mustang spring most immediately to mind - but I guarantee that none of them will surprise other road users or make you smile as much as a Gama E30 V8-S.