Words & Photos by Henry Phull
With the weather getting worse by the day and darkness now arriving in the early afternoon, it’s getting difficult to arrange shoots. Most people’s cars are now off the road for winter whilst they drive around in their winter hacks or dailies. Believe it or not, some people do still drive their project and show cars at this time of year, and that’s awesome to see. When Kevin Fitzgerald messaged me to say he was heading in my direction for a Southern E30 meet a couple of weeks back, I jumped at the potential opportunity and arranged to meet up with him afterwards at a location I’d discovered previously in between the New Forest and Southampton. It was a Sunday evening, the sun was out, and I was finally going to shoot the stunning 1989 E30 325i Touring, nicknamed ‘Lolita’. Being on the water’s edge, it was one freezing cold shoot. But don’t let me bore you with my whining, let’s move on to the main spectacle…
Kevin has been interested in the car scene since he was just 15 years old, spending countless evenings on Chelsea Bridge lusting over the modified cars. From the moment he could drive he was there and down Southend seafront in his own car almost every Saturday night. So, it’s no surprise when you go through his car history, to learn that Kevin has been through everything… His first car being a 1983 Ford Fiesta SuperSport, which progressed to a few MK3’s including a 1992 RS1800 which he fully stripped and caged with a respray. After Ford ownership he moved to Volkswagen, first owning a 1989 Golf Rallye, finally leading to a couple of Mk1’s. He eventually became interested in BMW’s, with the purchase of his first E30, another Touring, but the smaller 318i. After running it in the scene for a year and some modifying (naturally), he knew it was time for a 2.5L transplant. Unfortunately, the M20 lump he picked up on eBay was diagnosed with a warped head. Although Kevin managed to get it running, he was left with constant engine problems. It was time to cut his losses and break the car for parts. This resulted in a fair amount to spend on a new project… the hunt was on, but for what?
Kevin considered several other options but ultimately still loved the room the touring gave him and from experience he knew it was always going to turn heads. That was that then… he decided to search for another E30 touring, and after 3 months and 12 viewings, Lolita popped up on eBay. The seller seemed like an honest guy and sent over plenty of photos confirming the condition. Kevin then convinced his friend Marc (a BMW technician) to drive him to Grimsby on a Saturday in some of the worst snow they had seen in years. The 4 hour journey turned into 6, but they eventually made it.
The moment Kevin saw the touring on the driveway, he knew he had to have it. It was time for a test drive to see how much they could knock off the asking price. An hour later Kevin was on the journey home in his new E30, having saved a whopping £850 off the seller’s original price. By this time the snow had worsened, which made for an exciting drive home, even if it did take 7 hours! Kevin still remembers sliding around every time he kicked down on the auto box on those snowy roads, which had him grinning from ear to ear. Even now, after 18 months of ownership, Kevin says his cheeks still hurt after a long drive. That’s what a car should do!
The car started off as a standard 325i automatic finished in Alpine White 2, which was being used by the previous owner as a daily workhorse – so it unsurprisingly needed a detail and some much needed TLC, not to mention the completely worn bushes and suspension. Except for the addition of an IS/Sport front splitter, Kevin decided to keep the rest of the bodywork as standard. He didn’t want to overcomplicate the striking design it rolled out of the factory with from BMW. The basic maintenance was sorted out; new hardware, handbrake cable, new fuel tank, the lot.. plus the car was fully polybushed to sort out those knackered original rubbers. Underneath, the whole car was cleaned, stone guarded and coated in the original white to match the rest of the car.
A look into the cabin and you’ll notice not much has changed here. It’s somewhat different to see a cloth interior whilst most people tend to upgrade to leather. Kevin swapped in the full Sport interior from a 1991 touring which is in outstanding condition, and had the roof lining re-trimmed in Alcantara – a real nice touch and adds to the ‘sport’ look. There are a few in car entertainment upgrades including a Kenwood KDC-5057SD headunit, Hertz H1 amplifier, CDT 3 way Eurosport components and a CDT Eurosport 10″ subwoofer for an improved audio experience.
Kevin’s E30 was static for over a year, but he recently found out that Air Lift Performance had released an E30 specific air ride kit, something which he’d been interested in doing for a long time. Knowing the simplicity of installing these car-specific kits, he bit the bullet and placed an order with EMP Performance. Fitting the new Air Lift kit took Kevin a complete weekend to get it just right. For someone that had never installed air before, working out how he was going to run the air lines was the trickiest part. Although, Kevin is yet another happy Air Lift customer and believes anyone that has wired up a stereo or fitted coilovers at any point in their lives would be more than capable of installing the kit, majorly thanks to the detailed instructions included, and hardware that just works straight out the box, thanks to Air Lift’s prior testing and development for the specific car.
Getting the car to sit right was a long process for Kevin, after guessing the width and pre-ordering the 4×100-5×114.3 adapters in preparation, these happened to be almost perfect, bar the rear which only required 3mm spacers to allow the arch to lip ratio that he had envisioned. All that time and effort was obviously worth it though, as the car now sits beautifully. The Air Lift E30 kit was bundled with their AutoPilot V2 digital management system, VIAIR 380 compressor and a 4 gallon air tank. Kevin fabricated a boot build to exhibit these features and to tie-in his subwoofer, which is still a work-in-progress but looking great.
For some power and sound gains, Kevin has fitted a RamAir induction kit to the M20 engine, along with a full custom stainless steel exhaust made by EMP Performance which sounds awesome, which I heard on full whack whilst following him along the dual carriageway. Another modification that has totally transformed the car is the manual swap, which took place about a month into ownership of the car. Luckily Kevin had a manual box and conversion parts left over from his previous E30 which bolted straight on to the M20 lump. He and his dad completed the task over a weekend giving the car a much needed new lease of life.
Along with the air ride, Kevin recently opted for some new shoes to complete the transformation. After seeing the wheels online a while back, with a bit of patience and perseverance he finally got them down to a suitable price and picked up the set of 17″ reverse face Stern splits, 8j fronts and 9j rears, 5×114.3. With the centres finished in gold, these really compliment the car’s white paintwork and are a perfect choice, plus super rare to see on an E30. Kevin is running Design Daft 42 hub centric adapters to allow them to fit. For optimal fitment these are fitted to 195/40 tyres up front and 205/40’s at the rear.
I’ve always been able to clock Kevin’s E30 from a distance thanks to the Thule roof bars, an uncommon addition to the car along with the Thule 871XT wind fairing. Other subtle mods include the custom Grid Motorwerks door handles, with the ‘BMW Motorsport’ engravings. Up front you’ll notice a fully working wash and wipe headlight system, covered with fish eye film for a smoked look. This is often taken too far but Kevin has got it just right, by keeping the original amber indicators and chrome grill surrounds, the smoked headlights work really well.
Being a die-hard BMW enthusiast myself, I wouldn’t personally have gone for some of the mods Kevin has opted for, but that’s just the ‘OEM-ness’ in me. I have to say, I love everything on the car, and this surprises me! For example, he’s even kept the original mud flaps, most of us tear those off straight away, but they really do work here and help make the car it’s own.
Clearly Kevin is a guy that lives for cars. He’s no doubt one of the friendliest guys I’ve met through cars and so easy to talk to, he really does have an unexplainable passion for his E30. With all his best friends deriving from the car scene too, he has had some amazing times through cars, and Lolita has been no different. According to him, the scene is all about “the friends we make and haters we upset” at the end of the day. From VW fans, to Ford boys, to Jap kids, everyone is out for the same thing and that is to build something unique to firstly satisfy ourselves, and of course to break the necks of others. I think it’s fair to say Kevin has definitely achieved that here. And of course, a car is never finished… Next on the list is a Nardi steering wheel to be fitted within the next few weeks, along with a shaved and smoothed engine bay, plus there’s talk of a possible retrim which I can’t wait for. This is a car Kevin never plans to sell, so I’m sure there’s plenty of work to be done. For now though, I’m pretty stoked to have shot the car in it’s current state.