This M3 Recalls Halcyon Days

06th May 2016
Henry Hope-Frost

Fans of the halcyon days of touring car racing in the late-1980s and early ’90s were treated to the sight of a pristine BMW M3, resplendent in BMW Motorsport stripes, howling around Donington Park in last weekend’s Historic Festival.


This original, 2.5-litre, four-pot homologation special is owned and raced by Mark Smith and looked after by his son Arran Moulton-Smith’s Amspeed outfit in Brackley.

And, as with most things at the annual, three-day, 17-race DHF, it has a fascinating history, as Moulton-Smith explains: "The car started out in the Italian Touring Car Championship in 1989,” he says. “It was run in a Shell livery by the Bigazzi squad, and was raced by several drivers, including Pierluigi Martini, Gianni Morbidelli and Antonio Tamburini.

“After that it became a test and development car, receiving several modifications ready for an assault on the DTM in 1990.”


And that’s where tin-top legend Steve Soper, whose name adorns this E30 beast, comes in.

The Briton raced this very car in the super-competitive German series that year, although the livery on the car today reflects a look used in 1992. Whatever the exact age, lashings of BMW Motorsport stripes and the name ‘Soper’ on the rear windows always gets touring car fans excited.

“The car then went into privateer hands,” continues Moulton-Smith, where it was used in Italian hillclimbs. It was eventually bought back from Italy by Howard Wise, and Dad had it off him about five years ago.”

An exciting boost to the M3’s driver strength for last weekend’s Historic Sports Car Club’s Supertouring/Group A double-header came in the form of British Touring Car ace Colin Turkington.

The opportunity to drive one of the great cars from the past was too good to turn down

Colin Turkington

The Irishman, two times a BTCC champ in rear-drive BMW machinery, was entered for the first leg, with Smith set to take over for race two.

Ranged against more modern Supertouring-spec cars, the M3 was giving away decade of development, but there was a real sense of anticipation about what Turkington could do, given that he’d qualified third, outdone only by an ex-works Vauxhall Vectra and Honda Accord raced in 2000 by Yvan Muller and Tom Kristensen respectively.

“I jumped at the chance," the 2009 and 2014 BTCC title winner says. “The opportunity to drive one of the great cars from the past was too good to turn down. I missed the supertouring era so I was keen to get out there among some of the cars to see how I got on.


“I don’t need much persuasion to get out on track,” he adds. “It’s all good practice as we don’t get that much running in the BTCC away from the races, so any extra mileage is great.”

So how did the 36-time BTCC race winner find the car, which he was racing for the first time at a circuit where he’s won three times during his day job?

“I loved it,” he says. “You just know when you’re in a racing BMW, don’t you? I was really surprised how quick it was [he lapped in 1m13s, barely two seconds shy of the pole position time for the recent Donington BTCC round], to be honest. Once it was up in the rev range and there was some tyre temperature, it felt great and I was revving it up to 9,000-plus rpm. You had to take your time with the six-speed, dog-leg gearbox – I’m used to a sequential shift – but it was sweet once I’d got used to it. And it makes a great noise!

Turkington put his speed and experience to good use in the race, hounding and passing Patrick Watts’ Peugeot 406 that had outdragged him at the start into Turn 1, to take a debut podium.


“It was great chasing Patrick,” Turkington says. “He’s one of the guys I grew up watching, so that was fun.

Will we get to see the 34-year-old in the car again?

“I’d love another go,” he says. “We’re just trying to work out when that might be because of other commitments. The Amspeed boys, Mark and Arran, are great; they run a fun team, which is refreshing after working in modern racing, which sometimes takes itself too seriously. The whole historic racing ambience is great and some of the cars that come out to play are incredible.”

We couldn’t agree more, Colin!

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