Yes, I know the B in BMW actually stands for Bayerische, but for the purposes of this story, let’s go with Bricken—a German word for “made of brick.”
LEGO bricks in this case!
Since I was a kid, I’ve enjoyed building models and creating things. LEGOs were always a favorite, because after I built and played with the instructed set, I’d either continually modify it or tear it apart and build something totally new. I guess that this kind of set me up for my automotive hobby.
Then there was a long stretch of time when I didn’t play with LEGOs at all, but that changed when my children were born. Since they grew old enough to push two bricks together, we’ve built sets ranging from monster trucks to a Millennium Falcon.Of all the sets I’ve built, there’s one in particular that takes the cake. It’s the set that my friends David and Shoa Appelman gave me as a 40th birthday present earlier this year: a custom-designed E30 M3. They know too well that I’ve been E30-obsessed for some time, owning my own 1991 318iS for the last 6½ years. I didn’t even know that these unofficial “fan builds” existed, so I was suddenly introduced to a whole new world of automotive-related awesomeness.
This particular set, created by Daniel Helms, was very well done–including instructions laid out as if they came from LEGO.
I will admit I was a bit selfish about this E30 M3 build. Normally I would have my kids participate, taking turns by alternating pages, but this time they were strictly relegated to brick-finding duty. It took a number of evenings and weekends to put the car together, working a half-hour here or an hour there, but the result was fantastic—the detail is incredible. The S14 engine has ITBs, pulleys, belts, and an oil pan, and is removable for display. The hood opens and closes properly from the front. The undercarriage includes a driveshaft, the exhaust, and the differential. The seats are adjustable.
For using angular bricks, the dash and center console match the E30s quite well. The proper BBS-style mesh wheels are a perfect fit. Image files for a number of detailed printable stickers are provided, which include the HVAC controls, hood and trunk roundels, “M Power” for the valve cover, and more–it’s on my to-do list.To learn more about the inspiration behind this brickified E30 M3, I reached out to its creator, Daniel Helms, who recalled where it all began, “In 2011, a good friend who had owned several E30s bought an E30 M3,” he says. “I was absolutely fascinated by this car, and the idea was born to rebuild it with LEGOs. I started modeling, and it turned out quite well. I gave the original model to him as a birthday present and made a duplicate for myself. After that, I began to rework and optimize it again and again. In 2016, I entered LEGO Ideas with my model. For those who are not familiar with LEGO Ideas, it is a platform where you can show your creations and gather support. If you reach 10,000 supporters within a certain period, LEGO may turn it into an official set.”
While Helms’ design didn’t reach 10,000 supporters on the LEGO Ideas platform, his model was quite successful, and caught the attention of motor1 and TopGear. After that, Helms said, “I decided to create my own instructions and share them with fans around the world. Some time went by, other projects were realized, and the M3 got reworked and optimized again. I finally managed to release my instructions on Rebrickable last year. It was an incredible amount of work to create the instructions, high quality stickers, good pictures, a YouTube video, and everything else. But it was worth every minute because I continually receive so much nice feedback. Being featured by BimmerLife is like a cherry on top.”Helms estimates that the development time of his E30 M3 model took over a decade, with the instructions alone taking nearly six months. “That included the learning process of the different tools needed: LDcad, LPub, and so on,” he notes. “For a proper presentation, I also had to learn the basics of video and photo editing as well.” He’s sold hundreds of sets of instructions internationally, and the parts to go along with them, which is what I received from my friends David and Shoa.
He adds, “Most go to the U.S. You have very good taste.”
Helms has a number of other brickified builds, including a Toyota MR2, a Lancia Delta Integrale HF, a Lamborghini Diablo, a Ferrari 288 GTO, a Ferrari 250 Testarossa, and a Subaru Impreza WRX STI 22B. While he can’t promise anything yet, there may even be more BMW builds on the horizon. “It is very hard to find the time that this hobby needs, and the list of cars I would love to build is incredibly long, but there are definitely several BMWs on this list, like the glorious M1—maybe as a Procar—the fantastic 850CSi, and an E24 635i,” he teases. Tune into his YouTube or Instagram to see what he’s working on now.How does Helms’ model design stack up against the real thing? While I do own an E30, I don’t own an E30 M3, so I reached out to Brandon Wheaton, who owns an award-winning, absolutely gorgeous 1989 Zinnoberrot M3. Wheaton acquired his E30 M3 in 2000 and has restored it to perfection over the past 22 years, with a number of OEM-plus modifications such as the 2.5-liter block, carbon intake, BBS LMs, big-brake kit, unique OEM BMW seats, and—well, there’s so much goodness that it deserves its own article. While Wheaton did have an updated stereo installed at one point, he removed it for a more basic setup because, as he puts it, “The exhaust and intake make their own music.” Wheaton enjoys the driving experience—and he loves the way the M3 acts as a conduit to making connections with other enthusiasts.
When it comes to the LEGO E30 M3 model, Wheaton was impressed with the adjustable front seats, M3-specific rear seats, dash, and undercarriage. He has a collection of scale E30 M3 models, which has branched out to BMW models in general, but he doesn’t have any LEGOs. That may change after our M3 mini-meet (har har har) and photo shoot!After my conversation with Helms and seeing Wheaton’s M3 alongside my LEGO model, I began to think about other LEGO BMW builds, both official and fan-based. In January, LEGO released an official BMW build: the M1000 RR motorcycle. While I don’t own a LEGO M1000 RR myself, I know that M Chapter president Esteban Valentin does, because I saw some of his build on Instagram. So I reached out to Valentin to get his impressions.
Valentin recalls his early experiences with LEGOs. “Way back in elementary school, I had a few friends who were into LEGOs. We would gather at one of their houses to build away!” he says. When BMW released the life-size M 1000 RR, Valentin considered purchasing one, but eventually “opted to avoid buying the real deal.” However, he didn’t pass on the LEGO version when that was released. “When LEGO announced the M1000 RR model, I was all over it,” he recalls. “I believe I ended up buying it on launch date, like at 1:00 a.m.–one of those late-night purchases.”I asked Valetin about his thoughts on the M1000 RR model. “I love the model,” he says. “I was surprised at how large it was. When I pulled out the wheels and tires, I knew that it would be hefty. It has great attention to detail, and I am impressed by the motor build, having a functional rotating assembly and a gear lever that works the transmission.” When I jokingly ask if he makes “vroom-vroom” noises when playing with the M1000 RR model, he replies, “No vroom-vroom noises, but I do pop a wheelie with it in my head every time I look at it!”
Valentin has a few other LEGO sets, including Porsches, Formula cars, and a small BMW 2002 that he hangs on his Christmas tree every year. He said that he would love to add a LEGO E46 M3 to his collection [hint hint, LEGO].While visiting a LEGO store during a recent family trip, I did have the chance to see the M1000 RR model in person. Having sat on the real thing at a recent National Capital Chapter BMW CCA event at BMW’s newest vehicle-delivery center in Baltimore, Maryland, I’ll agree with Valentin’s sentiments on the model.
Whether they’re the real thing made of high-tech materials or scaled-down versions made from the small bricks that we grew up loving, both have communities of enthusiasts excited to experience, share, and continually improve upon them. And it shouldn’t be a surprise that there’s overlap between these groups. Some may think that we’re just playing with toys, but as I get older, it doesn’t matter if I’m turning wrenches or snapping bricks together—I have a much better understanding and appreciation of the design, engineering, and time that go into perfecting these automotive—and LEGOmotive—masterpieces that continue to fuel our collective passion.—Mike Bevels
[Photos by Mike Bevels and as credited.]