You could say that life is nothing but a collection of moments in time, and those moments can define our lives. Through the infinite intersections of time, space, and fate, friends are introduced, spouses are met—and if you are a petrol-head, dream cars are acquired.
Seth Temin graduated from the University of Colorado in 1982, and his graduation present was a blue 1976 BMW 2002. The little 2002 cemented a relationship with BMW that would coincide with fate some eight years later.
In 1987, BMW released the E30 M3 to the U.S. Market. Shortly thereafter, Temin saw a Zinnoberot-red-over-Natur-beige 1988 M3 in a dealer’s showroom. His first thoughts were that it was a 2002 on steroids—a dream car—but, sadly, also one that he would never be able to afford.
Then, in 1990, when Temin was searching for a used Toyota 4Runner in the local paper, he stumbled on an ad for a 1988 M3. This was before the age of cell phones and the Internet; the short blurb in the classified ad described a red-over -eige M3 located in South Dakota for an asking price of $24,000 (that’s $54,000 in today’s money).
Why was a dealer in South Dakota advertising a BMW M3 in Boulder, Colorado? It wreaked of a scam, but curiosity overwhelmed Temin, so he called the number. It turned out that the dealer had taken in the M3 on trade, but they primarily dealt with trucks, and, unsurprisingly, they had had no luck selling the M3 in South Dakota. The dealer was advertising it in Boulder, hoping for better results, and after getting Temin’s call, he wasted no opportunity to seal the deal. After their conversation, the dealer FedEx-overnighted Temin a single Polaroid picture of the M3—the pre-Internet equivalent of a text message.
Temin blushed when he received the picture, but rationality prevailed, so he called the dealer to kindly thank him for the initiative, but also to tell him that it was out of his budget. Unfortunately, according to the dealer’s secretary, the dealer was unavailable—he had already left for Colorado to deliver the car!
Presumptuous? Maybe—but fate has a way of forging destiny.
The next day the dealer called and said, “I’m here in Colorado, and I’ve got the M3. Do you want to see it?” Temin didn’t have time, and said no, but having driven hundreds of miles, the dealer was persistent. “What if I meet you on the way to work?” They arranged a meeting point off Interstate 25, partway between Boulder and Fort Collins, on Colorado Route 66.
When Temin pulled up in his ’76 2002 and first laid eyes on the Zinnorot M3, he was blown away. It looked brand-new, a clone of the one he had sat in on the BMW showroom a year earlier. It was barely broken in, wearing a mere 12,000 miles on the odometer, and it had even been outfitted with the optional wood trim—rare for an E30.
For Temin, a public defender at the time, the moment was bittersweet; he truly could not afford the car. Being a good salesman, however, the dealer dismissed such trivial details and said, “Tell you what: Why don’t you take it for the day?” So standing in the morning sun on a desolate exit ramp, they traded keys, and Temin drove off in the M3.
In short order, the M3 lived up to Temin’s expectations. When he described that first drive some 32 years later—while grinning ear to ear—the exuberance in his words was unmistakable: “It ripped!” The M3 drove as well as it looked, and indeed, it was a 2002 on steroids. After work, Temin took it to his mechanic, where it received a perfect bill of health.
Hmm: Maybe there was a way he could afford it. After all, the MSRP for a new M3 in 1990 was $34,950, making this nearly new example a relative bargain. Seizing his moment in time, Temin and the dealer met for dinner, a price was negotiated, and fate was cemented.
While amazing, Temin’s story with the M3 was just the beginning. For the majority of the next three decades, he used it as his daily driver for the 50-mile commute between Boulder and Fort Collins. He eventually found a Toyota 4Runner for winter, but that didn’t stop him from mounting snow tires and shredding powder on snow days for several seasons. The composed and communicative “God’s Chariot” E30 chassis wearing proper winter rubber transforms its driver into a god among mortals in the snow. (Thankfully, Colorado’s dry climate and lack of salty roads didn’t take the toll that eventually resulted in the demise of many E30s in more hostile environments.)
Thanks to that fateful morning, Temin has had the opportunity to live the dreams of a generation that came of age and lusted for the E30 M3 when it was new, and subsequent generations that have discovered and lusted for it ever since. However, driving a shiny red BMW with racer-boy fender flares and an ostentatious wing was not without its perils; a Regan-era national-speed-limit moratorium of 55 mph that lasted until 1995 didn’t help matters, either.
On one occasion, Temin hit a speed trap at 80 mph, but was registered at 74 mph on the radar gun. His mother had given him an Escort Passport radar detector to keep him out of trouble, but the officer was unimpressed. Later, in court, Temin asked the prosecutor, also a car guy, whether he would let him off with no points if he could prove that he had a license to go 74 mph. The prosecutor was mildly amused, and decided to play along.
That’s when another twist of fate played out. When Temin registered the M3, he was issued the random license plate MPH 074, meaning that technically, he did have a license that read 74 mph! But he still had to pay the fine.
Today, Temin’s M3 shows 224,179 miles on the odometer, the actual number being closer to 270,000 thanks to a bout of broken odometer gears. In the last ten years, Temin has had the car repainted in the original red and re-covered the front seats, but the car is otherwise original. Other than a moment of forgiveness-in-lieu-of-permission when his teenage son took it to high school and promptly got a speeding ticket, Temin has been the M3’s only driver. It has always served him faithfully; he’s never been stuck in the snow, and it’s never broken down. He has religiously maintained the car, but aside from routine maintenance, consumables, and one clutch replacement, the engine, transmission, and even the suspension are all original.
But when for the first time in 32 dutiful years, the M3 finally wouldn’t pass emissions, Temin decided it was time for a mechanical refresh. He is going to have local S14 specialist Mark Hutto overhaul the engine to Evo III specs, and my shop will do the suspension and other bits. After that, Temin plans to keep driving as he has been, and will eventually leave the car to one of his children.
While the M3 is being refreshed, Temin has a trio of Volkswagens to keep him busy: a 1968 Karmann Ghia Cabriolet, a 1979 Beetle Epilogue Edition, and a 1987 Vanagon Syncro with a Subaru SVX engine swap.
Over the last three decades, Temin and his M3 have been the stuff of local legend on Colorado’s Front Range. He has had hundreds of offers to buy the car on the spot, and an untold number of complimentary traffic-light and gas-station conversations. The E30 M3 is one of the most iconic BMWs of all time, heralding from an era when the M badge was exclusively reserved for true Motorsport models.
There is a certain magic to be found behind the wheel of an E30 M3. Many of us have been lucky enough to taste that magic for brief occasions, but thanks to a moment of time and fate—and a persistent dealer a few states away—Temin has lived that magic for the last 30 years.—Alex McCulloch
[Photos by Peter Thompson and Seth Temin].