Online automotive forums are a treasure trove of information written by enthusiasts for enthusiasts. While they may not have the pizzazz of more modern platforms like TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, or whatever else the cool kids are using these days, forums still have deep roots in the online automotive community. Given the world wide web’s global nature—it’s literally in the name—many forum members will converse for years via detailed do-it-yourself posts or inspirational project threads, but never actually meet face-to-face. Others are lucky enough to connect in person, putting a human face to a forum handle or avatar.
And that’s where this story begins, when fellow 1991 318is owner and R3VLimited.com forum member Maxwell Vantablack reached out to me and said he’d be in the Washington D.C. area the weekend of September 30th-October 1st, visiting from Spain no less. Vantablack and I have exchanged E30-related messages on R3VLimited for a few years, but we hadn’t ever actually met or seen each other’s M42-powered E30s in real life. Having met other distant R3VLimited members over the years, like when Sina Pourcyrous stopped by during an epic road trip around the U.S. in his 1991 318i sedan, or hanging out with Zach Ketring at the Vintage in 2021, I jumped at the chance to meet another.
Suggesting we connect while he was on this side of the pond, Vantablack asked if there were any car meets happening the Saturday morning he’d be passing through. In my best Ace Ventura voice, I thought, “Gee, let me think.” Saturday morning in the D.C. area—what could be better than Katie’s Cars and Coffee in Great Falls, Virginia? So, on Saturday, September 30th, Vantablack left a friend’s house in York, Pennsylvania in the wee hours of the morning and made the two-hour trip to Great Falls, arriving at 6 a.m. in his 318is. That’s some dedication! But when you’re only stateside three weeks out of the year, it’s time to rack up some miles on your favorite U.S.-garaged car.
After our first-time in-person introduction, Vantablack told me the story of why he chose an E30-generation 3 Series as a project car. He says, “I wrote out what I wanted from a car: a minimalist, fun driver’s car, an analog driving experience with a five-speed manual, being lightweight and tossable, and something well-built that will last.” After narrowing down the list, he says, “My last two options were the E30 and the [Porsche] 944, and owners of both seem to unanimously agree that the E30 is the better car.”
But which E30? There are a few flavors, after all. Vantablack recalls, “I tried the 325is and liked it, and I think that’s the ‘one to have’ for the average enthusiast. I tried the M3 and didn’t like the S14B23 [engine]. I tried the 318is and it just felt right. After that, the 325is and M3 felt noticeably heavier. I think that the M42 is absolutely an engineering compromise more than a genuinely brilliant motorsport experience. If I lived full-time in Urban Sprawl America, I probably would have gone for an M20[-powered] car instead, but my native U.S. Appalachia and European roads are much better suited to the M42.”
After almost a year of searching for a suitable candidate, he found a Brilliantrot 1991 BMW 318is, complete with factory sunroof delete—slicktop!—in Texas. Vantablack says, “The car had a mint-perfect shell but also sat for eighteen years. It needed a total mechanical overhaul, which was done in sections over the course of three years. In particular, I had to address the infamous profile gasket and a cracked cylinder head. Even with all of that work and cost, I had no other options to get the exact right car. At that point it was ‘put up or shut up’ and I took the dive.” So, on April 1st, 2020, which Vantablack says was the perfect April Fools joke, he bought the car and drove it 1,915 miles home.
Since then, the car has undergone an extensive refresh with some tasteful OEM-plus modifications. Vantablack says, “I am constantly asking for advice on how to modify the car to OEM-plus specification without incurring downsides. Modifications don’t necessarily make a driving experience better, it’s just trade-offs. The research prevents so many problems and expenses in advance.” If you guessed that a lot of the research happens on online forums like R3VLimited, you’d be right. The mechanical work to get his 318is back up to snuff included a replacement head and engine refresh, a limited-slip differential to replace the stock open diff, 15×7-inch Amil Gamma wheels wrapped in 205/55R15 Yokohama Advan Fleva tires, Koni shocks paired with H&R springs among other suspension updates, a shifter overhaul, a D’Sylva chip, and a Supersprint exhaust.
When it comes to the work and knowledge needed to repair and refine his 318s, Vantablack says, “It takes a village,” and gives shoutouts to Rennsport Tuning in Erie, Pennsylvania, BimmerBuddies LLC in Middletown, Pennsylvania, Danville Diffs, Bavarian Restoration, the r/E30 Discord Server, and R3VLimited.com OG forum members roguetoaster, getouth, agent, and mike.bmw—hey, that’s me!
After moving to Spain in 2021 and leaving his E30 stateside, Vantablack has missed his 318is. He says, “The only plans for the future are swapping to an M20 flywheel, importing it to Spain, and racking up kilometers. I want to drive it to the Atlanterhavsvegen, the Silvrettastrasse, the Transfagarasan, and Białowieża Forest.” He’ll be importing his 1978 BMW R100/7 as well, which he says is similar to his E30 in that “the chassis is really nothing special on paper, but it’s like a favorite pair of shoes, a favorite watch, a favorite pair of gloves, or anything like that. It just fits and feels good to operate in a kinesthetic, tactile way.”So, after walking the parking lot of Katie’s Coffee House for a couple of hours, admiring all of the enthusiast hardware in attendance that morning, hearing Vantablack’s story, and finally seeing the cars that we’ve been discussing for years on the forums, we headed our separate ways. But certainly not before taking a few photos of each other’s rides.
While online car forums may not be getting as much traffic as they did two decades ago, the sense of community and camaraderie is alive and well. Case in point: Maxwell Vantablack, his 1991 BMW 318is, and our international face-to-face meetup at Katie’s Cars and Coffee. Safe travels, Maxwell! —Mike Bevels