The sounds from BMW E30 M3s, Mercedes 190E Evos, and Audi Quattros resonate loudly. You almost bump your ankle on a splitter as you walk by a track-prepared DTM car. You might have just watched the first Simpsons episode after playing your first new Guns N Roses cassette on repeat all weekend.
That was Saturday, November 11th. Toyo Tires hosted its first Golden Era event in Costa Mesa, California, starting with sixteen curated cars from around the country, including many recent SEMA-featured cars, placed inside and another fifteen selected cars positioned in the adjacent courtyard. The unfinished facility is officially Ancillary Studios, but perhaps even more apropos, it was an old tire and auto repair adjunct to Sears—another stalwart of the 1980s.
“This Golden Era event was created to bring attention to the 80s and 90s Audi, BMW, and Mercedes makes—the German leaders in early DTM racing,” explains Stan Chen, Toyo Tires Senior Manager for Events, Sponsorships, and Motorsports (and also an avid DTM and automotive fan). “The DTM racing era was an amazing time and seems to be often forgotten in favor of Porsche. It was fun being able to curate some of the best cars of that era to showcase. We certainly hope to do more of these in the future.”
The Deutsche Tourenwagen Meisterschaft (DTM) racing series began in 1984 and lasted in its initial form through 1996. It was dominated by cars from Mercedes, Audi, and BMW, with participation from other winners like Opel, Rover, Ford, Volvo and even Alfa Romeo. The BMW E30 rose to prominence in the late 80s, dominating nearly every touring car series worldwide, especially DTM.
The M3 was well-represented at Golden Era, both in E30 and E36 variants. In addition to several M3s of every era on display outside, there were OEM-plus E30 M3 examples inside from BMW CCA members Rex Landero and Kenneth Sutton as well as one of Chen’s own former SEMA-build E30 M3s, but not the only SEMA build there and not Chen’s only SEMA build.
“The car I debuted at SEMA this year and brought out for this event was my 1986 Mercedes Benz 190E Cosworth,” Chen adds. “The car started life with a 2.3 liter, 16-valve motor, but we bumped it to a 2.6-liter 16-valve, just a tad more than the Mercedes Evo 1 and Evo II that came with a 2.5-liter 16-valve [engine]. My inspiration for the car came from my love of DTM racing, but the build itself takes cues from my E30 M3 and how I design and build my cars. It’s been a dream to own the two DTM rivals, and now I do, each with my own touches. This latest build is painted in Brewster Green and sports an Evo 1 body kit. The car sits on custom one-off wheels Jon Sibal and I designed that Rotiform cut for me, wrapped in Toyo Tires Proxes R1Rs.”
Jon Sibal’s design touches were on display in more than just Chen’s two builds; Sibal himself came by with his early E36 build that immediately became obscured by fans trying to get the best angles on their phones for pictures and posts of this iconic car. While it was the talk of the town internationally in the 90s, Sibal has only brought it out sparingly. This Golden Era event, garnering nationwide attention, seemed like a perfect opportunity to share it again.
“It was great to see a niche event specifically showcasing 80s and 90s BMWs, Mercedes, and Audis draw such a crowd,” Sibal says. “I’m glad I was there for it and to see so many great cars and people.”
Some of that nationwide attention came from FCP Euro, a partner with many of these builds. JR Huntington, FCP Euro’s Marketing Operations Specialist, represented the Connecticut-based go-to parts company with his presence and that of their own 190E project, aptly named “Golden Era.”
“Our Golden Era car was built to capture the vibes from the golden era of DTM from the 80s,” Huntington describes. “But we added modern parts off the shelves. This classic Mercedes also has parts from BMW, Volvo, and even Volkswagen. The engine is a modern Mercedes AMG four-cylinder M133. It was very serendipitous to have the car out here for the event.”
“It’s not just a mish-mash parts-bin example, though,” he continues. “We’re working with Toyo for the tires, for example. It’s riding on Toyo R888R tires because they have a history of being used on a lot of really capable cars and this car was destined for the track from the beginning. It has seen extensive track time, including many Gridlife events all over the country.”
And speaking of across the country, in addition to all the fun SEMA action taking place out west, FCP Euro is brewing up some western activity, too. “We’re doing a big west coast push, recently adding a 140,000 square foot facility in Mesa, Arizona,” explains Huntington. “The west coast is a huge market, so this allows us to service even more automotive fans even better and efficiently. But we also came out to this event to meet people and expand that personal connection. It was not a huge event by numbers—maybe 400 to 500 people—but there were so many passionate people and so many quality, respected builds.”
“For me, the highlight of the event was the way they displayed the cars in the indoor section,” he continues. “The array of cars was impressive, from the original 190E Evo II to the track cars to the original and modified M3s to the crazy show cars. There was something for purists, stance fans, everyone.”
One of those builds was the S54-powered E36 Touring that Marvin Fonacier recently debuted at SEMA. “It was amazing to see the old cars coming together,” Fonacier says, mere days after the often-overwhelming SEMA. “The audience today echoed those of us who could appreciate those cars back then but might not have been in the right age and income bracket yet to own them. Now we have a chance to own them and make them our own. Back in high school, I always admired those DTM looks, the wide-bodies, box-flares, racing around the track.”
“That was 100 percent the inspiration for my SEMA builds” Fonacier continues. “While I’ve had more show-car builds at SEMA in the past like the E24 and the E31 (that was also at Golden Era Saturday), this build was intended to see the track. Technically, this E36 Touring was an M3 that BMW never made. There was never an M3 wagon of that gen and E36 wagon was not even sold here. I named it ‘One of Some,’ because some people do wide body treatment and some people do an engine swap. I did both, converting this 100 percent to function as an M3, with my own touches. The roll cage was added with the intent to track the car. My E31 is essentially a street car and this one is supposed to be a track car, but to be honest, this was supposed to be my daily. But I was bitten by the bug to make this build. The mod-itch kicked in after dailying it for five months and I finished it just in time for the world debut at SEMA with Toyo Treadpass and now here at Golden Era.”
Igor Polishchuk, known by many for his popular CA Tuned company, also has plenty of SEMA experience. He had three cars at SEMA earlier this month and made the eight-hour drive south to Southern California for this Golden Era event, bringing with him his “Green Machine” E30 sedan. “This Golden Era event is cool because all the cars of the era—Mercedes, BMWs, Audis—it was great to see them all aligned and presented so well,” Polishchuk says. “I appreciate the old classic stuff; it’s definitely in my wheelhouse because all we do is classics. Seeing the DTM theme throughout the event was impressive. There is a lot of history within DTM that extends to the entire era.”
“Stan’s car is more DTM-inspired than mine,” he adds. “They’re both green—mine is British Racing Green—and rides on seventeen-inch Modena Astrada wheels and bags. I’d say mine is more of a show car, maybe OEM-plus-plus. It has a 3.0-liter stroker M20 with a fully redone interior, including Scheel-Mann seats. There was a lot of interest in all the cars there—the DTM race cars, race-inspired cars, and more show cars like mine.”
While the Golden Era event was certainly DTM themed, including Period Correct making available the DTM event-supporting shirt, it clearly showed the influence DTM racing and success had on the entire industry during that time and beyond. This was also seen with the special Golden Era event pins Leen Customs pins developed and dropped at the event. This included limited pins for DTM legends from BMW, Audi, and Mercedes.
The event wound down with the crowd being treated to these show and go cars firing up, some making their ways for the roads to their respective homes and others rolling into their trailers, prepped for return travel of hours to days to even a week. The DTM enthusiasm remains strong and might have grown further with this tribute event to these 80s and 90s legends. —Kyle van Hoften