Chris Dunbar of Seattle, Washington is no stranger to over-the-top concours-quality automotive projects, having a number of his builds featured in print and at SEMA. For his latest piece of rolling artwork, Dunbar stepped away from Subaru WRXs and Nissan Skyline GTRs to tackle something new: a European classic. Recently coming off a two-and-a-half build in his three-car garage, his 1989 E30 M3 has been dropping jaws and breaking necks wherever he drives it.
It was certainly enough to capture the attention of world-renowned photographer and automotive guru Larry Chen, who featured and shot this impeccable OEM+ BMW for his YouTube channel. In the video, Chen and Dunbar give us a virtual tour of the M3, inside and out.
It also caught our attention at BimmerLife. While Dunbar goes into many details in the video, we wanted to know more and reached out to him directly. Thankfully, he’s a passionate enthusiast and happy to share his automotive progeny, so without further ado, meet Chris Dunbar and his stunning E30 M3.
BimmerLife: The BMW CCA badge looks right at home on your E30 M3’s grille. How long have you been a member? What CCA chapter do you currently belong to?
Chris Dunbar: I have been a member of several PNW BMW Chapters over the years, but most recently I’ve been with the Puget Sound Chapter while residing in Seattle. Fun-fact: the BMW CCA badge that the car wears is from the previous owner and good friend of mine from 2001. That emblem was “restored” as well back to its original glory.
BimmerLife: From what I gathered watching the video, this is your first BMW project. What inspired you to restore and build a BMW? Why an E30 M3?
Dunbar: This was my first “all-in” BMW project no doubt. I’ve owned several E39s, but hadn’t done much more than bolt-on modifications, so this was obviously a bit different. It’s a bit of a fun story on how I acquired the car and I’m still surprised (yet thankful) that it worked out. The car came from an old co-worker who I’d worked with for ten years in Eastern Washington. I would always see his M3 posters and diecast cars in his office and knew he was a true enthusiast. On my last day with that company, on my way out the door I casually mentioned to him, if you ever want to sell that car or it needs a new steward, I’m your guy.
Fast-forward five to six years, I get a Facebook message simply asking, “Are you ready for the car?” I couldn’t jump out of my seat fast enough to make the trek over to Eastern Washington to secure the deal.
The car was non-running with an undiagnosed “noise” from the top-end of the S14. We all knew what we were getting into and potential costs involved. Originally, I was simply going to rebuild the motor and drive it as a survivor. (You can tell how well that worked out.) Over the years of building wild, wide-body cars and attention-grabbing show vehicles, this was going to be very different. I’ve come to appreciate a well-put-together OEM+ build and when things are thought out with a no-corners-cut approach, things turn into a rabbit-hole quickly.
I have always loved the thought of building back to a certain spec and then adding my own touches. This was my chance. Once I noticed the car had some minor paintwork that was shot with clear instead of the original single stage paint, the decision was easy to respray the car. You can see how quickly things turned from spot-fixes to lets simply redo the entire thing and the project at that point became a complete restoration.
BimmerLife: When did you start wrenching? What other vehicles have you built and restored?
Dunbar: I started wrenching on cars with my dad in the garage at a young age, but really got into wrenching in high school. I became involved with a competitive show team called, TWCompetition, regularly dominating many of the west coast shows, so details have always been important to me. I’ve always been a JDM guy at heart, but absolutely love the older European cars. I have gone through three different revisions of a Subaru WRX which was built as a competitive show-car back in 2009. (Check out the MotorTrend and PasMag features.)
Then several Nissan GTRs, debuting the first Rocket Bunny kit for the GTR at SEMA in 2015—also a Larry Chen feature! These are all since sold or parted out to fund the next “build,” but I do wish I’d had the space and funds to retain them as I look back.
BimmerLife: Do you have any other finished projects in your garage now?
Dunbar: Nope! I need to make space or buy a bigger house. This restoration, believe it or not, was accomplished in a three-car garage—not a shop, but a residential three-car garage. Strategy went into setting up this space to be a functional restoration shop. The car went into the middle bay, allowing for all doors to be open and easy access. A zinc plating station was set up in the right bay along with a makeshift paint booth for trim pieces. I’m hooked on the restoration aspect so I’m excited for what’s next.
BimmerLife: With such a correct restoration, down the hose clamps and orientation in the engine bay, were there any parts that were challenging to track down?
Dunbar: I think this was part of the challenge that I really enjoyed. Many people would get close, but leave the last two percent (which is what makes the build in my opinion). Many parts are no longer available (NLA) and if you happen to find one they’re usually being hoarded by someone in Latvia (no disrespect as a ton of my parts came from Latvia of all places). The new old stock (NOS) 370mm M-Tech 1 steering wheel, French market yellow fog lights, and several pieces required for the S14 rebuild (like timing rails/guides) all had to be sourced somehow.
Luckily, there is a strong network within the SIG (Special Interest Group) and surprisingly Ebay! Ebay.uk and Ebay.de would all yield different results and if they did have the part the next hurdle was convincing the seller to ship to the U.S. There are a few key pieces that you definitely have the “pay to play” vibe going on, but the fact the pieces are available, and in NOS condition what you are going to do? I was kind of backed into a corner.
The fun part for me was sleuthing and trying to even find these parts. Networking with the old-heads and connecting with people over the pond who normally would never sell any of their parts to a random American. BMW Classic gets a lot of flack for NLA parts, but at the time of my restoration (2020) many pieces were still available. I think I bought the last front windshield from BMW at the time, but these parts are reproduced in batches.
BimmerLife: How did the Larry Chen video of your M3 come to be? Did he contact you to make this video after seeing the car?
Dunbar: I had the car at Formula Drift for Pit & Paddock as a display vehicle. Larry popped over before drifting started and picked out a few cars he wanted to shoot. After chatting and realizing he shot one of my GTRs almost a decade ago, we were both excited to reconnect. As you could tell from the video, he was pretty speechless based on the total restoration.
BimmerLife: How do you enjoy the E30 M3 now that it’s complete? How many miles have you put on it since the restoration?
I’m right around 900 miles on the car after the restoration. I love the car, all the quirks, analog noises, and so on. I’m attending special events, CCA events, and the occasional Exotics @ Redmond Town Center. I am trying to keep the car in as-is condition for a potential trip down to Monterey, but we’ll see how that pans out.
BimmerLife: What’s your favorite thing about the car? Any particular parts, how it drives, or aesthetics?
Dunbar: I think my favorite is the combination of the front grill, Schwarz headlights, and bronze TE37s that just make such a complete, yet aggressive look. The car drives like it’s on rails and it’s a lot of fun at city speeds, which is a nice change from needing to break the speed limits to have fun (like in my GTR).
BimmerLife: Do you have any future modifications or updates planned for the M3?
Dunbar: The car is done. I thought about sourcing a dogleg gearbox and diff, but why? It would be for the sake of change and I think the car aesthetically is perfect. I have a set of BBS RS212s, Volk TE37s and BBS E50s which keep me entertained when I get bored with a certain look.
BimmerLife: Are there any shout outs you’d like to give for those that assisted with parts or services for the build?
Dunbar: My wife for putting up with me during the resto and lack of garage space for two years. David Johnson, a BMW Master Tech turned lifelong friend after this endeavor. Peter Gleason for allowing me to reference his E30 M3 as a known factory virgin. John Zuberek for pointing me in the right direction when I had random questions. The same goes for Sean Edwards and Jeff Miller for their incredible paint and bodywork. Chuck at C&D Engines out of Kirkland, Washington for his expertise in rebuilding the S14.
Over the years, I’ve learned the end results are only as good as the team behind it and this M3 is a testament to that statement.
BimmerLife: Is there anything else you’d like to relay to BimmerLife readership?
Dunbar: I hope the Bimmerlife readers enjoy hearing about the journey. If anyone has questions please feel free to reach out—I’m happy to nerd out with like-minded folks!
A big thanks to Chris Dunbar for sharing his BMW passion and the story of his 1989 Zinnoberrot E30 M3. We’re looking forward to seeing this first-generation M3 out in the wild!—Mike Bevels
[Photos by Josh Mackey of MackeyDesigns, Chris Dunbar.]