A supportive community of automotive enthusiasts is not only a recipe for turning project-car dreams into reality, but also making lasting friendships. Solid wrenching skills certainly don’t hurt either. And when all of these elements combine, just like in the 1990 cartoon Captain Planet, the results are spectacular. Case in point: Jerry Valega’s 1986 325e (E30).

Valega’s love of all-things-automotive began at a young age in his home country of Peru. He recalls, “I started working on cars when I was 13 or 14 years old. My neighbor was a Toyota mechanic and he would call me and my younger brother over and teach us.” Valega went on to be formally trained as a mechanic in school and worked in that profession in Peru for many years.

Jerry Valega stands next to his 1986 325e.

When Valega came to the U.S. in 2001, he was very busy with a new career and hesitant to take on a project car, but his son Bruno pushed him to follow his passion. Valega reflects, “One day my son said, ‘You used to have nice cars in Peru, why don’t you buy a nice car here?’” Bruno’s encouragement prevailed and Valega first purchased an early 2000s 530i with sport package (E39) and later the 1986 325e.

“I bought the 325e in 2013 from an older woman in Winchester, Virginia. I woke up one morning and saw it for sale on Craigslist. I was looking for a late model E30, but this one was in good shape—clean inside with an automatic transmission—and it was for the right price,” Valega says. The price? Only $1,200. Try buying a clean one for that now—you can’t! Sure, it was an automatic, it had comfort seats, and it had a cracked dash, but it was rust free and wore original Alpine White paint—a solid foundation for things to come.

The 325e was the first six-cylinder-powered E30 in the U.S. and only E30 available with six pistons in 1986. It wasn’t until the following year that the higher-power, higher-revving 325i’s M20B25 came to U.S. shores. Equipped with an efficient but low-revving 2.7-liter M20B27 engine, the 325e may have only made 120 horsepower at 4,250 rpm with a redline of 4,800, but 170 pound-feet of torque at 3,250 made up for a lot. In 1986, the 325e provided more out-of-the-box performance than the 318i’s 1.8-liter four-cylinder M10B18.

The M20B27 has been overhauled and runs well.

When the 325e project got underway, Valega says, “I didn’t know anybody, so I was working on it by myself.” He swapped the four-speed automatic for a five-speed manual transmission, completely changing the driving dynamics of his car and waking up the M20B27’s real potential. He also performed a head gasket replacement, taking the head to a machine shop to have the surface machined and install new seals. Other maintenance items like a timing belt and cooling system were replaced when the engine came back together in Valega’s home garage. “It was fun, it was exciting, it was nice for me,” he reflects.

As it often happens, like-minded automotive enthusiasts find each other. Valega met Feras and Yasser Saleh, who welcomed him into the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) E30 and classic BMW communities with open arms. They helped work on each other’s cars and developed strong friendships. “We started to go to Cars and Coffee, Ocean City for H2O, having picnics every weekend—with many E30s as their family and friends all owned E30s. They helped me a lot,” Valega says.

The 325e’s interior received some love with a crack-free dash, sourced from an Alpina model found in a junkyard of all places. The instrument cluster was updated with a set of subtle trim rings. A set of sport seats, usually only found in “iS” models, was purchased online for only $100 and replaced the stock comfort seats. Valega says, “The sport seats were in really bad condition, but I remembered an upholstery class [from school] in the 1980s where we built a set of Recaro seats. I wanted to see if I could do it.”

He purchased a set of quality replacement covers and rebuilt the tired sport seats to better-than-new condition. Valega’s friends were impressed, and since then he has applied the same care and treatment to a number of his friends’ cars, rebuilding and reconditioning their E30s’ sport seats. Most recently he refreshed the seats of an E30 M3. “I was super happy when I finished the M3. I said, ‘I have to do my best job because this is for an M3, and he is my friend.’”

Valega’s desire for more performance led to installing a 325i head on the 325e’s block, a swap known among the E30 community. It bolts right up and allows for a near 7,000-rpm redline with 325i-level power, yet still boasting the 325e’s higher torque numbers. However, with a number of options for pistons, tuning, and the need for a wiring harness swap, he ultimately reinstalled the “e” head for smoother running and reliability. Valega says, “I’m always thinking about the engine,” so down the road he’s looking at installing the 240-horsepower S50 or S52 inline-six from a 1995-1999 M3 (E36), or even the non-M’s 189-horsepower M50 inline-six.

The 325e’s M20B27 currently breathes through a custom intake and exhales through a set of high-flow header and custom exhaust, culminating with a dual-tip magnaflow muffler. It makes a lovely exhaust note. Not too quiet, not too loud—just right.

The M-Tech I kit looks great from all angles.

Similar to the 325e’s engine, its exterior has also been through multiple iterations before receiving the M-Tech I bodywork that it wears today. Valega explains, “A friend called me at 2:00 a.m. and said he found an original M-Tech I kit in Europe. It was the whole kit—front and rear bumpers, chrome, side skirts, and trunk spoiler. And it was all original parts—not a replica. In that time, it was expensive, but I think I got it for a good price.” Valega laughs that when attempting to send money for the kit, PayPal locked his account and wouldn’t let the transaction go through, so he spent the next four hours on the phone to get it resolved and make the purchase. The M Tech I kit arrived, it was painted to match the 325e’s Alpine White paint, and installed on the 325e. The previously installed “iS” front valance and Kamei kit were sold and transferred to a friend’s car.


To achieve the desired stance, Valega has gone through a few suspension systems, ultimately picking a set of Godspeed adjustable coilovers. “They’re cheap, but they’re good,” he says. However, don’t count on this being the last suspension swap, as he is already exploring new options.

The adjustable suspension lowers the E30’s bodywork over some of the finest rolling automotive jewelry available: a set of Ehrlich Wheel Works three-piece BBS RS317s measuring 17×8” ET26 in the front and 17×9” ET13 in the rear. Valega couldn’t be more pleased with the quality and fitment, saying, “I’m super happy because no spacers are required. They’re just perfect.” While seventeen-inch wheels sometimes look out of place on the E30 chassis, these EWW BBS 317s look as if the car was originally designed with them in mind. You can’t go wrong with a set of BBS weaves on an E30 chassis, but these are truly next level.

This 325e isn’t just a garage queen as it has made appearances up and down the East Coast, at events like the East E30 Picnic, the Vintage, and the Cherry Blossom Run, in addition to the regular weekend stops at local Cars and Coffee gatherings.

Cruising to the East E30 Picnic.

Valega has certainly taken his love of the marque to a level beyond most. Having owned over 30 BMWs in the last decade and a stable that currently consists of an E39 M5, E39 540i, E53 X5 4.6is, E46 M3, and E82 135i, his 1986 325e is still the favorite and the keeper. He smiles and says, “I love how the car looks. You know, when you park your car and walk away, and turn back to look at it? I say, ‘Wow, my car looks nice.’” He added, “I told my son, if something happened to me, you can sell all my cars, but not this one. This one is promised for my granddaughter, Antonella.”

Bringing this full circle by referring back to the E30-era cartoon Captain Planet, perhaps the most important element in the show, and any successful automotive project for that matter, is heart. Given Jerry Valega’s love for his family, which extends to the BMW community, it’s no wonder how a bone stock 1986 325e was totally transformed into the jaw-dropping piece of automotive art that it is today. —Mike Bevels 

Jerry Valega, or “Abu Jerry” as his granddaughter calls him, proudly displays a tattoo with his granddaughter’s and grandson’s names.




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