August 04 2006   Story: Bryan Joslin, Photos by Author

Every once in a while, it's refreshing to take a diversion from the routines of our lives and explore the road less traveled. For many of us car enthusiasts, that means redirecting our attention from the world of performance upgrades and aftermarket modifications, and simply remembering the cars that originally fueled our passion for this hobby. After all, the mods mean nothing if you don't have a great car to start with.

As a BMW enthusiast, it's really hard not to be a fan of the original M3. Who doesn't love that high-strung four-banger with sixteen valves and four throttles? How can you find fault in the purpose-built bodywork? And who can dispute its racing pedigree on the road courses of Europe and around the world? The E30 M3, sold here from 1987 to 1991, defined the M brand for many enthusiasts.

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Today, E30 M3s are still highly sought after by performance enthusiasts, who value them for their light weight, excellent handling and charismatic engine. As a car developed specifically to win races, many of the production models have spent their lives on the track and have suffered accordingly. Clean, original, low-mileage examples are very rare and demand top dollar.

Chicago- area resident Larry Schettel owns what is certainly one of the cleanest M3s you'll see outside of a museum. And it's not only clean, it's also rare and nearly 100% original. With just less than 50,000 miles on the odometer, Larry's Henna Red 1988 coupe looks as good as (perhaps better than) the day he drove it home more than eighteen years ago.

Anyone who has ever attended a Windy City Chapter BMW Club event has no doubt met Larry and his wife, Barbara Adams. They are the pillars of that very active organization, and some of the most genuine and least pretentious BMW owners you're likely to meet. Their home is a testament to their passion for these cars, with BMW memorabilia on display in nearly every room of their house (their dining room chairs are even upholstered in M3 seat cloth!)

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Unlike so many owners who have given in to the temptation to try to improve on Munich's best work, Larry finds great satisfaction in his M3 just the way it is (and was). From the start, he recognized this was a special car, and had the rare foresight to preserve it from the very beginning. He took delivery in March of 1988 with just 3 miles on it. And while he drove the car regularly during the first five years or so, in which time he accumulated the first 30,000 miles, he never drove the car during the winter months.

The lack of exposure to salt and moisture means that bodywork is absolutely free of any corrosion. The otherwise mild Midwestern climate also means the Henna Red paint hasn't faded either, and thanks to liberal treatments with Zymol it's as brilliant as ever. Larry reckons only around a hundred original Henna cars exist in the country, making it even more desirable. You'd be hard pressed to find more a more perfect finish on a brand new car, let alone one with 50,000 miles.

The interior is nearly as perfect as the exterior. The full leather interior is in remarkable shape, with only minor signs of use in the form of a well-developed patina. The leather itself is buttery soft, like a good handbag. The dashboard appears as though it was just pressed out of the mold; there's not so much as a hint of gooey plastic dressing to be seen. Likewise, the carpets are fresh, having been spared the ravages of winter. Only the steering wheel's suede rim gives any clue that the car has actually been driven.

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The trunk looks like Day One also. As Larry lifted the carpet to reveal the spare tire well, he mentioned that the spare has never touched the ground. Naturally the carpet itself is perfect, and all of the tools are in their proper places in the tool tray.

Under the hood, Larry has taken things to a different level altogether. Hours upon hours were spent painstakingly dissolving cosmoline from every surface in the engine bay. It's safe to say they don't leave the factory this clean. Other components, such as the air conditioning lines and the airflow meter, have been polished by hand to a perfect finish. This level of preparation has paid off in the numerous BMW Club concours events the car has participated in and won. In fact, the only part of the car not absolutely perfect is the underside, though Larry has the facilities to make that possible too.

It goes without saying that the original wheels are still in perfect shape. To keep them that way, Larry runs the car on a set of aftermarket Borbet wheels when he does drive it. Along with the suede steering wheel and shift boot, Kamei shift knob, and performance chip, the Borbets are about the extent of the alterations on this pristine M3.

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For the most part, Larry and Barbara treat their '88 BMW as a garage queen. She goes out for fair-weather excursions locally, and occasionally shows up at club events. It seems whenever he does take it out, the car is the subject of much attention. "Arrest-Me Red" takes on new meaning, as he's been stopped my numerous officers who just want to check out the car. Indeed, even during our photo shoot the local Sherrif's patrolman took a minute to ask Larry a few questions.

The question of how long they plan to hold onto it is answered non-verbally and in unison. With no kids to pass it down to, this car will be with them forever. When asked if he plans to have his ashes buried in it, Larry quickly replies, "God no, the ashtray's never been used!"

The explosion of the aftermarket means today's car hobbyists have more options than ever before. And there's no doubt some owners have built themselves some very fast, very nice machines. But sometimes the best inspiration comes in the form of a clean, unmolested icon like the original M3. And Larry's is about as good as they get. Perhaps it's not too late for him to adopt a 36-year-old child.