When Julian Burkett of German Auto Pros and I began prepping my E30 for the 9-hour drive down to my hometown of Chattanooga, TN for Riverside V, we were only concerned with ensuring my BMW would make it there and back without issues. Stretched tires, less than an inch of ground clearance from my oil pan, and the fact that my E30 is pushing 35 years old with nothing but custom work holding it together are enough reasons for concern. However, we could never know that an intangible virus, panic caused by the media, and a total city-wide shutdown of Chattanooga would turn into the main themes for the weekend. Thanks to those factors, this was the wildest Riverside yet. Join Julian, Karey, Sinh, Ais, Basyr, Taylor, Matt, myself, and all my Tennessee family for the ‘unofficial’ event as we bring you the full, uncut, uncensored, debauchery that was Riverside V.

Parker (left) Dave (right) in my shop helping finish the E30

March 10th, 2020

Julian, Parker Spencer, Dave Siebert, and I still had yet to drop the engine onto the subframe of my E30 and finish bolting everything together. With two days until Julian and I were to leave, it was a rush to finish with any hope of my favorite BMW making it back to Chattanooga. It took all four of us, my engine crane, two floor jacks, and a set of ratchet straps to muscle everything back together in one night, but we did it. After struggling with all the solid mounts, lining up the drivetrain, and finally attaching the subframe between the frame rails with the engine back in place, we succeeded. By 1 AM, all that still needed to be addressed were my exhaust, the cooling system, the steering rack, skid plate, and a thorough double-check before the E30 would be ready. At that point, I was still unsure if I had the time to finish.

March 11th, 2020

I rushed home from work to immediately dig in. While I was certainly on the ‘home stretch’ in terms of the amount of work I had already completed, the high number of little things still seemed overwhelming. Fortunately, I work best under pressure. I dug in. I will always find a way to be successful or redefine what the definition of success is. In the morning, Julian and I would be on our way to Chattanooga. At that moment, my exhaust, driveshaft, cooling system, hood, and steering system still needed installation. With no time to dawdle, I wrenched furiously.

Still under construction

The driveshaft went back in, then the exhaust. I filled the engine with new LIQUI MOLY and, with the skid plate still off, inspected for any sign of immediate leaks. Satisfied that none presented themselves, I began to reassemble the cooling system. Unfortunately, during the hasty engine install, I had punctured the upper heater core rubber coolant hose. That meant the intake manifold had to come off and I had to rush to a parts store to find something that would work. There’s not really an off-the-shelf option for a swapped E30, so whatever I could find would have to do. Fortunately, I live close to the parts store and was back at my house within a half-hour, new hose in hand. I greased up the hard-line connections to the block and the heater core, test fit my hose, cut it to length (sloppily,) and once again had a leak-free coolant system. The radiator, electric fan, wiring, and main hoses followed, trailed by the final fill-up.

It was then that Julian arrived, just in time for me to bleed the system. While it bled, I installed my steering rack and skid plate. Unfortunately, likely due to the mounts shifting, my skid plate found itself touching the oil pan. While I attempted to raise the engine and spin the mounts, I couldn’t find a way to raise it without making the mounts sit in a way that was not ideal. So, with no time left, I made a snap decision. We were going to take the E30 as planned, but we had to have a support car. Julian happily volunteered to drive his MK3 VR6 Jetta and lead the trip, paving a path for me through the potholes, bridge connections, construction, and various road hazards we might encounter. With that settled, we finally threw the wheels back on and took the E30 for a test run.

The night before we left, right after my first test drive

March 12th, 2020

We prepare to leave the ECS parking lot

With almost no shakedown, Julian and I loaded up my travel tools, jack stands, floor jack, impact, spare fuses, fire extinguisher, and our gear. We reinstalled my hood, said goodbye to my dog, and hit the road. I was nervous about my oil pan but figured I could try to fiddle with it once we arrived in Chattanooga, provided we made it there without any issues. Fortunately, with Julian driving his Jetta, and plenty of friends I know between Ohio and Tennessee that would hold my BMW for me if I had to leave it, I felt confident we would be at Riverside regardless.

On the Road

Julian and I stop halfway through, just outside of Cincinnati

A quick stop at ECS to grab camera gear, some energy drinks, and walkie-talkies held us up for a bit longer than I wanted, but I was glad to have a way to quickly communicate between the cars and film since our videographer decided not to go at all.

At 11:00 AM, we left Ohio. This is a drive I have made many times since I moved here from Tennessee, but this drive felt different. It had a lingering sense of anxiety and uncertainty as I was worried about my oil pan more so than usual, worried about everything I had just reinstalled in my car, and became worried as my friends kept me updated throughout the trip on the state of the Coronavirus panic in Tennessee.

I learned that there were confirmed cases in Tennessee with a rising number by the hour. Nashville had all but closed everything nonessential. A state of emergency was declared by the time we arrived. While we made the trip safely and enjoyed dinner with a high school friend of mine who put us up for the night in his house, we didn’t know whether Riverside was even going to happen.

With so much up in the air, we decided to just enjoy the fact that we made the long trip without any hiccups. In fact, the E30 drove better than ever. I pulled into my friend’s road with Julian in tow and parked, taking comfort in the fact that my car had performed beautifully, even after that open-heart surgery just days before…

Arrival in Chattanooga on the North Shore for dinner
Downtown dinner spot at Coolidge Park