“BMW E36 318i ‘Battle Wagon’” – By Ross MacKay Photos by Richard Dimmock
It’s an incident which, thanks to the all-seeing eye of the television camera, has become part of Australasian folklore; the day Tony Longhurst jumped out of his distinctive yellow BMW E36 318i Super Tourer and threw three solid punches through the open driver’s window of teammate Paul Morris’s similar car (which you can check out for yourself on the video below) after a wheel-tangling clash at the Winton round of the Australian Class 11 Touring Car Championship back in 1994.
Longhurst would go on to win the 1994 championship title in the genuine BMW Motorsport-built ex Team Bigazzi E36/A 053 93 car now owned by Christchurch businessman Lindsay O’Donnell and driven in the local Historic Touring Car Series by son Matthew.
Like most of the other Group A, Group C and Super Tourer models running in the series the car has a fascinating competition history which started in 1993 in the Italian Super Tourer Championship (the Campionato Italiano Superturismo) and also took in the season-ending FIA Touring Car Cup Challenge at Monza that year.
The E36 318i was very much the car to beat at the time, with German ace Joachim Winkelhock leading home BMW Motorsport teammate Steve Soper to win the 1993 British Touring Car (BTCC) championship and Venetian Roberto Ravaglia re-claiming the Italian Superturismo title he had won twice before in an E30 M3, behind the wheel of a CiBiEmme Engineering run E36 318i that same year.
Having driven one himself in the inaugural FIA Touring Car Challenge event at Monza in Italy in October 1993 (where he finished 22nd overall) Tony Longhurst obviously knew how good a 318i was, so it should come as no surprise that – despite being DQed from the round at Winton for his fisticuffs with teammate (!!!!Ed) Morris – he added his own name and the 1994 Australian Manufacturers’ Championship title to the model’s period provenance. Before on-selling the ‘championship-winning’ car to young gun Stephen Ellery at the end of the year Longhurst also entered John Blanchard and Warwick Rooklyn in it in the 1994 Toohey’s 1000 at Bathurst where – in a mixed field of V8 Falcons and Commodores and 2 litre Super Tourers it finished 12th (and third 2 litre car home).
After updating the bodywork to 1995-spec Stephen Ellery ran the car in his family company’s Chelgrave Contractors’ yellow and red colours in the 1995 Australian Super Touring Championship, finishing 6th.
Ellery in turn sold the E36 later that year to Cameron McLean in time for the latter to run it the Clipsal Super Touring Car Trophy support races at the season-ending Australian F1 Grand Prix meeting in Adelaide, where he finished 8th in the first race but failed to finish the second.
McLean further upgraded the car with a sequential gearbox and ran it in his – again yellow-based – Greenfield Mowers colours in the 1996 Australian Super Touring Championship, finishing 9th.
With McLean upgrading to a later model Holden (Opel) Vectra for the 1997 season the E36 was then sold to Aussie Jim Cornish and Australia-based Kiwi Nigel Barclay who teamed up with Christchurch driver Blair Smith to contest that year’s 2 litre-only AMP Bathurst 1000.
Cornish and Barclay in turn sold the by now five-year-old car to Anthony Robson who contested the Australian Super Tourer Championship in 1998 as well as the second 2-litre-only AMP Bathurst 1000 race with Sydney driver Ric Shaw.
Robson also raced the E36 at early rounds of the 1999 Australian Super Tourer Championship before upgrading to a later model Honda Accord, and a pair of early rounds of the BOC Gases-backed 2000 series before parking it up; and eventually selling it to Lindsay O’Donnell in 2003.
Once here (in Christchurch) O’Donnell had it rebuilt and re-liveried in its original Warsteiner (a popular German beer) BMW Team Bigazzi ‘war paint’ (white base with multi-colour chequered flag over its hind quarters), and used it at events like the South Island Endurance Series and Skope Classic with son Matthew.
With interest in a dedicated Historic Touring Car Series for cars like the E36 growing at the time the O’Donnells decided that the car needed another ‘birthday’ so in 2015 it was again completely stripped and rebuilt – and this time – re-liveried in the distinctive ‘Longhurst’ colours it wore when it won the 1994 Australian Manufacturers’ Championship title (and appeared, of course, in THAT YouTube video, which – by the way – has now been viewed over 129,000 times).
To say that the E36 still looks great, and every mm a racer, is an understatement. With it modest aero package and slick-shod 18-inch Dymag racing wheels tucked deep up into the standard wheel arches it is cars like it which stand as a tribute to the intent of the original Super Tourer rules – to provide a showcase for manufacturers to sell on Monday showroom examples of a model of car which won on Sunday!
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