BMW E30 Seat Upgrade Guide
Austin graduated from the University of Colorado Denver in 2021 with a degree in technical writing and remains in the Denver area. Austin brings tons of automotive knowledge and experience to the table. Austin worked as a Technical Product Specialist at BMW for over 5 years and drives a heavily modified E30 325i with a stroker kit, all of which he built from the ground up.
The BMW E30 turned 40 years old this year. If you own one, you’ll know that age can be very unkind to these cars, especially as far as interior aesthetics are concerned. Nearly every E30 has a cracked dash and torn seats, even if they have been pampered and cared for. While a cracked dash is a different breed of headache, replacing your E30 seats is one way to breathe some life back into your interior.
Standard BMW E30s came with two seat styles offered with numerous upholstery materials and patterns. The styles included E30 sports seats and comfort seats. Both the sport and comfort options were available with cloth, leatherette, or leather upholstery options, and none of them held up that well over time. Regardless, unless your E30 has been garage kept for most of its life, chances are that the factory seats could use a refresh.
In this guide, we’ll cover some of the most important considerations when purchasing replacement seats for your BMW E30. Whether you are looking for a track-focused option or a period-correct factory seat look alike, we’ll offer a few suggestions that might work for your needs.
BMW E30 Seat Upgrade Considerations
Before jumping into suggestions, there are a few considerations that you’ll have to take into account before pulling the trigger on some upgraded seats for your BMW E30. It is important to take your time when choosing new seats, as it will be where you spend most of your time. For that reason, comfort and proper fitment are paramount to deciding on a new seat. Along similar lines, you’ll have to decide what style of seat is right for your E30 application. While the heavily bolstered, maximum aggression racing seat might be calling out to you, it likely won’t be the best option if you spend a lot of time off the track. Conversely, if you are building a dedicated track E30, you’ll need a seat that provides adequate support when you’re thrashing it around tight corners.
E30 Seat Upgrade Sizing
Of course, in the end, the most comfortable seat is going to be the best option. One of the most crucial factors in the comfort equation is choosing an E30 seat that is the correct size. There are a few areas of an upgraded E30 sport seat that you’ll have to consider in terms of sizing. First, you’ll need to make sure that the base of the seat is wide enough. The key is finding an E30 seat that is just wide enough for you to sit comfortably without it feeling claustrophobic. If you aren’t sure how to measure yourself for seat fitment, check out this article that explains that process.
In addition to being the right size for your body, it is also crucial to make sure that it will also fit in the E30 chassis. This is often a problem for those that need an aftermarket seat with a wider base. Since the E30 is such a small car, base width is certainly a consideration. Seats with a wider base than a 23” will be getting very close to coming into contact with the center console and door card. Additionally, side bolsters can also cause problems in terms of fitment. Seats with extremely aggressive side bolsters can come in contact with the B-pillar and prevent them from bolting in properly.
Bolstering is also a very important consideration for an upgraded E30 seat, as that will determine how much the seat holds you in when going around bends. For more intensive E30 track-day needs, a more heavily bolstered option would be preferable. With track-oriented E30 seats, the main bolstering areas include the thigh bolsters near the base of the seat on either side, the side bolsters located towards the middle portion of the seat, and the head and neck bolster.
Most people like the style and bolstering of the stock E30 sport seats, and there are a few options out there that mimic the factory design nearly identically. If you are looking for a comfortable seat that provides adequate support for spirited E30 driving, going with a seat with substantial side bolstering and less extreme hip and head bolstering might be the best choice. It is usually tight thigh bolstering that makes an E30 sport seat uncomfortable, so finding a seat with less extreme thigh bolsters is usually the best route for enhanced comfort.
Fixed vs Reclining E30 Seats
The choice between fixed and reclining aftermarket E30 seats can also make the difference between comfort and agony. This one is pretty self-explanatory, as the two options are stated in the heading. With a fixed E30 seat, you won’t be able to adjust the seat’s angle. With this style of seat, the shell is typically formed from a single piece of metal, fiberglass, or carbon fiber. In that case, adjustability is significantly limited.
With a reclining E30 seat, the aftermarket seat shell will have a less fixed position. A reclining seat will allow for the angle of the seating position to be changed, just like the factory seat. The ability to recline your E30 seat can help those with back pain that need a slightly more relaxed seating position. With that being said, aftermarket reclining E30 seats tend to be more expensive than fixed seats.
The build materials that an aftermarket E30 seat is comprised of are important when it comes to weight and safety. Less expensive aftermarket seats are often made from steel, while more expensive aftermarket seats are made from carbon fiber or fiberglass. For some people, seat materials aren’t a big deal, especially if you aren’t concerned with weight savings or meeting safety requirements for a competitive racing series. However, if you intend on doing some performance driving, your seat is your second line of defense in the result of a crash. For that reason, it is vital that your seat is structurally rigid enough to withstand an impact.
Seat Mounting / Aftermarket Brackets
To make aftermarket seats work in an E30, you’ll need to either mock up a new seat bracket yourself or purchase an aftermarket seat bracket that works for the seat of your choice. Standard E30 comfort and sports seats are secured to the chassis using old 80s-style seat brackets that are bolted directly into the floorboard. Some E30 owners choose to use the factory E30 seat rails and weld cross bars on the sliders. If you want to avoid the DIY route, you’ll need to update the securing hardware.
Luckily, there are a ton of aftermarket E30 seat brackets and rails that bolt directly to the factory chassis mounting points that allow the fitment of multiple different seat brands and styles. There are some aftermarket side mounting brackets that work with the factory E30 sliders, which might be the most cost-effective method of installing aftermarket seats.
Installing new seat brackets will often change the seating position of the new seats, with most sitting significantly lower than the factory base height. Some E30 owners like this, as it gives extra clearance for a racing helmet. If the lower base height is too extreme, installing spacers is always an option. Some members of the E30 community also state that it is possible to lower your E30’s dash and steering column to compensate for the lower seating position. While that is the hard way to do things, it might be a good option if you already plan on adjusting your steering column position.
Best BMW E30 Seat Upgrade Options
There are nearly endless options in terms of aftermarket E30 seat upgrades are concerned. However, with the considerations listed above taken into account, seats from certain manufacturers might work better than others. In the following section, we’ll focus on aftermarket E30 seat options. There are certainly some good OEM plus options available for the E30 as well which we’ll cover a bit later.
1) Corbeau GTS II Reclining E30 Seat
Price: $959.00 / $1,359.00 per pair
Purchase Here: Corbeau.com
Corbeau E30 Seat Bracket: Corbeau.com
If you are looking for a reclining seat option with a period-correct feel, the Corbeau GTS II is the seat for you. While they might look aggressive, Corbeau GTS II seats are designed with comfort as the top priority. While providing a significant amount of support, the GTS II has wide-set thigh bolsters that won’t squeeze you too tight and provide enough room for waist sizes up to 38.” Fitment is guaranteed for the E30 chassis, and there are numerous reports of the GTS II fitting comfortably.
Corbeau GTS II seats come with an array of modifiable options that will allow you to tailor them for your exact needs. For instance, they come in three different upholstery materials, including cloth, microsuede, and leather. They can also be ordered in either grey or black. Beyond simple aesthetics, the GTS II comes with a number of optional features as well. The seats can be ordered with optional inflatable lumbar support for those that need a bit of lower back relief. Corbeau is also supportive of your track day aspirations, offering an optional anti-submarine slot in the seat for use with a 5 or 6-point harness.
Beyond being a good period correct and comfortable seat option, Corbeau makes fitment easy by providing their own E30 seat bracket that bolts directly to the factory seat mounting points.
2) Sparco R100 E30 Seat
Style: Reclining Seat
Purchase Here: Sparcousa.com
Compatible E30 Seat Bracket: Garagistic.com
Moving on to a more sport-oriented E30 seat option, the Sparco R100 is a tried and true option for those looking for a seat that will hold them tight in a performance setting. Sparco has been responsible for some of the most important safety advances in the history of motorsports and has always been a brand synonymous with quality auto parts.
The Sparco R100 is one of the company’s best intro racing seats for streetcar use. While the R100 is less focused on providing a truly comfortable experience, it compensates in performance. The Sparco R100 is constructed on a steel frame. While steel construction is often seen as inferior, the R100’s rigidity is unparalleled. For that reason, it truly does hold you firmly through the corners. As an added feature, the R100 does recline allowing for more adjustment.
The R100 features included passthrough holes for a racing harness, but can also be used with stock seatbelts. In terms of fitment, most customers with a 6’ stature weighing under 225 lbs state that they are able to comfortably fit. The R100s are spacious around the hip area, which can sometimes allow smaller individuals to slide a bit.
3) Corbeau A4 Reclining E30 Seat
Style: Reclining Seat
Price: $899.00 / $1,299.00 per pair
Purchase Here: Corbeau.com
Corbeau E30 Seat Bracket: Corbeau.com
For our third pick, Corbeau makes a reappearance. Simply put, they are one of the most trusted manufacturers in the aftermarket seat space and have a reputation for making seats that bridge the gap between comfort and performance. That’s exactly the space that the Corbeau A4 seat occupies. The A4 is another adjustable seat that has the ability to recline. The A4 was specifically designed to work well with smaller chassis, which makes it a perfect choice for the E30.
Like the Corbeau GTS II listed above, the A4 comes in three different upholstery choices. You have the option of cloth, microsuede, or leather. The A4 also has the same optional extras as the GTS II, with inflatable lumbar support, an anti-submarine slot, and even a seat heater option available from the factory. For taller folks that need a bit of extra clearance, Corbeau can shave down the base of the A4 seat to allow for more headroom for a racing helmet.
The standard size Corbeau A4 will accommodate drivers with a waist size up to 36.” For those that need a little extra width, the A4 also comes in a wide width size which can accommodate drivers with up to a 42” waist. While there are reports that both sizes will fit in an E30 chassis, the wide A4 will get close to coming in contact with the B-pillar and center console.
4) Cobra Imola Pro-Fit E30 Racing Seat
Style: Fixed Seat
Purchase Here: Competitionmotorsport.com
Compatible E30 Seat Bracket: Garagistic.com
To round out the list, we’ve chosen a fixed-back, lightweight, performance-oriented option with a strong pedigree and high build quality. The Cobra Imola Pro-Fit is unquestionably the lightest seat on the list, weighing in at just 15 lbs. Its strength and featherweight qualities can be attributed to its unique build material, Diolen, which is a kevlar-like polymer fiber that is lighter and stronger than fiberglass. If you are building a track day E30, those attributes are exactly what you want in a seat.
To really hammer home the track day focus, the Cobra Imola Pro-Fit is FIA homologated to 8855-1999, meaning that it can be used in the Spec E30 class. It is also 4/5/6 point harness compatible and HANS compatible, making it a very safe E30 seat as well.
The Cobra Imola Pro-Fit is also highly inclusive in terms of sizing too. The seat is offered in either standard or GT size, with the GT size being the optimal choice for those with a larger waist size. Beyond simply offering seats with different base widths, the Imola Pro-Fit can also be ordered with customizable cushions depending on your base height and side bolster needs. The back cushion, bottom cushion, and thigh cushion can all be ordered in low-profile trim if you need additional clearance for a helmet or roll cage.
As a fixed back seat, the Imola Pro-Fit won’t be the most comfortable option for a daily driven E30. However, if you are looking for a seat that will keep you safe and shave some pounds for an E30 track build, it’s hard to beat the Cobra Imola. Especially at that price point.
Other OEM+ E30 Seat Options
Outside of aftermarket E30 seat options, it is also common to swap seats from other BMW models into the E30 chassis. E36 Vader or standard leather seats are a common swap into the E30 chassis, but are a tight squeeze. Vader seats come especially close to the E30 B-pillars due to their wide side bolsters. Weight is also a consideration with E36 seats, as they are far heavier than E30 sport seats. It is generally the same story with E46 seats. They will fit in an E30, but they are much heavier than the factory seats.
The benefit of installing E36 or E46 seats in an E30 is availability and cost. With E30 getting harder to find in good condition as they continue to age, it can be difficult to source a quality set of sport or comfort seats without spending a pretty penny. While the seats themselves might be less expensive, it might not be worth the hassle, as you’ll have to find or make custom adapters to allow other BMW seats to work with the factory E30 rails.
Beyond swapping in new seats, the option is always available to reupholster the factory seats by either ordering a reupholstery kit online or by taking them to a specialty shop. There are also E30 parts suppliers that sell reupholstered E30 seats, but they generally fall in the $1,000-1,500 price range for reupholstered leather sports seats.
BMW E30 Seat Upgrade Guide Summary
One of the first E30 interior items to go is the front seats. That isn’t due to bad build quality or inferior materials, E30s are just classics at this point. Sun damage and repeated entering/exiting are bound to destroy cloth, leather, and vinyl after 40 years. Luckily, there are a ton of E30 seat options out there and plenty of aftermarket support that allows aftermarket seats to bolt to the factory E30 seat mounting points.
Before making a decision on E30 seats, some due diligence is important. Of primary importance is E30 seat fitment, in terms of the seat being the right size for you and for the chassis. Most reputable seat manufacturers do a pretty good job of providing detailed schematics of their seats pre-purchase, so it is important to make sure that the base width of your chosen seat is wide enough for you to fit comfortably, but not so wide that you’ll be sliding around. Side bolster width is another item of importance, as you don’t want them to make contact with your E30’s B-pillar.
Consider what you plan on doing with your E30 and base your seat choice on that. If you are building a dedicated track E30, your best bet is likely a fixed back seat that is as light as possible and made from strong materials in case of a crash. If you are refreshing a daily driven E30, you’ll likely want a reclining seat that is as comfortable as possible yet still provides the support of the factory sport seats. Luckily, there are solid options for both ends of the spectrum.
If you enjoyed this article and are looking for more BMW E30 content, check out our BMW E30 Coilover Upgrade Guide! As always, safe driving!