550hp track car BMW M3 F80

550hp track car BMW M3 F80

What began as a fun family-oriented project for Jeff De Lucia has morphed into a combination of track toy and promotional tool. Ladies and gentlemen, charge your glasses… Words: Daniel Bevis. Photos: Matt Petrie.


TEQUILA MOCKINGBIRD  550hp track F80 M3


Mockingbirds are fascinating creatures. Among their varied taxonomic intricacies and genetic variations, their most noteworthy feature – hence the name – is their propensity to mimic the sound of other birds. Depending on environment, they may also mimic the sounds of insects, car alarms, creaky hinges, all sorts. Why do they do this? One theory is that female mockingbirds prefer males with a broad repertoire of songs – essentially, male mockingbirds are competing in a sort of avian X Factor to win girls by singing diverse and entertaining songs.

All of which leads us, in convoluted form, to a crap joke: when is a race car not a race car? When it has a set of functional rear doors and somewhere to put your luggage. No, you’re right, it’s not really a joke at all, but it helpfully explains the nature of the F80 M3 you see here before you, darting hyperactively around the revered tarmac of Lime Rock. It looks every inch the race car, doesn’t it? But this M3 was born a mockingbird, mimicking the call of the racer while also cleverly living out alternative lifestyles. See, it has licence plates too! It’s a go-anywhere hyper sports toy that happens to be capable on the track.

Also relevant is the fact that the F80 wears the Six Degree Premium Tequila livery. The ethos that underpins Six Degree as a brand is that, as the world turns on human connections, one and one often equals more than two; it can even equal six, to mirror the six degrees of separation that connect every human on Earth. And while this may sound like fuzzy marketing logic to retrofit a number into a slogan, the idea of something being greater than the sum of its parts applies directly to this M3. The spec is robust, but anyone can buy parts – it’s the love and passion that’s gone into this build which truly elevates it to hero status.

“When is a race car not a race car? When it has a set of functional rear doors and somewhere to put your luggage”

All of this has been a long time coming for 55-year-old New Jersey resident Jeff De Lucia. He’s been enjoying BMWs for the past 30 years or so, and interestingly it was his 2015 3 Series Saloon that opened the gateway to the world of modifying; he performed a few cosmetic alterations to make it unique, and started taking it along to shows with the aim of providing a new hobby that he, his wife Nancy and son Andrew could enjoy together as a family. It’s safe to say that once that gateway was opened, it was impossible to jam it shut again…

“When I started to take the 3 Series to AutoCouture Motoring [ACM], I saw a lot of M3s in the shop,” Jeff recalls. “I started speaking with the owners and some of them took their cars on the track. So I decided that after a year owning the sedan, it was time to step up to a real motorsport car – the M3!” Not one to mess about, Jeff sourced himself a shiny new M3 from Park Avenue BMW in Maywood, New Jersey, and in the twinkling of an eye he was thrashing the life from it at Milville’s NJ Motorsports Park. “It was more than I could handle,” he laughs. “But after several monthly track events and a lot of seat time, I got comfortable with the stock M3 and wanted to start the modifications to help improve the performance.”

It was around this time, as Jeff was becoming a regular at track events, that he became an investor partner in the Six Degree Tequila brand – and, with a certain degree of serendipity, he concluded that attending high-performance driving events would be a good way to simultaneously get some proper driver coaching on track and promote the tequila company to a wider audience. Win-win, right? “The owner of the Sports Car Driving Association [SCDA], Elivan Goulart, who was the 2016 TCA Pirelli World Challenge Champion, has been a big help to me learning on track,” says Jeff. “Getting seat time alongside him in my M3 has helped mould me into the driver I am today.”

Naturally there are a few steps between buying an M3, getting some track coaching, and then using said M3 as a promotional tool for one’s business interests. It’s safe to assume that the modifications were all mapped out from the start then, particularly given how Jeff dipped his toe into the modding pool with his previous car? Well, not quite. Remember how he initially said the stock M3 was more than he could handle? That early appraisal wasn’t exactly conducive to the pursuit of performance upgrades. Nevertheless, there is a certain inevitability to these things. “Coming from my F30, I knew the first round of cosmetics would be done to dress the car up for some local shows that I enjoyed attending,” he continues. “Like most people who modify their cars, I wanted to make it unique from the other M3s out there.” And the more he drove the car on track, the more Jeff developed an idea of what he wanted it to be: it started off with the tequila livery, followed by an OEM boot spoiler from the unicorn GTS model and some front-end aero from RSC Tuning. With these simple additions, Jeff could see the M3 morphing into a Touring Car, and that was something he was keen to pursue. Well, wouldn’t you? “It was not my intention to do that,” he laughs, “but as it started unfolding we kept running with it and created a truly unique M3 that is as functional as it is good-looking,” he says. That’s not the end of the exterior mods, mind, and this M3 has been further enhanced with the addition of a Vorsteiner rear diffuser, IND painted reflectors, gloss black side vents, custom-painted headlights by ONEighty and a liberal dose of carbon fibre, all of which combine to emphasise that racecar look.

We’d better talk power at this point then, hadn’t we? You see, the more experience he got with the M3’s on-limit balance, the more he was able to exploit its grunt, and you know what they say about power… it corrupts. He wanted more. In order to maintain the manufacturer warranty – this was a brand new car, after all – Jeff opted for Dinan’s Stage 3 tune, which was carried out by the dealer. This impressive bit of electronic wizardry yields peak figures of 548hp and 549lb ft, which is a thick slice of fried awesome on top of the factory 431hp and 406lb ft. Supercar power without voiding the warranty certainly isn’t to be sniffed at! With the car back at ACM, the exhaust was then swapped out for a Dinan system with an Active Autowerke midpipe, which will explain that low rumbling noise you’ve been hearing recently – you can pretty much feel the vibes of this setup from anywhere in the world.

Another symptom of regular track use is the inevitable pondering about suspension; again, the stock M3 setup is formidable, but there will always be road-biased compromises in a production model, and Jeff was keen for a little more control and adjustability. It was still going to be used on the road of course, so he didn’t want to go with anything too hardcore, and in the end he arrived upon KW’s Variant 3 coilover setup, along with Ground Control camber plates and the stock brakes have been replaced with a serious Brembo GT BBK setup. The suspension arrangement allows the car to be tailored to individual circuits, and also wound right down for show use… and with shows still in the family crosshairs, it was time to start thinking about wheels.

“There are hundreds of wheels on the market to choose from,” Jeff points out. “I believe that when it comes to wheel selection, you get what you pay for. To me, HRE is the best quality available. I chose the lightweight R101 in clear brushed dark finish. The wheel size and style was the perfect application for the track, and the dialled-in offsets recommended by ACM sits it perfectly at car shows! And given that I wanted to drive on track and attend shows, this would require continued maintenance after all events, so I brought the car to Phil at Detailer’s Domain to have the car and wheels clear-coated. Best money I ever spent! It’s very easy to clean off tar and heavy brake dust from track events and it all keeps the car looking showroom.”

If this is all sounding a bit too easy and fairy tale-like, however, let Jeff assure you that the project hasn’t been plain sailing from start to finish. “We do not live in a perfect world,” he says. “Anyone telling you that everything went smoothly with their car is probably not telling the truth.

A project like this with multiple stages of completion is bound to have some setbacks! One that comes to mind is when we decided to replace the OEM seats with custom limited edition Recaro Sportster CS seats. Part of the problem was that only 50 pairs were made worldwide, and finding them was quite the task; fortunately Cat at IND was able to track down a pair in Germany. This delayed the project two months while we hunted them down and waited for their arrival from Europe, and once we received them, extensive fabrication work had to be done to get the seat height right. Planning properly and dealing with professionals always makes it easier to handle any potential problems though.” Well, quite. Especially when you’re dealing with a new car, as the financial risks are inherently higher; thankfully Jeff’s business brain has led him to work with some of the best in the industry to see his dream to fruition. Now, there always comes a time in life when you have to cut yourself loose and go for broke, and in the case of this M3 it concerns the rear seats. That may not sound like a pivotal element for a project such as this, but at the time of our shoot Jeff was still running a full interior. You’ll note that the rear seats have been deleted and there’s a roll-cage in there, changes that were made after we’d taken our first round of pics so it seemed rude not to go back and capture the new interior in all its glory. And the significance of this interior transformation is the aforementioned keenness for this to be family project as well as a track toy and a promotional tool. With the rear seats removed, there’s nowhere for junior to sit when they go to shows. But this is the compromise that road-racers impose upon you if they’re going to develop correctly. And don’t feel bad for young Andrew – the family can go to shows in convoy, so there are two cars instead of one!

“The interior went through a couple of phases,” Jeff explains. “First was the custom-painted seat backs along with all of the OEM Alcantara and carbon bits. Once the car turned tide and its sole purpose of coming out of the garage was for track events, I wanted more support in the cabin while on track and to stiffen up the car’s rigidity; since I don’t trailer the M3 and the closest track to me is about two hours away, I needed a seat that would not only support me, but be comfortable for longer road trips. The standard Sportster CS fitted that bill perfectly, but when presented with the option of a limited edition variant I knew that was the route I had to go.

The half-cage was fabricated by Fall-Line Motorsports, followed by its Sakhir orange paint by IND. That all happened while we waited for the Recaros to arrive, and the custom rear seat delete was a two-week race to the finish to complete before my first event of the season!”

‘Race to the finish’ is, in fact, an apt summary of this M3’s story overall, although Jeff’s keen to highlight that it’s not all about the chequered flag. The joy of this car is not in the destination, but the journey, making friends and having fun with family. Moreover, his mockingbird has evolved into an uncompromising and predatory eagle. And we don’t reckon anyone saw that coming.


DATA FILE F80 M3

ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 3.0-litre straight-six twin-turbo S55B30T0, Dinan Stage 3 Tune, Dinan carbon intakes, Dinan exhaust system with Active Autowerke mid-pipe. Seven-speed M DCT gearbox

POWER AND TORQUE 548hp and 549lb ft

CHASSIS 9.5x19” (front) and 11x19” (rear) HRE R101 wheels in brushed dark clear with 265/35 (front) and 295/35 (rear) Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, Rogue Engineering Pro stud kit, KW V3 coilovers, Ground Control camber plates, Brembo GT BBK with six-piston calipers and 380x34mm discs (front) and four-piston calipers and 380x28mm discs (rear), Pagid RS28 brake pads

EXTERIOR Custom-painted headlights by ONEighty, gloss black front grilles, RSC Tuning front lip, RSC Tuning front lower tray painted Sakhir orange, Status Gruppe carbon fibre front upper fangs, Fall-Line Motorsports tow strap, IND painted reflectors, gloss black side grilles, IND keyhole delete, 3D Design side skirts, Status Gruppe F80 boot spoiler with top portion painted body colour, OEM M4 GTS wing modified to fit F80 boot lid, RKP extended wing risers, M235i race car wing end plates, Vorsteiner rear diffuser

INTERIOR

M Performance DCT gear knob, M Performance DCT base plate, M Performance V2 steering wheel, Autotecknic carbon fibre steering wheel trim, M Performance Alcantara handbrake gaiter and handle, M Performance carbon fibre door pulls, OEM Competition M stripe seat belts, European sun visors (without warning labels), Fall Line Motorsports fire extinguisher, limited edition Recaro Sportster CS Performance Edition seats, Recaro sliders, Planted floor mounts, Schroth harnesses, Brey-Krause brackets, Fall-Line Motorsports half-cage painted Sakhir orange by IND, custom F80 M3 rear seat-delete created and upholstered in-house at ACM

THANKS Many thanks to Nancy and Andrew De Lucia, my AutoCouture family, Phil at Detailer’s Domain, Cat at IND, Scott at Skepple Design, Alex at ONEighty, and Neil at NDVinyls


“This M3 has been further enhanced with the addition of a Vorsteiner rear diffuser, IND painted reflectors, gloss black side vents, custom-painted headlights by ONEighty and a liberal dose of carbon fibre”

Dinan tune and intakes have upped power to 548hp. M4 GTS rear wing has been fitted. Limited edition Recaro Sportster CS seats Seats sit on Recaro sliders and Planted floor mounts. Limited edition Recaro Sportster CS seats Seats sit on Recaro sliders and Planted floor mounts M Performance V2 steering wheel.

Livery adds to the race car look. Custom-trimmed rear seat-delete by ACM Fall-Line Motorsports half-cage painted Sakhir orange by IND. Dinan exhaust and Vorsteiner carbon diffuser. Dinan exhaust and Vorsteiner carbon diffuser Brembo GT BBK and HRE R101 19s.

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