Coupé De Grâce 740whp supercharged S54 Z3 M Coupé. They might call the Z3 M Coupé the ‘clown shoe’ but with a monster 740whp from its heavily enhanced supercharged S54, this ferocious machine is no laughing matter. Words: Elizabeth de Latour Photos: Viktor Benyi.
740WHP Z3 M COUPÉ E36/8S
ensational supercharged S54- and six-speed-swapped E36/8 Z3 M Regardless of whether you know it as the clown shoe or the bread van, there can be no denying that the Z3 M Coupé is a modern BMW icon. When it was launched, there was a collective ‘What?’ from the car community because of the unconventional styling – up front it’s pure Z3 M but round the back things get weird. Is it a hatchback? Is it a two-door estate? A shooting brake? While the execution is not bad by any stretch of the imagination, the whole concept is an odd one and while lots of car companies have aped each other’s designs over the years, the Z3 M Coupé remains very much BMW’s own thing. It was certainly no slouch, that’s not up for debate; thanks to the combination of relatively low weight (just over 1400kg) and the S50 (S52 in the US and later S54 for all markets) under the long bonnet it was a genuinely quick car and, with the lack of any driver aids on early models, a real driver’s car too. If you can get on with the looks then the Z3 M Coupé is a special car that will never fail to put a smile on your face and, for Ghery Akopyan, it started a burning passion in his soul that could not be extinguished.
“I remember seeing an M Coupé driving by when they were new in the early 2000s and I thought it was the coolest-looking car. It sparked a little fire, which grew heavily. I bought a Z3 Coupé first, and eventually found my dream Alpine white Z3 M Coupé,” smiles Ghery, this Alpine white Z3 M Coupé in fact. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here because BMWs have been a passion for Ghery long before this Z3 came along. “I’ve been interested in BMWs since 2003, after watching a Mischief 3000 DVD,” he says with a grin.
“My first BMW was a 1996 328i Sport; it was a hand-me-down when I was 17, but I remember looking at how beautiful it was in Hell red with an M3 spoiler and appreciating the gift,” he smiles and he’s lucky enough to have been able to turn his automotive passion into his livelihood, running Garage 54, which specialises in maintaining and modifying European cars. Naturally, with such a long-standing love for BMWs, it’s no surprise that this Z3 is not his sole machine and it shares garage space with a couple of very nice Bavarian beasts; “My other car is a 2011 E90 M3 in Dakar yellow, which is the only one BMW made. It has a carbon roof, the interior has been redone in custom trim and suede headliner/accents by IND, there’s a carbon plenum and intake by Eventuri, Brembo GT-S 380mm front and rear brakes, Volk TE37s, Öhlins suspension, a unique prototype Turner Motorsport exhaust and some other goodies. My wife drives a Z4 M Coupé on Ground Control suspension, with Alcon brakes front and rear, Apex wheels and some carbon exterior pieces,” he says and this his and hers M power garage is both car and couple goals for sure.
“I raised compression to 12:1, sleeved the block to make the cylinder walls thicker/stronger… switched fuel system to 100% E85, upgraded to a Vortech V-2 Ti supercharger… Raising boost to 18 psi, it made 740whp”
As Ghery mentioned, his love for the Z3 Coupé led him to buy a non-M variant before deciding that he needed an M machine in his life and so, 10 years ago, he went on the hunt and found this one; “I found the car in Texas from a local ad. I had arrangements to buy a black on Kayalami orange M Coupé but cancelled all that when an Alpine white one popped up. It needed love when I first received it, the seller had lied about the condition of the car but it didn’t matter as I knew I could make it perfect,” he smiles. “I had the same modifications lined up for it that I enjoyed from my previous Z3 Coupé, but after that I just went with the flow of what I felt needed changing,” and over the past decade it has constantly evolved, becoming the absolute beast you see before you today.
With prior experience of modding a Z3 and a good idea of what he wanted to do to his M Coupé, Ghery’s first port of call was the chassis; “The suspension on the car is from TC Kline Racing. I’m running their Double Adjustable Coilover Kit with Vorshlag camber plates. I have built a lot of M Coupés and TC’s suspension just performs the best on street and track with these cars,” he explains. “The bushings around the car are from Powerflex, the rear subframe is modified to have camber and toe adjustment and I’ve added Hotchkis sway bars as well. As you know, these cars have rear chassis failures with the subframe mounting; I had reinforced the rear of the Coupé and still had issues due to all the power and this car being daily driven hard,” he says. “Eventually we cut out the entire rear section of the car and used square tubing to mount the differential to the framework,” and that’s serious dedication to sorting the chassis but it’s certainly dealt with the subframe problem permanently and means he can really enjoy the car without any concerns.
“I remember seeing an M Coupé driving by when they were new in the early 2000s and I thought it was the coolest-looking car. It sparked a little fire, which grew heavily. I bought a Z3 Coupé first, and eventually found my dream Alpine white Z3 M Coupé”
As you might expect from someone who loves modifying cars and who has owned a car for so long, many wheels have come and gone over the many years and while Ghery obviously loves his current choice, we expect they’ll be swapped out for something else at some point in the future. “I have had 10+ wheels on this car in about 10 years of ownership,” he says with a grin, “including magnesium BBS Motorsport E28s, CCW Classics, a few Apex wheels, and several others. I now have TE37s on the Coupé and my M3. They are gorgeous, lightweight, and some of the only wheels I did not have issues with cracks or bends driving around Los Angeles,” and they look fantastic on the Z3 M. The black centres contrast perfectly against the bright white bodywork, the silver lips divide the wheels from the tyres to stop them blending into one another, and the single red spoke on each wheel ties in perfectly with the red detailing across the car. The drop served up by the TC coilovers has the car sitting low and the wheel fitment is absolutely on point, delivering the perfect look.
The next item on Ghery’s shopping list was a slew of audio upgrades and he’s got a really nice setup in here, with a Pioneer head unit, Focal carbon fibre speakers, an RE 10” sub in a custom fibreglass box, JL amps and upgraded sound deadening throughout the interior. Speaking of which, the interior has had plenty of attention from Ghery over the years and it looks awesome as a result. “I was a fan of these interiors stock, I just added my own flair to it with an Alcantara headliner, pillars, accents, Recaro Pole Positions, Stack gauges, and a Z4 M steering wheel,” he says. In addition to the fully functioning and far more modern-looking Z4 M steering wheel and those outrageously sexy leather and suede Recaros, you’ll find a custom-made wooden gear knob finished in a black and red stripe colour scheme mounted atop a black anodised tall shifter, and ahead of it sit the trio of aftermarket gauges in place of the factory ones, here for boost, ethanol, and oil pressure. There are also M tricolour stripe seat belts plus an Autopower roll-cage in the back and it all combines to make this a very special interior indeed, and it lets you know that this is a serious build.
If there was ever any sort of doubt about just how serious a build this is you really need to look no further than the brakes to dispel any uncertainty. You can see that they are seriously big but you can’t appreciate how impressive they are until you get into the specs: those massive AP calipers that are mounted on both axles come from an actual Audi touring car, with six-pots mounted up front and four pots at the rear. The front discs are two-piece 355mm Corvette Z06 items, with E38 750i 328mm discs at the rear and Ferodo race pads all-round. It’s a heavy-duty setup and no mistake. Another extremely impressive but rather less visible mod is the gearbox; you see, all Z3 Ms, both coupés and convertibles, only ever came equipped with the ZF Type C five-speed manual gearbox and for Ghery that wasn’t quite good enough. The transmission you will find in his car is the Getrag Type D six-speed manual gearbox plucked from an E46 M3 and it’s mated to an RPS twin-disc carbon-ceramic clutch kit, with a custom propshaft and a 3.64 final drive with a 40% locking diff. So the brakes are serious, the transmission is full-on and the reason for all this is that what’s going on under the bonnet is an absolute riot.
“The car is a 2000 that originally had an S52 engine. After owning it a couple years, I had imported an S50B32 engine from the UK but that blew up from a connecting rod issue in under a year,” says Ghery, which would have been pretty terminal for most people but he decided it was the perfect excuse to just turn things up to 11. “I spent three months stripping this car down to a bare shell and rebuilt it as the factory did with an S54 engine, fully built and supercharged,” he grins and now we’re talking. “The S54 was originally built with forged pistons and rods with 10:1 compression, 15 psi of boost from a Vortech V-2 Si supercharger, methanol injection, RMS supercharged S54 headers and a custom exhaust with Eisenmann Race mufflers – it made about 600whp. After about a year I had an issue with the ARP head studs stretching and decided to redo the engine my way, instead of the common FI build. I raised compression to 12:1, sleeved the block to make the cylinder walls thicker/stronger, used L19 head studs, Achilles Motorsports coated bearings, ARP hardware, switched fuel system to 100% E85, upgraded to a Vortech V-2 Ti supercharger, installed an air-to-liquid charge cooler system with M4 parts, Garage 54 modified VANOS, Tial blow-off valve, custom radiator, and other components. Raising boost to 18 psi, it made 740whp. I’m planning on redoing the supercharger belt system, adding larger injectors, and retuning with 21 psi, which should get close to 800whp,” he smiles and we need a moment to take all that in. The work that has gone into this S54 is insane, this is an ode to performance and some of the mods on board here are truly awesome, like the chargecooler setup, not to mention the block upgrades and just about everything else. And in case you’re wondering, 740whp is about 850hp at the crank, so this thing is an absolute animal.
“I was a fan of these interiors stock, I just added my own flair to it with an Alcantara headliner, pillars, accents, Recaro Pole Positions, Stack gauges, and a Z4 M steering wheel”
The final stage of the build was the exterior and while you can never truly make an M car discreet, because they’re not designed to be that, you can certainly choose to add less to it, which is precisely what Ghery has done. “The styling is as OE as I could make it, minus the red stripes and shaved components,” he says.
“BMW did a great job with the car, I have never been a fan of aftermarket cosmetic modifications on these cars. Plus it isn’t built for Instagram likes,” he chuckles. “There is something beautiful about a car being built this crazy yet looking stock on the outside,” and we’re down with that. There are those red stripes, which work well and really suit the car as well as tying in nicely with the red elements on the wheels and the calipers. The bonnet, boot and front bumper have all been shaved along with the arches and there’s a 50% tint finishing the exterior additions off and while this car looks exceptionally aggressive, it’s certainly not over-the-top or in-your-face and while there is no question that it looks like a fast car, no one’s going to be expecting quite this much power.
Over his 10 years with this car, Ghery has put in a huge amount of work and the end result is truly spectacular. It looks fantastic, there are some sensational mods on board and it’s making 740whp, which is just obscene really. We’re not surprised when Ghery tells us that he has no immediate plans for it and that he’s very happy with it, but we also already know he’s gunning for 800whp, and he adds that as technology advances he will continue to upgrade components around the car, so his Z3 is far from finished and his journey is far from over. It’s been one hell of a decade and we can’t imagine Ghery and his Z3 are going to part company any time soon, if ever, and we don’t blame him because this is a machine to be proud of and an awesome modding achievement.
DATA FILE Supercharged Z3 M Coupé
ENGINE 3.1-litre built straight-six S54, full factory swap, Gintani supercharger kit with Vortech V-2 Ti supercharger, custom grip-coated supercharger pulley, air-to-liquid cooling with custom aluminium reservoir and M4 S55 electronics, Tial blow-off valve, HKS air filter, custom radiator, E85 conversion, 80lb injectors, Aeromotive FPR, polished and modified VANOS, polished thermostat, Achilles Motorsports valvetrain and head gasket, sleeved block, custom 3.1-litre 12:1 compression CP pistons, Carrillo connecting rods, L19 head studs, ARP hardware for all bottom end, Achilles coated bearings, VAC oil pump, methanol injection with custom stainless steel reservoir, RMS S54 supercharger exhaust manifolds, custom TIG welded stainless exhaust with Eisenmann Race silencers, Alpha N converted engine management
MAX POWER 740whp @ 7200rpm
MAX TORQUE 511lb ft @ 3900rpm
TRANSMISSION Getrag Type D six-speed conversion from E46 M3, RPS Twin-Disc Carbon Ceramic-Clutch Kit, black anodised body-mounted tall shifter, custom propshaft, 3.64 40% lock differential
CHASSIS 9.5x18” (front) and 10.5x18” (rear) Volk TE37SL wheels with 245/35 (front) and 275/35 (rear) Firestone Firehawk Indy 500 tyres for street use, TC Kline Racing Double Adjustable Coilovers, Vorshlag camber plates, Hotchkis anti-roll bars, Powerflex polyurethane bushes all-round, reinforced front subframe, reinforced and modified rear subframe with camber/ toe adjustment, tubular rear floor/chassis/diff mount, Mason Engineering aluminium front strut brace, gold-wrapped underbody and exhaust heat shields, AP Racing Audi touring car six-piston (front) and four-piston (rear) calipers, two-piece 355mm Corvette Z06 brake discs (front), E39 750i 328mm brake discs (rear), Ferodo Race brake pads (front and rear)
EXTERIOR Alpine white III, red vinyl stripes, shaved front bumper, bonnet, arches and boot, 50% 3M Crystalline tint
INTERIOR Factory grey and black interior, Alcantara headlining, pillars and accents, Autopower roll-cage, Z4 M steering wheel with working button controls, leather/suede Recaro Pole Position seats, Stack oil temperature and boost gauges, Innovate ethanol gauge, custom wooden gear knob, Z4 dome light with amber courtesy lights, Pioneer head unit, Focal carbon fibre speakers, RE 10” subwoofer, custom fibreglass box, JL Audio amps, upgraded sound deadening throughout interior
THANKS Thank you Garage 54
Z4 M steering wheel Custom wooden gear knob and trio of auxiliary gauges Gorgeous Recaro Pole Positions. Volk TE37SL 18s and AP Audi touring car brakes. Autopower roll-cage has been fitted. Vortech V-2 Ti Supercharger. This clown shoe will give you a good kicking. Eisenmann Race silencers.