Air-ride 319whp BMW M3 E46

Air-ride 319whp BMW M3 E46

Seriously sexy BMW M3 E46. Fulfilling a lifelong dream of M3 ownership, Tyler Grimes has blended pure NA performance with some serious style and individual flair, and the end result is an expertly-executed, head-turning build. Words: Elizabeth de Latour. Photos: Tony Lopez.


DREAM MACHINE  Air-ride E46 M3


If you want to experience M car ownership without breaking the bank then the E46 M3 is arguably the best way to go about it. While here in the UK it’s not as cheap as it once was (when we wish we’d bought one…) and the best examples are getting pricey, there’s still a healthy selection of decent cars at very reasonable prices. It’s an awesome car for not a lot of money and a bit of a bargain, offering muscular yet subtle and mature looks, a fantastic chassis beneath you and a sensational engine in the shape of the S54, which is packed full of character and will never fail to make you smile. As you can tell, we’re big fans of the E46 M3 and someone else who’s a big fan of this mighty M machine is Tyler Grimes because this is his E46 M3 and, as you can see, it’s pretty darn awesome.

“The engine bay of his M3 now looks seriously sexy, thanks to the addition of those custom-painted PSD velocity stacks and that carbon heat shield”

Tyler is another one of those annoying people who, with no prior BMW experience, goes and buys one and creates something spectacularly good with seemingly zero effort, but we’re glad he did and we’re glad he’s part of the BMW family after more than a few years sampling other makes. He started his motoring career with a 1993 2.3 Mustang purchased from his neighbour at the tender age of 15 and this was followed by a Nissan 240Z and then a 350Z, which received a few mods before, sadly, being involved in an accident, but it did mean that he found himself in need of a car and that path led him right here, to this M3. “I’d say since the early 2000s is when I saw my first E46 M3 and fell in love,” he says with a smile. “I mean I was young so I didn’t know that much about cars at the time so it was mainly a looks thing, and every time I would see one I would freak out and be like ‘Oh my God, there it is!’ I sort of stopped caring about cars, then Need for Speed: Most Wanted came out and sparked my interest in the E46 M3 again. You can ask all my friends, family, anyone who knows me, they would tell you I am borderline obsessed with it.

Once I graduated high school, I started researching them and it all just went downhill from there.

“Ever since I got a legit job it has always been a goal to own one,” says Tyler and working as a pipe fuser and equipment operator sounds pretty legit to us and so, in January 2017, the hunt for an E46 M3 began, and it led him to this car. While it didn’t look quite as immaculate in person as it did in the photos a deal was struck, and Tyler was now the proud owner of his very own E46 M3. So what were Tyler’s plans for his M3 now that he finally had one? “First off, I used to hate Cinnamon leather with a passion, but the reason I got the car was because I figured it would be easier to trade Cinnamon for Imola than it would any other colour. But after having it for about a week it grew on me and now I wouldn’t trade it,” he grins. “I always knew I wanted wheels and to lower it, and as much as I like ARC-8s, every M3 you see has them on so it had to be something different,” and the project quickly grew from there.

While we would all love to get stuck into the mods from the get-go, sometimes something more important pops up and that’s exactly what happened with Tyler’s car. “When I bought the car the old owner had multiple receipts from shops checking for subframe cracks. About a month after I bought it, I noticed I had a small leak in the rear tyre; I took the wheel off and I don’t know what made me look but I noticed a weird line on the body. I wiped away the dirt and sure enough it was cracked,” says Tyler. “So I jacked up the passenger side and looked at the front mount and it was also cracked. I went through my options and at the time PSDesigns had plates that covered more area then all the others. I got the plates in the mail two days later, and that weekend I took on the job of tearing the rear end apart, which was probably the biggest job I’ve ever taken on at the time,” he says, but with those essential repairs out of the way he could turn his attention to the rest of the chassis.

“Suspension-wise, I’ve always been a die-hard static fan so I went with a set of Broadway Static coilovers with 22k front spring rates and 26k rears. I ran these for about a month-and-a-half and had issues with rubbing in the rear. Then I found someone looking to trade an Air Lift V2 setup for coils. Once we exchanged parts I had zero issues with rubbing, even with a ride height that was exactly the same as before,” he says, and another air convert was born. “I’m also running Turner Motorsport anti-roll bars front and rear and VAC Motorsports camber arms in the sunset colour to match the orange accents,” he says, and that’s a nice selection of chassis upgrades that ensure this M3 really handles.

With suspension sorted, Tyler turned his attention to wheels, which we know were a must-have item on his M3 shopping list, but he didn’t want to walk the well-trodden path that everyone else had taken and he was determined to get something different on his M3. “I knew when I got the car I was going for the stanced look. I love ARC-8s but they are on pretty much every single E46 you see,” he says. “Work Equips have always been my favourite wheel and I found a set at the same time as I found my Work Meisters, but the Equips were a tad more aggressive and I wasn’t trying to run a massive amount of camber, so I ended up getting a set of Work Meisters for cheaper and they were also 30 minutes away so there was no shipping involved,” and we’d call that a result. The three-piece Meister S1 is an awesome-looking wheel and one that lends itself very well to the overall aesthetics of the E46 M3, while at the same time being a nice change from the more traditional motorsport-inspired styles that you tend to see. For his Works, Tyler has also opted for a colour combo that bucks most trends, with the centres finished in gloss Carbon black to match his bodywork, and this is paired with gold bolts and brushed lips, which gives these wheels a decidedly different aesthetic but one that looks so good and works so well, and really helps the wheels – and the car – stand out further.

With suspension and wheels sorted, Tyler now turned his attention to the S54, and here he was determined to squeeze some additional horsepower from that sublime straight-six without the aid of forced induction, though things didn’t go quite as smoothly as he might have hoped… “First thing I changed were the exhaust manifolds. I found a used set of Supersprint V1 manifolds that were already ceramic-coated along with the section one with resonators welded-in,” he says. “A week later, I drove down to TTFS [Tuning Tech FS] (since they’re local to me) and got the car tuned. It made 307whp and 249lb ft wtq with just manifolds and straight pipe. Frank told me he was seeing issues with the Vanos.

This was in September of 2017 and that winter, when the car was sitting, I decided to order new seals and rebuild everything. As soon as I took off the valve cover I noticed immediately one of the tabs was broken – luckily it was wedged tight inside the oil disc,” says Tyler. “The day all this happened, VAC posted a photo of the hub they had just finished designing. After looking at the options I decided to go VAC since it was all one piece and my oil disc was still good, so I went with the bigger tabs instead of buying a new disc with small holes and new hub. Also, VAC was a good bit cheaper for replacing something that was unexpected.

“Once I got all the parts I followed all the Beisan directions for installation – unfortunately I got mixed-up when fitting the Vanos pistons and they were pushed in instead of being all the way out. When I started the car it ran fine for about 15 seconds then shut off and wouldn’t turn back on. I took everything back apart and noticed what I’d done. I tried cranking the motor by hand and it wouldn’t move.

I made a couple phone calls and figured out the exhaust valves had bent, so I took everything back apart and ripped the head off. Sure enough, all but one exhaust valve was bent,” says Tyler. “I took the head to Matt Coyne at Coyne Performance in Harrisburg, PA since that was above my mechanical capability. He did a stock rebuild and valve job and got everything back in less than two weeks. In the meantime, I ordered parts to get some other issues out of the way, which included a new radiator by KOYORAD, a Mishimoto electric fan and a DrVanos oil line. The day I got the head back, the car was back together. I took it for a test drive and it felt faster than before but maybe that was just because I hadn’t driven the car in almost two months,” he chuckles. “That night, I uploaded a photo to Instagram of the engine bay and Pete Sidwell (PSDesigns) commented, saying a set of his stacks would look good in there. About three weeks later we started talking about ordering me a set, then another two weeks went by and I had them. I painted them myself so they would match the rest of the engine bay and other accents. The week after that I took the car back to TTFS to get a retune and made 319whp and 252lb ft wtq,” he smiles and while his engine-based misadventures weren’t welcome, the end result, a happy and very healthy S54, most definitely was. The engine bay of his M3 now looks seriously sexy, thanks to those custom-painted PSD velocity stacks, and that carbon heat shield.

With the bulk of the work on the M3 done, Tyler’s final port of call for the build at this point was tending to some of the exterior and interior aesthetics. As you can see from the photos, the exterior has been kept nice and clean – the E46 M3 is a great-looking car out of the box and so here Tyler has just opted for amber indicators and repeaters all-round, and they tie-in perfectly with the sunset hue he’s chose for his calipers and his underbonnet elements. “The interior is far from done, it’s mostly stock right now,” he says as we move inside. “I have a black Alcantara steering wheel, handbrake handle and gaiter, and shift knob and gaiter. All of these are made by Coby Wheel. I also have amber LEDs under the dash and seats that are dim and match the gauge cluster perfectly,” he says and that’s a nice, individual addition. He’s also added a custom steering wheel badge that matches his custom exterior roundels and, with the vibrant Cinnamon interior really adding some visual impact here, this interior might be simple but it’s got plenty of character and style.

Tyler has now owned his M3 for over two years and it’s also coming up to two years since he started down the modding path but he’s far from finished and he’s got plenty more planned. “This winter I plan on wire-tucking the engine bay, and I also want to get the rear quarter panels extended about ½” so I can get rid of some rear camber. I’d love to get the front end resprayed to get rid of the stone chips,” he adds and that little lot will certainly keep him busy over these cold months, especially considering he’s done all the work on the car himself, bar the head rebuild, and he’s not about to stop being so hands-on with it anytime soon.

Out of all the mods he’s done to his dream machine, we are curious to know what his favourite is and we’re not at all surprised to learn that it’s all about the S54. “As much as I want to turbo the car I love the velocity stacks. I’ve never heard a CSL intake in person but I’m sure these are louder. The intake noise is amazing and they look amazing,” he grins. But that’s not to say he wouldn’t turbo it if the opportunity arose… “I’d definitely have the car turbo’d, probably top mount so you can see it,” he grins. “I’d love to have 650/700hp (something that’s actually usable) and have my interior fully done in black Alcantara with orange stitching with Recaro Sportsters and CSL rear seats…” and we have to give him a gentle nudge to bring him back from his turbo M3 dream. But with zero plans to ever sell his M3 and a sturdy Jeep Grand Cherokee handling the daily duties, never say never…


DATA FILE BMW E46 M3

ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 3.2-litre straight-six S54B32, PSDesigns velocity stacks, TTFS Alpha N tune, Stage 1 head, KOYORAD radiator, DrVanos oil line, VAC Motorsports exhaust hub, Beisan Vanos seals/ rattle fix/solenoid, SAP delete, custom overflow line, Mishimoto electric fan, auxiliary fan/front shroud delete, Swaintech-coated Supersprint V1 exhaust manifolds, resonated Supersprint front exhaust section, HorsepowerFreaks rear section. Getrag Type-D six-speed manual gearbox, UUC short-shifter

POWER AND TORQUE 319whp and 252lb ft wtq

CHASSIS 10x19” ET20 (front) and 11.5x19” ET16 (rear) Work Meister S1 wheels with Carbon black centres, gold hardware and brushed lips, 235/35 (front) and 275/30 (rear) tyres, Air Lift Performance suspension, AutoPilot V2 management, Turner Motorsport anti-roll bars, VAC Motorsports camber arms, PSDesigns rear subframe plates, Revshift green diff and subframe bushes, AKG trailing arm bushes

EXTERIOR Carbon black, OEM amber LEDs, corners, side markers, colour-matched reflectors, Opti-Coat ceramic coating, 35% tint, custom Maryland flag roundels

INTERIOR Cinnamon leather, Coby Wheel black Alcantara steering wheel, gear knob, gear gaiter, handbrake handle and handbrake gaiter, amber LEDs under dash and seats, OEM front rubber floor mats, black arm pads front and rear, 3M black brushed aluminium-wrapped trim, black boot carpet, custom-painted air tank, Viair 444c compressor


Stunning Work Meister S1s. HorsepowerFreaks rear exhaust. Custom Coby Wheel steering wheel. Cinnamon leather looks fantastic. Custom-painted air tank Custom Maryland flag roundels.

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