Superlow 2.8 M52 E28. Static and crazy-low, this M52-swapped E28 isn’t just for show and sees plenty of track use, making it one four-wheeled book that you definitely shouldn’t judge by its cover. Words: Elizabeth de Latour. Photos: Matt Dear.
THE LOW LIFE Static, M52 2.8-swapped E28
It’s fair to say that there are varying levels of commitment to modified BMs and the scene in general among the people who are a part of it. If you’ve got a mildlymodded daily, you’re someone who loves their BMs and loves modding, but has to compromise with what they can build and run. If you’ve got a show car on air-ride, you’re someone who is pretty committed but still enjoys the practicality of being able to drive that car when and where you want without having to worry. If, on the other hand, you’re someone who runs a sump-scraping BM that’s low enough to lift cat’s eyes from the road then you’re someone who exhibits a level commitment that we hold in the highest esteem and will always salute and approve, and Dan Lewis is one such man.
Now this isn’t Dan’s only car because that would be a little bit silly, but even owning a car this low as a project still requires serious commitment because every journey needs planning; you can’t just go for a drive because you might come across some speed humps or a nasty ramp and then you might as well just turn around and go home. This is the kind of car that makes people tut because they think it’s on air and then express disbelief when they find out it’s static but there’s a lot more to this immaculate E28 than just it’s crazy-low ride height, as you’re about to find out…
Dan has been a BMW fan for about seven years now, all through his 20s, but he’s had all sorts of cars so far, starting off with a Vauxhall Corsa followed by a few more Corsas, all modded, naturally, with numerous engine swaps, along with a couple of Golf GTIs, a couple of off-road Land Rovers for the winter months and, most importantly of all, a 2001 BMW E46 330Ci Sport. “I purchased this as I wanted something reliable and practical with a bit of power after having a 1994 Corsa with a 2.0-litre turbo engine swap as a daily proved to be unreliable and expensive to run,” explains Dan. The E46 was great, but not the sort of BMW that he really wanted as he is a big fan of the shark nose styling of the classics so, when looking for his next project, retro was the way forward. “I wanted a retro car but wanted four doors to be able to take my family out in, as I have a three-year-old son who loves cars, and the E28 just looked perfect for what I wanted. There where not many about on the car scene at the time so I thought it would be a bit different,” he says and with that the hunt was on. “I found this car on a retro cars for sale page on Facebook that my colleague at work showed me; we went straight after work that evening and looked at it and I ended up driving it back as it was perfect for what I wanted,” says Dan.
“It was in fair condition for its age but did have a few mechanical issues, being very slow to rev, it had no temperature gauge and it was a very slow drive back from Northampton as we later found out the ignition timing was 20° retarded so it was very slow and rubbish on fuel especially for a 2.0-litre automatic.” Not the most auspicious of starts to the relationship, then, but none of this was of concern for Dan for a number of reasons; firstly, he’s a Level 3 vehicle technician so he knows his way around a car and would be able to put the E28 right and, secondly, that 2.0- litre straight-six was not going to remain in place forever…
First things first, mechanical repairs aside, were wheels and suspension, the bread and butter of any project on top of which you can build up your modded BM sandwich. “I got a set of 17” BBS reps as I love the look of them but could not afford a genuine set,” he tells us, “I then ordered my custom Gaz coilovers; I had to purchase another pair of front struts to send off to them so they could fabricate the coilovers to the original BMW front hubs,” explains Dan. Clearly his requirements when ordering these coilovers were for them to go as low as was physically possible and Gaz clearly delivered. He’s still running those very same coilovers now and, as you can see, they are doing a sensational job of getting this E28 as close to the Tarmac as physically possible and deliver levels of visual drama on another level entirely. But it wasn’t just about the lows for Dan as he wasn’t just building a show car, oh no, he had other things on his mind. “I decided to get Gaz height- and damping-adjustable coilovers as I wanted the car to sit low but wanted decent shocks as I wanted the car to handle correctly as I planned on taking it on track,” he says, so there was definitely more to this build than just getting it low over some nice wheels and calling it a day. As the old saying goes, never judge a book by its cover.
“The next modification was going to be the engine swap but I wanted to save some money so I could buy all the parts I needed,” says Dan. “But that all changed when the automatic gearbox failed four weeks before the BMW show in 2016, so I managed to order a second hand one from a BMW breaker. I waited two weeks for it to arrive and when I eventually got it I found out it was an electronic shift control version and mine was manual so I could not fit it. I then decided to convert it to manual the weekend before the show as I wanted to get the car to its first show. Luckily I had already purchased a manual pedal box with master cylinder ready for the engine conversion so I just needed a manual gearbox, clutch, flywheel, slave cylinder and manual gear linkage which I got from a friend and my brother who runs TL Auto Spares BMW breakers. We had it changed in a day and back on the road ready for the show the following weekend,” says Dan and that’s impressive. After the 2016 show season was over, Dan tucked the E28 away over winter and when it emerged from hibernation for 2017 back in April of last year, he had something on his mind. “I decided I wanted some different wheels as I got fed up of people saying that the car would be better without reps as they let the car down,” explains Dan. We’re not fans of reps ourselves so we’re glad he decided it was time for a change and we’re really glad he chose the wheels he did because we love the look of the car now. “I decided to get the Extreme Offset chrome smoothies as I loved the chrome look and thought they would keep the retro look of the car. Also I had never seen a set on an E28 and had only seen a couple of cars with the wheels so they are quite unique,” he says and he’s not wrong. The 16” smoothies certainly won’t be for everyone, but we love the look and Dan is absolutely right, they suit the E28 so well and the retro vibe is just so good. “I also have a set of original E34 BBS alloy wheels with Federal track day tyres as I recently did five track sessions at Castle Combe race track at the Forge Action Day,” he adds.
Now, finally, it was time for that longawaited engine swap and sitting snugly in that seriously clean engine bay you will now find an M52B28. Of course it wasn’t as simple as bunging it under the bonnet and being done with it, there’s a lot more work that’s gone into this swap than meets the eye and the M52 has been treated to some choice mods, too. “Before I could put the engine into the car I had to fi t custom engine mounts from E28 Goodies and replace the sump and oil pickup with an E34 M50 sump kit. I then fitted an M50 inlet manifold with an M52 2.8 polished throttle body and custom-made CCV pipework, had the ECU remapped with a raised rev limiter and made a custom wiring harness adaptor, which took me about five hours after a lot of research on pinouts for the car’s original wiring loom and the M52 engine loom,” says Dan. “It’s also got a custom de-cat exhaust system and modified exhaust manifolds and downpipes to clear the steering box, which took about 14 hours of fabrication and I also heat-wrapped the manifolds.” In addition to that impressive line-up there’s also a cool-running thermostat with alloy housing, metal impeller water pump, new E36 rad with modified pipework, a customised E34 power steering pump and the battery has been relocated to the boot. It’s a seriously comprehensive swap; Dan has put a lot of work into this engine exchange and it’s resulted in not just a seriously sexy bay but a seriously sorted E28 as well. At the same time as doing the engine swap Dan also turned his attention to the chassis as his taste for track days meant there was room for improvement in this area. “I opted for poly bushes for the front and rear suspension to stiffen the ride and to add to that I wanted better brakes so got a semi-track brake setup, which would be good for the road and on the track.” Here you’ll find an E34 brake conversion up front with EBC Yellowstuff pads all-round, Goodridge braided hoses and DOT 5.1 brake fluid for good measure.
Of course, Dan couldn’t resist adding his personal touch to the exterior and interior and while he’s kept things very subtle and tasteful, he’s definitely made this E28 his own. On the outside you will find colour-coded sills and front and rear valences and pressed number plates while fresh chrome window strips and roundels all-round mean it looks minty fresh. The interior, meanwhile, has been treated to a wood-rimmed steering wheel, wooden E39 gear knob and a little bit of an audio upgrade in the shape of a new head unit and some JBL front speakers.
We love Dan’s E28, not just because of how it looks and what he’s done but because it’s the sort of car that a lot of people will dismiss as just a show car because of the way it looks and the way it sits. But once you delve beneath the surface you discover that there’s so much more to it than meets the eye. This is a seriously sorted machine that’s equally happy turning heads at a show and shine event as it is tearing up the Tarmac on a track day. Dan’s obviously delighted with how far the E28 has come in the three years since he bought it but he’s not done yet. “If I had the money I would have done an E39 M5 V8 engine swap or maybe an M50 turbo,” he muses, “but eventually I would like to supercharge the engine or convert it to an S54. Air suspension is another option as it would help preserve the underside of the car as it does scrape, being very low,” he says, and we wouldn’t blame him if he makes the move to air, though we love him for staying static for so long. Whatever happens, you can guarantee that this E28 will only get better. Low and slow? Hell no.
“ This is the kind of car that makes people tut because they think it’s on air and then express disbelief when they find out it’s static”
M52 lives in a seriously clean engine bay. Lovely wooden steering wheel. 16” chrome smoothies. Interior is minty fresh.
DATA FILE BMW M52 2.8 E28
ENGINE 2.8-litre straight-six M52B28, E28 Goodies engine mounts, M50 inlet manifold swap with custom CCV pipe kit, custom induction kit with Pipercross filter, polished M52 throttle body, remapped ECU with raised rev limiter, custom M52 engine wiring loom, M50 sump conversion, cool-running thermostat with alloy housing, metal impeller water pump, new E36 radiator with modified pipes, modified and heatwrapped M52 exhaust manifolds, custom de-cat exhaust system with cherry bomb silencer, customised E34 power steering pump, battery relocated to boot
TRANSMISSION E36 318iS five-speed manual gearbox, M20 solid flywheel and clutch kit, E46 custom gear linkage, E30 318i propshaft, E28 528i differential
CHASSIS 8x16” (front) and 10x16” (rear) Extreme Offset chrome smoothie wheels with 195/45 (front) and 225/45 (rear) Toyo T1R tyres, also 7x15” (front and rear) Style 5 track day wheels with 205/50 (front and rear) Federal RSR tyres, Gaz adjustable coilover suspension, poly bushed front control arms, poly bushed rear axle, poly bushed front and rear anti-roll bars, E34 front brake conversion, EBC Yellowstuff brake pads (front and rear), Goodridge braided brake lines (front and rear), DOT 5.1 brake fluid
EXTERIOR Bronze beige metallic, colour-coded sills and valances front and rear, new chrome window strips front and rear, new genuine BMW bonnet and boot badges, new offside rear chrome bumper piece, new genuine nearside front headlight, pressed number plates
INTERIOR Wooden steering wheel, wooden E39 gear knob, Sony MEX-N4200BT head unit, JBL front speakers
THANKS Thanks to my boss Nigel Samson (Samson Motor Engineers LTD) for use of the workshop facilities, my brother Tom Lewis (TL Auto Spares BMW parts) for helping source parts and helping with the build, my wife Chantelle Lewis for letting me spend many hours working on the car without complaining, Aaron Smart for finding the car and helping with the build, Extreme Offset wheels for supplying the custom wheels