Earning your stripes. Supercharged E36 M3 Cab AC Schnitzer-clad retro cab The iconic AC Schnitzer pinstripes are a clear sign of a BMW that’s a cut above. But there’s far more to this M3’s story than those decals alone… Words: Daniel Bevis. Photos: Viktor Benyi.
EARNING YOUR STRIPES“I am a huge fan of AC Schnitzer products for the E36,” says Californian BMW enthusiast Jonathan Huang, and the Dakar yellow drop-top that’s flexing for Viktor’s lens leaves us in no doubt of that. It’s not uncommon for us to happen upon cars wearing rare or obscure period accessories in this line of work; indeed, given the one-upmanship of forums and social media, it’s become something of a badge of honour in the scene to have the rarest and most surprising model-correct accessories. But it’s seldom the case that we find someone so devoted to the pursuit of completism, collecting up every available accoutrement for the car in question. Jonathan’s M3 is lucky enough to enjoy all of the fruits of AC Schnitzer’s 1990s labours – although as we’re soon to discover, this isn’t simply a case of period-modding to turn the car into some manner of museum curio. No, the presence of a Dinan supercharger ensures that this build exists within a whole other realm.
But before we get into all that, let’s rewind to Jonathan’s youth and get a handle on just where all of this Bavarian enthusiasm stemmed from. “I’ve always loved building and modding cars, especially BMWs,” he explains. “When I was attending college in the mid-’90s, one of my best friends had a then-new stock E36 328i Sedan, and I had a modified 325is which was fitted with some AC Schnitzer exterior and interior parts that I bought with the little money I saved. Among the major tuners, I think AC Schnitzer had the best design for this BMW model. Back then I was always envious of those who were fortunate to own E36 M3s, and I remember stopping by this tobacco shop on Telegraph Ave in Berkeley, California every month to pick up my favourite European car publications, Performance BMW and BMW Car. I also remember telling myself that if I were ever in a position to buy an E36 M3, I would definitely get the nicest example I could find, make sure that I put everything I see in the AC Schnitzer catalogue on that car, and have it featured in a magazine someday!”
“The car now sports AC Schnitzer wheels along with the brand’s carbon front lip, rear diffuser and three-piece rear spoiler; in addition, there are the Schnitzer side skirts, mirrors, and of course those iconic pinstripes”
What you’re witnessing here, then, is a dream coming true. But it’s not the type of dream that’s simply been spirited into being. No, a lot of hard work has gone into achieving the flawlessly finished product you see today… and quite a lot of water passed under the bridge before Jonathan was even able to get started.
You see, the hedonistic dreams of youth so often give way to aspirations grounded in the sensibleness of reality as we get older. It’s frequently the case that we grow up hankering after a Ferrari, but after squeezing out a couple of kids we end up rationalising a 330d Touring or something on the grounds that’ll it’ll be just as quick in the real world and it has room in the back for a pushchair. Such is life. So as Jonathan’s life changed, so did his goals, and while he managed to hang onto his old E36 for a while, its time languishing in the garage seemed increasingly pointless until it was sold on in 2012. “Since I hadn’t got to buy an M3, I truly believed the dream was over,” he recalls. “It’s simply not practical for someone who has a growing family to think about buying a 15-year-old car, let alone modifying it.”
“The Dinan supercharger upgrade is augmented by a full suite of Race Marque Systems treats (intercooler, pipework, pulleys, brackets and tensioners) as well as a quality tune that sees it produce a solid 362whp”
Then again, life is for living and circumstances change, and ‘practical’ doesn’t always have to be the number one priority in life. After all, we only get to spin around this rock a finite number of times. And in 2014, Jonathan’s ambition to become an E36 M3 owner finally came to fruition – although it has to be said that it wasn’t exactly planned… “I wasn’t even looking for one,” he laughs. “It was really more of an impulse buy. Thanks to a buddy who came by to show off a Dakar yellow E36 M3 Sedan he’d recently acquired, I curiously got on eBay to see what was out there – and there she was! A low-mileage M3 Convertible in the matching yellow colour, with a dealer-installed Dinan supercharger (and a ZF automatic transmission, bummer)! I knew I had to buy it no matter what – it was love at first sight. I didn’t even go to look at it, I just bought it and had it shipped to California from Arizona.”
First impressions were strong: it was a decent example and it drove like a dream, building on everything Jonathan knew about E36s and blowing it out of the water. Remember, he wasn’t just stepping up from a knowledge base of 325is to M3, there’s also the matter of the supercharger to consider. This was next-level stuff, and then some. “I just love the analogue nature of the M3,” he enthuses. “There’s no fancy electronic gimmicks or driver assist technology to interfere with your inputs. One very significant reason I enjoy owning my M3 is the nostalgic feelings I get from just looking at it. And of course, when the nostalgia flared, my passion and excitement were reborn… that’s when the fun began!”
Fun in this instance can be equated with a tremendous amount of hard work and an unerring eye for detail, as Jonathan scoured any and every available source to get the M3 back to as-new standards as well as modifying as he went. While the car was a solid example of the breed, a couple of decades in the Arizona sun were bound to bake a few things, and he was eager to refresh and renew wherever possible to get everything tip-top. So, the car’s received new catalytic converters and O2 sensors, and the fuel system’s had a thorough refresh, as has the cooling system. The soft-top has a new window along with a new motor, tension straps and top lid shocks – and Jonathan added a factory hardtop into the mix too, for the sake of options. Various rubber trims and seals were renewed, along with some big stuff – the front bumper, nose panel, and a master key – while the coil packs, thermostat, door handles, and glove box were replaced. Jonathan’s a true perfectionist, and you get the feeling that even the slightest blot on the car’s copybook will have him chasing it down like the Terminator.
With the bones of the E36 suitably strengthened, it was time for Jonathan to make good on his promise to throw the entire AC Schnitzer catalogue at it. Those of a timid disposition may wish to steel their nerves with a stiff brandy at this point, because it’s a massive list that represents a huge amount of research and no small degree of shopping. The car now sports AC Schnitzer wheels along with the brand’s carbon front lip, rear diffuser and three-piece rear spoiler; in addition, there are the Schnitzer side skirts, mirrors, and of course those iconic pinstripes. Inside, you’ll spot Schnitzer pedals, gaiter, knobs, sills and steering wheel… and that’s just the stuff that’s actually on the car. “I’ve sourced a lot of period AC Schnitzer accessories too,” Jonathan smiles, “including the official key chains, polo shirts, ashtrays, paperweights, DVDs, master price lists, wallets and business card holders, it goes on and on.” This truly is a man obsessed…
and you should see the stockpile of AC Schnitzer spares that’s taking up residence in his garage; the collection includes a spare DTM exhaust system, steering wheel, shortshift, sills, mirrors, alternative pinstripe kits, spoilers, wood trim, engine covers, and a cornucopia of different badges – essentially, if you’re wondering why there’s a scarcity of 1990s AC Schnitzer parts on the market, it’s because they’re all in this dude’s house. He’s also been stacking up genuine OEM BMW spares too, just in case the well runs dry; lights, windscreen, mirrors, side skirts, he’s pretty much got enough bits to knock up a spare M3 in there. The guy’s unstoppable. And don’t even get him started on the audio: the M3 currently runs a Denon head unit and CD changer with myriad Brax Matrix speakers, but Jonathan also has countless other Denon, BMW, Kenwood and Alpine units in reserve. The car itself basically acts as a rolling greatest hits of all the many, many parts he has available to sub in according to any given whim. The dedication to completeness is really quite incredible.
All of this serves to slightly overshadow the performance of the car, so let’s not overlook the fact that the Dinan supercharger upgrade is augmented by a full suite of Race Marque Systems treats (intercooler, pipework, pulleys, brackets and tensioners) as well as a quality tune that sees it produce a solid 362whp – not the highest figure it’s shown, Jonathan assures us, but the most consistent. And that ‘bummer’ transmission that caused him a moment’s pause before buying has been unceremoniously ousted, replaced by a Getrag 420G six-speed manual ’box with E46 shifter and clutch assembly and a custom diff setup. Huge efforts have gone into making the car look the part, but you can be damn sure it walks the walk too.
“Last year I was fortunate enough to be invited by my friends to have my M3 parked in the BMW Car Club of America’s booth at Bimmerfest 2018,” he says. “Out of curiosity I entered the competition, not really expecting anything, and was super-thrilled when I ended up taking the biggest trophy home that day! I couldn’t even describe how happy I was. This is definitely something I’ll always remember for the rest of my life, as it’s not only a realisation of my 20-year-long dream, but also a recognition of my passion for the car. I’m content with its current state and, given the amount of time and money invested, I intend to keep this car indefinitely! My wife’s always got something to say about the M3 too, since it was acquired when she was in hospital waiting to give birth to our first child… but my kids love the car and she has since made peace with it! I’m very thankful and lucky to have someone like her in my life.” That’s the crux of this project, really – it’s all about balance. Jonathan found a way to work the realisation of a dream into the complexities of reality, and that’s something worth celebrating in itself. He’s got the car (and the feature) he always dreamed of. And we love a happy ending.
DATA FILE Supercharged E36 M3 Convertible
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 3.2-litre straight-six S52B32, Dinan/Vortech V2 supercharger with 3.43 pulley, Dinan carbon fibre valve cover and fuel rail cover, Karbonius Composites carbon fibre radiator cover, Race Marque Systems intercooler, supercharger bracket and belt tensioner, eight-rib 6” crank pulley kit, and thermal intake/pipework, Lucas 42lb injectors, Porsche 803 HFM, BimmerWorld oil distribution/sending block, M50 manifold conversion, Dinan exhaust system with AC Schnitzer twin tails, NGK BKR7K spark plugs gapped to 0.31, Technique Tuning (TT)/Nick G. tune. Getrag 420G six-speed manual conversion, E46 M3 shifter and clutch assembly, modified E36 M3 auto’ transmission propshaft, custom 3.46 differential with 40% lock-up, Offset Motorwerks clutch stop
POWER AND TORQUE 362whp and 298lb ft
CHASSIS 8.5x18” (front) and 9x18” (rear) AC Schnitzer Type II Racing multi-piece wheels, 235/40 (front) and 255/35 (rear) Toyo Proxes T1 Sport tyres, Offset Motorwerks black racing studs, H&R 15mm (front) and 5mm (rear) spacers, AST 4100 adjustable coilovers, AST rear shock mounts, Hyperco 450lb (front) and 550lb (rear) springs, Vorshlag M-Force front camber/caster plates, AC Schnitzer anti-roll bars (front and rear), Dinan carbon fibre front strut brace, Powerflex front control arm and rear trailing arm bushes, Turtle Labs rear anti-roll bar reinforcement kit, JT Design aluminium undertray, StopTech BBK (front and rear) with black calipers
EXTERIOR AC Schnitzer carbon fibre front lip spoiler, Type I DTM mirrors, black door moulding emblems, Type II side skirts, carbon fibre rear diffuser, three-piece rear spoiler, and silver pinstripes, Bosch/ AL headlights with 6000k HID kit, Depo smoked front corner lights, OEM clear side markers and hardtop, 3M clear bra on bonnet and front bumper, rolled rear arches
INTERIOR Limited edition Recaro Tomcat seats, custom Kevlar yellow trim, AC Schnitzer aluminium pedals, dead pedal, handbrake handle, gear knob, leather steering wheel, and door sills, Marshall Instruments oil temperature, pressure and boost gauges, Innovate Motorsport digital AFR gauge, custom suede A-pillars and gauge housing, Rotweiss suede gear gaiter, LED interior lights, limited edition Paul Klee Edition wind deflector, Denon DCT-1 head unit, Denon DCH-470 12-disc CD changer, Brax Matrix 1.1 tweeters, 2.1 midrange speakers, 6.1 mid-bass speakers, 10.1 sub in custom sealed box, MX4 black amplifiers and Multicontroller, Helix DSP Pro processor, Helix
THANKS Many thanks to Viktor Benyi for the awesome photos, PBMW for featuring my car, and my wife for her patience, understanding, and tolerance of my endeavours to finish something that means quite a bit to me
ACS Type II Racing 18s.
Countless ACS accessories and custom Kevlar trim.