IN THE LAP OF LUXURY GERMAN
Ultra-plush, ultra-rare, ultra-cool E23 L7 on air. Achingly cool and visually awesome, this bagged E23 L7 really is a thing of beauty. Words: Elizabeth de Latour. Photos: Faiz Rahman.
LAYING LOW Air-ride E23 L7
Old cars are cool. Just take a look at the number of E30s, E28s and E34s that are cropping up on the BM scene all around the globe. These are all cars that look great as standard, and just a few simple mods are all that’s required to get the head-nodding seal of approval wherever you may go. However there is life beyond the well-worn paths of the E30 and E28 and there are numerous treasures nestling in BMW’s back catalogue that serve as excellent candidates for some thoroughly modern modifications, and you’re looking at one of them right now.
Regular readers may recognise the name Darren Hattingh because back in the June 2015 issue we featured his supercharged E38 740iL, and what a fine machine it was. Now the man with the 7 Series penchant is back with his latest creation, and it’s a modern twist on a classic that is most definitely not a regular on the scene. “Ever since seeing pictures of my dad after he brought home his E23 I’ve wanted one for myself,” says Darren. “He’s had every body shape Seven up to the E66, but the E23 and E38 have always made me double-take! The thing that really draws my attention to the E23 is the shark nose, I love the way it encapsulates the grilles, and the staggered headlights have such a presence about them.”
He’s certainly not wrong. The E23 is a fantastic-looking car with a distinctive design that really sets it apart from its contemporaries and really makes it stand out on the road. E23s aren’t exactly easy to come by, though, but fortunately for Darren he just so happens to have a friend who is as keen on Sevens as he is. “My buddy Stephen owned the car previously, and he and I traded cars: my E32 750iL for his E23 L7.
The condition of the car was very well used, which was perfect for me. It made changing almost every aspect of an already rare car easier and the day I saw Stephen pull up in the car, I instantly had a completed concept in mind of how I wanted it to look,” he says.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, just what on earth is the L7? In E23 speak it means luxury, which is what we assume the L stands for. That includes a leather dashboard and leather in place of the wood trim on the doorcards, a powered glass sunroof, electric everything and BMW’s first ever driver’s airbag, which results in a massive steering wheel. Seriously, it’s massive. So, the American-market exclusive L7 is basically an ultra-luxurious and extremely rare version of an already rare and luxurious car. It’s an E23 but more.
So, with his hands on an E23 Darren was ready to start modifying according to his plan, and that plan involved air. “Currently the L7 has a fully custom built Air Lift air ride suspension setup, with Air Lift V2 management.” Keeping classic static is cool, but bagging them is even better and judging by the result of this pairing we can safely say that air and E23 go together like toast and jam. That long, sharkey 7 Series shape looks so good slammed into the ground, and it really does go outrageously low.
But mad lows alone aren’t enough, you’ve got to get the right wheels to go with your drop and here Darren has absolutely nailed it. “The wheels are Impul Silhouettes,” he explains. “I chose these wheels because of the period correctness of the style, the fact that they are functional, and of course their rarity. I honestly didn’t consider any other wheels because I knew I had to have these to complete the concept I had in mind.”
Trying to pair the right wheels to a car like the E23 is a lot like trying to match the right wine to a particularly complex dish – in isolation both could be brilliant but bring them together and it could all go wrong. The fact that Darren didn’t even consider a classic cross-spoke is laudable and we wager that the Silhouette is not a wheel many people with a BM of this vintage would have floating around at the forefront of their brains as a go-to wheel choice. But we’re so very glad that it was the only choice for Darren. On paper, a full-face, arguably motorsport-themed wheel would seem like an odd choice for a classic luxury cruiser and, having had a gander on Google, it’s not an instant win on every car it’s applied to but here, against all odds, it looks absolutely killer.
On the chassis front, beyond that custom air-ride setup, Darren has also completely rebuilt the steering system, adding E24 and E28 polybushes and there’s also a Bavarian Auto front strut brace.
As far as styling goes, this E23 is definitely a looker but at first glance you might not be able to put your finger on exactly what it is that’s making you feel so right about looking for so long, but once you start picking apart the details you realise that Darren has put in a huge amount of work… but work that only true aficionados will be able to appreciate: “I wanted to keep the styling of the car very subtle, almost to the point where you can’t really tell what has been changed.” Well, mission accomplished as far as we’re concerned!
“My buddy Stephen converted the nose and rear bumper to Euro spec while he briefly owned the car. I added the E38 front bumper, which was problematic as I had to design and weld up a frame that mounted the E38 bumper reinforcement to the factory E23 bumper shocks. I also fitted rear Euro quarter trim, ’1979 E23 chrome mirrors and Formuling Wind Splitters,” which might possible be the best name for anything we’ve ever heard. In case you’re wondering, those are the CSL Batmobile-style fins that sit on the front wings either side of the bonnet.
The high beams have been given the classic French look and are now actually foglamps, with Darren converting the dipped beam housings to a bi-xenon setup and there are new old stock front grilles keeping things period and fresh. The changes are subtle, almost to the point of being invisible just as Darren planned, but together they really do make a big difference in terms of how the E23 looks, giving it a smoother, more dynamic appearance that you’re definitely unlikely to see anywhere else, anytime soon.
If you find all that a bit too subtle for your liking, don’t worry, because the interior is where things get wild. Being an L7, everything is covered in leather and the distant mooing of the ghosts of the cows that gave their lives for the greater good of upholstering this E23 can be heard drifting through the interior on a still summer’s evening. But more eyebrow elevating than even the concept of ghost cows is the fact that Darren has redone the entire interior himself. “The factory interior was dark grey carpet, light grey and dark grey leather,” he explains, which is clearly isn’t that anymore.
“I wanted to keep the interior as factorylooking as possible because I love the factory styling of the L7, but I also wanted to bring it into modernity with the new leather and colour change while keeping the original stitch patterns and style. I did a complete interior tear down and makeover with new leather everywhere, including the seats, centre console, dashboard, pillars and headliner.”
The colour, Darren tells us, is not red but Burnt Sienna Spice, a sort of orangey-brown hue that just happens to look very red in pictures but is awesome nevertheless. However, simply retrimming his entire interior wasn’t enough for a man like Darren and he’s gone all-out in here. The rear seats are now heated and there’s a rather sexy Italvolanti Formal steering wheel along with new old stock factory switches and custommade chrome door lock pulls: “I added 2000 E38 7 Series Sport Contour heated front seats, an E38 factory homelink, E38 PDC, completely keyless ignition with push button start/stop, and iPhone app control for remote start.”
To drown out those ghost cows, the speakers have been upgraded to Harman Kardon items and there’s a Kenwood head unit supplying the soundtrack to E23 life. “All switches are housed in a custom panel that I made along with the V2 controller for the air-ride. The sound system has all-new wiring to each of the Harmon Kardon speakers as well as the head unit. I have done absolutely everything inside the interior myself by hand – leather, electrical and sound etc. The biggest issue I had was learning to sew leather seats and console parts and understanding BMW’s technique, all while not wasting the limited amount of leather I had to do everything”, he laughs.
The ample boot houses the twin compressors and single matt black air tank, complete with chrome L7 emblem, mounted on snazzy custom wood flooring. The work that’s gone into creating this interior is really exceptional and the end result is utterly spectacular, the sort of interior you dream of doing. It’s what the cows would have wanted…
The M30 nestling under the bonnet is a great engine that really suits the nature of the L7 and Darren is in full agreement there. “I really enjoy the M30’s subtle grunt and its great sewing machine noise while idling,” he says with a smile. While there are no plans to swap or change anything under the bonnet, he has carried out some work on the big six to ensure it’s operating at its very best. “The engine has simply been rebuilt and the internals have been set to factory specifications,” he explains. “I added a Dinan chip, M62TU injectors and an aftermarket fuel pressure regulator and ignition parts. After I converted to the M62TU injectors the car started to run rich, so I had to add an uprated MSD coil and build my own MSD spark plug wires so I could run more spark through the thicker wires to the late style Bosch Platinum 4 spark plugs.”
Three years of work have resulted in Darren creating a marvellous machine and it has not only been a journey of discovery but a learning experience too and, if you can come out of a build having created a stunning car and are now able to trim an entire interior, well, that’s a job well done as far as we’re concerned.
So complete is Darren’s L7, in fact, that the only thing left on his ‘to do’ list is a complete respray in Moonstone metallic, which is silver with a dash of pale frosty blue, that he says will happen eventually. But whilst this project may be all but complete it certainly won’t be his last. This is no surprise; what is a surprise is that his next build won’t be a 7 Series, with Darren fully committed to adding an E3 saloon, aka Bavaria, to his collection. Though really it’s a 7 Series in everything but name, being as it is the E23’s predecessor. While he hunts for one, though, Darren can enjoy the fruit of his labours and when that fruit is an L7, there’s a whole lot of enjoyment to be doing…
TECHNICAL DATA FILE Air-ride #BMW-E23
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 3.4-litre straight-six #M30B34
, fully rebuilt with all new parts and gaskets, rebuilt cooling system, #Pro-Tuning-Lab
fuel pressure regulator, #MSD
ignition coils, MSD 9mm wires, M62TU injectors, #Dinan
Chip, brand-new factory full two-piece exhaust system and Silverline tips, four-speed automatic gearbox
CHASSIS 8x17” (front) and 9x17” (rear) Impul Silhouette wheels with 205/40 (front) and 215/40 (rear) Falken tyres, custom built #Air-Lift
air-ride suspension, #Air-Lift-V2
management system, #Powerflex
polyurethane bushes, factory BMW steering parts, Bavarian-Automotive strut brace
EXTERIOR E38 front bumper, Euro front shark nose, Euro rear bumper, Euro rear quarter trim, new old stock Formuling Wind Splitters, Hella yellow French foglights in factory high beam location, bi-xenon high/low beams in main beam housings, xenon bulbs in the foglight housings, early E23 factory chrome mirrors
INTERIOR Complete interior tear down and makeover in Burnt Sienna Spice leather on centre console, dashboard, A/B/C pillars, rear parcel shelf, front seats, rear seats, headlining, sunroof panel, doorcards, door arm rest pulls, glovebox, driver lower dash, new old stock Italvolanti Formal steering wheel, E38 Contour front seats, heated rear seat kit, Harman Kardon speakers, Kenwood head unit, new old stock factory switches and custom-made chrome door lock pulls, E38 factory front under seat fuse panel placed in boot for air-ride system, custom wood flooring in boot, twin compressors, single air tank, E38 boot cargo net and rubber grips, re-wrapped leather bootlid liner to match the interior
THANKS Firstly a big thank you to Stephen Sayer for bringing the L7 into my life, as well as connecting me with the air-ride system, Italvolanti (through Rennstall), and the Impul Silhouettes, Timothy Polljonker at Bavarian Retro Classics for the hookup on difficult to find Euro trim pieces, Jason McAllister for, once again, bringing his amazing skills to the paint and bright work, Mark and Carlson for helping me grab and store the E38 front seats, my wife, Alyssa, for dealing with my late nights cutting out leather for the interior, and my mother in law Janet for helping me learn to sew complicated patterns
“I really enjoy the M30’s subtle grunt and its great sewing machine noise while idling”