- BLACK EAGLE
This, quite literally, show-stopping UK #E28 boasts an impossibly shiny #M106 under the bonnet, a massive turbo and the small matter of 500hp. In a word: epic. Built with sheer passion and devotion, this stunning 500hp #BMW-E28 is the ultimate evolution of a near decade-long project. Photos: Steve Hall.
We all love our cars (when they’re working) but it’s rare to come across someone for whom their car really is everything to them. Marsel Theodhori is one such man. His passion for his E28 is unrivalled in anyone I’ve ever met, and it’s this raw, unbridled passion for what was once a humble E28 that has driven him to build one of the finest examples out there. I have a soft spot for the E28 – I owned a #518i Lux for a year some time ago, which I bought for the princely sum of £400. It was so charming, characterful and modern in the way it drove, that it instantly became a member of the family. It didn’t miss a beat over those 12 months and when the time came to sell it, I was genuinely sad to see it go. I think about it often and the way it has lodged itself in my memory and affections means I can definitely relate to the way Marsel feels about his.
Marsel is an interesting man – passionate, intense, intimidating perhaps, but a really nice guy and one with more than a few stories to tell. And his E28 is even more interesting. His love for the second generation 5 Series began when he was just 14 years old. “Growing up in Albania, my neighbour had a white E28 #Alpina and every time I saw it, I thought it looked fantastic. I loved the looks and my dream was to one day have a car like that.”
Fast forward to 2005 and by now Marsel was in the UK when he spotted this humble #E28 #525e . He had loved it from afar, with it belonging to his good friend, Nick Rundall. When Nick wanted to move on to a newer model (and knowing that it needed work and that Marsel was in the motor trade), he gifted him the car, beginning a nine-year journey which resulted in the car you see in front of you.
Marsel has named this car the Black Eagle, a touching patriotic nod to his homeland of Albania (whose red flag bears the image of a black double-headed eagle) and the Order of the Black Eagle, the highest title that could be bestowed upon a citizen of Albania.
The last time the E28 saw the outside world was in September 2012. Marsel had spent seven years working on the car at this point and had built it up to a very high standard. He had sourced an M106 engine for it, which was fitted to an #E23 #745i – a 3.4-litre turbocharged straight-six that was loosely based on the #M30 , developing 252hp at 6psi (0.4bar) of boost. That’s a good starting point, but Marsel wasn’t content with that so a whole host of work went into the engine to get it uprated to handle a serious increase in power.
Marsel’s E28 was suitably recognised at that point for the great car it was; it even had a brief moment of fame in print: “It had a feature in Total #BMW in April 2012 and it had been appearing at most of the shows that year. It was putting out 360hp+ and I travelled to a lot of places, enjoying the result of a very long build. I was just making the most of it so I was really driving it hard and the car was responding well. It made an impressive appearance at the Gaydon BMW Festival and the Santa Pod BMW Show that same year where it won Best of Show.”
Show glory is one thing, but 360hp is another and Marsel is the sort of person who enjoys driving his cars. “I’m an engineer by trade but also a very heavy-footed driver,” he says. “I really love driving sports cars to their limits. Well, that pleasure cost me one day when I blew the #K27 turbo, which was the original item fitted to the M106 by BMW. That turbo was designed originally for 0.4bar and I was pushing close to 1bar for about 3000 miles until it started to smoke off throttle. The car came off the road at the end of September 2012.” That’s when Marsel started to think big. He decided to make the most of the unfortunate situation and realise the true potential of his E28: “I wanted to build a car that would win shows and blow people away. I wanted to build the best E28 that I could,” he says.
Step one was choosing a new turbo that would give Marsel the power he was hungry for. “The K27 was removed and I started making plans for a new, more sophisticated turbo. Considering the potential of these engines, I had to seriously consider a major upgrade on all fronts. Unfortunately, in this country we have a limited market for such applications and turbochargers. Therefore there was only one place I could look to: the USA. In the States there are hundreds if not thousands of stockists and manufacturers of performance parts and turbochargers.
“Hunting for the best deals, I came across a #Garrett-GT4202 turbo for half of the UK price and bought it straight away.” The #GT4202 is rated for up to 1000hp, giving Marsel plenty of headroom on the power front. However, it is significantly larger than the K27 so it gave Marsel a bit of a headache when it came to fitting. “I had the turbo hanging from the ceiling at one point,” he explains, “and I was lowering it into the engine bay so I could tie it into place. That meant I could start calculating how it would sit in the engine bay and what sort of manifold I would need to fabricate for it.” The massive turbo fits in the engine bay, just, but there was the small matter of the bonnet getting in the way, so Marsel had a custom item made with a neat cut-out for the turbo to peep through.
While the whole car is finished to an incredibly high standard, the engine is what this car is all about. When the bonnet pops, the engine bay draws in BMW fans like bees to honey. Every square inch of the bay has been polished to within an inch of its life, every hose is braided, every pipe is blue and the blue-and-red colour scheme has been executed with serious attention to detail – the oil filler cap is blue and even the washer fluid and coolant are red and blue.
The turbo sits on a beefy modified M106 manifold with a custom stainless steel top mounted flange neck, with a 4” downpipe, which slims to 3.5” to clear the bulkhead before expanding to 5” for minimum restriction and splitting into two 2.5” pipes which run to a custom Frtiz’s Bits back box. The turbo itself is served by a 5.5” core chargecooler with a custom top panel, itself mated to a 55mm twin-core 500x630mm chargecooler rad. You won’t find any highflow induction kits here – the turbo has been fitted with some silver mesh, presumably to stop people and animals from being sucked in, and that’s it. Beyond the bling, there’s serious engineering evident wherever you look: the turbo is braced against the engine and the entire engine is braced against the strut brace. This is because once, under hard braking, the engine tilted forward a fraction and that was enough to push the viscous fan into the thicker rad that Marsel had fitted. To ensure that doesn’t happen again, he took the precaution of bracing the engine to stop any unwanted movement.
Of course, the dazzlingly shiny exterior is just the tip of an extremely comprehensive iceberg. The data file reads like an engine builder’s wish list and no expense has been spared in building an engine that will deliver a lot of power happily and comfortably, day in, day out.
The H-pattern con rods and #Mahle forged low compression pistons have been carried over from the previous build, along with the #Glyco race bearings, but the ported and polished NA cylinder head is new, as are the titanium double valve springs, sodium-filled exhaust valves and titanium rockers and rocker shaft lockers. The engine is fed by twin #Bosch 044 fuel pumps, and there’s a fuel cooler, 1000cc Bosch injectors and Marsel has used an #E34 #535i inlet manifold with an original 3” reverse-mounted throttle body. It is the engine you would build if you could.
As the old saying goes, power is nothing without control, and Marsel has ensured that every supporting component has been suitably upgraded to ensure that the rest of the E28 can handle all the power that’s being developed by the engine. On the transmission front there’s a fully-rebuilt dogleg gearbox with a custom short clutch master cylinder, M535i driveshaft and propshafts, restored 3.07 M5 LSD and upgraded race-spec motorsport diff mount. Peer under the rear of the car and, as well as an immaculate and impossibly polished back box, you will see the diff cooler and diff pump mounted below. On the suspension front you’ll find #GAZ Gold race coilovers all-round with 550lb springs up front and 250lb rears, which have been carried over from the first build, with fully adjustable rose jointed front upper top mounts, fully adjustable rear top upper mounts, front and rear thicker, uprated antiroll bars, with Powerflex bushes all-round, new wheel bearings and all the various suspension components have either been renewed or reconditioned.
The brake setup that Marsel had first time around worked well enough for him to keep it so he just renewed the components with four-pot front Brembos calipers from an E31 840Ci and 324mm discs and 300mm rear discs mated to E28 #M535i calipers, with Goodridge braided hoses throughout. Marsel hasn’t forgotten about the looks in all of this and has poured his heart into getting the exterior styling exactly to his tastes. The body was stripped and the car was given the full M5 treatment, while new headlights and chrome rear lights have also been fitted. Various components have been polished and rechromed, such as the window surrounds, door handles and the C-pillar inserts, with the resulting brightness contrasting beautifully against the Jet black paint.
The wheels are an interesting choice. Previously, Marsel was running #BBS RSs before switching to these Fomb 17s, which he’d had refurbed in black for its big reveal in 2014. He had been planning to get the BBSs ready for our shoot, but as they needed to be refurbed and have new barrels, it was no small task. Also, as he pointed out, everyone has BBS RSs – they’re gorgeous, classic and iconic wheels, but they are a bit of a trend right now. Marsel wanted something different for the E28 and that’s when he decided to stick with the Fomb wheels, and give them a fresh look by getting the dishes diamond cut. The end result? Pretty spectacular. With an all-black finish, the dishes were completely lost, but now you can really appreciate just how dishy they are and they tie in perfectly with the polished elements across the whole car.
The interior hasn’t been touched during the past two years but it was so nice there was no need to do anything. The retrimmed front seats still looks like new, as do the recolonised rears and, despite the colour, the carpets, door carpets and doorcards are completely original, which is particularly impressive as they are insanely clean.
“I really wanted to impress the UK BMW world by getting out to all the shows this year. I badly wanted this car to shine like a star and drive like a bullet so the final piece of the puzzle was to give the car another remap,” Marsel explains. “The only man that I would ever trust in tuning this car is Sam Borgman at TDI in Lakeside, Essex. Sam and I have spent a considerable amount of time together in perfecting this car. On 3 August the car was on the hub dyno being tuned and ready for the road. Sam had it set within a couple of hours and managed to get a comfortable 500hp which I think is more than enough for driving pleasure. The car is now running like a dream – just like I wanted it to be.” And with that, it was time to unveil his creation to the world.
“The first major show I took the car to was the Gaydon #BMW Festival. It got a lot of interest from all the visitors throughout the day and I had the chance to meet and chat with some true motoring enthusiasts. I had plenty of tech talks during the day and I really enjoyed it. It was actually the first time I had taken my wife Leonora to a car show and she was also amazed as to how many people really loved the car. That day I won Best of Show and I felt very happy and proud of this achievement.”
That’s been pretty much the formula for Marsel and his E28 – turn up to a show, wow the crowd and take home silverware. Almost Famous at the Ace Café? Best of Show. Players? First out of the top 20. Santa Pod BMW Show? Best of Show, which, as we mentioned, he’d already won with the car in its previous incarnation back in 2012. Then there was the time he went along to VAGRoots for fun and, despite it being a VW Audi event, he also won the show. But Marsel said he had set out to build a showwinning car, and that’s exactly what he’s got.
“I believe that I might just have built something extra special. An E28 with a great character and amazing features, fine definition and desirable styling. A powerful, black, mean, luxurious, classic BMW E28 from the ’80s had to be the car for me. Building a car like this has not been easy. I’ve had a real love/hate relationship with the car. Throughout the build it has tested my patience many times but I never gave up and, having spent nearly ten years building it, I have had the opportunity to meet some great guys along the way that have become good friends.”
Ultimately, it’s all been worth it and the results speak for themselves. It’s an astounding build, technically outstanding and finished to a very high standard. More than anything, it’s fantastic to see someone pouring this much love into an E28 and helping to preserve one of these classics in such spectacular fashion. Furthermore, with no intention of ever selling it, this E28 will always remain part of Marsel’s family.
ENGINE: 3.4-litre straight-six M106 ( #M30B34MAE also called version M30 engine with turbo and pistons), new H-pattern con rods, Mahle forged low compression pistons, Glyco race bearings, ARP full bottom end bolt kit, lapped fully balanced crankshaft, flywheel, clutch and front vibration damper. #S38 clutch and non-dual mass flywheel, E34 535i modified oil pump (50psi idle) crown cooler spray oil jets located at the main block housings, M5 engine relocated oil cooler, ported and polished NA cylinder head, forged M106 turbo camshaft, titanium double valve springs, sodium filled exhaust valves, new stainless steel valve seats and new re-cut inlet valves, titanium rockers and rocker shaft lockers from PPM, custom head gasket made by PPM, full engine gasket kit, new water pump, customised aftermarket #E36 M3 60mm core radiator, #E39 #M5 viscous clutch and blade, 41mm Samco top and bottom hoses, new expansion tank and level sensor, Omex standalone 710 ECU, Bosch lambda sensor, Vauxhall V6 Vectra coil pack, new custom cut and made to suitable lengths 8mm silicone high performance HT leads, #NGK heat range nine spark plugs, 3bar map sensor, Omex TPS, fully stripped and rebuilt polished alternator and fixings, new Bosch starter motor, twin Bosch 044 gravity fed fuel pumps, fuel cooler, 1000cc Bosch EV14 injectors, Aeromotive A-1000 FPR, AN-8 Aeroquip teflon supply and AN-6 return fuel pipes, modified E34 535i inlet, 3” original reversemounted throttle body, 3” aluminium and Samco pipe work, 5.5” core aftermarket chargecooler, Bosch EVT water pump, 55mm twin core 500x630 chargecooler radiator, AN12 Aeroquip feed and return water pipes and fixings, modified #BMW-M106 turbo manifold, custom stainless steel flange top mounted neck, original M106 stainless #M10 exhaust studs x 12, GT4202 Garrett turbo, HKS 60mm external wastegate, 4” downpipe reduced to 3.5” by the bulkhead, 5” by 300mm flexi joint then split to 2x2.5” pipes all the way to custom turbo Fritz’s Bits back box, 4x M10 rose jointed supportive custom alloy bars.
TRANSMISSION: Fully rebuilt five-speed dog-leg gearbox, custom short clutch master cylinder and relocated fluid container, M535i driveshafts and propshaft, restored 3.07 M5 LSD, diff cooler and pump AN-10 Aeroquip fixings and braided teflon hoses, upgraded race-spec Motorsport diff mount, all bolts and mountings replaced with stainless spec and chrome plated items.
CHASSIS: 8.5x17” (front and rear) Fomb wheels with 235/45 Bridgestone tyres, GAZ gold race coilover kit with 550lb front springs and 250lb rears, fully adjustable front upper top mounts rose jointed, fully adjustable rear top upper mounts rose jointed, rose jointed rear lower shock pin mounts, all suspension components replaced or reconditioned, all steering linkages renewed, new front Motorsport anti-roll bars 25mm front and 19mm rear, Powerflex bushes all-round, reinforced front lower alloy brace under the bumper, #E31 #840Ci four-pot #Brembo calipers (front) with 324x30mm discs, E28 M353i calipers (rear) with 300x15mm discs, Goodridge braided hoses all-round, E32 master cylinder, all original hard pipes re-powdercoated green.
EXTERIOR: M5-spec body styling, new wings doors and bootlid, Shadowline bumpers, custom turbo bonnet, Motorsport rear spoiler with carbon fibre top section, green tinted cabin glass with blue front windscreen upper sun visor, Moon roof glass panel with purple fibre wind deflector, new headlights and chrome rear lights, original rear number plate, window trims and door handles polished and rechromed by Ospreys metal finishers in Borehamwood, all window rubber weather strips were replaced.
INTERIOR: Front seats retrimmed by B-Trim, rears recolonised, new dashboard, original carpet, doorcards and headlining, new gear knob colour-coded in interior leather, new Motorspost odometer, new tachometer, new M Tech 1 steering wheel.
THANKS: All the people that have contributed to the build and to maintaining this vehicle: Daryl, Paul, John and Ryan at Osprey Metal Finishers, Rob, Miles and Chris at Hartoms Engineering, Alex Austin at Torques UK, Richard and Dave at Fritz’s Bits, Guy Higgs at Omex UK, Neil, Adam and John at BTrim, Sam and Mark at TDI, Simon, Eldwin and Dave at EMP Exhausts, Richard Ryan and Carlos at Manor Body in Enfield, also thank you to my family for their support and to Drive-My.