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    Ben Dillon
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    Ben Dillon

    LIBERTY WALK M3 Wild Australian E92

    Walk This Way

    A Japanese body kit on a European car with American suspension screwed together by an Australian equals something pretty bloody special. Words: Ben Dillon. Photos: Trent Wilson.

    Forging a different path in Australia’s modified car culture can be a tricky thing to do as fresh ideas often collide with an iron resistance to change from the established scene, but breaking down barriers is what Ty Isaak and his one-stop modification brand Mode Auto Concepts does best.

    Growing up in a hot rod-loving family meant Ty received a healthy amount of exposure to grinding, welding and rumbling V8s from a young age and was himself swinging tools and modifying cars before he had even finished high school. His first foray into the scene was with an Isuzu ute which he chopped, sectioned and bagged and added #V8 greatness to. From there Ty waded deep into Australia’s street tuning scene of the late 1990s and early 2000s just as the Japanese import craze was calming down and the Euro scene was on the rise. Ty built on his fabrication roots and his ethos of unique concepts heavily influenced by his numerous trips to the US by creating a number of cars showcasing his talents.

    These included a SoCal lowrider W116 Mercedes and a bagged, pure white A4 Avant, also dropped on its guts.

    For his latest car, the stunning E92 M3 you see on these pages, Ty’s inspiration came from a visit to rev-head Mecca: the SEMA modified car show in Las Vegas. This instantly set him on the #Liberty-Walk-E92 body kit course as not only did Kato-san’s (Wataru Kato, Liberty Walk founder) fat creation for the E92 look fantastic but no one had yet attempted it in Australia. Added to this, the build could showcase brands represented by Ty’s business, which gave the project the added pressure of being an advertisement for what his company could do, but the choice of M3/ #BMW-E92-Liberty-Walk was an easy one to make.

    “I’ve always been a fan of Euro cars and I appreciate all different marques, but I’m really selective on the models that I like within a brand,” Ty says. “I remember seeing the first M3 and have enjoyed the evolution of the generations; they always appealed to me. They are a really good package with a real motorsport feel.”

    As purveyors of some of the fattest body kits in the known universe Liberty Walk is at the top of the heap – but a fat rear end alone was never going to set the world on fire. So, in the planning process before Ty even bought his M3, the concept of the build was given great consideration with the main goals for the car to be outlandish on the outside but still feel as good as it did driving off the showroom floor. “The objective with the M3 was that it should look crazy but feel like something that was made right from scratch, like it came from the factory,” Ty explains. “It has the loudest possible exhaust on it. It’s fully decatted to the x-pipe. And it’s all Armytrix Valvetronic, so when it opens up it’s an absolute beast. I had a guy come up to me with a race M3 and he said my car was louder!” And while the body kit is the focus of much attention, it seems the wheels are the starting point for all conversations on Ty’s E92. “Everyone argues about which side they like more and they all have really strong opinions about it,” Ty says. Those amazing wheels measure 10.5x19 inches on the front and 12.5x19 inches on the rear. You definitely can’t get them on eBay or anywhere else in the retail sphere (at the moment) as they are of Ty’s own creation – from concept drawings to tyred-up, forged alloy finality.

    “I own the company Forge Wheels,” Ty reveals. “I went to the States years ago and started my own wheel company because I couldn’t find what I wanted in Australia. The wheels and tyres on this cost $10,000 (circa
    £4800 at the time of writing) and so much work went into them in every single aspect. They are not off-the-shelf wheel; every single element has been engineered, designed and checked by me and my team.”

    As impressive as all that is, wheels and a body kit don’t just attach themselves to a car, so Ty swung the grinder and sparked up the welder for every step along the way of the transformation of the E92 from muscular factory M3 to barking, steroidal, day-glo-wheeled freak. And there was plenty to do – not least to have US documentary filmmaker and good mate Zach Wingfield (whose showreel alone proves he’s car mad like the rest of us) hovering with a camera for three months solid, filming every single part of the build. “I had to put the front wings on about eight times because Zach wanted to shoot it from every angle, change a lens, or change the lighting,” Ty laughs.

    The body work didn’t stop there. Modifications to the firewall ensure that the front wheels actually turn full lock.
    Subsequent work involved plating and body deadened, while the rear of the car was mini-tubbed to accommodate those super-wide rear wheels. Again Ty fabricated and fitted the rolled inner tubs himself, sticking to his ethos of ‘if it’s been done right, it can stay like that forever’. But none of this was without drama, especially with the fitment of the Liberty Walk kit. “People have this perception that these kits come in some IKEA-like kit and you just get the screw gun out and screw it into the side of your car but it’s a lot of work to fit it properly. The instructions from Liberty Walk were pretty much just ‘cut it’,” Ty grins. “Getting the fitment right and making sure the car still drives like it did from the factory was the aim from the start. Whether it was legal or not I was still going to do it but I wanted to do it to specification, so I talked to my engineer and told him what I wanted to do. He reassured me I was on the right track.”

    While cutting into an M3 to put a body kit on sounds like a #BMW purist’s worst nightmare, snatching out the factory M3 suspension and replacing it with airbag units seems a sure way to draw fire from those who would question how anything could replace M-division’s Nürburgring-honed best. But Ty is adamant that it fits the ethos of the build and his car still handles like a real M car. “A lot of people assume that because it’s on air it rides or drives like sheet but everything people perceive about air suspension, sloppy ride, or lack of handling, is eliminated in the AirREX kit,” Ty explains. This is down to the AirREX design combining the best of coilover and airbag designs with what is basically a damper-adjustable-strut on a fully-threaded body but with an air spring on it where a coil spring would normally be. The end result is something that looks like a coilover but with an airbag on it. “With the combination of the valving and the damping you wouldn’t know it was bagged and it just rides like a factory M3,” Ty adds.

    It’s this approach to quality control which marks Ty’s car out from the herd. He’s paid particular attention to how the car now responds dynamically to the mechanical and aesthetic changes he’s made to ensure that it can be used as a daily driver – albeit one that never escapes attention when out in the wild.
    “It’s totally ridiculous and a lot of people are in disbelief that I’ve even done it. You can’t drive it on the highway without someone driving up to you to take a photo or a video. It’s fun. It’s like being in a celebrity car,” Ty says with a smile. “I don’t think people even know what kind of car it is.

    Nobody knows what #Liberty-Walk is and to have people hanging out the window of a car yelling out and giving me a thumbs up is just amazing.”

    It’s not just fellow road users Down Under who appreciate Ty’s M3 either as fans worldwide can now drive this car through the streets of Surfers Paradise in Forza Horizon 3. It’s fitting for a car made on the Gold Coast to appear in a game with an Australian setting. Digital fame aside, Ty has even bigger plans for a ‘Stage 2’ build for the E92, which will see a toned- down colour scheme with the body kit as the sole survivor of the car’s current state in what will be a more track-focused evolution of the current ethos while still retaining street usability.

    “Making huge power figure is not of any interest to us. It doesn’t achieve anything; it’s just a number on a piece of paper,” Ty says. “The next stage with this car is a full roll-cage and supercharger which, with the exhaust, tune, intake and underdrive pulley, will still make it a great streetcar but one that we can take on the track or to social track days and have a bit of fun with.” All we can say is bring it on Ty, we can’t wait to see it.

    TECHNICAL DATA FILE #Liberty-Walk / #BMW / #BMW-E92 / #BMW-M3 / #BMW-M3-E92 / #BMW-M3-Liberty-Walk / #BMW-M3-Liberty-Walk-E92 / #BMW-3-Series / #BMW-3-Series-E92 / #BMW-3-Series-Coupe / #BMW-3-Series-Coupe-E92 / #BMW-3-Series-M3 / #BMW-M3-M-DCT / #BMW-M3-M-DCT-E92 / #Forge-Wheels / #LB-Performance / #AirREX

    ENGINE 4.0-litre #V8 #S65B40 / #S65 / #BMW-S65 , intake, custom ECU tune, #Armytrix-Valvetronic exhaust system with de-catted front pipes, x-pipe and ceramic-coated matt black tips

    TRANSMISSION Seven-speed #M-DCT gearbox

    CHASSIS 10.5x19” (front) and 12.5x19” (rear) #Forge-Wheels-USA-SV5-FS-spec-SL wheels with 275/30 (front) and 305/30 (rear) Nitto Invo tyres, #AirREX-Performance air suspension struts with #AirREX digital wireless management system in concealed enclosure, #Rolloface-Performance 380mm six-piston forged performance brake kit

    EXTERIOR #Liberty-Walk-LB-Performance widebody kit (version two), Piano black front splitter and ducktail, BMW Performance black chrome kidney grilles and side vents, LED angel eye upgrade, LCI rear light upgrade

    INTERIOR Factory interior

    THANKS Everyone behind the scenes at MODE Auto Concepts that made this project possible, FORGE Wheels USA, Brian and the team from Armytrix Exhaust, Dizzy and the team from AirREX Air Suspension, Ken and the team from Rolloface Performance, Zach from ZWINGFILMS, Trent from TNW Photography for the behind the scenes photos, and Brad my painter for always telling me “no dramas”

    “It should look crazy but feel like it came from the factory”
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    Ben Dillon
    E30 WHISPERER

    Turbo E30s don’t come much sleepier than this seriously subtle two-door, packing a 2.6 M20 under the bonnet. After fiddling with a few E30s some blokes feel justified in calling themselves ‘Mr E30’. Paul Issepon is not one of those guys. He is the ‘E30 Whisperer’. Words and photos: Ben Dillon.

    “Is it ‘da dada da da da’, or more like ‘dada da da dada?’” Paul Issepon asks, stone-faced and serious as he counts out the beats of two different mechanical cadences, each eerily mimicking a rough running M20 as he tries, telepathically, to diagnose what is wrong with my E30, which is 20 miles away in my garage. I want to laugh but I’ve never heard anyone so accurately verbalise a lumpy BMW six-pot before, so I fail to pick which aural signature my own broken-arse M20 is pumping out. But so entrancing is Paul’s Bavarian chant that I know if I could identify the pattern, he’d be able to pinpoint the problem immediately as he is, most definitely, an #BMW-E30 whisperer.

    Shrugging away both my awe and ignorance Paul moves onto other subjects – all E30-shaped, a passion which has consumed him since the car was released in 1983. Seeking the man out at his hilltop hermitage in Brisbane, Australia reveals the depth of his love for BMW’s most iconic three-box. No less than ten complete and running E30s are stashed away in various corners of his yard and garage with a further unspecified number earning a living as parts cars for anyone in need of E30 bits. From the family 325i Saloon to a 325i Convertible, a clutch of coupés and other chrome and plastic bumper iterations ranging in flavours from 318i to #BMW-325i (but no 320i variants, “all the thirst of a #BMW-325i-E30 with the power of a 318i, they suck,” Paul says), Paul has an E30 for every season and every day of the week. But it’s the contents of a shabby wooden garage that looks ready to collapse that we have come to see.

    “You want to see something special?” Paul says as we walk past a near immaculate 318iS undergoing Paul’s perfectionist scrutineering. Opening a creaking wooden doors reveals an E30 which is obviously something exceptional from the moment outside light falls across it. “This is my baby,” Paul murmurs. A first glance reveals an M Tech 2 bodykit hugging the familiar shape of an Anthracite E30 with Hockenheim-style 16-inch rims lounging in an aggressive stance that indicates some serious ability through the twisties. Looking further under the car sees a big diameter bi-modal exhaust system and finned diff showing that this car has the fireworks to match the finesse. But it’s the ‘2.6’ badge on the rump that causes the most furrowed brows. “The engine was built by Ludwig Finauer, a BMW race engine guy, using a 325i block and (885) head but with a 323i crank,” Paul explains. “So that makes it a 2.6-litre engine, that’s why it’s got the badge”.

    Ludwig Finauer was more than just your average spanner twirler, though, he was the mechanical mastermind behind the BMW factory team in the Australian Touring Car Championships (ATCC) during the 1980s when the team ran E24 635CSi and later E30 M3 cars against the home-grown V8 Ford and Holden crews. Headed by ex-Formula One legend Frank Gardner, the team had top-drawer local and imported talent for various races including 1967 Formula One champ Denny Hulme and even Finauer himself steering an M3 for a few rounds in #1987 including a drive in Australia’s biggest race, the Bathurst 1000.


    But fast E30s for the road were Finauer’s thing with star BMW team driver Kevin Bartlett commissioning one for his personal transport. Finauer promptly raided the race team’s parts bin with the result being a chrome-bumper Atlantisblau coupé with a Lysholm screw-type supercharger strapped on to the Finauer signature 325i/323i combo with body and drivetrain options cherrypicked from BMW M division in Germany.

    Bartlett now had a serious street weapon not all that different from his weekend drive. The car eventually found its way into private hands, going through a succession of owners until 2003 when a friend of Paul’s, Allan Forbes, stumbled across an advert for the car. “I’ve always loved E30s, they are a great car; fun, quick, they handle really well.

    They’re a good looking car, too, so when I saw it advertised for AU$8000 (£3300) I had to have it,” Allan says. Allan drove the car for about a year before writing it off in an accident. He then bought the wreck back from the insurance company to harvest all the special interior bits for his next E30 and sold what was left of the wreck to Paul who took the Finauer-built driveline and slotted it into a one-owner E30 #M-Tech 2 body which evolved into the car you see on these pages. Paul’s inspiration behind the project was to turn his dream of the ultimate M20- powered E30 into a driveable reality, and by engineering solutions and doing all of the work himself, have complete ownership of the transformation. The body and drivetrain were stripped down, with every part of the car rebuilt and/or modified to suit Paul’s aim of E30-godliness with attention lavished everywhere and as much focus on performance as on looks and usability.

    The Finauer engine was pulled apart, inspected, given a refresh with new bearings and gaskets while balanced standard pistons and rods were kept as they could easily handle the addition of 15psi of boost that Paul was planning. The induction side features a custom heat-shielded inlet to an M20B20 inlet manifold which is a curious choice but one which Paul stands by for helping the T05/03 hybrid Garrett turbo to spool quickly. This along with water/methanol injection and a front mounted intercooler helps to keep inlet temps down while general engine cooling is supported by a custom radiator and an oil cooler and catch-can setup. Custom extractors feed the turbo and expel gases on the hot side of the engine with a Turbosmart wastegate to vent boost when needed. The back end of the 2.5-inch twin system features a bi-modal exhaust valve operated by a solenoid at 3psi, helping the car remain somewhat stealthy in suburbia.

    Those with a keen eye might notice the distributor in the block, much like a Series 1 E30. “The bottom of the distributor is M20 #BMW and the top is Series 6 RX-7 because the triggering and the home signal for the Haltech love to be in the same spot,” Paul explains. “Everyone loves the RX-7 distributor so I thought I’d marry one onto an M20 shaft.” This combined with a single coil-pack feeds sparks via the cam-driven distributor while a Walbro 255 in-tank pump and rising rate regulator start the fire inside the 2.6-litre Finauer six. “It’s easily a 12- second (quarter-mile) car, maybe even 11s,” Paul says. “It’s got an LSD diff, sticky tyres and good suspension so instead of spinning the wheels it just goes forward fast.”

    Handling and stopping performance weren’t overlooked either with BC Racing coilovers and Mazda Series 6 RX-7 slotted and dimpled discs squeezed by Brembo fourpiston calipers up front with a slotted disc, single-piston setup on the rear.

    Inside and out styling cues are varied with genuine M Tech, Alpina and Hartge components sitting in a comfortable mélange of E30-ness. The M Tech 2 bodykit, spoiler and leather sport seats combine with the Alpina steering wheel and vent gauge inside to make a cosy habitat for the driver while Hartge strut braces front and rear tighten up handling. Under the bonnet the rocker cover is a Hartge item with the logo machined off and replaced with that of BM Conversions – Ludwig Finauer’s now defunct Sydney-based BMW hot-rod shop, Finauer himself having long since retired to a coastal village somewhere south of Sydney.


    The result of Paul’s hard work is not the most outlandish E30, or the fastest, but it is one of the most complete performance cars in the E30 community Down Under and we think he’s more than surpassed his aim to build the ultimate E30 combining all the merits of the original design but adding ‘more of everything’.

    The final twist is that after enjoying the car for a couple of years since completing the build, Paul has now sold the car to Allan – in a way returning the driveline at least to the person he got it from. After our photoshoot finishes Paul offers to ‘swap back’ the 326i for his very worked E31 840i. Allan declines with a smile and as Paul and I watch the 326i disappear into the distance I’m sure I hear the E30 Whisperer sigh. Nothing twangs the heartstrings harder than someone else driving ‘your’ #BMW-E30 .

    DATA FILE

    ENGINE & TRANSMISSION: 2.6-litre straight-six #M20B26 / #M20 , 325i head and block, 323i crank, #Garrett-T05/03 / #Garrett turbocharger, water/methanol injection, #Haltech-Platinum 1000 ECU, 325i oil cooler, #Bosch yellow injectors, #Getrag-260 / #Getrag gearbox, lightened flywheel, performance clutch, 3.73 LSD diff with E30 M3 finned cover.

    CHASSIS: 8x16” (front and rear) wheels with 215/45 (front and rear) #Kumho KU36 semi-slicks, #BC-Racing coilovers, #Hartge strut braces, Mazda RX-7 #Brembo fourpiston calipers and slotted and dimpled rotors (front), slotted rotors single-piston calipers (rear), #Hawk pads, braided lines.

    EXTERIOR: #M-Tech 2 bodykit.

    INTERIOR: BMW sports leather seats, Alpina steering wheel, #Alpina vent gauge, Boost air-fuel and intercooler temperature gauges.
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