Coupé has a lot of charm; with a turbocharger and 550whp this example is one sexy Breadvan. The big-bottomed #BMW-Z3
M Coupé is something of a cult classic and while it’s not universally loved, with a turbo under the bonnet it’s hard to hate… Words: Elizabeth de Latour. Photos: Darren Maybury. #BMW-E36/7
At 22 I was driving 1.0-litre Citroen Saxo; at 22 Andrei Spirin is driving a turbocharged Z3 M Coupé, so it’s safe to say that he’s doing okay for himself. And that’s good news for the BMW world because he’s built himself a pretty tasty #Z3
M Coupé. In the UK we call it the bread van; in the States it’s the clown shoe. Whatever you call it, it’s fair to say that the Z3 Coupé was a bit of an oddball and even the M Coupé, the only version we received in the UK, didn’t exactly meet with universal praise. There was something about it, though, something about its ungainliness and bulbous rear that attracted a number of people and today it’s accepted as a bit of a cult classic.
It’s funny how the Z4 M Coupé tried to bring back that bootylicious body but was just a bit too conventional-looking really and then Ferrari went and brought out the FF, which is a scaled-up M Coupé if ever we saw one. And speaking of seeing one, when’s the last time you did? We can’t recall but it was definitely a while ago; this car is not a common sight in the wild.
So cult classic; potentially a bit of an investment; rare to boot – it’s all about keeping them standard, surely? Well, skyrocketing values never stopped anyone from modifying their E30 M3 and it’s pleasing to see someone like Andrei going all out on their M Coupé. He’s most definitely not been shy with this car.
Growing up, Andrei’s middle brother Gennady first got him into cars. Then his brother’s roommate at college, Pete, introduced him to BMWs via an S52- swapped E30 M3, which has the same engine that powers this Z3, as it happens. Pete showed Andrei the world of meets and street racing and taught him a lot about BMWs. Andrei actually now works for Pete at his company, Offcamber Motorsport, doing everything from fitting superchargers to building engines, hands-on skills that come in more than a bit handy when it comes to, say, modifying your BMW…
“My first car was also my first BMW,” says Andrei when we delve into this motoring past. “It was an E39 M5 and I learned the hard way why you should never to buy a 2000 M5 as it was an early model and constantly had issues. It was a nightmare to own but I had some amazing times in it. I also knew how to take the whole top side of the engine off blindfolded because I did it so many times. I was a typical teenager at the time. I inherited $10k from my grandma who passed away. I wanted to get an E36 M3 but at the time I only had my permit, which meant my dad was always driving with me. My dad looks like Santa Claus so he would have looked a bit odd in an M3, so we decided to get a E39 M5 instead so that he would not look too out of place. We went to go look at one which was beautiful and cheap. It had a Supersprint exhaust which was the selling point for me. It was really fast, too. The M5 was the first car I modified. I didn’t go too crazy on the mods because I was spending most of my money fixing it but my favourite mod was the electronic exhaust cut-out valve I fitted before the silencers. I mounted the switch by the sunroof button so it felt like a fighter jet when I engaged it.”
After owning an E39 M5 as a first car, the only logical progression for car number two was… another E39 M5, obviously! But when that was written off after someone ran a red light and drove into it, Andrei knew that the M Coupé was what he wanted: “After the accident I started looking around and found this Imola red one in February 2011. It was two hours away and had been on sale for a while. It had 58,000 miles on it and some very tasteful suspension mods carried out, which was the main selling point for me.” Despite being a pretty rapid machine, after owning two slabs of German muscle the M Coupé didn’t impress Andrei in terms of performance front although when he hit the twisties he quickly realised just how capable it was on the handling front. Of course, working at Offcamber Motorsports and with a taste for modified metal, the M Coupé was never going to stay (relatively) stock for long and having planned to turbocharge his ex-M5, it made sense to transfer those plans across to the Z3.
“My whole turbo setup came about after a deal that I made with my friends,” Andrei explains. “When my M5 got totalled, the drivetrain was fine and I still had an immaculate interior. My buddy, Jon Valia, who had his car featured in this magazine a couple of years ago (a turbo S38 E30 M3) had an M5 shell that he got from one of his buddies which needed a motor and interior. So we came to a deal where I would give him those items and he would build me a turbo setup for my car. The whole first part of my build was done by him; we took the motor out at his house and he started fabbing the downpipe while Pete helped do the head gasket and head studs on the motor. After a month into the build Jon had to bail because his wife had a baby and didn’t have enough time to work on the car and I felt bad about always bugging him. So we took the car to Pete shop’s and finished it at Offcamber. Pete and I worked on the car for another two months before it was finished.
“I wanted to make 500whp and S52s are more than capable of doing that on stock internals. The car currently makes 550whp on 17psi. The setup has worked flawlessly and the engine has held up perfectly. It had 100,000 miles on it when I finished the conversion and it’s currently on 150,000 miles. The car has been my daily driver for two years and it worked faultlessly with no issues. To this date I am surprised as to how the S52 handled the boost so well for so long, and it has seen a lot of racing, too.” At the heart of the turbo kit sits a Precision 6262 ball bearing turbo with a Tredstone intercooler helping to chill the intake air and a thicker MLS .140 head gasket has been fitted to lower the compression ratio, along with a set of ARP head studs. A set of 60lb injectors ensure that the engine gets plenty of fuel, backed up by a Walbro 255lph fuel pump.
Pop that huge clamshell bonnet and you’ll be greeted by the sight of, well, not a lot really as the turbo is tucked down by the side of the engine and the only bits you can actually see are the oversized induction kit and the Tial 55mm blow-off valve. It’s not a showy engine but the rest of the car’s not exactly shy…
It must be said that Imola red works so well on the M Coupé. The bold, bright colour really suits the car’s striking shape and it’s the sort of car that doesn’t really need any styling to get it looking perfect. About the only external mods here are those Umnitza headlights and the stone guards, something of a necessity due to the M Coupé’s rather wide hips. But the bulk of the visual impact is purely down to the colour and the wheels. Where pretty much everyone is going bigger, Andrei has bucked the trend and gone for a set of 17s, which is pretty much unheard of on the modified BMW scene. While these are surprisingly small they are plenty wide and a perfect fit for the M Coupé. “I always wanted a nice set of deep-dish wheels,” says Andrei, “and about a year ago I finally managed to pick up these Fikse FM10s, which were my dream wheels. I couldn’t be any happier and the best part is that they were specifically designed for the M Coupé as they were built by my buddy, Jon Thayer, who also has a turbo M Coupé.” These sexy cross-spokes measure a meaty 9.5” up front and 11” at the rear, the latter being wrapped in massively wide 315/35 Toyo R888s which help the Z3 put the power down.
Having had a taste of the Z3’s handling prowess it’s no surprise to learn that Andrei has gone to town on the suspension mods to bring out the best in the Z3’s chassis. A set of TCK S/A coilovers has been fitted along with aluminium control arms, solid monoball mounts, a set of Treehouse Racing FCABs, a H&R anti-roll bar along with an E36 M3 Convertible support brace and a Randy Forbes subframe reinforcement kit. That comprehensive suspension line-up means this Z3’s chassis is razor-sharp and that it’s not all about the straight-line speed. Awesome suspension mods are all well and good but if you’re flopping about on crappy seats you’re not going to enjoy the drive, which is why Andrei has added some decidedly unfrivolous interior upgrades. “Before the turbo setup I did a lot of road course days hence why I have the Bride seats in there, along with the harness and harness bar,”
Andrei tells us. “The stock interior from factory is, in my opinion, one of BMW’s best. My M Coupé has the two tone Imola/black interior and I wouldn’t change a thing on it.” Andrei wanted to carry over the clean, stock philosophy from his exterior over to the interior and so decided against a big A-pillar gauge pod, opting instead for a custom dash-top pod, one of just ten ever made specifically for the Z3 by a Bimmerforums member. It looks extremely discreet and houses a Prosport boost and fuel pressure gauges along with an Innovate AFR gauge. He’s also fitted a Momo Millennium steering wheel and a ZHP gear knob along with a UUC short-shift kit. From massive engine mods to a set of serious chassis upgrades and a generous sprinkling of the perfect finishing touches, Andrei has built himself one red-hot bombshell of a Z3 M Coupé. Whatever your feelings on BMW’s loveable oddball may be, this is one shoe-van-thing that will rock anybody’s world.
DATA FILE #BMW-Z3-M-Coupe #S52
ENGINE & TRANSMISSION: 3.2-litre straight-six #S52B32
, Precision 6262 ball bearing turbo, SPA log manifold, Tredstone intercooler, MLS .140 head gasket, ARP head studs, #Walbro
255lph fuel pump, 60lb Injectors, Tial 55 BOV, Tial 38 external wastegate, Haldman boost controller, Technica Motorsport tune, standard five-speed manual gearbox, UUC short-shift kit. 550whp @ 17psi.
CHASSIS: 9.5x17” (front) and 11x17” (rear) Fikse FM10 wheels custom-made in Z3 fitment with 245/40 (front) and 315/35 (rear) tyres. TCK S/A coilovers with 400 (front) and 600 (rear) spring rates, aluminium control arms, solid monoball mounts, Treehouse Racing FCABs, H&R anti-roll bar, E36 M3 Convertible support brace, #H&R
rear adjustable springs, H&R rear dampers, Randy Forbes subframe reinforcement kit.
EXTERIOR: Umnitza Projector ZII headlights, stone guards.
INTERIOR: Bride Zeta 3 seats on VAC mounts, Sparco harness bar, Driver Has Impact five-point harness, #ZHP
gear knob, #MOMO
Millennium steering wheel, custom gauge pod (1 of 10 ever made) fitted with Prosport boost and fuel pressure gauges, Innovate AFR gauge.
These Fikse FM10s were my dream wheels… I couldn’t be any happier.
17” wheels work really well on the Z3 M Coupé and those fat tyres help put all that power down.