DAPPER SUPER-SMOOTH E21 HIDES AN M50 BITE RETRO RIDE: #BMW
To anyone who’s not a fanatical BMW expert this super-clean E21 may seem a little ‘nearstandard’ for #Drive-My
… all we can say is look closer, much closer. You’ll be surprised.
This E21 may be one of the coolest looking cars on the UK show scene, but dig a little deeper and you’ll see it’s much more than just a pretty BMW. WORDS: Tom Willcox. PHOTOGRAPHY: Chris Wallbank.
DRIVER: PRAKASH THANKY
So, you’ve seen more than a couple of trophies with this one then?
“Yeah. But for me it’s not about the awards. It’s about how they drive. It’s all very well looking pretty, but I still have to use it.”
You must surprise a few people with that modern M50 lump though?
“Definitely. It has more than enough power now, which people certainly don’t expect, But the air ride is also great. It makes it drive so nicely.”
And we’re guessing it’s far more practical than your usual in-the-weeds-style static drop?
“As soon as it was installed it felt like a whole new car. And you don’t have to worry about driving down certain roads. So what more can you ask for?”
You’ve no doubt spotted some killer show cars proudly rocking the Dapper decal on their flanks in recent years. But did you know that getting your hands on such an accessory is a strictly invite-only affair?
Created a few years ago by Rodolfo Lamaestra, the Dapper Fam was initially nothing but a group of stanced car lovers in the States. But pictures of the group’s awesome rides soon spread like wildfire across social media, leaving the world dying to know more about the Dapper brand and how they could get involved.
Rodolfo now hand-picks cars from across the globe to represent his extended car family, and Prakash Thanky here is the proud owner of one of the UK’s fi nest offerings to the club. This old-skool E21 BMW has more than a few tricks up its sleeve…
The finely judged details scattered around this incredible build are enough to tell you this isn’t Prakash’s first BMW. In fact, aside from a couple of embarrassing car decisions made early on, his car history is almost entirely made up of Bavaria’s most famous motors. While these were mainly ’90s, performance-orientated static show-stoppers in their own right, Prakash had a brainwave a few years ago, to create something slightly more retro.
“The car was bought from eBay for £500,” says Prakash, beginning the story. “The owner had sadly passed away, so the car had been sitting around for over eight years, and was on very low mileage.” This blank canvas was an example of one of the first generation 3 Series BMW produced, and boasted a not-so- monstrous 2.0-litre straight six lump and three-speed auto ’box.
The neglected steed was taken back to the Letchworth car garage Prakash owns. It was promptly stripped back to the bare shell to address some minimal signs of rust which had started to rear their ugly heads. “I knew exactly the look I wanted to go for before buying the car,” says Prakash. “It was always going to be that smooth combination of Euro/Cali and OEM+ styles, which look great on these cars.”
The shell was soon treated a full re-spray in the original and deliciously simple Polaris Silver paint scheme.
With the shiny motor now back in one piece, the next job was to address the elephant in the room – the standard ride height. Going for a static drop had treated Prakash well for most of his other car builds. So initially a home-made set of coilovers was created and ran with various BBS wheel combinations, as Prakash got used to the old-skool two-door.
“I wasn’t happy with the auto gearbox,” Prakash admits. “My mate Ben told me there was an M50 engine with a manual gearbox for sale, so I bought it and installed it.” This 2.5- litre straight six was pulled from a mid-’90s E34-shaped BMW 525i, so remained in the car’s bloodline whilst promising a whole lot more driving fun shoehorned into Prakash’s little car. With a full engine and transmission swap casually undertaken, the car drove like a dream, according to our proud owner here. But there were still a lot of issues to address.
“I tried some more BBS wheels on the car, but it was sitting too high and the wheels I’d chosen were too small,” says Prakash. “This is when I opted for air suspension. I’ve never had it on a car before, but after the install I instantly fell in love with the car again.”
Prakash used this new-found motivation to fuel his current wheel choice – these awesome Carline CM2s with custom-staggered dishes and gold hardware. The heavily polished works of art look nothing short of perfect when Prakash drops the car to its lowest setting. Looking at his wheel history though, be prepared for them to change at a moment’s notice. This is one man who likes doesn’t need much excuse to swap boots.
So, modern engine swap complete and the nigh-on perfect stance nailed. Where next? Well the inside of this E21 keeps the pulse racing with some inspired, unique features. The uprated E24 6 Series front Recaro seats and the E28 centre handbrake console fi t so well in here you’d have to be a proper BMW nerd to notice they weren’t standard. The OEM+ theme is certainly strong with this one!
It’s not hard to see why there’s so much love around at the moment for this E21. We can see exactly why it was initiated in the Dapper family, and why it wins trophies at pretty much every show it attends. But there’s clearly more to it for Prakash because under the surface, we find mods like that engine swap which so many show cars would happily do without. The looks are vital to this build but perhaps what’s most important is the complete package. This E21 not only looks better than when it left the factory all these years ago, it also drives like it should here in the 21st Century. As a result, it has to be one of the most complete retro builds on the entire show scene. And that’s not an easy trick to pull off.
TECH SPEC: #BMW-E21
TUNING ENGINE 2.5-litre BMW- #M50B25
straight-six engine conversion from an E34 525i, custom modified sump, custom exhaust manifold, custom 3in #FlowDynamics
stainless steel exhaust system, five-speed manual gearbox conversion from an E21 323i, organic sprung sports paddle clutch, BMW Z3 short shift, 323i propshaft.
CHASSIS 9.5x16in (front) and 10.5x16in (rear), fully re-built polished #Carline-CM2
three-piece wheels with gold hardware, 195/40/16 (front) and 215/40/16 (rear) tyres stretched by Specialist Tyres, custom centre caps, custom #Air-Lift-V2
air suspension system with performance shocks, BMW 323i brake callipers with EBC Red Stuff pads and up-rated Goodridge braided brake lines.
EXTERIOR New rear arches welded in, new inner and outer sills welded in, single headlight conversion from an E21 316, custom front clear indicators and tinted rear indicators, smoothed rear aerial hole, smoothed rear model badge, despoilered and smoothed, original Auto Plas rear window louvres, colour-coded body panels, modified front subframe, custom vinyl stripes and Dapper decals.
INTERIOR E24 6 Series front Recaro seats, E28 centre handbrake console, Alpina gearknob, #Alpina
wooden steering wheel, OEM #Becker-BMW-Bavaria
cassette player unit powered by hidden iO Play2 wireless kit, up-rated Hertz speakers.
THANKS My mum and dad for putting up with me, my brother Jay Thanky and my friend Ben Dewen for helping me on the long weekends and late nights, Owen Spencer for getting me into BMWs and a big shoutout to the UK Dapper family for helping me and supporting me in making the car into what it is today
THE BIRTH OF A LEGEND
Many have argued over the last decade or so that the 3 Series is the industry benchmark, the car by which all other saloons will be judged. Now whether you agree with that sentiment or not, there’s no denying the E21 is important, because it was the very first generation, not to mention the precursor to the 1982 E30 model that brought us the legendary M3 badge. Launched in 1975 with a choice of 1.6, 1.8 and 2.0 carb-fed 4-pots, the larger 6-cylinder engines didn’t come along for another two years and even then they weren’t exactly powerhouses. Confusingly they also gave the 316 a 1.8-litre engine in 1980, and introduced an economy 74bhp 315 model, with a 1.6-litre engine in 1981. The latter was a not-so-timely response to the 1979 oil crisis.
Anyway, to differentiate between the 2-litre (and later the 2-litreplus) models, BMW gave the 320 dual headlights. This makes this BMW an even bigger sleeper, because Prakash has chosen to convert the front end to the smoother single headlight spec from a 316. One more reason you’d never expect to see a fettled M50 under the bonnet, especially if you really know your Beemers.
A custom Air Lift V2 system keeps this car firmly in the weeds!
The 2.5-litre, 6-pot M20 gives this E21 a lot more poke than BMW intended in the 1980s.
”Getting your hands on such an accessory is a strictly invite-only affair”