BAGS TO THE FUTURE
The BMW E85 Z4 doesn’t get a whole lot of love but, when done correctly, it can look absolutely killer, as this bagged Brit build proves. Ashley Morrell’s Z4 is constantly pushing him further and further down the modifying road. And you know what they say – it’s more about the journey than the destination… Words: Daniel Bevis. Photos: Mathew Bedworth.
The Z4, it has to be said, is quite a weird little car. They generally pass reasonably unnoticed today, thanks to the inherent cushioning system of Father Time’s mighty pendulum – the fact that they’ve been around a few years means that we’re used to them, we’ve accepted them. Radically designed cars don’t stay radical for long – the Ford Ka, the Peugeot 206, the Fiat Multipla, they seemed outlandish and alien and daft-as-a-brush at launch, but now they’re just other cars to blend into the mish-mash of day-to-day traffic.
The E85 Z4 very much belongs in that list too. As a replacement for the Z3, it was a pretty bold step; the Z3 had the classic roadster profile – long bonnet, rearward cabin, stubby tail – and the Z4 built on these design touch-points, but added in a whole heap of strangeness. Look at it side-on, for example, and try to work out what the thinking was behind the front wings; there’s quite a wide variety of lines and angles vying for attention there. The rear bumper appears to be wearing a droopy moustache like a pantomime Mexican villain, while the front end looks a bit like Marvin the Paranoid Android from the 2005 movie adaptation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
This, of course, is all very good. Life’s too short to drive boring cars, and BMW’s decision to infuse a whole bunch of weirdness into a model it knew would be a volume-seller ought to be robustly applauded. Furthermore, it means that modifiers with an eye for the offbeat have an interesting alternative to chance their customising arms on, thanks to the model now becoming increasingly affordable as a second-hand proposition. It certainly flicked Ashley Morrell’s switch. He’s the creative force behind this particular low-down Zed, and it’s by no means the first oddball he’s spannered together.
“I guess I’ve been in the modding scene for around nine years now,” he considers at length, scratching his chin and peering into the middle-distance. “I’ve had four cars in that time, which isn’t a huge number by some people’s standards, but I’ve always been known for doing something a little bit unusual with them. I’m not really keen on doing things that everyone else has already done, I like to put my own mark on my cars.” His first full-on build was a case in point, a Citroën C2 which surfed the swelling tide of the nouveau-rat look, all forced patina and belligerent scruff.
“It was right at the start of the whole nurat thing, and it was a pretty radical thing to do to a brand-new car,” he says, a sparkle in his eye as if the mischief of it all is only just dawning on him. “Yeah, that was pretty out there. My Mk3 Golf got fairly extreme too, I went a bit crazy on it; five interiors, three resprays, three engines and eleven sets of wheels over three years! By the end of that project, I found myself with a set of stupidly wide American rims, and effectively making the car fit the wheels, which involved all sorts of cutting and welding!”
So if he was that deep into the VAG scene, why the switch to BMW? “Well, after going through my thirteenth sump in six months I decided it was time for a bit of a change,” he laughs. “I wasn’t really sure what I wanted – part of me was keen on the idea of some sort of estate – and I’m not sure what drew me to the Z4 at first, but once I started looking at them, they got stuck in my head. I knew that was the car I wanted next.”
And so the infamous P22 OKE plate found itself being extracted from the Golf and affixed to a shiny silver 2004 Z4 2.2i. “I searched and searched for the right Z4, which wasn’t easy as there don’t seem to be many here in South Wales – must be something to do with the constant rain,” he reasons. “But one day a friend of mine in Cardiff mentioned that he’d seen one come into a garage local to him. I went to see it straight away, and took it home the next day!”
The car was showing 69k on the clock, stock as a rock, and as tidy as Ashley could hope for. All-in-all, a pretty decent base for a project. So, what manner of madness lay ahead for the wacky little roadster? “Well, there wasn’t a plan as such, not from the start,” he recalls. “Having bought it, I just intended to stick some nice wheels on it and enjoy it. But once the wheels were on, it obviously needed lowering, and it all sort of snowballed from there.”
Yep. Of course it did. We hear that a lot. It’s impressive to note, in fact, that Ashley managed to hold out for an entire year with just rims and coilovers before he began to delve deeper. A new set of wheels beckoned; a brilliantly offbeat foursome of Rial Imola splits, which were reworked in custom candy apple red paint and a spangle of retro Seventies gold metalflake thrown in, but it quickly became apparent that wheels this fancy need a killer stance to set them off. So, with a creeping sense of inevitability, the irresistible lure of air-ride arose.
“At that time there really weren’t many bagged Z4s around, so it felt like something pretty fresh,” Ashley explains. “I bought the kit from Plush Automotive and fitted it all myself, along with a few friends who offered to help.” He ought to be particularly proud of those custom copper hardlines which really set off the boot install, and he’s keen to make the point that anything he was physically able to do on the car, he did himself. Not to show off, but simply as a matter of pride – it’s his car, built his way. “If you ever feel like taking apart the inside panels on a Z4, I recommend you don’t,” Ashley sighs. “Three hours to take off the centre console? Well done BMW! But the only thing I couldn’t do myself was the retrim of the seats; that was handled beautifully by Gary at NeatSeats.”
They do look pretty cool too, resplendent in black leather with diamond Bentley stitching, and they’re complemented by a whole bunch of carbon fibre accents throughout the interior to really imbue it with a premium road-racer vibe. Indeed, since our shoot Ashley’s been busy having various interior surfaces retrimmed in Alcantara, which speaks volumes about his twin focus on function and aesthetics.
The exterior of the car is something that he felt had to be as uncluttered and simple as possible, to accentuate the proportions of the car rather than draw unnecessary attention to its details. For this reason, he’s swapped on a pre-face-lift front bumper which has been extensively smoothed and had its numberplate recess deleted. The vast majority of the factory chrome accents have either been junked or replaced with black items; the kidney grilles and BMW roundels, for example, have lost their mirror shine, and even the lights have been dimmed down to suit. It’s a masterclass in subtlety, with plenty of details for the Zed-nerds to seek out on the showground.
“One thing I get asked a lot is how old the car is, and people are often surprised that it’s a 2004 model given how tidy it is” he says. “I use the car every day, and I run it low. I haven’t really built the car to go on track, and people have said I’ve ruined the Z4’s handling because of the air-ride, but to be honest with the AirREX Sport bags I’d say it actually handles better than when it was on coilovers! On the whole, the car gets mixed reactions – the Z4 purists hate it, of course, but I didn’t build it for them, and it does give me a bit of a kick when people stop to take photos of it. One girl I was on a date with thought I was famous because of all the people taking pictures!”
Amusingly at this point, Ashley seems to be suggesting that the project is finished. He’s got the car the way he likes it, and he’s ready to just enjoy it. But you and I know that’s nonsense, don’t we? Take that old Golf as a lesson; this is a guy who just can’t leave things alone: “Oh, alright, you got me,” he concedes. “I will probably do something with the audio over the winter. I fancy a bit more carbon fibre too. Oh, and there’s always new wheels…”
It’s pretty much a done deal that this car will be looking subtly different next time you see it. Ashley’s move into the BMW scene seems to be fitting him rather well.
Air install is neat and smart and still leaves boot useable while copper hardlines add some flair.
TECHNICAL DATA FILE #Bagged #BMW
E85 Z4 2.2i / #BMW-Z4-2.2i
ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 2.2-litre straight-six #M54B22
filter, custom stainless steel exhaust with back box-delete and twin tailpipes, five-speed manual gearbox.
CHASSIS 8.5x17” (front) and 10x17” (rear) #Rial-Imola
two-piece split-rims with polished lips and custom candy apple red with gold metalflake centres and 205/45 (front) and 215/45 (rear) tyres, adjustable front camber mounts at 3.0 degrees and rear camber arms at 5.5 degrees, #AirREX
Sport air-ride system with V2 four-way digital management, custom copper hardlines.
EXTERIOR Smoothed pre-face-lift Z4 SE front bumper, black lower valance, black-insert headlights with US running lights, custom clear side repeaters, tinted rear lights, carbon fibre wing mirrors, black roundels, black kidney grilles, flared and rolled arches.
INTERIOR Carbon fibre door handles, handbrake handle and steering wheel controls, 1M gear knob, retrimmed MSport steering wheel by Royal Steering Wheels, seats retrimmed in black leather with Bentley diamond stitching, custom mount for V2 controller.
THANKS I’d like to thank a few people who have helped me with fitting things and some companies that have chosen to sponsor me over this year: my friends Kieran Phillips and Nick Wealleands who helped with the air-ride and hardlines, Tom Beleschenco (@twosugars88 on Instagram) for painting the wheels and other bits, Aaron Brooks (@techho_scenecleanvaleting) for detailing the car, Gary at NeatSeats for the great work on the seats, and my sponsors E11evens, Cleanitkit and GlobalGrind.