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    BODY DROP E30 Air-ride 325i hits all time low

    BODY DROP TOP / Anyone can bag their car to get it low, but hitting the ultimate low takes dedication, as this E30 Cab ably demonstrates.

    If you’re truly dedicated to the pursuit of lows then you need to go beyond basic air-ride, as this Northern Irish E30 Cab demonstrates. Words: Elizabeth de Latour. Photos: Steve McCann.

    Air-ride is a wonderful thing. It might still have its naysayers, but almost everyone else on the modified #BMW scene has welcomed it with open arms and it almost feels like there are more bagged BMs about these days than static ones. It’s practical when driving out and about, and then when you park up you simply hit a button and boom instant lows. But for some people, that’s not quite enough, and one of those people is John Peden, owner of this E30 Cab and MD of Peden Conceptz, which specialises in bodywork, air-ride and hydraulic suspension.

    “It sounds daft now but when I started the company years ago, we were building fibreglass monstrosities and putting a ‘z’ on your business name was all the rage,” he laughs. Running such a company puts John on the frontline of the air suspension (and juice) scene, so it makes sense that he’s got a few examples of his own that utilises it: “I’ve got a Porsche 964 on hydraulic suspension and as well as the E30 I’ve got an E21 316; that was my first BMW and I bought it 12 years ago specifically with the aim of fitting air suspension on it. I spotted this 325i for sale and was interested as I like older cars, plus it had a good spec, black with black leather, manual and with the factory LSD. It was advertised locally but the guy selling it was a bit dodgy – after I bought the car he did a runner on his missus and made off with her money, cars and my tax book…” Oh. Thankfully that dramatic start to his E30 ownership experience hasn’t extended any further and John wasted no time in getting stuck in with the mods.

    That the car was going to end up on airride was a given but the suspension here goes beyond your plain old, off-the-shelf airride setup. For starters, John actually built his own air suspension and we don’t mean he used universal components and adapted them to fit the E30, he started from scratch and made the kit. “I started with Bilstein monotube shocks, because they are the best in my opinion, and added Firestone bags. I made spherical top mounts and modified most components and finished it off with AutoPilot V2 management.”

    But that was just for starters, the next stage involved cutting the front end of the car apart and body dropping it. “The car is lowered 20mm over the running gear,” explains John. “It’s further than any other air kit. I took 10mm off the chassis legs, then I cut the sump in half and removed 20mm from it and shortened the oil pump in order to get more ground clearance.” The results speak for themselves because this car is low.

    At the front, it’s about as low as it can go, the forward edges of the sills sitting on the ground and you’d struggle to slip a Rizla between the air dam that sits under the front bumper and the Tarmac. The rear sits barely any higher, the Sebring exhaust’s back box given hardly any breathing space. The car looks awesome with the wheels stuffed way up into the arches. “I wanted 15” wheels because I favour the undersized look,” he explains, “and it made it more of a challenge to get them to fill the arches. I was told by a lot of people that they would be too small to be able to get the arch to touch the rim…” An inspection of the wheels clearly shows that the naysayers have been proven wrong.

    The wheels themselves are HTN Rennsport splits. They look fantastic and are a nice change from the classic cross-spokes we often see. Interestingly, John explains, the 15s actually have the same size centres as the 13” wheels, with some serious lip action going on to bring the overall diameter up by two inches. “It exaggerates how small they look, which I think really suits the classic appearance of the car,” he says and we are inclined to agree. The 195/45 Nankang Ultra Sport NS-II tyres also deliver the perfect amount of stretch to get them tucked up past the rolled arches.


    As far as styling goes, John has left everything well alone and we don’t blame him. “For the outside, I just focused on the way the wheels and tyres sat. I resprayed the car myself in 2k direct gloss black. As for the interior, I didn’t do anything with it as I like the classic appearance of it – what’s to improve in that respect?” He’s got a point. Inside, there’s an aftermarket head unit, a wooden gear knob and the AutoPilot V2 controller has been custom-mounted in the driver’s side air vent, which not only looks great but also puts it within easy reach.

    A few months of work have resulted in a lot of visual drama for this E30 and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what John loves most about his car. “It’s the suspension, because it’s just so low. The pinch weld of the sill touches the floor,” he grins. “I set out to build the lowest E30 and I really haven’t seen any lower… yet.” Best of all, despite being so crazy low, the beauty of air-ride means John is able drive his E30 daily. It’s nice to see someone building car like this and then actually using it rather than just tucking it away and only bringing it out on sunny days.

    While he’s not got any more plans for this particular car, he has got another project on the go: “I’m building the E21 I bought years ago. It’s nearly finished. It has hydraulic suspension, custom one-off Peden Conceptz wheels, a Saab 9000 engine and a Holset turbo off a digger,” he says matter-of-factly. Well, that sounds suitably mental, and as John is a clearly a man who knows his way around a modified BMW, we can’t wait to see how that one turns out.

    Body-drop involved taking 10mm off the chassis legs, 20mm off the sump and shortening the oil pump for maximum ground clearance.

    “set out to build the lowest E30 and I haven’t seen any lower…”

    DATA FILE Body-dropped #BMW-E30 / #BMW-325i-Convertible / #BMW-325i-Convertible-E30 / #BMW-E30-Convertible / #BMW-325i-Cabrio / #BMW-325i-Cabrio-E30 / #BMW-325i-E30 / #BMW-325i / #AutoPilot / #Sebring /


    ENGINE AND TRANSMISSION 2.5-litre straight-six #M20B25 / #M20 / #BMW-M20 , #Sebring back box, shortened sump, shortened oil pump, five-speed manual gearbox
    CHASSIS 8x15” (front and rear) #HTN-Rennsport multi-piece wheels with gold centres and staggered offsets with 195/45 (front and rear) Nankang Ultra Sport NS-II tyres, custom #Bilstein air struts, #Firestone bags, custom top mounts, raised turrets, #AutoPilot-V2 management, body dropped 20mm
    EXTERIOR 2k direct gloss black respray, rolled arches
    INTERIOR #Wooden gear knob, custom mounted air-ride controller

    “wanted 15” wheels because it was more of a challenge to get them to fill the arches.”
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    Gorgeous bagged #BMW E30 with an #S52 swap and shaved bay

    KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY

    In the same family for almost 30 years, this ridiculously clean E30 has undergone quite a transformation in that time. Some heirlooms leave a more lasting impression than others, as we discover when we meet Nick Lanno from Ohio. Words: Louise Woodhams. Photos: Patrick McCue.

    It’s not often a car stays in the same family for almost 30 years, yet this 1987 325iS is the very same car that delivered Nick Lanno – the subject of our story – from hospital when he was born, and 15 years later became his first car.

    That was in 2009, and Nick, now aged 22, has completely transformed the car from what it once was. He takes up the story: “My father bought the car brand-new from David Hobbs BMW in Chillicothe, Ohio, and he drove it on a daily basis right up until my teens, so it was always in the garage while we were wrenching on other vehicles together. That’s where my passion for cars started.”

    Nick couldn’t help but fall in love with the E30 and as soon as he was old enough he began to research these cars. That’s when he got hooked on the blue and white roundel, as he explains: “The fact that they are truly a driver’s car is what attracted me to them the most. The heritage and history behind all these classic BMWs that people own is so interesting and they almost always carry a great story. I love every car BMW has made to this day and I will always be a BMW enthusiast.”

    This was the car that took Nick to school, to soccer games, to friends’ houses, you name it – it was a huge part of his life and quite often he would while away the hours thinking how incredible it would be to own it one day. In 2000 it went into storage, and then, much to Nick’s surprise, nine years later it was taken out of storage and given to him on his 15th birthday! His childhood dream had come true.

    “There was no other E30 I would rather have had than this car. It was perfect and despite having clocked up 120k, it was immaculate; all OEM parts, original paint, absolutely rust-free, and it had a full service history,” he recalls.

    Needless to say it did not stay 100 per cent original for long. In fact, the first thing Nick did as soon as it was in his possession was lower it on a set of Ireland Engineering race springs. Other modifications included all red tail-lights, smoked Euro Smiley headlights and side repeaters, a later model front valance and a Zender rear valance. Shortly after that, the car then went back into storage so that over the next few years Nick could save some money and let the real transformation begin.

    Once again it was the suspension that demanded Nick’s attention first: “After pouring through different forums looking at the various setups, I knew that to get the drop I really wanted I’d have to look into a custom air-ride setup.” Up front he’s installed Air Lift’s Crafter Series struts, while Air House II bags and Bilstein shocks reside out back. The rear spring perches were modified for the bags, as were the front spindles for the struts. The system is managed by Air Lift’s Autopilot V2, with plenty of presets all at the tip of Nick’s fingers in the centre console. “The setup is so convenient, making road trips as comfortable as can be, yet the car still handles fantastically in the corners. I have the best of both worlds,” he adds.


    The car remained in this guise for the next three months, until one fateful day when the timing belt from the original M20B25 snapped. This prompted the next stage of the build. “I sourced a low-mileage S52B32 out of a 1999 M3 from a good friend in Cincinnati with roughly 70k on it,” Nick says. “I completely regasketed the motor from top to bottom, as well as safety wiring the oil pump nut, before fitting 21.5lb injectors, a lightened flywheel, and a 3.5” intake setup.” Together with a few friends, the swap took about a week to do. Apparently the maiden voyage with open headers put one of the biggest smiles on Nick’s face to this day. Not surprisingly it came to life as a completely different beast that day.

    After two years of driving it across the States to various shows, Nick wanted to take the car to a new level – he wanted to shave, tuck and customise the engine bay. Fortunately a good friend of his owned a body shop so once Nick had pulled out the engine to take care of tidying up the wiring harness and deleting any non-essentials such as air-con and power steering, the car was sent off for six months to begin its transformation. “Everything looks so neat and beautiful under the bonnet now, but the star of the show has to be S52. It is so reliable and has plenty of power to make the car feel a blast to drive. It brings a smile to my face every time I’m behind the wheel.”


    Whilst this car’s spec is a far cry from when Nick’s father bought it all those years ago, it’s still managed to retain its factory charm. And that’s because his objective throughout the build has been to keep things clean, simple and classy. The same philosophy has been applied to the cabin of the car, which is relatively stock save for the Nardi steering wheel, custom stitched M-Tech style gear knob and gaiter and Coco mats, which are all period-correct for the car. “I wanted the car to retain its original feel,” Nick says. “I’ve even kept the seats, which are fairly worn now, but it gives it character.”

    Like any true project, the car has gone through various incarnations of wheels, including BBS RSs and CCWs, but Nick eventually settled for 8.5x16” (front) and 9.5x16” (rear) Schmidt TH Line wheels shod in 205/40 rubber that you see on the car now, and we have to say that they suit the stance, lines and age of the car perfectly.


    This is not a car created with a blank cheque book; it is a car with tons of sentimental value to the owner and gradually improved over time with the help of friends and family. It’s been built to drive and to enjoy, it doesn’t sit in a garage or on a trailer and we love the fact that whilst Nick put his own stamp on it he’s taken a wholly sympathetic approach in his choice of modifications. Now it’s finally complete all he plans to do is simply drive it. “It has taken a lot of effort to get the car to where it is today but it was a journey which has led me to meet a lot of fantastic friends and I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. The car is a big part of me and something I am most definitely proud of.”


    Along with the life lessons and skills that a father teaches a son, there are also certain material things that you pass down – like a tool kit or, in Nick’s case, a dream car. In these increasingly disposable times, fewer and fewer items are worth saving and giving to your children, so we hope Nick sticks to family tradition and passes his treasured 325iS to his own son or daughter.

    DATA FILE #BMW-325iS #S52 air-ride #E30 / #BMW-325iS / #BMW-325iS-S52-E30 / #BMW-325iS-S52-Air-Ride-E30 / #BMW-325iS-E30 / #BMW-E30 / #BMW-E30 / #S52B32 / / #BMW-S52 / #Bimmerworld / #Getrag-260 / #BMW /

    ENGINE 3.2-litre straight-six #S52B32 / , 21.5lb injectors, 3.5” #Euro-MAF , 3.5” #Bimmerworld-Silicone intake boot, air-con and power steering delete, #M42 radiator, TMS remap, Condor Speed Shop engine mounts, custom longtube headers and 2.5” exhaust including #Vibrant race resonator; shaved, tucked and resprayed engine bay

    TRANSMISSION OEM #Getrag 260 five-speed gearbox, #Sachs-HD clutch, #MWorks-Garage custom transmission crossmember, #Condor-Speed-Shop Speed Shop transmission mounts, lightweight flywheel

    CHASSIS 8.5x16” (front) and 9.5x16” (rear) #Schmidt-TH-Line wheels with 205/40 (f&r) Nitto Neogen tyres, #Air-Lift universal front struts, #Air-House II rear bags, #Bilstein rear shocks, #AutoPilot V2 management including five-gallon tank and #Viair-400C compressor, drilled and slotted brake discs and Hawk pads, brake booster delete, E21 master cylinder, tucked brake lines, stainless steel braided clutch slave line

    EXTERIOR Later model front valance, iS front spoiler and bootlip, smoked Euro Smiley headlights and side repeaters, all red tail-lights, #Zender rear valence, #Shadowline trim

    INTERIOR Nardi Classic steering wheel, custom stitched #M-Tech-style gear knob and gaiter, Coco mats, #Dynamatted back seat and boot

    THANKS All of my good friends in BHC, and those that had a hand in the build, my father and Anthony at ASC Autoworks

    Front end, like the rest of the car, is incredibly clean, with a late model valence and iS front spoiler. #AutoPilot-V2 management offers eight presets and countless options; gorgeous 16” Schmidt splits suit the E30 perfectly.

    The car is a big part of me and something I am definitely proud of.
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    Elizabeth’s #BMW-E39 #540i #M62B44

    I hope you’re not bored of reading about me being excited about my air-ride just yet because last month I spent so long being excited about the install I didn’t actually leave myself space to talk about what the air-ride was actually like. If you are bored, um, sorry…

    I guess the first thing I want to talk about is the ride and handling. If you hate bags, then you’ll be of the opinion that they don’t handle. If you love bags then your views will be the opposite of that. And if you’re somewhere in the middle, perhaps interested but keeping an open mind and not leaning either way, you’ll be willing to listen to arguments from both sides. My personal position prior to getting air-ride was decidedly openminded – I have to be, it’s part and parcel of the job really, and there are few, if any, mods that I actually hate. I was drawn in by the practicality of air-ride plus that you can dump your car. That’s pretty damn cool in my book. Going into this, I can tell you that the suspension on my #E39 was well and truly knackered; 119k miles took their toll on the standard, original suspension and the car felt like a bit of a mess. Considering the E39 is widely considered to have the best ride/ handling balance of just about any #BMW ever produced, things were clearly not right.

    Post-air-ride installation, I can tell you that the car feels approximately 1,000,000% better than it did previously because it’s got brand spankingnew suspension on it. As for how the Air Lift kit feels specifically, honestly it feels just like any other stiffer, aftermarket, performance-orientated suspension setup I’ve ever tried. I’ve owned and driven BMWs on everything from springs to topend coilovers and from behind the wheel there’s really nothing to suggest that you’re running on air. The Air Lift kit offers 30 clicks of damping adjustment, so there’s plenty of scope for finetuning but to be honest I’ve not bothered to play with it as of yet. Adjustment itself is very easy but I’m not sure where to start in terms of looking to strike the right balance. In all honesty it feels absolutely fine in its default middle setting, relatively firm, but still comfortable while offering good body control. The 540i is no sports car, partly because of that vague recirculating ball steering setup and partly because of my very slidey Comfort seats, but when you push on the Air Lift setup seems more than happy, keeping the E39’s not inconsiderable weight in check; the car feels good and there’s very little roll. If you didn’t know it was on air and you went for a ride in it, you really wouldn’t realise.

    The #AutoPilot V2 controller is extremely cool and, as I mentioned last month, I love where Studio Incar mounted it for me – it makes it easy to use while also keeping it neatly tucked away. You definitely want to read the manual if you want to make the most of the system, even after it’s all been set up and calibrated, because there are loads of setting and options that you can go through and tweak in order to get the most from your air-ride. I love the eight presets that you can save and currently have zero pressure for airing out, max pressure for climbing over obstacles and a variety of different ride heights for various circumstances.

    I will say that one thing people tend not to talk about is how fiddly air-ride can be; for example, this system is pressure-based, so while it will compensate for additional weight by maintaining your preset pressures, that doesn’t equate to the same ride height once you have people on board, so extra passengers mean different pressures. There’s also the fact that ambient temperature affects ride height, so my presets result in a different ride height depending on what the weather is doing, so I’ve got a number of different presets for the same ride height that I can switch between depending on the forecast. Air-ride is not a fit and forgot suspension solution – you need to be involved with it to get the most from it.

    Ultimately that doesn’t bother me, though, because I wanted air-ride and I love everything that it does. I love the feeling of the car rising on start. I love airing it out when I park-up and seeing people’s confused expressions. I love how it looks when it’s dropped. I love the fact that speed bumps and rough roads aren’t a problem and I love the fact that it feels just like a good aftermarket suspension setup. Plus there’s also the fact that it’s just really cool to have. For the E39, I didn’t want anything else; if I ever end up building another car like this, it’s going to be airride all the way.
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